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The Dos and Do Nots (and Why Nots) of Being in a Function Band

Advice for musicians

Advice for musicians

Are you in a function band? Top keyboard player Adrian offers some simple (but often overlooked) tips for keeping your clients happy and your referral rate high!

The Dos and Do Nots (and Why Nots) of Being in a Function Band

From the moment you first sit down to learn an instrument, most musicians have the same goal: to be in a band. That band on TV. A "Top of the Pops" band with a record deal, who play their own tunes and generally look cool. A life of hotels, arenas and smashed guitars. Not a covers band. Not a function band. Playing other people's songs? Playing the tunes our parents were grooving away to? Not a chance.

Over the last ten years or so, opinions and tastes have changed. Maybe the arrival of the iPod let us have our guilty pleasures without anyone else knowing? It was far easier to sneak a bit of 1970s AOR into your ears without the ignominy of having to change a CD.

Now you can navigate through the history of popular music by scrolling through a wheel, so rather than killing off music it has opened everyone's ears to music from all eras. It became effortless to check out an Elvis track, followed by an Eagles number and then a Journey anthem (all deeply uncool acts when I was growing up)!

Maybe this is why the stigma attached to covers bands has been eroded over the years, and maybe it’s this that makes the luxury of having a live band, mixing classic and modern songs, an absolute must for any event.

Since the financial crisis we’ve all had to watch where every penny goes, and live entertainment is often one of the first things to get cut out of the budget. Banks and the like simply cannot be seen to be throwing money around anymore. I did a gig in the Hilton on Park Lane around 10 years ago for a rather large banking group, and the spendthrift and hedonistic atmosphere was plain to see.

With those days gone, bands really have to push themselves to get bookings and to keep getting booked. There’s no room for a bad gig either: the era of social media and camera phones means you can’t afford a single shoddy performance (type 'Final Countdown Bad' into YouTube if you want to hear a 'band' make a pig's ear of the track).

This made me think that there must be a certain knack to being in a mildly successful wedding band, as I've been doing it for all of my adult (and younger) life. So, here's a summing up of the main dos and don'ts:

1. Remember you're at work

Just because everyone else is getting drunk, having a dance and flirting with bridesmaids doesn't mean the band can do the same. Of course I've enjoyed many drinks with grooms, brides and best men, but only on their invite. The band should stay out of the way, there’s plenty of football and music chat to be had in the van when you're not playing your sets.

2. You're only as good as your weakest link

This is a tough one but obviously true, and it goes for people as well as equipment. I saw a great band once with a particularly great guitarist who had constant problems with his sound. Top end guitar, excellent amp, but the dodgy guitar lead was the constant fault. Likewise, if your drummer starts off a track at a canter and ends the song in a gallop it's time for a rethink.

3. Don't annoy people

Whether it's a big venue or a tiny one, the same rules exist: the people at the front want a boogie and the people at the back at the bar want a chat. It can be tricky with a live drum kit, but don’t think you can crank your amps up to 11 all the time. Many venues have sound limiters now too, so you've got to be used to playing at a civilized volume.

4. Be flexible

Set times nearly always go out of the window, guests will shout requests out or better still want to join the band for a number or two. It's all good fun so roll with it; it would be boring if every gig didn't have a story attached to it. Over two gigs last weekend, not only did we get asked to do a song we'd never played before because the ushers wanted to hear it, but we also played with the groom's brother as he stormed through some Johnny Cash songs.

5. Have fun

If you're not, you can't expect the audience to. There are worse things to be doing than doing what you love.

None of this is gospel of course, but I've done enough gigs now to kind of know how they generally go. It's always different, always interesting and always good fun. Whether it's the pub down the road or The Royal Albert Hall they're all pretty much the same: never miss a beat, make sure your gear works and enjoy yourself. Be versatile too – in my next blog I'll explain how I was in a pub after a gig one minute and on stage playing with Sir Paul McCartney the next!

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