Hospitality Staff v Entertainers; We can work it out!
You've just driven miles in your van to get to the gig, you've had to unload over a ton of gear and carry it up three flights of stairs because the lifts are for guests only. As soon as you've got your gear on the stage, an angry looking member of the hotel staff asks who's in charge of the band and then proceeds to tell you in double quick time that there's a sound limiter, a strict curfew so not a note after midnight and no there isn't a changing room available for the band and finally demands to know how long it will be before you're ready to start playing.
If you're a musician, this will sound all too familiar. If you are that harassed banqueting or duty manager you're probably thinking 'Here we go, more moaning musicians, but what about me? I've got 400 demanding guests who all need to be fed and watered, a client who wants everything to run like a Swiss train timetable, a chef in a bad mood, four waiting staff off sick and a general manager who makes Joseph Stalin seem reasonable. Now this bunch of scruffy looking musicians want a hot meal, a non existent free bedroom to get changed in and who are standing around looking at the sound limiter as if it's about to explode.
The battle between hospitality staff and entertainers has been raging since pop music began. It's as natural and seemingly unending as the attitude cats have for dogs. It adds a huge amount of stress to what is already a stressful situation for all concerned. But does it need to be like that? At the risk of sounding like the title of a charity single, can't we all just get along? Are there advantages to burying the hatchet (preferably not in the head of the drummer) and making an effort to see the other guy's point of view?
Actually, it's quite easy and incredibly advantageous for bands to get along with the hard pressed team in hospitality and vice versa. It all comes down to both parties showing a bit of empathy (the Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). After all, the success of any event is down to both the venue team and the musicians in the band (or the DJ - the same advice applies). So here is my advice based on 25 years as a gigging musician and twenty years as an entertainment agent, coupled with the advice of my colleague Gaye Young who spent more than a decade working in hotels and at highly pressurised events.
When the band arrives at the venue, make sure someone goes and finds the person in charge of the evening's event. If they're busy just let them know that you're there. That will be a weight off their mind straight away. If they appear to have a little more time, introduce yourself in a friendly manner and ask if there's anything you need to know or can do to help the evening go smoothly. Once the duty manager picks themselves up from the floor having fainted in astonishment due to your wholly unexpected approach, I guarantee you'll find them so relieved you're not a mentalist that they'll bend over backwards to make your life easier (or at least not a nightmare because believe me, they have that power).
For the hospitality professional, if at all possible, make sure there's a room available for the band to use to get changed in. They don't need the honeymoon suite, in fact just somewhere lockable, warm and dry but never a toilet. It doesn't matter if your loos are spotless 5 star palaces, it's just not on to expect professionals like yourself to get changed in a toilet.
If there is a sound limiter the band should be aware of it (this is more likely if they've been booked through a reputable entertainment agency, like Hireaband for instance). Let them know the limit it's set to (in decibels if you know it - find out if you don't). This will allow the band to make the necessary adjustments. Most bands can cope with sound limiters but if you're aggressive with them about it, they'll dig their heels in and be difficult. If they claim to have no knowledge of the sound limiter and to be unable to play with it in place then simply refer them to their client (who will be the same as yours). It's not you that booked the band so let them sort it out with their client. Just make sure your client was aware of the sound limiter when they booked the venue; if not then you have a problem.
Food & Drink
If the band has food in the contract, you'll no doubt have been advised by the client. The most important thing is to make sure they actually get it. Let them know where and when it will be served and make sure it's on time. The band will have strict performance times so waiting for food to arrive will cause them problems.
Even if there is no food agreed, it's a lovely touch to offer them something simple - soup or a sandwich and some hot drinks. You'll have the band purring like Dr Evil's cat and you'll find them very appreciative. The band won't expect to be given alcohol, but a regular supply of plain fresh un-iced water will be gratefully received.
Musicians - if you're lucky enough to be given somewhere nice to get changed and even luckier to be given food, leave the room as you find it and collect your dirty dishes together to make it easier for the waiting staff. Likewise at the end of the gig, return your empty glasses to the bar, don't leave them on the stage or the floor.
Leaving the Venue
Exit the building with as little fuss (and noise) as possible and make sure you leave the performance area clean and tidy. Here's a golden tip; make sure to thank the duty manager for their help during the evening and at that point, leave them with a business card. A polite and friendly band can do themselves a huge favour just by being nice. Human nature being what it is, you'll find the duty manager will do everything they can to make sure you get recommended to the venue's future clients; after all why would they want to work with any other band when you're so polite, friendly and accommodating. If you're also great musicians, you're on to a winner and lots of repeat bookings. If you're not already on the Hireaband roster, we want to speak to you.
For the Venue
Bands talk, both to each other and increasingly through social media to potential clients. Sadly there have been occasions where bands have given less than positive reviews about venues, based on factors like sound limiters, access and the approach of the staff, reviews which increasingly are being taken into account by potential venue clients. However we're aware of venues that despite difficult access and issues with neighbours making sound limiters a necessity, their approach to bands and entertainers is so positive and accommodating that feedback from bands is very positive indeed. You simply can't have too many positive reviews.
So Can We Do It?
Call me crazy, but I think we can. Bands that are easy to work with get the call first. In fact many venues operate an approved list of suppliers and your band needs to be on it. If you're running a busy venue you have to accept that bands are a part of life so why not try and get along with them? Who needs the hassle of an inflexible bunch of musicians making your already busy evening even harder.
Accept that you're actually part of a team and who knows, maybe you'll make beautiful music together.
Del Cotton - Managing Director (and former noisy wedding band musician).