Inside the Swing Band
May 17, 2013 By Stirling Austin
I found this really interesting video explaining about what happens musically inside a big swing band, made by the US army no less. If anyone’s interested in what makes swing bands swing, this is worth sitting down with a cup of tea to watch through. (its quite long!)
Despite the crazy cat uniforms, this video is probably something the US army to be proud of. Enjoy!
Music For Awards Events Brochure
March 28, 2013 By Stirling Austin
Having gained specific experience in providing music for awards events, I’ve been doing some research. I found it really interesting learning about all the different kinds of awards that are out there! From technology, to local authority, there does seem to be an amazingly eclectic choice of what you can be recognised for. From the Insurance Fraud Awards, to the Grocer Gold Awards, there really is something for everyone!
So that started me thinking about the musical stings, and how I could tailor them specifically so that the tunes and lyrics have relevance. Nothing as predictable as “I get a kick” for the Footballer of the Year awards, but that sort of thing works quite well despite being corny!
We’ve got a new page up for music for awards events, and now a brochure.I’m looking forward to writing the lyrics for the winners!
Entertainment ideas for Corporate Awards Events
March 12, 2013 By Stirling Austin
An opening general session may include entertainment that adds excitement and presents the overall theme of the meeting. Mixers or pre-dinner parties many times use entertainment meant to provide a backdrop for conversation, Awards or Gala events, sometimes the last event in a series of meetings, can make use of many options, from celebrity after dinner speakers and presenter to bands providing dance music or other options that will leave the attendees with a feel-good experience.
Unfortunately in most case, little thought is always given to booking entertainers that offers something appropriate and relevant to the corporate objective itself, and in particular for corporate awards events.
Background music during a reception or dinner should be ” heard but not seen”, and of a genre that lends itself to creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. For example, the smooth style of Nat King Cole, the seductive bossa sounds of ” Girl from Ipanema”, and the timeless retro classics work well when the objective is to create a space for delegates or guests to talk, network and feel comfortable in a friendly business environment. No point in playing “Lady In Red” either…
For party music, one size fits all is difficult to achieve. Any band playing for guests who either work together (e.g. can’t get too familiar on the dancefloor) or who didn’t know each other until the event (won’t go crazy on the dancefloor, or may not even feel comfortable getting on the dancefloor) needs to have not only a wide repertoire at its disposal, but also the ability to call the tunes and change genre instantly based on the crowd.
Let’s face it, there’s no point pumping out the Black eyed peas ” I got a feeling” when there’s an empty dancefloor. (They may not want to dance, but rather do networking.)Bill Withers ” lovely day” or Otis Redding’s ’Dock of the Bay” works great when you need upbeat party atmosphere but when the delegates want to feel like they’re at a party without dancing.
Music for awards events is a completely different animal to regular corporate entertainment. I won’t repeat too much of what is already on our ” music for awards events” page, but I must say that the work involved as a bandleader when it comes to thinking through and planning music for awards events is totally different than for other type of business event.
Many event planners make the mistake of booking a generic function band who turn up and playing their two or three sets, where the bandleader has no concept of the audience they are playing to and the fact that this is business, not pleasure.(To an extent)
It’s almost a a bespoke production, you are in effect part of the events team. When the awards are accompanied by musical stings, those stings need to bring glamour both to the event and to the person winning the award, so any old tune just won’t do.
In the same way as many awards events have celebrity speakers and emcees who are prepped and understand how to project and improvise when announcing the winners, the band and bandleader need to be ready to strike up exactly the right tune at a moments notice, stop at a moments notice as if it was preplanned (rather than tailing off like an orchestra tuning up) and of course sound great whatever they are playing. Not to mention reorganising their stage layout to accommodate the delegate winners, speaker, podium etc…
I have just put together a new musical package for awards events. Given my own experience working in corporate life for over 25 years, I (more than most bandleaders, no false modesty here) understand what’s going on in a event managers mind at corporate events. I instinctively know how to use the brand and the music to the organisers/hosts best advantage. We’ve done quite a few events already like this and I really enjoy it, and I’m really excited about developing this further.
Feed your children swing and jazz- they will grow up to be solid citizens!
March 10, 2013 By Stirling Austin
There was an interesting article a while ago by Neil McCormick entitled “Do we really need ‘children’s music’? They’ll be fine with David Bowie”.
Firstly I must say that I do agree with Mr McCormick, he makes a good point. It should never be underestimated just how much influence the style of music that children listen to has on their personal development as a citizen of the world. In other words, the music but you are brought up listening to is probably what will inspire you, not to mention how the adults who are around those kids will be affected.
Now that’s not to say that Humpty Dumpty will make you worried about sitting on walls, or that learning common usage expressions from listening to songs with explicit lyrics will affect your chances of getting into Eton, but there’s definitely a link somewhere.
Now of course I’m biased. I love swing and big band music, 50′s etc. No nasty lyrics there, although perhaps a few disguised innuendos. (How about Bill Haley’s famous line in “Shake, Rattle & Roll” -” I’m like a one eyed cat, feeding in a seafood store”….)
Anyway, my theory is that if children were fed a musical diet of Glenn Miller, The Rat Pack, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and the like, then this would have an extremely beneficial effect on their formative years, their language and their behaviour.
So if anybody is interested in sponsoring a children’s album project, for example called ” Swinging in my Crib”, then do get in touch. You never know, those children’s nursery rhyme lyrics might have a wonderful effect on the kids, whilst at the same time as giving both them and their parents that wonderful fuzzy feeling you get from listening to good old swing band music.
And perhaps I could calmly retire on the royalties…
How to enthrall an audience!
October 12, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Here’s an amazing video, showing Bobby McFerrin demonstrateing the power of music with audience participation.
Lady is a Tramp
October 5, 2012 By Stirling Austin
In 1937, a musical called Babes In Arms featured a song that would become a staple for Frank Sinatra, not to mention Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and the Rat Pack. The song was The Lady is a Tramp, by the Broadway songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart. It was recorded by Lena Horne in 1948, and she performed it in a film about the two famous songwriters, called Words and Music.
In the 1957 film Pal Joey, Frank Sinatra serenades Rita Hayworth with the song, and soon afterwards, it became a regular part of Frank’s nightclub and concert shows. Though it started out with a mellow arrangement with a piano lead-in, in later years the song got a new treatment with a bold horn introduction, and became one of the most exciting numbers in the Sinatra show.
Sammy also liked singing the song and performed it regularly during his concert appearances. And Dean did it too, but his version was a comical parody in which he sings the gentleman is a tramp, as part of the opening of his time on stage.
Throughout the years, The Lady is a Tramp was also associated with Ella Fitzgerald, who sang the song many times, including as a duet with Frank on one of his TV specials. And it was recorded by the Supremes in an album of Rodgers and Hart songs. Most recently, it was heard sung by two of the main characters on an episode of the TV series Glee. And there were recordings of The Lady is a Tramp by the group Yes, They Might Be Giants, and even Alice Cooper. But it will always be most associated with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.
Wouldn’t it be nice for a swing band wedding
May 25, 2012 By Stirling Austin
It’s been quite a while since my last blog post-sheer laziness on my part, and I’m not a great fan of blogging for blogging’s sake. Nevertheless, last Saturday’s gig brought amazing satisfaction. Here’s the story:
At this time of year most Saturday nights are booked up, although we are getting more and more couples booking weekdays, Fridays and Sundays to get a better deal and that makes a lot of sense. Last Saturday night though was one of those rare free evenings-that is, up until the previous Wednesday afternoon when one of the agencies who we work with called me to ask if we could play a wedding in Glasgow on Saturday!
They booked their previous band about a year ago, and at the time the band were advertising as a swing band for weddings with a full repertoire of swing, rat Pack, soul and pop. The band played using real instruments, but with backing tracks to enhance the sound and in the interim period they had apparently changed the whole set up.
One week before the wedding they sent the list of (30) songs to the bride and groom, but with one big difference-they were all pop songs, no Rat Pack swing and the set list was not flexible due to the backing track system. The bride and groom complained, this is not what they had booked, but there was nothing they could do.
So I got the call-could we jump in? Well, spending a Saturday night on the town would have been a rare treat, but there was no question- off to Glasgow we go! I spoke with the bride and discovered that their 1st dance was going to be ” wouldn’t it be nice” by the Beach boys and that this was their special song.
Now I’m an old romantic at heart, so although the Beach boys harmonies are way out of my comfort zone this required a good deed. I spoke to our piano player and he wrote a special musical chart arrangement with the horns taking some of the harmonies (particularly the high ones!) and leaving me to put my stamp on it… sort of Sinatra and Barry White meet the Beach boys big-band!
Anyway it was fantastic- an unbelievable atmosphere, the crowd were brilliant and everyone was on the dancefloor from start to finish.You can read the testimonial on this website.
Now I don’t mean to sound smug, but there are times in life where everything comes down to one moment and us being able to save the day as well as playing that 1st dance was one of them. Despite the venue having the worst get in in the world (middle of Glasgow pedestrianised area on third-floor with tiny lift ) not to mention getting back to Manchester at 5 in the morning, it was one of the most fulfilling moments since I had the opportunity to make two people very happy and leave them with a great memory. And that makes it all worth it.
Choosing the right wedding venue for your musical entertainment
April 26, 2012 By Stirling Austin
You’ll find hundreds of articles about choosing the right wedding venue and many of them give sound advice. However, although the venue sales manager will give you lots of good reasons as to why you should book from the point of view of location, food, price, service and so on, what they very rarely talk about is how practical the venue actually is when it comes to wedding band entertainment and other suppliers who are booked on your wedding day.
Because when all is said and done (e.g. vows and the meal!) what really counts is you and your guests having a fantastic time in the evening, and making it a party to remember. Unfortunately, there can be a number of reasons why certain venues have disadvantages when it comes to music and having played at hundreds of venues across the country in the last few years I feel I’m qualified to get some help and advice on this. The band and especially the bandleader gets to see how venues operate from behind the scenes and if I was a wedding planner (which, given the amount of time I happily spend discussing plans with engaged couples , I probably should be) there are certain venues (and staff) that I would advise against using.
Now I won’t name any names. But here’s some things to look out for to make sure that when you are choosing your wedding venue that you won’t be disappointed.
Layout of room for entertainment
When you’re standing in the main room where the entertainment will be, imagine how the band will be set up.
- Is there room for the band and the dance floor and will everybody be able to dance close to the band.
- Are there any pillars in the way which block the entertainment.
- If the room is L shaped, or the bar is in a separate room, this can make it extremely difficult to create a party atmosphere since guests may congregate for the evening in areas far away from the band.
- Is the evening buffet in a separate room, since this will take guests away from where the entertainment is.Much better to have the buffet in the same room.
Timings for service and food
- Is the venue rigid on their timings? (E.g. are they thinking of their own organisation or how to best plan your event based around what you want and what works best for you!) For example, if they insist on serving the meal at 5 o’clock, but the ceremony is at 2 PM and the evening guests arrive at 7:30 PM (and there’s no separate bar area or lobby where dinner and evening guests can hang around in in a break) then this can cause problems since guests need to always be taken care of.
- The venue should confirm how long they take to turn the room round after the meal and before the entertainment, and how they will provide access for the band to set up quickly and efficiently. Otherwise this can throw your carefully planned timings into disarray.
Most weddings run a little late, either the photographs might take a little longer than planned, or the venue might be late with the meal service and this can affect things considerably. Remember that all the other suppliers are dependent on the venue being flexible, (e.g. Chocolate Fountain, photo booth etc) otherwise things may not go to plan.
The best acoustics depend on a number of factors. Obviously there’s a difference between marquees and function rooms. Sound in general needs to have walls to bounce off; high ceilings are not ideal. Best to have a chat with the bandleader, they will advise on what works best.
If the venue has a noise limiter installed then beware! Sometimes these contraptions can be a source of irritation and spoil your party.
If the noise limiter is set up correctly then depending on the type of music (e.g. as long as you’re not booking a heavy rock band or an insensitive DJ) there shouldn’t be a problem. We have worked at many venues with noise limiter’s installed and have had no problem, whereas with others where they are not set up properly the moment you play the first note all the electrics cut out. This has nothing to do with the band, for more information see my article on noise limiters. The point is, on the night you must have someone from the venue who is able to disable the sound limiter it if it’s not functioning correctly, otherwise the band/DJ will either be forced to play quietly or the party will keep on getting disrupted. Many venues gloss over this point; do not compromise.
Indeed, many bands actually refuse to play at venues where there is a noise limiter installed. It’s a bit like having potholes on a racetrack. The whole point of being there is to drive. So if you are a venue with a ropey sound limiter, you should not be advertising yourself as a venue for loud entertainment.
Attitude of event coordinator or venue manager
Many a time I have come across disgruntled chocolate fountain/ Photo Booth suppliers/ DJs/dancers etc who cannot believe how uncoordinated some of these venues are behind-the-scenes and how uninterested they are in working with your other event suppliers to make the day run smoothly. We don’t work for them, we work for you, and that’s the same for all the event suppliers that you have contracted with. Unfortunately many venues will nod their head to get your booking, but on the day are totally indifferent to anything but their own requirements for moving guests around and serving food. This makes it extremely hard for even the most flexible band (and the other suppliers) to work harmoniously and that can have an effect on things. How to make sure? Question the venue manager/event coordinator as to how they think when it comes to working with suppliers. Are they the sort of people who understand that other suppliers dependent upon them to do the job well? Ask questions as to how they deal with other suppliers. Do they liaise beforehand, is there someone designated on the day to make sure that they don’t need to run around chasing staff to get attention? What do they feel is required so as for the band/DJ to get the best results?
We have worked with many venues where the professionalism of the event coordinator is evident and others where they are simply not interested and this makes a massive difference, in particular for your entertainment. In my opinion it’s one of the most important things to look out for when booking your wedding venue.
So whether it’s a swing band for weddings, Soul Band, DJ or any other type-do check this out.Or call me, I’ll be happy to give some advice!
I would like to represent Great Britain in the Musical Olympics
March 5, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Now here’s the thing. Why does the Olympic Games have to be just about sport? Why not a musical competition? I know we have the Eurovision Song contest, but that’s not quite the same.
(By the way, I just read that Engelbert Humperdinck has been chosen to represent the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song contest. Well that’s a turn up for the books. Anyway, back to the Olympics.)
The Olympic Games, as I understand it, are meant to stand for the coming together of nations for games, played with a competitive spirit. But perhaps that’s where the problem starts, because someone always seems to be arguing, boycotting, pulling rank (pity the poor Londoners who have to get to work when all the visiting officials get priority on the roads) and someone is always upset because they didn’t get gold, silver, bronze and so on.
When it comes to music and musicians, competitive spirit takes on a whole different meaning. You could say it’s about doing one’s best to achieve self-expression, striving to be the best yet on a sharing basis with others. In a big swing band or jazz band, when one of the players for example plays a sensational solo, the others tend to share the moment and the audience applauds with appreciation. Although there is creative ego, true musicianship is not about jealousy or about being a better soloist than another, it’s more about everyone contributing, achieving and furthering self-expression as individuals but on a collective basis.
So imagine the musical Olympics. Every nation in the world has something to contribute musically If we invested as much time, energy and money in the music Olympics as we did in the sporting Olympics, then countries would develop musically and we would end up with a fantastic event where everybody wants to get on. And that’s got to be a good thing for world peace.
Here’s what the album cover would have looked like in 2008….
There’s no such thing as swing music, only music that swings!
March 2, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Many musicians say that there is no such thing as swing music, there is only music that “swings.” And when you’re dancing to swing music, it’s really got to be ” swung” and that involves musicians who understand the structure of the music.
Here is an excerpt from a great article by the Newcastle University swing dance Society.
“Almost all music in the modern charts has no swing to it at all. The tempo of the music is kept by the drummer, and every beat is as important as every other beat. The main notes of the tune and the main words of the lyrics tend to be played or sung on the beat, and the beat is relentless. This is sterile for a good swing dancer. There is nothing there for a swing dancer to work with.
Good music for swinging to has “hits” and “breaks”. A hit is an excuse for a wild kick or the like, it is a note or group of notes that stands out from the rest by being louder, or higher, or sharper than the others. A break is a moment in the music when there is a sudden lull, perhaps even absolute silence. This is an excuse to do the opposite of dancing to a hit – to slow things down, makes smaller moves, and perhaps even come to a complete halt.
Other styles of music may also have these hits and breaks, but importantly, in swing, these features are predictable – a dancer can hear them coming, even in an unfamiliar piece – because they are signalled by the musicians. This means that the dancer can make himself ready for them and honour them when they come, rather than be surprised by them.
In jazz music, the tempo is not kept by the drummer, but by the bass player. The drummer is therefore free to do what he wants, perhaps coming in late or early, perhaps using a stop-start style…
To understand swing music you’ve got to feel it and live it. For the musicians it’s all about playing with time, which is the exact reason it’s so danceable. The musician gives the dancer time and space to play, to create, to respond. There’s also the space for each instrument to play within the framework of the melody and rhythm and create spots in the music where there long or short notes, where the musician can take advantage of the structure to bridge phrases.”
In order for an instrumentalist to play swing music and really make it swing, it’s fair to say that they will need to have either studied jazz .(or to have the most amazing ability to play by ear) It would also be fair to say that jazz musicians can play other genres e.g. Soul, (The Funk Brothers were originally Jazz Musicians) but non-jazz trained musicians will not have the ability to play swing and jazz and really make it swing, since they’ve never played with time. ( as opposed to playing in time e.g. the correct rhythm)
That’s not meant as a judgement, but from a swing band leaders perspective it pretty much defines who you work with in order to achieve a quality sound for your swing band in Glasgow, London, Manchester or Brighton!.
When I’m playing at a wedding or corporate function, it’s quite a buzz to enjoy the privilege of playing with some amazing musicians who themselves play with some of the worlds top recording artists. Long may this continue.
Some must do’s when booking a band for your wedding
February 28, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Many who book live function bands for corporate events or private events will likely only do so once or twice in a lifetime. This is especially the case for brides looking for their ideal wedding entertainment. For this group, booking wedding bands will be a first. For corporate entertainment it’s all about impressing clients and staff, and quality control is all-important.
For many the hunt begins with a Google search, and it can be a daunting prospect to sift through page after page of Google listings and adverts for “swing bands for weddings”, “Soul Bands”, “Jazz band for corporate events” and so on.
So if this is your approach (rather than a word of mouth recommendation) then you’ll need to make sure you follow some guidelines to help you at least make sure you’ve got your bases covered.
- Contact the bandleader. If you have to leave a message and you don’t get a call back within at least 24 to 48 hours alarm bells should ringing. If you get a call back after 5 days then that gives you a good idea as to the level of service you should expect from that point on. Good function band leaders understand the business of entertainment, and that’s worth a lot.
- If you booking through an agency, then check whether the salesperson actually understands the difference between the bands in terms of instrumentation, level of musicianship, proficiency in different styles and so on. if you can’t speak to the bandleader, the agent should be able to answer all the questions down to the last detail since in this case they are the representative. If they can’t answer all the questions and advise you, then book directly with another band.
- Listen carefully to the bands songs, and videos if they have them. Rate them by first and foremost by sound and feel rather than by budget – it’s true to say in this business that you get what you pay for. Most importantly, try to make your decision based on who you like the sound of rather than if they are cheaper than someone else – you’ll thank yourself for this later.
- Study the bands testimonials. Even better would be to ask to have a chat with one or two previous clients.
- You need to get your costs in order. Make sure you are totally clear on what the fee you have been quoted includes.
- Make sure you get a contract. For the private client the onus is on the band to issue you with a contract. Make sure you study the contract and are happy with all the clauses.
- Think through all the timings and logistics for the day and discuss them with the bandleader. It’s important to make sure that the venue, the caterers, the band and any other aspects of the day that may affect the smooth running of the evening’s entertainment.
- Discuss in fine detail what the bandleader proposes in terms of keeping the entertainment flowing. Can the band change their set list to adapt to the audience? Is the band flexible on set times? Will the music in between sets blend with the band’s list of songs? Are you able to specify which songs you would like played in between sets? Will the band use an iPod (not good, since there is a gap between each tune) or do they have a proper setup so that the music flows non-stop? Etc etc etc…
Suggestions when choosing a band for your wedding
February 27, 2012 By Stirling Austin
If you are like most people, chances are you’ll remember the wedding entertainment more than anything at a party. Wedding entertainment leaves the most indelible memory after any affair. So it only stands to reason that the guests you invite to your wedding will have the same impression. Long after the memory of how your flowers looked has faded from their minds, long after they’ve forgotten about those invitations you sent out, they’ll remember how great a time they had, dancing and celebrating with the Bride and Groom.
It is for this reason that booking a wedding band as entertainment is worth doing as early as possible reception early. You should be very clear about what you want and how you want your day to run. You should shop around. You should call references. And if you’re going to cut some financial corners at your reception, you should look somewhere else. Don’t order special flower displays for example, or go with the open bar.
Spend and invest your money wisely on your wedding day for entertainment, and you are virtually guaranteed to have a memorable, fun, exciting day. The following are some tips to help you for entertainment.
1 – How early should you book?
As a rule of thumb, 12 -18 months prior to your date. This varies based on the time of year and day of the week. If you are planning a Saturday in August, 12 months might be too late. If you are planning a Friday night wedding or even a Saturday in an off season month (January and February) then 6 -12 months is more appropriate.
2- How can you judge which band to book?
Study their video demos closely and try to spot the differences in the quality of sound and musicianship. (Are they miming?) .
If you fall in love with a band because of the lead singer, make sure they will guarantee that specific person by name. This gives you the piece of mind that you know who you are getting.
3- Do not assume that all wedding bands use state of the art equipment.
The fact is, some wedding bands cut costs by purchasing cheaper equipment. This will come back to haunt their reputation but you don’t want it costing you on your big day.
4 – Try to get a feel for whether the wedding band is truly professional.
A professional wedding band has many benefits. For one thing, there’s a much better chance they’ll still be in business 12 -18 months later when your wedding comes up. Many individuals get started part time, find out it’s not all fun and games, and get out of the business quickly. Also, established bands will have backup musicians and backup equipment readily available and be fully insured (and many venues insist on this.)
5- Do proper research on price versus quality.
There are many non-professional bands advertising on the internet, and when bands are run as a hobby or sideline they will be cheaper and their level of commitment cannot be the same as your other event suppliers (eg caterers, venue) who provide a professional business service. So although the demos may sound good on the website, in reality you may not get a great musical product on the day. (And remember that if you book through an agency they put 20% on top, so the band is getting even less)
- Some bands pay musicians a low fee and have only very basic sound equipment, whereas better musicians cost more and are more musically capable. Better paid and professional musicians will be more motivated to actually entertain your guests rather than just turning up to play the gig for beer money. If you book a cheap band you are most likely to get a bunch of students/mates or low paid musicians rather than talented professionals who are managed well, play together well, behave well, keep the tempos etc and are flexible when it comes to change of set list.
Most importantly, always speak to the bandleader first before booking so you can find out who’s behind the band and what you are really getting !
6- Are you happy with the customer service you received?
If you do not feel like you are being treated well in the initial process of dealing with someone during the time when they are trying to “win” your business, how do you think they’ll treat you once you’ve booked them? Will you get the one-on-one attention you deserve? You should insist that the band is flexible and will work with you to create the exact atmosphere you are looking for on your big day. If you hear things like “you can give us a few requests,” or “Can you bring that CD along? I don’t think I have it,” you should see the warning signs. Answers like, “we want you to tell us everything you want to plan so we can fit in well is what you should hear.
7 – How helpful will the entertainer be in planning the reception and music for special activities and dances?
This probably goes to experience more than anything. An entertainer who specializes in weddings and who has done many of them will be able to assist you in selecting music, creating the right atmosphere and finding the right song or songs for special moments in the reception (like dancing with a parent). You probably won’t be able to truly judge this until right before your wedding but you should ask a few questions up front and pay careful attention to how informative the answers are.
8 – When you’re ready, book it.
The process can be long and exhausting but once you’ve decided, do everything you can to reserve the band you’ve chosen as quickly as possible. Nothing will disappoint you more than going through the whole process, setting your heart on something and then waiting a week to call and finding out they are booked on your day. It happens, but don’t let it happen to you. Once you’ve decided, pick up the phone, get the deposit transferred, sign a contract, reserve the date. And then don’t second guess yourself. If you followed these steps, rest assured you’ll have great entertainment for your reception.
Ladies, why wait? The wedding proposal is your privilege!
February 26, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Although some could argue that marriage proposals are no longer the exclusive domain of the guy, any one more shy and reticent waiting for the “get down on one knee OMG this is it” moment can use the day as an officially sanctioned moment (in folklore) to pop the question.
There are different versions of where this tradition of women being able to pop the question on February 29 came from, depending on who you ask. I read that some say St Patrick agreed the deal with St Bridget who supposedly bargained him down from every seven years to every four, whereas reckon that as the day stands outside the normal run of things and even has a debatable place in the law, it was natural for something unnatural (some may say) to be allowed.
So if you feel like your relationship is ready for the next stage and you want some commitment so that you can book a band for your wedding, you can always refer to this blog claiming that as the choice of band is really important, you need to know now so that we can block the date!
Corny but true!
When you book a swing band, do you really want a swing band?
February 25, 2012 By Stirling Austin
Swing music is great entertainment, and many clients have the image of a swing band providing a sophisticated atmosphere for their event. However unless your event has a purely swing theme, e.g. a rat pack evening, then in many cases there will be a requirement for a more “party time” part of the evening later on. Although swing music is great to dance and jive to, there’s only so much you can do with “Mack the knife” and similar songs to really get an audience to “boogie on down”!
My point is, that many people, in search of something different and sophisticated, think they want a swing band. But what they really need is a band that can play swing music well, reminiscent of Sinatra, Bobby Darin, the Rat Pack and so on, but then also have the ability and flexibility to play other styles more towards the “pop” genre that appeals to a wider audience.
Not all musicians play more than one style well. Indeed, to play swing music from big band style musical charts requires professionally trained jazz musicians. Not all jazz musicians are naturals at playing pop, however depending on the style of song they will be more likely to be able to turn their hand to other genres, whereas (untrained) pop musicians won’t be able to play swing chart arrangements.
What this all means is that if you book a swing band and you want them to really carry the evenings entertainment, then it’s worth spending some time scrutinising how well they play other styles and whether those other styles will really keep your dancefloor busy. Playing the latest Buble song is not the same as a Stevie wonder dancefloor hit, and after one and a half hours of swing it’s important to be able to work the crowd and please as many people as possible and keep the energy flowing.
I find that in many cases one of a bride’s key concerns is whether or not the band can keep the evening moving. In our case I can confirm that’s why (4 years ago) we introduced a 2nd repertoire style of soul, Motown, and pop, with songs that follow on and blend naturally with swing and rat Pack.
Whether its a Swing Band in Manchester, London, Scotland or Singapore, it means that clients can be reassured that their swing band is also a party band.
Sinatra’a Hideaway for sale
October 23, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Late Frank Sinatra’s hideaway home has been put on the market again, and this time for a reduced price of 3.7 million dollars.
Sinatra designed the retreat in the late 1960s with architect Ross Patten and contractor Albinas Zemaitaitus. The home took three years to complete at a cost of 1.9 million dollars, Fox News reported.
It had been designed as a hangout for Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies, but the home, which was first listed in 2009 for 4.8 million dollars, also hosted a variety of other celebrities and politicians.
The actor had named the home “Villa Maggio” after his Oscar-winning role as
Private Angelo Maggio in the film ‘From Here to Eternity’, and he had owned it for 12 years before he donated it to Loyola Marymount University.
Evidently, the school didn’t make use of it and sold it in 1989 for 1.4 million dollars. Perched on seven-plus acres of elevated granite terrain, Villa Maggio includes a main house and two guest homes, a pool, helipad, and a total of 9 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms, many with views of the surrounding hills.
Famous Rat Pack Venue is Closing!
October 23, 2011 By Stirling Austin
The Sahara Hotel & Casino, among a few Las Vegas Strip resorts left from the Rat Pack era, is closing nearly six decades after dealing its first hand.
“The continued operation of the aging Sahara was no longer economically viable,” CEO Sam Nazarian of owner SBE Entertainment Group said. The property will close May 16, officials said.”While the closing of any hotel is sad, it is a natural and expected part of our great city’s history,” Murren said. “While today we pause to reflect on many great memories and stories of its legendary past, like so many before it, there is a brighter future for this property.”
Murren pointed to the Desert Inn making way for Wynn Las Vegas, the Dunes becoming the Bellagio, Aladdin renovating into Planet Hollywood and the original Las Vegas Sands giving way to the Venetian. And, when Murren’s company built the $8.7 billion CityCenter, it used the land that had held the Coney Island-themed Boardwalk.
Future uncertain Phil Ruffin, the owner of Treasure Island in Las Vegas, said redevelopment of the Sahara would be good for the Strip, but he predicted SBE will have a hard time getting financing. ”I hope we live that long — I don’t see it for a long time,” he said. “I’d like to see it happen but I don’t think it’s anything imminent.” Ruffin said the Sahara’s neighborhood looks “very bad.”
The unfinished multibillion-dollar Fontainebleau development that filed for bankruptcy court protection is nearby. Billionaire Carl Icahn, who ultimately bought the property, sold its furniture to a casino on the California-Nevada border and hasn’t said when construction might resume.
There’s no guarantee something glamorous will emerge. The former site of the Landmark hotel, whose implosion in 1995 was included in the movie “Mars Attacks,” now holds a parking lot for the Las Vegas Convention Center. After the Stardust was razed in 2007 so Boyd Gaming Corp. could build its $4.8 billion Echelon complex, the project stalled. And a $5 billion complex that was supposed to replace the New Frontier never materialized.
The Sahara first gave a hint that change was afoot the same day CityCenter’s anchor casino, Aria, opened with 4,000 rooms in 2009. That’s when the Sahara announced it was mothballing rooms in two of its towers for the winter season.
But Nazarian called the northern end of the Strip, which includes the Sahara, the “future of Las Vegas.” ”With Las Vegas showing early signs of recovery, we are confident that we ultimately will find a creative and comprehensive new solution for this historic property,” Nazarian said.
Musical seduction – it’s all about the playlist!
September 26, 2011 By Stirling Austin
We play weddings and corporate gigs with very different crowds of people and no two are the same, so I place a lot of importance on getting a feel for the moment and the crowd. There are full on dancing crowds, sit and listen crowds, guests who look as though they’re ignoring you but then come and compliment you at the end of the evening, and so on.Each person has their own point at which they feel ready to party, so if its straight away you need to be ready and keep the momentum, or build things gradually to finish with a grand finale.
I’m constantly watching the room to see and gauge the reaction. I walk around the room in the band breaks (once I’ve put appropriate background/dancing music on) to feel the energy of the room. (unlike some bands I know who plug in an ipod and disappear to the bar) I monitor the mood constantly, keep the band ready to come back on if required, check with the organisers or hosts to make sure everything is to their expectations and so on.
I take great pride in our bands ability to switch styles at a moments notice, rejig the order of songs, play special requests, or change the setlist timings. Sometimes people are not ready to dance(having just finished eating) so we might play mellow upbeat to still give atmosphere, or for example throwing in teasers early on but adjusting the musical flow when the buffet is ready.
I just don’t get it for example in smaller events of around 100-150 guests, DJ’s start with some thumping disco beat at 8.30 in the evening. That means you’ve got 3 1/2 hours to fill….where so you go from there? (usually an empty dance floor around 10pm)
There’s an art of seduction when it comes to entertaining, you cant just charge in and expect people to go all the way in the first half hour.(please excuse the metaphor)You need to build things appropriate to the feel and character of each specific event.
A bands role is not just to turn up and play music.That’s only part of it. It’s also to be professional entertainers, to work with the crowd, be part of the event and to mirror the audience’s perception of being entertained and having a good time.
Every gig is equally important to me.
Booking the band, or the bandleader?
June 13, 2011 By Stirling Austin
There are occasions in life when one needs to find a band to provide music for an event, but just how does one go about this task? Excluding the obvious – hiring musicians who performed at a function you attended and who you really thought would be ideal for yours – where do you start looking, what does one need to look for and, when candidates are found, what should one ask? In actual fact, finding the right combo for your affair need not be all that tricky. Locating suitable bands is the easy part – try word of mouth or the internet.
When it comes to what to look for, use the example of a caterer. You would not simply hire a company to produce all the food for your guests without discussing the fine details at length with its representative, understanding what goes on behind the scenes for what they will prepare, making sure that expectations are understood on both sides and feeling comfortable that you are working with a solid partner who will make sure your guests have a great experience.
The same goes for a function band and its bandleader. It’s not just about the music. You need to interview the bandleader, because it is he (or she) who makes the difference between simply having music and having great musical entertainment. It is the bandleader who get his players going, who makes the beat happen and who creates the atmosphere, reading the room, worrying about continuity during the band breaks, making sure the musicians are well behaved etc..
The qualities you need to look for are those of a good leader – someone with a strong personality, who is articulate and has good people skills. Check to see if he (or she) takes his function band entertainment seriously, or if he does the odd part time gig with a few mates every now and then (this is not the man for the job). Ask about how he puts together the type of music he plays, because you need a band with a wide enough repertoire to be able to feel the atmosphere, match the music to the mood and up the tempo at just the right time. That requires bringing together real entertainers, not just good calibre musicians.
A real professional will also know about the sound and lighting systems, band access, logistics – and will gladly add his penny’s worth.In short, someone who cares as much about the smooth running of the event as you do.
Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that the bandleader of your choice is reliable, so that all members of his band will be at the venue with their instruments on time and ready to create an event to remember. Because you only get one shot at it-once the event is over, it’s too late..
Sneak Peak at the Royal Wedding – No Average Brass Function Bands
May 6, 2011 By Stirling Austin
After all the hype and hyperbole, the big day has come and gone for Kate – sorry, Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Wills, now Duke of Cambridge. They are now old hat and the wedding that was has been replaced in all the media by world events of much greater significance.
While everyone was focusing on The Dress (and what every else was wearing), being a member of a function band I (also being male) was much more interested in the music. Kate and Wills are both well known for being thoroughly modern, so I dared to think that there may be some deviation – either before or after the church ceremony – to reflect their preferences. Alas, no. Clearly Elton John (with David Furnish, but no baby in tow) was happier being a guest than an entertainer. No place in the proceedings for a swing band like mine, either. But I hear Ellie Golding got the gig with a few famous guests.
On reflection, the choice of music mirrored the depth of the occasion. One day they will (hopefully) be our king and queen, so the marching brass bands, choirs, organ fanfares, hymns and, of course, the National Anthem just had to play their part – and they did, echoing the solemnness of the day.
What would a national occasion in Britain be without the Trumpet Voluntary or, indeed, the especially composed Valiant and Brave fanfare played by the Royal Air Force’s Central Band. Never mind, I can’t play that type of music and anyway, I don’t take it personally that my swing function band wasn’t booked, although think of the publicity if I had the opportunity to to croon “It had to be you” as they walked down the aisle.(and through the trees)
An estimated TV audience of between two and three billion viewed the proceedings, from the arrival of the guests to the happy couple driving away in Charles’ Astin Martin. Pomp and ceremony is what we Brits do so well, so it’s up to you, Harry, to give us the opportunity to show the world we can do it again; and to give those brass bands, carriages and uniforms another airing.
And Harry, if you do read this blog post, go on…make an enquiry. A commoner function band like mine would almost certainly be available.
Can Function Bands Still Rock It, As Fuel Prices Rocket?
March 9, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Libya has been dominating the headlines and the British and U.S Governments have confirmed the intention to ‘cease trading in crude oil’ while the present violence in Libya ensues.
Now without adopting a political slant on the subject; the obvious disruption to crude oil supply and trade is going to have a ripple effect upon fuel prices, and as we all remember from the last fuel crisis, prices increased to the extent they became disgustingly extortionate, with panic buying – do you remember the petrol station queues?
Like many a function band, the Stirling Austin Swing Band is reliant upon regular private transport to get from A to B. According to the news stations, petrol prices are set to rocket to 140 pence per litre, a steep rise from the reported 128.65 average of last month. While the increase seems only marginal when you glance at the figures; standing at the petrol pump brings the truth painfully home, especially if you’re a function band musician filling a van or car prior to journeying to a gig. So what does this mean for function bands? Can we begin raising our prices to meet the inherently rising costs of getting to and from venues?
Unless your function band arrives in an electric minibus, the added cost spread over 6 or 7 musicians (even sharing cars ) travelling 100 miles is quite significant. Unfortunately, in the current economic climate the client isn’t always prepared to pay more.
But most of what we pay for fuel has nothing to do with the middle east, its the level of fuel tax that is the problem. According to one online fuel tax calculator (www.abd.org.uk/fuel_tax_calculator.htm) the true cost of fuel at 140p per litre is…57.5p and over recent years the tax rises have been extortionate. Some of you may also have noticed that the VAT is applied to cost of the petrol inclusive of fuel tax. So you pay tax on the tax you pay to buy fuel, and the taxman takes a cut twice after increasing the fuel tax.
Thats ridiculous. So I’ve come up with a better scheme for petrol pricing.
Let’s tax petrol based on the quality of your journey. If it doesn’t contribute much to David Cameron’s “Big Society” well-being, you will pay more, and if it’s for a good reason, you pay less. For example, if you can’t be bothered to cook real food and you drive to Macdonalds for some Macplasticnuggets and an apple flavoured sugar pie, you pay the highest rate. At the other end of the scale, if you travel to play good music and bring enjoyment to married couples and corporate delegates, then that should be the least taxed. And to be Frank, exempted.
But in the meantime, till the government adopts my proposals, if anyone knows where I can buy a cheap and reliable electric minibus that has a range of 300 miles, let me know. We’ll turn up at your wedding, recharge the van while we’re all having a party and be gliding silently back down the M1 at no extra cost at all.
Building Bridges in Business, At Abbey Road Studios!
March 3, 2011 By Stirling Austin
St. John’s Wood in North West London has had it’s fair share of the gifted and the glamorous. Probably the most famous studios in the world – Abbey Road has been the production centre for many an iconic album, by artist’s such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
While it was The Beatles who really put Abbey Road on the map, with the album of the same name in 1970; much of it’s modern attention has been influenced by the use of the pedestrian crossing upon album covers since the ‘Abbey Road’ release. The Shadows, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and even Oasis, have since used the imagery – although industry insiders still agree it’s in homage, rather than copy-cat creativity.
You might be wondering what on earth Abbey Road has to do with ‘building bridges in business’, and to be honest, so was I, when I first read the Whitebook press release. Perhaps intent on driving some tourism through those infamous Georgian doors, the marketing wigs at Abbey Road have partnered with Hainesnet – the event, tourism, and team-building specialists, to offer a fantastic opportunity for companies. I can quite see the allure actually. Those team-building techniques of old simply don’t cut it in our dog-eat-dog competitive Millennia, but recording a soundtrack with colleagues – yeah that could work and produce a really tight band that instinctively gel , just like the real rock n roll stars do .
Or not. You see, it could go both ways. If the objective of a team building day is to build better relationships with your colleagues at work, then the best way of sabotaging that is to have your drummer (a.k.a. Terry the geeky guy from IT) constantly missing the beat, the bassist (a.k.a. Kevin from the warehouse) slapping bum notes, the guitarist (a.k.a. Simon the middle aged sales rep) trying to bend it like Clapton, but the wrong way and Jessica (a.k.a. the hottie receptionist) bawling into the mike like Amy Winehouse’s cat after rehab.
After a couple of run throughs, it can become insanely irritating. Anyone who’s ever been in a band where people either hear a different version of the song in their heads to the other band members, or simply can’t play, it can drive you to diva level verbal tantrums that dent egos and destroy relationships .
I once worked with an events company to put on a “Strictly Corporate Dancing” style event, with our function band live, choreographers, judges, the whole caboodle. It worked a treat, but only because the organisers knew how not to push people too far outside their dancing capability comfort zones. Hainset are a well established and professional outfit, so I’m sure they have got it covered.
Or of course it can also produce a beautiful experience that builds bridges between colleagues and ultimately leading to more profits. As long as people understand it’s just a bit of fun.
For some it might be safer to just take a photograph of them crossing the road – that way they only need to look good on the album cover.
TweetUps: The Enlightened Way To A Greater National Product?
March 1, 2011 By Stirling Austin
A foray into the world of social networking is almost like entering an alternate dimension. Happily, I’ve reconnected with a number of pals working the function band circuit themselves, yet on the other hand, I’ve been subjected to a barrage of ‘Retweets’ and nuances, concerning everything from the political relevance of Lady Gaga’s ‘Rebirth’ via a giant egg, to supposed humor injections that are usually of the play on words variety. Even done a bit of retweeting myself.
Catching up with the news in the corporate sphere at the weekend, I was interested to read of the recent ‘TweetUp’ meeting, held at London’s snazzy new function venue – Altitude London 360 Black. Interesting naming for a venue!
This new social seminar of sorts, joins together social media marketing experts, with those like me, an independent business user, for the purposes of enlightening us on the wonders of social networking for business. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s really just a big event designed to generate more interest in social media marketing, therefore driving more business the organiser’s way, but the handy lessons and talks could actually prove useful to newbies entering the business world. It might also prove beneficial to function bands unsure of how to brand themselves.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to have remarked on this, but I wonder how twitter will stand the test of time as a business marketing tool, since the amount of information thrown at you can be mind boggling.
Obviously the more you communicate about your business, the more people know about you. But whether social media is a natural way to do business in the long term remains to be seen. Yes it can build brands, but also it can become the business norm in consumer marketing to regurgitate snippets of information with adverse effect.
Now don’t get me wrong, if a company has something interesting to say or relays relevant information, thats great. But for example, I subscribed to one business site where I had found an interesting article. Over the next few days I received no less than 10 tweets per day, some of which were interesting, but with many links to other articles, and if I was easily distracted I could have spent hours doing something else rather than what I was supposed to be doing. So here’s the thing:
- lets suppose I follow 5 business sites, and 20 friends , 25 in total
- The average person/business tweets 15 times per day ( From a TechCrunch article analyzing Twitter stats) Thats 375 tweets per day
- The average words per tweet (based on traditional publishing guidelines of 5 characters per word and an average of 100 characters per tweet): 20. So 375 x 20 =7500 words. At 30 days per month that’s 225000 words per month.
- The average published paperback novel contains around 70000 words, so you’re getting the equivalent of a three and a half novels per month. Just for you to read. Thats 42 books a year. And so on. Phew! Brain still working? Oh but there’s more:
- The average time to type a tweet: 30 seconds
- In a company, if 10 of your employees are twittering 15 times per day that’s 10 x 15 x 30secs = 4500 seconds / 60 seconds =75 minutes per day.
- 260 working days per year per employee =260 x 75 minutes per day =19500 minutes in a year which is 325 hours per year.(eg.32.5 hr per year per employee
- Say the average UK salary of a twittering employee is £20,000 each that’s (37.5 hrs per week)
- That breaks down to £333.33 per employee per year.
- Number of employees in UK 29.12 million.
- If 20% of employees tweet, then the productivity loss in £5.8 million
Now don’t get me started on Facebook updates, not to mention the other social media platforms.
But you can follow me on twitter.
Live music for business events – A profitable key business process for the corporate soul?
February 28, 2011 By Stirling Austin
If you’ve ever had the fortune of invitation to a prestigious product launch, grand opening or corporate awards ceremony, you’ll probably be familiar with the general hype surrounding such events. It’s usually taken months of planning, several hundred boardroom meetings, and endless refining to get the show pulled together – and if there’s publicity to be had, you can guarantee the media circus will be buzzing with anticipation.
That’s nothing compared to the expectation of clients – something I have become very much acclimatized to both during my life as a ‘suit’, and even since turning my back on the ‘Man’. Although never I turn my back on stage of course…
Travel, leisure and hospitality are the leading industries within which there is always something going on. Whether it’s a prestigious travel awards ceremony for the best estate agents, or the ‘Master Chef’ post-final party – they attract big attention, lots of coverage and often rely on the publicity for spin-off product launches or sponsorship drives. Inevitably, they also need entertainment that will keep guests entertained for longer than the thirty minutes allocated to speeches, and live music with function bands is often the solution.
Of course for most businesses, budget in many cases will be a key deciding factor and if its a small corporate reception only for an hours networking, then background music will suffice. In the last couple of years, many companies have been cutting live music from corporate hospitality, either due to economic factors or because they didn’t want to appear extravagant in difficult times. Hard to put on a big party for some, at the same time as you might be dispensing difficult news elsewhere.
But in my opinion, if music was made part of our business culture then it could raise profits. No really, I’m serious. Try this for size.
Let’s suppose it was considered a “key business process” to accompany business with music. Key business processes, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, are those processes which are considered to have have maximum impact on the success of an organisation, since they deliver results that are directed towards specific and measurable business goals. These are the business processes that an organization must excel at to remain competitive, to be instilled within the organisations corporate culture and methodology so that employees, management and shareholders can produce the best results.
All senior management teams must have an in depth knowledge and understanding the key business processes in order to drive improvements in these processes through planning and resource allocation, as these improvements will have greatest effect on the business of the company.(Okay, I just put that last bit in because I felt like writing some pointless corporate speak)
If it was a “KBP” to have live music at every corporate event, then maybe business people would begin to act differently, since their “psyche” could be bombarded with mellow sounds and positive lyrics. Sort of subliminal, n’est ce pas? (The Greeks believed that the soul or “psyche” was responsible for behaviour, so I’m sure we can still find a quango to make a recommendation on this in the workplace)
The point is, booking live music could equal more profit.
In this vein, seeking something a little bit classy, and fundamentally big for the “Oscars of the travel industry”; the organisers behind the British Travel Awards 2010 sought out London-based big band ‘Red Hornz’ for the main musical stage, while the London Banqueting Orchestra was also on-hand to deliver decadent classical numbers during dining. Both cover weddings and event functions. Similarly, the Cost Sector Catering Awards 2010 held at the London Hilton Metropole, (which recognises excellence within the hospitality industry) also featured a smattering of function bands music, with jazz singers and cocktail quartets during the four hour awards bash.
Just goes to show, some people have got the right idea. And perhaps I should write one of these business guru books, something like “Humming in the boardroom for your ROI”. Must speak to James Caan about writing the introduction…..
On Trend Wedding Reception: Poker Face Required.
February 27, 2011 By Stirling Austin
According to the ‘Your Wedding’ publication (yes, even I must delve into the world of wedding event magazines to keep up with things), one of the consistent top five wedding for wedding receptions is the James Bond-esque casino theme; complete with poker tables, croupiers and stacks of chips to ensure every guest is included.
As wedding entertainment ideas go, it’s definitely up there with variety performers as an additional means of keeping the guests amused, and apparently it’s not all that expensive. Popular no doubt because the casino hire company substitute fake for real money bets, but as themes go, it’s also a great way of influencing the other vital entertainment for a wedding reception.
Lounge bands particularly, are synonymous with the elite cocktail parties associated with the James Bond films, and as a lounge band singer myself, I must say it can make a refreshing alternative, singing themed hits within venues that are often dressed to the nines to replicate famous Bond scenes, or debonair casinos. It’s akin to reliving the era, when live bands often made their debuts upon the cabaret stages of casinos, such as Las Vegas’ infamous Imperial Palace, or the Golden Nugget.
So recently, as you can see from the Lounge band website, I put together a repertoire for that style. Lots of Burt Bacharach, some famous Bond theme tunes and a few classics form more contemporary singer-songwriters.
It’s only when you delve into the structure of some of these songs that you realise how finely crafted they are. Its difficult to describe, but the feel and atmosphere of the “Lounge” comes across in the way the composer has put the notes, progressions and words together to produce a certain ambience.
For corporate gigs the “Bond and Vegas Casino” theme is a sure winner, but it does make me wonder why it’s so popular. Perhaps when certain types of men wear suits, they imagine themselves as suave, sophisticated secret agents with a golden gun in their pocket, whilst the ladies, resplendent in their elegant evening dresses bask in the attention they get from the men trying to play it cool and impress them.
There’s also something quite sexy and provocative about this theme music. With Tom Jones singing titles like “Thunderball”, what do you expect?
Inspiration For The Father Daughter Dance.
February 26, 2011 By Stirling Austin
I’ve never been inundated with requests for the traditional ‘Father and Daughter’ dance. Nevertheless, such requests have still surfaced from time to time – mostly from clients who are choosing to keep all aspects of their wedding truly traditional, including using a function band rather than a DJ. (ha ha couldn’t resist that one)
I recently received an email from the father of a bride who has already confirmed us for her big day, enquiring whether we could possibly assist in the selection of an appropriate song. It also transpired his enquiry was a covert one – something his daughter knew nothing of, and part of his organising of a surprise element to her wedding day.
Often referred to as the ‘Honours Dance’, the tradition for father and daughter to take to the floor stems from the 40′s and 50′s, when women were realising far more independence. What started out as a trend, became a defining last act (similar to a father ‘giving his daughter away’ at a wedding ceremony) – a symbolism of the cutting of ties, and reliance on the daughter’s part.
Now the bride and groom’s first dance is always a moving moment and in a way, when I’m singing, I certainly feel part of that moment. But when you’re on the bandstand singing words that have been picked for a deeper meaning, and you’ve got father and daughter in a sort of a “last dance as they were, and sharing that last intimate moment with each other, it can sometimes be difficult to suppress a little quaver in the voice ( no pun intended). Especially when you witness the emotion of the moment between these two people, who have such a deep bond, one that will be there for life but now moving to a different place. A mixture of so may emotions, bound together by hope.
Now I’m no Jenifer Lopez, that is to say you won’t catch me breaking down in tears to play to an audience. But happiness comes in moments, and in the hierarchy of beautiful moments this is way, way up there.
So if you’re amongst the guests at a wedding watching me sing a Father-Daughter dance, and its a particularly moving song – spare a thought for this ol’ swing singer. And bring me a hankie just in case.
Nice Day For A Barry White Wedding?
February 25, 2011 By Stirling Austin
I’m sure it all started back in 1994, when Mike Newell’s surprisingly sell-out rom-com ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’ was unleashed upon the world, bolstered by that bumbling, floppy haired chick magnet Hugh Grant. (It must be something to do with that accent.) According to my sources, and personal attendance at weddings over the years, there is a resurgence in the popularity of Barry White impersonators and vocalists, for wedding entertainment.
Research provided by the U.K Disco wedding portal also seems to add credence to this rumoured revival, with ‘You’re My First, My Last, My Everything’, and ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love’ consistently ranking among the top ten played songs, by a survey of over 1000 DJ ‘s in the U.K. That dulcet, gravelly voice is most certainly not confined to an era!
Now I am sure there may be Barry White impersonators who, keen to do justice to the great man himself, would not dream of going on stage at a wedding function, and singing to a backing track that (wait, it get’s worse) still features the full voluminous vocals of Mr. White. There’s an endless variety of dubbed backing tracks, karaoke backing tracks and remixes available online, that would probably fair far cheaper than the price an impersonator pays for a full CD album! And there’s even more of a deluge of backing track entertainers once you look into the wider wedding singer market generally.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no real issue with someone singing to backing tracks, whether it’s at a wedding, corporate, open mic night or even in their bedroom and published on You Tube. I did it myself when I started gigging, and I would do it again, although perhaps not by choice. (Ok Madonna and Britney, if you twist my arm I’ll duet to backing tracks with you for the MTV awards. But no slobbery kisses please)
The point is, if you are going to sing to backing tracks then I know from personal experience that it’s important to use tracks recorded using real instruments, otherwise the artificial midi notes sound like the Magic Roundabout theme. The original track has got to be in your key. since if you transpose the track to a higher key (without sophisticated software) then the backing vocals can sound like you’ve got Pinky and Perky harmonising in the wings. Or if it’s lower then it’s like having a slower version of Lee Marvin (of Wandering Star fame) crooning from his wagon.(that’s Oklahoma for you youngsters)
So where do you draw the line between concert production and karaoke? I see a lot of single act guitar players using backing bass/drum tracks in bars.I see even some wedding bands using backing tracks as well as having a full 6pc band. Then again, if people don’t have the budget, or aren’t prepared to pay a decent rate for a band to play live, it’s predictable that the private events entertainment industry becomes flooded with wannabe Rat pack Singers who charge a couple of hundred quid a pop, with sub standard backing tracks. No wait a minute, you say! But is this musical snobbery, or should we forget about making a stand for real music? Does it really matter?
I know a lot of singers who use backing tracks and some of them are excellent vocalists and entertainers. and well worth booking for your wedding or corporate function. But with some I’ve heard you might as well just save the money and book the disco. Let’s face it, if you look at it the other way round, a disco song played through the DJ’s P.A. is just – a really good backing track with singers.
Function Bands Taking The Stand At Bridal Shows.
February 24, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Keeping tabs on wedding industry news is a pretty difficult feat – especially when fashions, trends and fads seem to be evolving on an almost daily basis. Maintaining the pace with American news is a different story entirely, yet one trend that I’ve read about, that seems to be snowballing ‘within’ the industry itself, is the new lengths by which Stateside function bands are going, to score new business.Over here, we refer to them as ‘bridal fairs’, but ever ones to outdo us on size – America trumps with ‘bridal expo’s’ – essentially wedding exhibitions on an uber scale.
Gearing up for the wedding season, the annual March Plymouth Bridal Show, held in Plymouth, Mitchigan, has cottoned on to the marketing needs of wedding bands; inviting six of Plymouth’s best to showcase on specially designed stages for the event. Obviously not all in unison, although it could have made for a very interesting ‘fusion’ gig!
To my knowledge, annual bridal shows such as the London National Wedding Show, and London Docks Wedding Fair, tend to be aimed at the ‘fashion and frills’ niche of the market, with little space for function bands amid the multifarious stalls, and make-shift bridal boutiques. Bands probably don’t tend to exhibit at these shows because the costs are prohibitive for a “micro-business” such as a professional function band, which in most cases are actually made up of freelance contractors who, if they are not playing in the evening, need to teach in the daytime to earn a crust.
But if there was some cost effective way in which the prestigious event supplier invitation catered for entertainers, I’m sure there’d be applications of epic number – simply for the opportunity to take advantage of the best marketing method available to function bands – word of mouth! In turn, this could add a whole new flavour and bring more visitors.
If any wedding exhibition or bridal show organiser would like to get in touch with me, I’m sure I could help find a formula to bring a whole new dimension and flavour to their event by organising the one thing that every wedding show should have – live entertainment with function bands.
Or even six!
Sinatra’s less listened to numbers are the real gems
February 23, 2011 By Stirling Austin
When I first started getting my vocal chords around the Frank Sinatra repertoire, I went through his entire back catalogue to try to get a feel for what would be the best selection to sing with our swing band.
Although the classics such as “The way you look tonight” and ” Under my skin” are the ones everyone knows and wants to listen to, that there’s some real gems that many people never get to hear. And that’s a big shame.
Of course when you’re entertaining at a function, it makes sense to play what people know and what they can dance to, and whats appropriate for the mood. It’s a fine line though sometimes, so now I understand the true meaning of segué. Not that I ever thought it was the self balancing two-wheeled electric vehicle that’s now got no license to go anywhere. Ok, that was an awful line….
But back to the Sinatra catalogue.
Sinatra left a vast legacy of recordings, from 1939 with The Harry James orchestra the vast catalogs at Columbia in the 1940s, Capitol in the 1950s, and Reprise from the 1960s onwards, to his 1994 album Duets II and continuing on through the final years.
Apart from the well known ones, there are some real gems that don’t get heard much. Great vocals, excellent arrangements, wonderful tunes.So here’s my top five “less listened to” Sinatra favourites:
- You brought a new kind of love to me
- Oh Look at me now
- East of the Sun (and west of the Moon)
- It started all over again
- The Coffee Song
Have a listen.
Dropping The Bomb, On The Electric Proms!
February 22, 2011 By Stirling Austin
You may have noticed I posted ‘when’s our revolution’ a few days ago – basically my thoughts on the current British music climate, and the abundance of talent stifled by the manufactured entities calling themselves ‘chart-toppers’. Don’t get me started again!
Today’s music headlines have done little to soften my opinion on the subject – in fact, I may well be inclined to climb up onto that soapbox again shortly. Needs must! Anyway, today’s story refers to the extinction (as of this week) of the relatively young BBC Electric Proms.
Launched in 2006, and featuring the legendary late James Brown amongst it’s first annual star-studded line-up; the Electric Proms were a blessing to lovers (like me) of REAL music, offering an eclectic mixture of soul bands, modern ‘ artists and orchestral productions. Since it’s inception, the Electric Proms has also featured spectacular musical performances, with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller dueting in 2006, and Smokey Robinson’s ground-breaking collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2009.
It seems, despite the eagerness to hike up the cost of the T.V Licence fee, that the BBC are “unable to afford” the production costs involved with the E.P, despite their readiness to increase exposure for other prolific music events – like Glastonbury.
Rather than continuing with their commitment to diverse entertainment for all, it would seem that the Beeb too are succumbing to the ‘ratings obsession’ of ITV, along with their concentration of programs to the younger audience. The under-30′s make up just 39% of the U.K population, therefore this newfangled idea that they should be the primary target audience really gets my goat. Depriving them of a variety show that features some of the greatest entities in music, along with a healthy sprinkling of soul, pop and swing bands, is inevitably going to add to this problem of talent being stifled [or even wiped out.]
While researching to write about this subject I discovered an excellent website called “Campaign for Real Music”. You can visit at www.radiocafe.co.uk. There’s an eclectic yet top quality and vast choice of music to browse and listen to. I don’t know them personally, but they must be really dedicated and I take my hat off to them for putting the effort in. Read their FAQ section on what real music means. They say it quite succinctly.
So if any bankers or nice oligarchs would like to throw some of their hard earned gazillion bonuses into a good cause, (e.g. my way,) then I’m up for starting a brand new TV channel for more discerning (e.g. real) music lovers. We could call it “DMTV”. (Discerning Music Television, in case that wasn’t obvious) I’m sure we wouldn’t have a trademark issue, but I can check with the ITMA anyway.
Then we could program real music for the other 61%. And once interactive “set top box digital schmigital you can have whatever you want just press the red button” TV really gets going, viewers could download what they’ve just heard and the money would go back to the channel to continue funding the concerts, and of course the artists to continue making more real music. And every ones a winner, baby.
Woah, I feel a business plan coming on….Show me the money!
Daunting Sinatra Classics – and thank you Humphrey!
February 22, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Certain swing and big band songs are synonymous with Frank Sinatra and a pleasure to sing, nevertheless it can sometimes be a daunting privilege performing some of his timeless classics with our Rat Pack Swing Band at functions.
Yet I can’t begin to imagine how Brian Duprey, of American formed tribute show “The Rat Pack is Back” must be feeling. I mean, how do you revive, or even begin to replicate that trademark charisma, upon the legendary Vegas stage that Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sinatra graced in the 60′s. I listened to Brian and he’s one of the best I’ve heard. Apparently on The Howard Stern Show, Howard played a track of Brian singing Come Fly With Me and special guest Nancy Sinatra thought it was her Dad singing.
That legendary stage in question refers to the well-trodden boards of the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip; an historic and premier venue where the calibre of clientele could have pretty much been described as America’s aristocracy. Oh what I’d have given to have been among the audiences of 1964, when the very much alive and kicking Rat Pack, were nightly sell outs.
By the way, Humphrey Bogart is central to Rat Pack history. Although several explanations have been offered for the famous name over the years, according to one version in 1949 Sinatra lived just blocks from Bogart’s house and the story goes that when Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall, saw the drunken crew all together in the casino, she told them, “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”
Live music and new talent is being stifled in the UK – when’s our revolution?
February 20, 2011 By Stirling Austin
In 1976 I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne and worked in a pub called The Gosforth Hotel. Yes, I know, I don’t look old enough. I was a barman and every Wednesday evening I worked the bar in the upstairs room. Every three weeks or so there was a brilliant 4 piece band called “Last Exit” fronted by a teacher from Wallsend called Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting. This of course was before he went to the city where the streets are paved with gold to find fame & fortune and joined the Police.
Wednesday nights listening to them was brilliant.They played both originals and covers, and built up a regular crowd. I remember one time where Sting ran a live & spontaneous musical competition, playing a 3 chord E, A, B riff. They kept playing for as long as possible without interruption, whilst each band member had to think of a song that fitted. You hesitated, you lost. So it started with Hang on Snoopy, Twist & Shout, La Bamba and so on. It was great fun, with a warm friendly atmosphere, audience interaction, incredible entertainment and I have great memories.
The point is, all over Newcastle, and the rest of the UK at that time, bands regularly played in upstairs rooms in pubs. I remember lots of pubs where live music was easy to find and it was a period where UK amateur music culture was rich. Nobody seemed to complain, people were happy to be surrounded by a plethora of great bands and musicians were able and delighted to play to appreciative audiences. That abundance seems to have been lost.
This country has produced some of the finest bands who naturally started playing to the public in the great British social institution – the pub. But these days pub landlords and restaurant owners now have to get permission for the council to have even an acoustic duo for live entertainment. In turn, bands find it difficult to find places to play, since less and less venues are prepared to risk vexing the “protected” new neighbor who decides to move next to a pub and who then complains about the noise. That’s ridiculous. Don’t move there in the first place.
So what happened to this country’s commitment to fostering freedom for artistic development? If we want to continue producing legacy stars who play real instruments (as opposed to manufactured) in the future, then surely things need to change.
Unfortunately the power to influence certain things that affect whole generations, e.g. making it easy for musicians to play in pubs (especially when the pub trade is on its knees) is firmly centralised in the hands of politicians and councilors. In this instance, most of them have wrongly categorised all music as noise threats and thereby potential disturbance.
Perhaps they believe that the public (that’s you and me) should be protected. If so, then it’s from listening to real musical entertainment and and a place for developing talent. Frankly, our licensing laws and noise limitations seem to me more like a anachronistic human rights restriction on freedom to listen to real music at normal volumes. Read my blog post on noise limiters.
So when’s our revolution?
(Stirling steps down from soapbox)
P.S. There was an excellent article on this subject this week in the new Statesman by Feargal Sharkey, the star and tireless leader of MusicTank, about how government regulations affect the live music industry.
What’s the best price you can do for a corporate gig, Mick?
February 20, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Well now, that depends on what the going rate is.
As I mentioned in another blog post a couple of days ago, there’s some really famous acts who play corporate functions and weddings. But their rates have gone up over the years.
According to a News Corporation report last year, Elton John serenaded 400 guests to celebrate the marriage of Rush Limbaugh to Kathryn Rogers in the Ponce de Leon ballroom of Florida’s fabled Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. Sir Elton’s fee was apparently $1 million. Now that pays for a lot of nappies. However, the kind dad actually donates all earnings from private concerts to his charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, rather than pocket the huge sums. That’s very honorable.
I also read in the New Zealand Herald that the worlds most expensive performers at corporate functions and weddings, according to a poll commissioned by Living TV are as follows:
1. The Rolling Stones – up to £5 million
2. Sir Elton John – up to £2 million
- Kylie Minogue – up to £2 million
4. Christina Aguilera – up to £1.5 million
5. George Michael – £1.3 million
6. Amy Winehouse – £1 million
- Sir Paul McCartney – £1 million
- Leona Lewis – £1 million
- Jennifer Lopez – £1 million
10. Barry Manilow – £750,000
11. Rod Stewart – £600,000
12. Duran Duran – £500,000
But for the majority of the “Big Society” (as opposed to High Society”) regular function bands are the given choices for the big day or event. I don’t think a lot of people realise how blessed this country is with the amazing talent that you find working in the wedding and corporate circuit.
Now I accept that my band and most of the other function bands have never had a hit. Understandable, since I don’t strut my stuff like Mick Jagger does, although I have had a few saucy comments about my renditions of Tom Jones “Kiss” and “It’s not Unusual” being real hits with certain female party revellers.
But without trying to blow my trumpet players trumpet, for what most of the professional functions bands charge in this country they are a real bargain considering the quality of musicianship. No big egos, no white puppies or drapes and rose petals in the dressing room. Just a decent room with tables and chairs and a hot meal and those bands will work really hard to make your event special.
If I become a famous wedding singer…
February 18, 2011 By Stirling Austin
A nice lady called Kate asked me on one of my blogposts; if I become famous, will I still do functions? That’s an excellent question. Well, yes I would. Firstly you should expect no less of me than X Factor champion Matt Cardle, who is keeping his promise to the manager of The Bull pub in Halstead (where he used to work) to play at his wedding. Good on you Matt. Also, a lot of people don’t know that in 2000, Bublé’s career breakthrough came from being…yes, you guessed, a function band singer!
An aide to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney saw Buble’s performance at a corporate event and received a copy of his self-financed independent album. He showed the album to Mulroney and his wife and Bublé was subsequently invited to sing at the wedding of Mulroney’s daughter Caroline, where he sang Mack the Knife. At the wedding, Bublé was introduced to David Foster, a multi-Grammy Award winning producer and record executive. Well as they say, the rest is history.
Now when I play my next corporate gig or wedding perhaps we should introduce that well known classic hit from Bros “When will I be famous”.
So if I do become famous and Prince William and Kate Middleton ask me to play at their wedding..well you see, I’ll still be a wedding singer.
Top Hats and Tailbacks!
February 17, 2011 By Stirling Austin
I’m not really one for motorway vistas, least of all on the M1 surrounded by 4×4′s during rush hour, however I’ve found myself noticing things lately that lead my mind to wander. The latest view was the church spires above Chesterfield, and being a wedding band singer, my mind drifted to the inevitable – weddings, or more to the point wedding functions.
Trends may dictate the ‘latest’ theme for weddings in the U.K, yet to all intents and purposes, we still tend to conform to the traditional order of service – food to speeches, speeches to party etc. Then I got to thinking about the way in which wedding functions are co-ordinated elsewhere around the world.
For instance, in India, custom dictates that a wedding function band are pretty much mandatory during the wedding ceremony, as both the bride and groom must both enter the wedding hall separately, and each to a different piece of live music. Conversely, China has a very unique custom whereby two function bands are required to accompany the bride and groom from separate houses (which are painted red for the celebrations), and merge in musical unison as both corteges meet at the appointed ceremony venue. Can you imagine hiring two function bands over here, who have never even rehearsed together?
Despite still being part of the British Commonwealth, both Australia and New Zealand have put their own spin on wedding music for wedding functions. In Australia, you are apt to find both bagpipes, and the didgeridoo played in harmony, while in New Zealand, weddings take inspiration from the customary drum-beats of the aboriginal natives – usually combined with Western accompaniement such as a guitar.
While I’ve noticed an increase in the number of wedding couples now requiring live ceremonial music for their wedding, I haven’t yet encountered anyone asking if we’ll combine the didgeridoo with a sax. Until we do, I think we’re safe to continue with the swing and Rat Pack greats, getting everyone on their feet for a wedding party they’re sure to remember!
Simon Cowell Plans: A Swing in the Right Direction For Function Bands?
February 16, 2011 By Stirling Austin
It’s been a frenetic start to February. I’ve been learning a whole new repertoire of songs for a Vegas gig (no I’m not off to Vegas, it’s for a corporate client!) as well as trying to get my fingers to stretch on the Spanish guitar and improve my renditions of Kenny Rankin’s excellent interpretations. of classic jazz and pop songs in a bossanova style.
Yesterday I finally managed to grab some random browsing time – a rarity in the life of a function band leader with 10 different projects at once, but then our passions must come at a price mustn’t they?!
Skimming the latest headlines, I was rather intrigued to read of Simon Cowell’s latest revelations regarding his love for swing and the Rat Pack. Yes, I did a double-take! Allegedly, the closet Sammy Davis Junior fan is currently procrastinating over the cash benefits of forming his own Rat Pack-cum-swing band, spurred by the modern success stories such as Michael Buble. Could it be that the music mogul famed for his brutal honesty toward X-Factor contestants, is perhaps recognising that manufactured same-gender bands are past their sell-by-date?
Far be it from me to muse over ‘the mogul’s’ motivations, however I couldn’t help thinking how beneficial this could potentially be for function bands – especially those whose repertoires comprise many of the old swing, soul and Rat Pack greats.
If we were to see a talented group of instrumentalists and vocalists brought together, by a show that obviously still has a cult following – imagine what this could do for the popularity of swing bands around the U.K! We may already be reaping the benefits of swing dancing being back in vogue, but this could launch a stepping-stone for the many talented groups who are yet still to find their feet in the business. This really could be a swing in the right direction for function and wedding bands! Ok, pun intended.
Swing Revival: Putting The “Cha-Cha” Into Charleston, For That First Dance.
February 11, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Neo-Swing made an unprecedented comeback during the late 1990′s, and while many thought the revival had peaked post-Millenium; our own continued popularity for both function, and wedding coverage is proving that swing bands are still seriously in demand.
But why swing and soul bands, among the many choices for wedding receptions? Sure, the mien of a function band influences the party atmosphere, and the affectation of the genre’s lively rhythms can really get people in the mood to dance. But judging by two of our latest booking confirmations, the reasoning is actually a little more personal.
Now, I’m not sure if this new fixation with choreographed first dances has come about due to the 2007 YouTube Sir-Mix-A-Lot Wedding viral, or if it’s simply a case of more couples seeking to stamp their individuality on the wedding reception. One thing is clear – the trends for choreographed wedding dances such as the Charleston and Lindy Hop are surpassing even our expectations!
From the mid 1920′s, to the late 1940′s, Swing gave birth to a number of sub-genres, mostly identified by geographical influence. In Harlem, U.S.A, Swing influenced an African-American style of dance known as the “Lindy Hop” – a two-partner dance characterised by the simple 8-step count, that was often subject to improvisation on the street. The Balboa; a dance which is seeing a considerable revival in the choices for wedding dances is distinguishably faster, and favoured due to the closer embrace required of partners. The Charleston is also popular, due to the lively moves which are often given a contemporary urban twist by dance choreographers.
Seeking out dance lessons, for that first wedding dance isn’t a new concept. Couples have been doing it for years, yet the new motivation seems to be about giving something back to the guests. As my most recent client put it, “we want to give our guests a memory of our day that won’t fade too quickly, and the element of surprise is a bonus”.
So, why did she book us? “With all the work that hubby-to-be and I have put into learning the right steps, dancing along to a CD just didn’t have the same appeal. This is about giving something back, and we know a live swing band will create the kind of ambience our grandparents remember from the first time around”. She also divulged that there was something pretty romantic about learning something new together, and celebrating the achievement with that memorable first dance.
Far from being a brief fad for on-trend wedding receptions, choreographed wedding dances look set to grow even more in popularity. Judging by the guest’s faces at the last wedding we covered, they certainly weren’t expecting a journey back in time! I wonder what kind of dance our next betrothed couple has rehearsed?
A new page for the Stirling Function Bands
February 11, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Just added the finishing touches to our new function bands page which shows all the styles & options.
Swing Band Ensembles: Does Size Matter For YOUR Venue?
February 8, 2011 By Stirling Austin
We could be regarded as veterans of varied venue coverage, if you were to ever ask about the locations for many of our past shows. And after our well-received performance at a delightfully intimate venue yesterday evening, I got to thinking how there must be a proportion of events organisers who encounter issues when it comes to booking their own function band, for a particular venue.
The most common question we [as a swing band] have encountered, is space – or rather lack of it. With the inherent costs of weddings rising, we’ve found that many clients are opting for smaller venues – but they also believe this cancels out the possibility of booking swing bands for weddings, where space is a key limitation. How can you possibly fit a 6-12 piece swing band or soul band, upon a stage that would only just hold a DJ and his ‘get-up’?
Many clients are of the impression that stage ‘presence’ is influenced by space; the freedom for a singer to move, dance and do his ‘thing’ without fear of falling onto your mother-in-law. In fact, stage presence has far more to do with the charisma of the band, and band-leader than the area in which they perform -so providing you’ve booked a quality function band, the quality of performance won’t be affected.
The other niggle many clients report, is the issue of space for a sound system, and instrumentalists whose guitars, brass and percussion instruments aren’t exactly on the small side. True, a 10-piece swing band is going to need a little more room than a rock band quartet, however choosing a swing band doesn’t mean you have to book the whole ensemble.
You might have noticed on the Stirling Austin Band website, that we have dedicated an entire section to “Band options”, which allows our clients to select from a number of ensemble options, ranging from a 9-piece, down to a vocal duo or trio.
Depending upon the size of your venue, we guarantee there will be an appropriate ensemble – and just because you are booking a smaller group, does not mean you will be supplied with second-rate musicians. The Stirling Austin Band covers a plenitude of events as a complete outfit, however we also provide tailored coverage for events of a more intimate nature.
Not all function bands provide the versatility of bespoke or band option services, therefore depending upon who you hire, space could prove to be an issue. If your preferred band are professionals, they will doubtless already be familiar with the venue for your corporate or private event, and will evolve their set-up accordingly. A band who aren’t familiar with the territory may ask to stake out the venue prior to a booking agreement. If your function band simply quells your concerns with “it’ll be fine”, they’re probably not as professional as they’d have you believe.
Function Bands: The Alter Egos Headlining Your Show!
February 6, 2011 By Stirling Austin
There’s little in life that can compete with the thrill of performing on stage – particularly when you have a group dynamic that in the band. Regardless of the wedding, function or corporate event we cover, our vigor, energy and stage presence is reflected in the response of our audience, from the tapping of a toe, to the electric applause at the end of the set. If you have that kind of response, you know you’re getting it right!
But what most of our audience may not be aware of, is that the swing band they’ve hired for their wedding or corporate event actually consists of musicians who don’t just do this on a part time basis. For us, it’s a way of life and a full time job. We eat, breathe and [sometimes] sleep music – and for many function bands it’s a similar story. Of course, that isn’t to suggest those who perform on an ad-hoc basis, or as a hobby are inferior in terms of performance delivery – but those who have embraced “a life on the road of professional entertainment” are musicians to the core. And more often than not, they are leading double lives!
We might not shout it from the roof-tops, however you’d be surprised to discover the real calibre of musicians within the Stirling Austin Swing Band. Our keyboards, bass players and drummers regularly support some chart-topping male quartets, female soloists and a plethora of other acts both on national, and international tours, while our female vocalists are also renowned for solo and cabaret shows at some of the best clubs in London. You’ll discover just a few tidbits of our musicians’ past collaborations on the ‘About Us’ page of the website, but if you really want the “heads up”, just approach us during an interval!
The Stirling Austin Swing Band is not the only function band whose musicians hide star-studded secrets and double lives, and we certainly won’t be the last. So when you book your band for your corporate or wedding party entertainment, just remember that you could actually be hiring some of the best musicians in the business!
Noise Limiters: Making and Breaking Sound Barriers?
February 4, 2011 By Stirling Austin
It takes more than a little verve and practice to pull off the kind of party performance expected of a professional function band – and the other night was no exception. The latest in a series of early new year corporate entertainment functions was for us, an exciting opportunity to play in a large venue where you can have great fun. and really get a crowd going. (All 600 of them) Excellent night.
There was just one issue that we seem to re-encounter more often than over-enthusiastic stage invasions – the noise limiter! For a great deal of function venues we’re booked for, noise limiters seem to have become a compulsory device in order for the allowance of live music. Understandable from a residential point-of-view, when you consider the average DJ-covered wedding party can continue well into the early hours; and a handy reminder to over-zealous rock function bands that they may actually be playing above the level of lyrical comprehension.
But when it comes to corporate functions and weddings, venues are in the business of charging to host client events and in particular live entertainment. My experience in quite a few cases in recent years has been that clients book venues and pay a deposit, only to discover on the night that the noise limiter is 3 metres away from the band and set at at 85 decibels, a low trip level. So venues promoting live entertainment for private functions have a responsibility to ensure they are (to use consumer rights jargon) “fit for purpose”. No problem when you have only background music, but not when you’re having a party.Let’s face it, you wouldn’t organise a large business conference for a company and tell the keynote speakers to keep their voices down to avoid the microphone cutting out.
We’ve experienced our fair share of sound-monitored venues where the acceptable volume level has ranged from around 60 decibels (the equivalent of 3-4 people conversing), up to 90 decibels which can equate to an entire 50+ wedding dance floor shouting encouragement! Not only do we have to consider our own sound emissions when in the throes of a Sinatra number, but also that of an enthusiastic audience. Rapturous applause could trigger a power outage in the closing bars of a song, if we don’t get the microphone levels just right. I remember one well known venue we played in Richmond, just as we reached the bridge in “All night Long” the power cut out. Lionel Richie would not be pleased and nor was the client.
It all depends how these devices are configured, and if they are not set-up properly then it can ruin the clients entertainment. A fundamentalist culture of health and safety regulations, over zealous councils and jobsworth venue managers are not conducive to helping clients who pay decent rates and expect live entertainment loud enough to get the party going.
I can’t see these contraptions disappearing anytime soon, so we’ve tried to become attuned to the sensitivity of noise limiters,without impacting upon performance delivery. Not an easy feat, but it’s part of knowing your trade as a function bandleader. Having said that, I know some bands who refuse to play at venues where there is one, they believe it compromises their act.
So before you book any function band for your event, depending on the style of music you might well be advised to check whether the venue also has correctly configured noise limitation technology in place which fits the style of music. Not all bands can do justice to their setlist within such limitations, so better to be safe, than subdued!
Burt Bacharach repertoire with The Stirling Lounge Band
January 31, 2011 By Stirling Austin
We’ve recently finished producing our Burt Bacharach & other classics videos, which can now be viewed on www.stirlingloungeband.com
The idea is to offer a new approach to live backgound music for events; with a combination of retro standards, and contemporary classics as a fresh alternative to the traditional jazz or strings ensemble.
Burt Bacharach is one of the finest songwriters of all times and his repertoire is ideal as a standalone evening show. But it’s also really enjoyable for us to play other classics from some of the music worlds top contemporary lounge artists such as James Taylor, Tony Bennett and so on.Even some Bond and Casino evening theme music – always fancied myself with a gun in my pocket (or am I just happy to see you?) Ooh Stirling!
The album is also now available on Itunes and most other online stores.
And I’m looking forward to Singing “What’s New Pussycat” . Whoawoawowo!
How to ensure your wedding guests won’t evacuate the dance floor with the right setlist.
January 12, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Who can’t recall attending one wedding reception in life that could only be described as a washout? The guests were idly sat making polite conversation; the wine was flowing, but the dance floor resembled an ice-rink in the height of summer. Even the kids preferred the stilted conversation of grandparents, to the mediocre efforts of the wedding band. It probably wasn’t their fault. No doubt they were just playing the usual set-list reserved for receptions, but if the music isn’t catered for the guests in question – it can alienate everyone!
Whether you’re seeking a customised play-list for a themed reception party, for example Swing & Rat pack, or you’d prefer an eclectic mix of hits, it’s important to compile a mixture of energetic up-tempo rhythms (guaranteed to get everyone dance-motivated) coupled with a few slow, melodic ballads for those romantic moments.
With the average wedding reception comprising in excess of 150 guests, it can be difficult to find music that will appeal to all, however consideration for the diversity, age-ranges and conservativeness of your guests can play a big part in getting the music right.
Not everyone appreciates the contemporary efforts of boy/ girl-bands, and not everyone can “get down” to pop, club or hip-hop so it’s recommendable to consider a broad range of genres, yet sticking to tracks people will be familiar with. Your secondary consideration relates to the age-range of your guests _ the elders probably won’t appreciate an endless night of Lady Gaga and the latest chart hits.
If music is the recipe for a well-remembered wedding party, then variety is the vital ingredient. The ability to read a crowd’s response is key to the instantaneous decisions made during a live set. An expert bandleader can make such decisions based upon his interpretation of the crowd, knowing that too much of one genre will ultimately alienate others. Bear this in mind if you’re working with your wedding band to compile the set-list.
The importance of quality live entertainment for weddings – a thought for brides and grooms.
January 3, 2011 By Stirling Austin
Not everyone understands that the investment you make in entertainment can be of paramount importance to the success of the day. Often it’s “how much money do we have left for a band”? (and in this business you will get what you pay for) Here’s why…
After your guests leave your wedding and have returned to their daily routine, they will remember three main things about your wedding day: the ceremony and how you interacted with your spouse to be, the overall quality of the food, and the wedding band or wedding DJ. Details like table decorations, name cards, flowers, the wedding car etc will trail far, far behind in the memory banks of your wedding attendees.
And there’s a very good possibility that you and your guests will remember the wedding reception entertainment more than anything else. Great reception entertainment will remind your guests of what a great a time they had, dancing and celebrating with their family and friends and with the bride and groom on their special day and most of all smiling and enjoying themselves with you.
Choose your wedding entertainment carefully! If you have never heard or seen the act you think you would like to book AND they have NOT come highly recommended by a reliable personal source, then you should do the following:
• View their website.
• Check the testimonials from those who have booked the act.
• Have a contract with clear and precise terms.
• Watch at least live videos of the band performing. MP3 audio tracks and still photos tell you very little about what stage presence bands, musicians and lead singers have and whether they are really professional at entertaining. They may look god on the website pictures, but on stage?
• Take note of who is pictured in the acts’ promotional material. Have a clear understanding as to whether the pictured personnel is who will be performing for you when you hire them.
• Most importantly, you must trust and like who you are dealing with while negotiating the booking.Talk all details through with the bandleader first to make sure you feel good about everything. If it’s an agency, are they just taking the order and their commission, or do they offer a service from start to finish to ensure everything runs smoothly, right down to the logistics on the day for the band
This is potentially the most important day in your life. Expect many details to fall by the wayside, and things to not turn out exactly as they should. But try to do everything you can to make sure the entertainment is what you’ve always dreamed it would be.
I would of course love you to chose The Stirling Austin Swing & Soul Band us as your live entertainment..there’s nothing like a great live band to make the day memorable.But whoever you choose…please make sure they really are professional musicians and entertainers.
Booking Swing Bands, Soul Bands, Rat pack Bands and Sinatra Bands
November 7, 2010 By Stirling Austin
Whether you’re at the beginning of your search for your ideal live Swing Band, Soul band, Rat Pack Band or Sinatra Band or about to make your final decision the following points are well worth considering before you hand over a deposit.
A common question asked by prospective clients is “I’ve found Swing Bands and Soul bands that look similar to yours but are much cheaper. Why is this?”
1.The perception may be that because two wedding bands websites have equally good pictures and their live performance MP3 samples both sound good they can be compared in a like for like manner. However, similar may not be the reality; other live bands may not be all they seem. Many wedding bands can make MP3 recordings for you to hear however the track may have been enhanced with studio effects to make it sound better online than they really are live. In extreme cases they filter out band parts of the song or vocals, even use backing tracks rather than the real band. Given that there are so many bands on the internet, and that it may not be possible to get to see them before, then at the very least they should have video footage showing them actually performing live. Ever bought a product online looking at a picture, then when it arrives it’s not at all the quality you expected?
2.Some function bands can justify charging more, and are worth it simply because they are at the top of their game, have extensive experience of performing at events, have a solid reputation and are just better overall wedding entertainers.
3.It’s not just about the look of the website or the sound of the MP3….its every part of the experience from booking the wedding entertainment right through to discussing and agreeing plans with a professional bandleader, to the bands ability to carry the wedding reception entertainment and make it a success on the day of the event.
4.Wedding Bands with the above qualities characteristics are generally in high demand for their services. This demand means they can justifiably charge higher fees.
5.Cheap or cheaper bands are so for very good reason and there are inherent risks in booking them for any event for the following reasons:
•Poor standard of musicianship – Almost all live function bands are lead by a bandleader. One of his or her jobs is to book freelance musicians to play in their band on a given day of a function. It is all too tempting for them to try and cut costs by choosing to book musicians that aren’t very good as they are inevitably cheaper. In addition, some bandleaders pay very low rates, so the musicians are simply not very motivated to give their best or may not be professional musicians. The cheaper the cost of the musician the cheaper the band will be.
•Poor standard of bandleader – Some bandleaders run disco bands purely as a hobby. That may work if they are very dedicated individuals, but it if the band is subsequently cheap it means they may not invest much time or money in the band or the musicians, or…the client.
•Amateur or semi professional bands – There are thousands and thousands of function bands that only play together in their spare time and earn their living from a day job. You may have no idea that the band you have seen online and subsequently been quoted for is made up of amateur musicians that only play together for only a few functions a year. The consequences of booking an amateur band for your event can be grave. The standard of musicianship may be dubious; many amateur bands don’t have a bandleader who takes responsibility for all the musicians so should there be a problem no one takes responsibility; they don’t have the network of quality professional musicians so should one of the band members be ill on the day of the event there are no backups to replace them. Limited musical ability impacts the live performance and quality of the band sound, so what you hear is not what you will get.
•Poor standard and/or lack of equipment – Running a professional band takes significant investment in sound equipment, lighting, and musical arrangements for the musicians to play, a van/transport, insurance etc. For example, a band that hasn’t invested time, money and effort in proper musical arrangements and uses cheaper musicians will rarely produce top quality live performances.
•Lack of official documents i.e. PAT cert and PL cert – A cheaper band may look to cut their running costs by not bothering to cover two vital elements of health and safety. A PAT certificate proves the band has had all their electrical equipment tested for safety and the Public Liability insurance certificate proves the band is covered in the event of an accident at your event.
•Poor standard of sound and lighting production – The cost to run audio and lighting equipment can be significant. A busy thriving function band will be traveling all over the country with equipment being loaded and unloaded in to vehicles. With this comes considerable wear and tear and hence maintenance costs. It is the bands responsibility to ensure their equipment is maintained. Beware the cheaper band that fails to ensure these maintenance bills can be paid. You the client could suffer when for example a speaker blows or the amplifier fails on the night of your event.
•Limited bookings – Many bands that are cheap are cheap because they can’t get the bookings because they aren’t very good. They then reduce their price on the assumption that because they are cheap they will get more bookings. The consequence of this approach has been laid out in the points above. Furthermore the general standards within the band drop e.g. why bother calling the client back when there isn’t much money to be made from the gig.
•No contracting process – Many cheaper bands won’t have any contract to offer you or at least any suitable and tight contract that leaves you with the piece of mind that you’re going to get what you’re paying for.
Booking a wedding swing band for your event is a very big and expensive decision. In tougher economic times it’s all too easy to pick the cheaper option, as constraints on the overall event budget can be tight. There are however far too many stories of clients having been let down by event suppliers because they chose the cheaper option. Only recently the BBC covered a news story of a wedding couple that chose the attractively priced, or so it seemed at the time, photo and video package for their wedding day. After the wedding they were delivered some unusual shots to say the least – decapitated guests, a ceremony hardly visible through the gloom, and random close-ups of… not the bouquet, or a snatched kiss, but of carriage wheels. The couple was so disappointed they set about hiring another photographer and asked all the guests back another day for a photoshoot! They ended up paying three times what they should have done had they hired a professional with the experience, reputation, organisational skills and ability to do the job first time. Stories like theirs do beg the question as to whether one can afford not to spend that little extra to get best for your event.
Stories like theirs do beg the question as to whether one can afford not to spend that little extra to get best for your event…
You never know who’s in a Swing Band!
October 24, 2010 By Stirling Austin
Did you know that your function band musicians play with some of the biggest names in showbusiness?
If you book a swing band for your wedding, if it’s a professional function band then some of the musicians are often the same people that you might have seen playing with a big name at one of the major UK concert venues or on television.
Most professional musicians also do function band work, weddings and corporate events, so the quality of musicianship in function bands can be equal to anything you see in the media.
Good to know. We don’t brag about it…but if you book us for your wedding, private party or corporate event, come and ask who we’ve recently played for…you’d be amazed at the names we can reel off.
From a Swing Band drummer’s perspective..
September 21, 2010 By Stirling Austin
As a drummer, it is a rare privilege these days to play regularly with a professional swing band. Rarer still is the combination of great swing and soul music. And of course this music is really for dancing. A full dancefloor is what we seek as a measure of our success as musicians and as a band, whether performing for weddings, parties or functions. It doesn’t matter where we are playing, whether at the famous 100 Club, a stately home, a corporate ‘do’ or private party. This band is all about everyone having a great time!
Hamish Birchall is the resident drummer for the Stirling Austin Swing Band
The great thing about singing with a Swing band
April 8, 2010 By Stirling Austin
The great thing about singing with a swing band is that when the band really get going on the big swing numbers its electric and invigorating.When the rhythm section is really swinging and the horn section harmonies kick in, it’s a brilliant feeling to be up there on stage with such a dynamic group playing great arrangements.
Oh what it must have been like to live in the era of big swing bands!
The Funk Brothers-a must watch for any Soul and Motown function Band !
April 6, 2010 By Stirling Austin
Just watched again (for the 10th time!) ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown,’ a DVD that recognizes the achievements of the Funk Brothers. Formed in 1959 by Berry Gordy, the Funk Brothers were essential to the Motown Sound of the 1960′s – they were the session musicians who actually played and recorded the tracks for most of the Motown Artists and the songs we all know so well. They defined the sound for Soul Bands and Motown Bands and some of the greatest musicians ever played in this band.(the line up changed throughout the years)
The band played on more Number One hits than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis combined.
The Funk Brothers were considered the unsung heroes of the Motown label, playing on hundreds of hits such as the Supremes’ ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine.’
The band defined the Motown sound of the 1960′s, which fused gospel, soul and pop, included Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops.
Sadly, a number of the “Funk Brothers” have passed away; but the surviving members appeared on a Thursday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 2002, as part of the premiere for the launch of ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
The group played backgrounds on the Motown songs:
‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, ‘My Guy’, ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Wonderful One’, ‘I Was Made To Love Her’, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Your Precious Love’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Shop Around’, ‘Going To A Go-Go’, ‘Get Ready’, ‘Heatwave’, ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’, ‘Baby Love’, ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’, ‘Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Ooh, Baby Baby’…..the list is endless.
If you like Soul bands, Motown Bands or any king of Soul Music, then this is a must watch DVD.
Ballroom Wedding bands!
March 28, 2010 By Stirling Austin
Last night we played at the wedding of a wonderful couple, Steve and Laura at Airport House in Croydon. Full Swing / Soul Band line-up, with 5 horns.
Firstly I must say that they were the nicest couple any wedding band could hope to be booked by – they really took care of us, and their family and ushers were so friendly,constantly stopping by to ask if everything was ok for the band.
What made it really special was that they are amateur ballroom dancers (although the word amateur in this case is wrong, they danced like professionals).They did a brilliant routine to their first dance” A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by Bobby Darin, which is in my opinion one of the tightest (in musical terms) and best arranged versions of that tune in big swing band style.
It was such synergy – the band played the exact same arrangements for that song, they performed “Strictly” in perfect time with flair, style and elegance, it was a magical moment.
But there’s more..throughout the evening guests were doing foxtrots, quicksteps, rhumbas…(and of course bopping and party-dancing) and during the break there was a 30 minute demonstration or all major ballroom styles in full costume by the couples from the Wimbledon school of Ballroom Dancing.( run by the lovely Olga) Unbelievably entertaining!
So between the Swing, Soul, Ballroom and with Stirling doing a bit of impromptu “compering” (yes Brucey, you’ve got competition) a good time was had by all.
Thanks Steve and Laura. We hope to play for you to dance again someday soon.
East Anglia Tour – now we need the T-shirts!
March 21, 2010 By Stirling Austin
2 in the morning – we just got back from a mini tour of east Anglia, first Norwich City Football club on Friday night, then Saturday entertaining at a private party in Newmarket. All the usual Swing Band and Soul Band repertoires, but it was nice to pay to such a wide selection in one weekend. People paid to attend the corporate event on Friday, so a very varied public crowd, whereas saturday we were the “Diamond Wedding function Band” at a private event.
After a browse in the Newmarket Bric-a-Brac stores, we’re now amassing a collection of hats for the band members..a French flatcap for me, a fez for Jonnny our Tenor sax player, a Trilby for Hamish our drummer and so on, so whether its corporate entertainment or a private wedding, we’ll now also be offering a hat show parade to liven up the party band set.
Pictures will follow…and it has been suggested we print T-shirts.Hmm, need to talk to management about that…
Paris Swings as well!
March 15, 2010 By Stirling Austin
We made a short trip to Paris last weekend, the highlight was Thursday night.
We were in the Café Brunel in the 17th district, when they started carting in guitars, keyboards, speakers etc….anyway to cut a long wedding bands story short, I (Stirling) ended up singing and jamming with the brilliant quartet run by Philippe Bensoussan, who also manages function bands in Paris with his agency Annapurna.
Great musicians, no big egos, just really nice people and they really know how to have fun. The bar was soon filled with Frenchies all singing and dancing….I must say I was impressed, they really know how to make a party band feel good!
A few too many excellent glasses of vin rouge, but a fantastic night was had by all. Thanks to Philippe and la bande, et le patron du Café Brunel. What a brilliant find, highly recommended any night, but especially thursdays!
Budget priorities for a wedding band
March 8, 2010 By Stirling Austin
Budget right for a wedding band and wedding entertainment
With wedding party bands it is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.
A lot of couples start by booking the wedding dress/suits, venue, catering, flowers etc. and then use the remaining budget for the band, which means the decision is sometimes made on price. Yet since providing good or bad quality entertainment for you and your guests can make or break the evening, its important to put as much emphasis on the band’s budget as you would on any other part of the event, otherwise you may be disappointed on the day.
Although more expensive is not necessarily better, this is the one day you need to be certain that the entertainment is the best for you and your guests and that the band can help make it a night to remember. Some key points to consider:
- Professional bands do cost more because they pay good rates to professional musicians, have top quality equipment and insurance, give better service and have a great repertoire. The best bands do charge more, because apart from a better level of service and attention to detail, in most cases they are more practised, have better quality musical arrangements and simply sound better!
- Choose a professional Band with experience of performing at weddings, who take the time to understand what you require before you book them.Talk through your plan with the bandleader first.
- Look for video and audio examples along with pictures. An established group should have their music on their website and references from previous clients available for you to view.
- A song list is important and helps to give you an idea of what styles the wedding band play.
- Contracts and booking. Once you have found your ideal wedding band, it is important for both yourselves and the artists to have an agreement in writing. Established artists should be able to send you a contract, so make sure you have an agreement that covers these points:
- Date and venue
- Arrival time for artists and time they should be finished setting up, performance times, length of sets, how many
- Can the artists provide recorded music during their breaks / is this required? After they’ve finished?
- What equipment do the artists provide? (Sound system, lighting)
- Artist’s performance area requirements (stage size, power supply, dressing room, storage for cases etc, meals and or drinks)
- Total fee including all extras. Also how and when this will be paid.
- Public liability insurance and equipment PAT certificates (most venues require this)
Great entertainment can make or break an event, and be one of the things that people talk about for years to come. I hope this helps in your selection process, and mostly that this helps you to enjoy finding and booking the perfect wedding band for your event.
Hire the Perfect Swing Band for Weddings
March 8, 2010 By Stirling Austin
The atmosphere of the dance hall, with its soft lighting, partner dancing, and enticing music, provided a wonderful and elegant backdrop for romance.
The 20s, 30s and 40s, were undoubtedly the golden decades of music with so many melodies and innovative rhythms, combined with unforgettable lyrics that became phenomenal triumphs in their own right. Wonderful rhythms and melodies filled the air and these romantic love songs were often the catalyst for couples falling in love.
Whether you like memories of the dance hall’s golden age, or want to hear romantic love songs evoked by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, or Bobby Darin, you’ll find these timeless swing classic’s that epitomise the twenties, thirties and forties generation the perfect formula for a romantic wedding. Its happy music…
But not just swing…
Swing music has great appeal and can always carry the evening’s entertainment, however this may not always be enough to please everyone. If the live music is the evening’s main entertainment, then choosing a swing band with a wider repertoire, such as Soul & Pop, is key to keeping the musical energy flowing, to keep people on the dance floor and in order to cater for wider tastes.
The perfect swing band
- will have top quality video and audio on their website and DVD
- will be able to alternate between mellow background music, and more contemporary swing dance numbers, and transform their sound into party mode, thus entertaining all of your wedding guests, both young and old.
- will be able to read the crowd, alternating between slower, more romantic songs and more lively dance selections that get the crowd on their feet.
- will have top quality musical arrangements, specially written to make a small band sound big
- will have top quality equipment and lighting
- will have insurance and electrical testing certificates
- will take the time to plan the musical side of your event with you
- will have a booking contract covering all the key points for the event.