In an earlier post “What You See Isn’t What You Get”, I discussed the fact that often the musicians that show up to perform at an affair are not of the same quality as the musicians on the group’s demo or commercial recordings.
Here’s my advice for avoiding the issue.
If you’re at an affair and you don’t like the band, make a mental note of which band is performing and don’t hire them for your event. This applies whether the band was too loud, was incompetent, or even just didn’t look professional with cases strewn around the bandstand or musicians in shabby or dirty clothes. This even applies if you’ve also seen the band other times and been impressed. You’ll never know which version you’ll get until it’s too late. The only exception to this rule would be if the band didn’t play the songs you’d like to hear at your event. If everything else seemed ok and the band was great except for their song selection, then I would suggest speaking to the bandleader to find out why they chose those songs. It is quite possible that the client had specific music requests that they were honoring.
As a general rule, my experience is that the smaller regular working bands provide the best guarantee of consistency. These groups, usually led by the band owner himself, typically book one event per timeslot. The regular musicians are all on the job and the band sounds the same at every gig. You can do well with the larger bands too, but on busy days, like Sundays in June, when they book many simultaneous affairs, the quality often drops as they spread their regular musicians across many bandstands and supplement with lots of freelancers. One way around this is to get the band to guarantee that specific musicians will be at your simcha by putting their names in the contract, but be aware that the largest band regularly agrees to such clauses despite the fact that they know those musicians will not be able to be at your affair. (Sometimes, this is because they’ve promised the same musicians to multiple clients.) After all, you won’t find out about it until your event, and at that point, there’s not much you can do about it.
The most important factor, though, is to find a bandleader that you trust. Ultimately, the success of the music at your event is in his hands. If you’re going with a larger band, make sure that you know who will be the bandleader at your event, and that you speak to him before hiring the band. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page. Also, by speaking to the actual bandleader instead of the band salesman or agent, you’ll have a better sense of whether or not the band can fulfill your musical requirements.