Starting a function band isn’t just about the music – it’s a serious business decision that will take time, investment and some good decisions.
If you’re after something that’s more than a pub-gig hobby, you’ll need a strong work ethic, good people skills and serious drive.
Pick the right people
First and foremost, find the best lead vocalist in town. As well as a great voice, they’ll need to be a skilled performer and charismatic entertainer.
They’re sometimes asked to be Master of Ceremonies, rallying the crowd to the dance-floor, announcing intervals, cake-cutting and asking whose red Volvo Estate has blocked the car park.
Facebook’s a great place to start looking for band members as it has lots of dedicated groups for musicians looking for work. You could also try music colleges, rehearsal studios or jam nights.
If it takes a while to find the people, don’t get disheartened – all function bands evolve over time. As long as everyone’s on time, prepared and polite, you might consider saving yourself the stress of finding the ‘perfect’ people.
Management and finances
Work out a management structure. Do you want a band that you run entirely, and pay musicians to play in, or do you want everyone to have a stake in it?
One of you might have a knack for admin, somebody else could drive the van, and someone else deals with clients and agencies. It’s important to be clear on your expectations from the beginning to avoid issues later on.
Band is brand
Work out your unique selling points and make sure these come across in your promotional material, website, and performance.
Do you do mashups, or only certain genres? The more niche you are, the harder gigs might be to chase, but you could charge more for being specialist.
A band’s image is important and you need to play up to your genre. If you’re a sophisticated jazz band marketing yourself for cocktail parties and corporate events, dress up in your smartest evening wear. If you’re a Mariachi band, don’t expect interest without Charro suits.
It’s about your audience
While you need to enjoy what you do, the remit of a function band is to entertain, create a celebratory atmosphere and get people dancing. You’re not here to indulge your musical whims.
Give guests the songs they know and love, and keep song choices uplifting. There’s a reason The Smiths and Bob Dylan don’t often feature on party playlists!
Private parties and weddings are often multi-generational events; you need to appeal to grandparents without alienating teenagers. Play songs from all eras and keep your set lists up to date with the latest chart-toppers.
The power of promo
The majority of clients book without seeing you play live. This means the quality of your promo is essential. Get the best video, audio and photos you can afford. It pays in the long run.
Consider your filming location and the message this sends about your act. You should replicate the atmosphere of an event, even if it’s just in the choice of backdrop and the lighting. A video in a stale rehearsal room is less persuasive.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
When you play live, you want to be concentrating on entertaining the crowd, not trying to remember the next chord. Rehearsing can be expensive, but it will soon pay off.
Reading lyrics off a sheet or iPad is a no-no. If you want to get paid for playing, you should know your material and learn new songs quickly (unless it’s a last minute, one-off request).
Think you’ve learned everything? Don’t get complacent! Monitor your progress by recording and videoing your performances, then getting the band to critique them.
Get the right equipment
Since many of the functions will be at private venues without sound equipment and lighting, you’ll need to provide this yourself. There’s a variety of PA systems available, and most are portable. Hiring for each event will get expensive, so it’s worth investing in a good PA.
Everything you have should be PAT tested, and make sure you have Public Liability Insurance because many venues won’t let a client book you without it.
Bring spares strings, leads, and even instruments if possible. Whatever you do, make sure there’s always a Plan B should you need it.
Stay calm and think creatively to keep your client at the heart of the event – even if your guitar’s just been snapped in two – and make sure your vehicle’s in good condition, road tested and insured.
Get out there and gig
If you were a bride looking for a wedding band, where would you search? Wedding exhibitions, music agencies, wedding dress shops, Google…?
One of the simplest ways is to get on the books of a trusted live music agency. They’ll add a commission to your fee, but can get you better rates and regular gigs. They’ll have longstanding client relationships and will provide help and advice to make sure your band is delivering on every level.
Mike Ausden is a musician and co-founder of live music booking agency Function Central. Function Central offers an easy way to find and book function bands, musicians and DJs for weddings, parties and corporate events, anywhere in the UK.