It’s that time of year when companies are having holiday parties for their employees. If you’ve ever played one you know they are not like playing a bar. At all.
Sometimes they can be a blast with everyone ready to dance and party and blow off a year’s worth of bad bosses. But, sometimes you are hired by a small group of people, or a committee, that loves you but the rest of the company doesn’t feel the same way.
Either way, you have to give a great show. They paid you a bag full of cash (hopefully?) and you still have to earn it.
Plus, you will likely have new eyes and ears on you that could turn into long-time followers.
In my guide I talk about how to get the corporate gig, now let’s talk about how to rock that gig.
Even though you are at a party, there are still going to be plenty of folks that can’t let loose. Often times these are the people that will sign your check for the night. Those people will still view this as a business transaction (because it is) and pick it apart, looking for anything they deem as falling short of the service they paid for.
This isn’t always the case, but you don’t want to give them any reason to want to not pay you.
This is an official company function, not a bar. Your language has to reflect that. Keep the F-bombs to yourself.
I recently played a corporate function for a financial institution. The folks that hired my band saw us in a club where we can be a little more raunchy.
When they approached us I made it clear that we conduct ourselves differently at “official functions” and we would keep our language in check. They told us that a little bit wasn’t a problem, but we still don’t use the same language.
People will notice more if you do cuss than if you don’t.
Many times these events will be a little more formal. This could mean tie and jacket or it could mean tuxedo.
Do your best to match the attire of those attending the party.
There will likely be a single point of contact from the company that you will work with. Find out from that person what the attire is for the function and make sure to do your best to dress the same.
There can be exceptions. If you’re a theme or genre band, they may want you to stay in that persona.
Let’s say your an 80s hair tribute band. There is usually a lot of Spandex and headbands expected, so figure out how you can keep the essence of your look but work in a more formal approach.
Definitely check with your contact to see what they expect.
Your playing schedule should be worked out in advance. Many of these functions are also used for company business like a year end review, acknowledgments, etc. These things typically take place before you play, but they may want to mix in things while you’re on break (if you take them).
When they hire you one of the first things you need to find out is how long they will want you to play, when you will start and when you will finish. Figure out how much material you will need to fill that time and propose it.
They may have a function that starts at 6PM and ends at 12AM. They will likely have a dinner, do company business, give away awards and prizes and then want to dance.
That means you’ll probably have the stage from 8PM – 12AM.
In a case like this I will typically state that we can play three 1 hour sets with a 15 minute break between sets.
Then I stick to that pretty strictly. I will sometimes play longer if requested, but never play shorter unless the person at the company that hired me asks me to do so.
If they want you to play longer, work out in advance that a longer schedule may require more pay.
My band once played for a company that was having a great time. At the end of our last set they wanted us to keep going. The owner of the company offered to double our pay if we played one more set.
We said “yes”.
Work out all these details in advance and include them in your contract and never provide less than the contract says you will provide.
Corporate gigs are filled with many people with many different tastes in music. There are younger people that are going to want to hear Taylor Swift and older people that are going to want to hear The Beatles.
It’s cool if the younger people want to hear The Beatles, but kinda creepy when the old guy wants to hear Taylor Swift.
Unless you are that genre specific band I talked about, it’s a good idea to be able to play some general crowd pleasers. This can be anything, really, but there are some songs that most people will want to hear.
They are often the songs you are sick of playing, but are the ones that get you the gigs so you have to play them.
Make sure your songs are “family friendly”. You may want to cut out the songs that are heavy in the cuss words or at least be able to edit on the fly. This would go the same for the songs heavy in sexual content.
You have to have good gear for these gigs. It has to sound good and it has to not break down in the middle of the gig.
Make sure you have enough PA to fill the space you’re playing, too. It’s good to have a little more than you need rather than not enough.
Keep the volume reasonable. I try to make sure the dance floor is getting the best sound and that those beyond the dance floor can still hear us but are still able to hold a conversation without yelling.
I mentioned contracts earlier. You must have one and in it you need to have all the details of what is expected of you and the company.
I’ll go into detail about contracts in another article, but they are a must have for many gigs. Companies are used to dealing with them with other service providers so they should have no problem with, and will likely want, a contract from you.
Corporate parties can be an absolute blast where you are totally engaged with everyone there or they can be a stuffy, boring gig where you’re just background music. No matter what they are, you are usually getting paid very well and have the potential to gain new fans.
No matter what it ends up being, you have to bring the show and perform your best.