Live Music for your Parties, Dinners, and Other Events
If you’re planning a special party, dinner, or event at your home or some other location -- you should consider hiring live musicians to add that touch of class that makes it memorable. If you think that live musicians make an event too formal -- or perhaps that it’s much too expensive to invite professional musicians to your home, lawn, or backyard party -- it’s really not.
WHAT KIND OF PARTY OR EVENT?
Entertaining can be a casual and regular activity in your home, or it can be a special and rare occasion. If you’re planning your first big summer outdoor BBQ in several seasons -- or your first holiday party in years -- then it is special enough to consider live music. When you send your invitations, postcard announcements, or e-vites, you’ll be able to mention that you will have live music, which always increases the RSVPs. Who would miss a party, dinner, or event like that?
WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DO YOU NEED?
So if you’re planning a very casual dinner party then it’s best to select music that fits the tone or mood of your event. Maybe a solo guitar (classical or jazz) is all you really need for the sound of your space... Often a solo piano player -- playing jazz, classical, pop, or just ambient background music -- is actually perfect.
It’s also possible to hire string musicians - like a string trio or quartet. Solo cello or violin is nice, but can seem strange in a very small space. Often hiring two or more musicians makes everyone relax. Why? The musicians aren’t the only ‘outsider’ at your event - and therefore don’t have to find ways to awkwardly speak to your guests. With everyone more at ease, all the interactions between musicians and guests can be casual and organic, and not based on connecting across the “music divide”. Often some well-meaning guests will interrupt a solo musician’s playing to make sure that they feel comfortable at your event. Oddly, If they “have a friend”, another musician present, this strange level of interaction is removed.
If want something more casual, consider a singer-songwriter (either guitar and vocals, or piano and vocals), or a small group. Depending on the level of fun, many people think it might be nice to hire a rock or pop band for their event, but if you do -- make sure it’s outdoors. Asking a band with drums and electric guitars to play softly indoors can be difficult (unless they go “unplugged” like the MTV series), and it’s annoying to guests to have the music so loud that conversation is impossible. If you set up a group outdoors, volume is still an issue -- just ask your neighbors. It’s just simpler to invite them to your event, while still being aware of your “noise” ordinances in your city or town. ‘Loud’ music outdoors has to stop in some places by 8pm or 9pm. Don’t just assume that you can go as late as you want because you invited your five closest neighbors. The music, sounds, and chatter will travel pretty far later into the evening.
HOW TO FIND MUSICIANS
Maybe you’ve wanted to do this for some time... Entertaining is special and fun if you create a night that everyone will remember for years. But how do you find the musicians you need? In certain areas, it’s still possible to hire musicians through a local union hall, or perhaps by calling the music department at your nearby college or university. Very often the faculty -- especially the adjuncts -- are active freelance performers in a range of styles - from jazz, classical, pop, world, etc. You can also sometimes find talented students to play for your event -- but often the money you save by hiring a student isn’t worth the professional that you give away.
You can also search online in your area, and see what musicians have websites, and seem to be performing regularly. Just because someone plays in a nice venue one night -- doesn’t mean they won’t play in your home the next. It's also great because often it's easy to hear samples of their music online before you contact them.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO HIRE MUSICIANS?
The first thing to remember is that you are not hiring a disc jockey or a radio! These musicians will play generally what they play -- how they play it. Don’t expect the musicians to be “all things to all people”. If a musician comes and plays captivating music on the harp, for example -- all your guests will likely appreciate the sound, the skill, and the chance to hear something unique. Jazz musicians are often called to play holiday parties because the improvisation means that familiar carols can be fresh and new.
The cost depends on a number of factors. First is length of the gig. If you want a musician to only play in your home for one hour -- you must remember that prep, travel time, set-up, tear-down, and travel is included. Often it’s better to engage the musicians for at least 2 hours and maximum of four (with breaks.) A very long, marathon entertaining event should be covered by a couple groups playing 3 hours each. In many parts of the country, expect to pay each musician a minimum of $200 for their services (up to three or four hours). Of course, a well known, popular artist, and in-demand artist in your area might charge that for the first hour!
Time of year matters as well. A busy summer weekend can be a time to pay a premium for musicians -- otherwise they'll work elsewhere. Most musicians are happy to provide a performance contract (often with a small deposit) to ensure that they will be there. Like in many other fields, clients should expect to pay professional musicians for cancelled events because often the musicians were locked out of taking other work.
If you have an event where the seating and mingling is throughout your entire space -- it makes sense to keep the music centralized. If you keep the musicians near the food or beverages -- everyone will enjoy them as they go back to refill their plates. Sometimes though, dinner party hosts will put the musicians right by the front entrance so their guests can see and hear them as they arrive. That might work fine -- but not if the dinner itself is rooms away and seated at a table. (Buffet style always seems to work best... for events with live entertainment. Why? Guests who want to hear more can sit close -- others who want to chat can sit further back.)
Live music can be just that special piece that makes your event memorable -- and it’s not as expensive as you think -- especially if you’re entertaining at home --and not renting a hall. Whether you get a jazz quartet with cool saxophone, a classy string quartet, or a singer-songwriter duo -- everyone, including all your guests, will have a great time.