Lots of things have the potential to go wrong when you’re playing live music for an event, but with a bit of preparation, hard-earned experience and quick thinking there’s plenty that can be done to help avoid a musical disaster. Here’s a few of the more common ones and a few neat tips that could save the day at your celebration, wedding party or corporate event:
A sound limiter is a device that is fitted to a venue to monitor the noise level, usually because there are residents nearby, and venues might sneakily only put this in the small print so always check when you book. They are usually set to a certain number of decibels (dB). Sound limiters aren’t a problem in themselves, they just limit the volume that your band or DJ can play, but the problem that sometimes arises is when they are set ludicrously low or when the music accidentally goes over this limit which causes a total electricity cut out to the musicians. This means everything goes off until the system is reset! Experienced musicians with the capability to keep playing unplugged (saxophonists, percussionists, singers with strong lungs) will try and cover cut outs with a spur of the moment unplugged solo, but if your band requires power to be heard there will be a bit of a gap in music until the venue turns the power back on. Ways to avoid this - don’t book a venue with a very low sound limiter if you want a big party, it’s a nightmare for live musicians and means you can’t get the ‘oomph’ out of your music that you might want come party time, or book an act that is appropriate for the sound limit level.
This is usually only a problem if your band is plugging in all their equipment through one plug socket. Provide at least two sockets for your band/dj and if you’re having an outdoor/marquee event with a generator make sure you ask or calculate the band/dj power requirements in advance.
A Few Too Many
Everyone loves a good party, but what happens when there’s someone who gets a bit carried away? You wouldn’t stand for harassment in your workplace and so most musicians won’t either. If aggressive or similarly inappropriate behaviour affects a musician on the job they might choose not to perform and stop the music. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it has happened before and tales amongst musicians of these kinds of things are far too common, and sadly equipment can get damaged even if the poor behaviour isn’t directed at the musicians. That being said most parties go off without a hitch and everyone is perfectly lovely, but if you do see someone acting up at your event make sure you’ve got a go-to-guy who can calmly sort things out and get everyone back to the dance floor for a good old boogie!
Fire alarms - fog, smoke & haze
Fog and smoke create a dance floor smokey-look effect and haze does something similar but it’s used more to enhance lighting and visibility of lasers. The problem is that some of these can trigger a fire alarm and when they do your venue might need a special ‘key holder’ to come and turn off the alarm. If you’re booking an act that includes lasers or effects, try and check with the act what type of liquid they will be using (oil, water-based) and the type of fire-alarm the venue has fitted and whether this can be turned off in the dancefloor location for the party. As a rule of thumb, water-based fluids are usually far less likely to set off fire alarms than oil based.
Wrong First Dance!
You’ve picked your perfect song. You’ve made your way to the dance floor. All your friends and family are gathered with cameras out and at the ready to capture this perfect moment…then the wrong song comes on! I’ve only seen this happen once and it was overseas where the DJ didn’t really know the couple or speak their language so it hadn’t been communicated well, but then I heard from a fellow musician that it happened here in the UK a few weeks ago too. I guess the thing to take away from this is that you should always send your first dance request early, confirm it near the day, and send a link to the exact song because there’s so many versions, remixes and songs with the same title these days. Phew, dance floor crisis averted!
Don’t want that high pitched screeching noise that feels like someones running their fingernails down a chalk board? Well in simple terms feedback happens when the speakers pick up a mic from an instrument or vocal mic and accidentally amplify the sound until you hear that god awful noise. Although much of avoiding this is down to the band, there’s a few things that you can do to help avoid this too. If you’ve booked a live band this is why plenty of time for a soundcheck shouldn’t be underestimated when planning your event. If given time, the band can often help eliminate feedback by checking levels, playing with their EQ settings and doing things like positioning the speakers carefully. ‘Roaming acts” (acts that move around the room while performing) may need to watch for this a little more than standing acts. It’s also worth noting that if your venue is supplying their own PA for the event you might want to send your band pictures of their speakers and where they are situated in the room, the type of PA it is and whether a sound engineer will be on site on the night.
Outdoor events are brilliant, theres no denying it! But rain, fog and humidity are no joke to musicians. It might only seem like a little bit of drizzle or a passing cloud of fog, but that moisture in the air is going to get into every piece of electrical equipment and it can cause serious damage. When planning cover for your outdoor entertainment, plan for cover from top to bottom and back to sides should the worst happen with the weather (because the wind can bring the rain in from all angles). If cover isn’t possible, hope for good weather but plan for bad, and have an alternative site they can perform in that is indoors.
If you’re running a lot of gear through an extension reel and don’t fully unravel it the chances are it’s going to get warm and not be able to disperse the heat. This can cause circuits to trip and worst case scenario fully melt your cables causing a fire hazard. Unravel your reels!
Okay, I don’t want to sound like the fun police here - I know it’s a party so drinks will get spilled, but I can’t stress how much impact one spilled drink can have on your night. If it goes anywhere near the PA and other equipment you could have a disaster on your hands for obvious reasons (hint: electric equipment + water = boom!), if it’s on the dance floor people are going to slip or broken glass will be everywhere, if it’s over the DJ booth the whole library of music could be gone and if it’s onto a roaming musician, who is potentially holding a piece of equipment worth thousands of pounds, you’re going to get a very frustrated musician. Now the good news- most musicians are used to navigating the slippery party puddles and keep a watchful eye over the dance floor and the equipment, and we are insured if the worst should happen, but please if you happen to see someone trying to put a drink on the speaker or in front of the DJ booth (it happens all the time!) then help us out and politely ask them to move it elsewhere.
Dancing on your own!
For one reason or another it may take time to get people up and dancing. Their bellies might be full from a massive dinner, they might have had a long day and need time for that post-dinner caffeine to kick in, or they might just need a little time to get into the dancing mood. Have faith that with the right music an experienced act will always get people up by the end of the night. Musicians have usually done hundreds of events before and so they know how to read your crowd. DJ’s are fundamental in getting people going too, so allow them the time they need to generate a bit of a feeling for the crowd and try to understand that they may need to veer away from your song requests to do this! Lead by example and let your hair down to have a great night because once people see the hosts having a good time they’ll soon want to join in!