As one of our most common revenue streams, the function band represents one of the last relatively secure refuges for the gigging musician. Indeed, I have been lucky enough to hold down a regular function gig with the Mesh Band for the last few years as well as ‘depping’ with various other bands. However, having played hundreds of function gigs there are a few tips I feel it is worth sharing.
1) Be Professional
This sounds obvious but I am amazed at the number of musicians I meet that don’t take these things seriously. Things like:
- Being on time. It doesn’t cost anything and simply helps relieve stress on everyone in the band and those organising the wedding. If it means you need to leave a bit of extra time to get to the gig (especially if it’s a long journey), then much better that than being 40 mins late and forcing everyone else to rush.
- Make sure you know the set, especially if you are depping! This can mean work prior to the gig to ensure all structures and transitions are nailed, as well as potentially some work offstage talking through any possible pitfalls with the other musicians. While some bands dislike it, I am never averse to having a few notes on a music stand, particularly if it’s a new band I’m playing with or if it’s a tricky song the couple have requested. In my opinion, having a band playing well together is more valuable than the aesthetics of having music stands onstage.
- Enjoy yourself but never let it compromise your playing. In my experience, couples enjoy it when the band join in the festivities, having a drink and a chat with the guests, however, I have been unlucky enough to have depped with a band that took it too far and it became a bit of a train wreck!
- Above all keep in mind that you are there to make the occasion special. You’re likely to do a lot of weddings and it’s a day that the couples will remember for ever… so do everything you can to ensure it goes as well as possible.
2) Be creative! (but appropriate)
By this I mean unless you’re playing in a tribute band, there is room on a covers gig to put some of your own musical personality into the parts you are playing. I’ve found that this firstly important for your own sanity, as you most likely will be playing a lot of the same songs on many gigs and so adding elements of improvisation helps to keep the set interesting for you. Furthermore, I’ve found that crowds at functions tend to react better to bands that add their own touches to songs (be it in varying the dynamics of a song or adding some improvised sections) as it gives them something different to what your standard wedding DJ could provide for example.
However, there is a line that must be kept in focus with this point, one that I will confess to being guilty of crossing occasionally. While crowds do like a bit of showmanship, nobody is interested in hearing a hundred notes a second over a tune like ‘Stand By Me’. People are there to dance and enjoy themselves, not to worship the musicians. Therefore, keep any improvisation tasteful.
3) Be courteous– Even to difficult audience members
By this I mean that you regularly have to deal with drunk members of the audience, or people with requests the band don’t know, or people who don’t want you to stop even though your contract ran out at midnight and its now ten past! This is tough sometimes as drink can turn your regular nice person into something fairly rude; however, you have to do your best to remain polite and attempt not to offend anyone. Again this goes back to the day being special to someone and so the aim is to avoid a scene that might ruin the day. However, do not promise things that the band can’t do! This only makes you look bad and potentially disappoints the guest further.
4) Be Patient
Finally, it is worth saying that there is often a lot of waiting around on function gigs as things run late or the only time you can get in to setup is at 2pm and you’re not on until 10. Here you just have to be patient (or find something to do… the pub is normally a good bet… though see number 1!) and try not to get too frustrated. I’ve found that often the later you are on, the better the audience reaction as they’ve had a bit more to drink and have been sitting down for too long!
I should point out that these are not always issues on every gig, and many gigs go by swimmingly without having to face any of these issues. However, these are the most common things I’ve experienced over the past few years and I hope it is a useful resource for those starting out. If anyone has anything to add or responses I’d be delighted if you’d come and visit my site (tomclarkebass.co.uk) and send me a message or comment on the blog.