Music has been proven to make children smarter, elicit emotional responses, boost immune systems and improve memory. It is also an integral component of any event, whether during a welcome reception, as background music during a break, or as the entertainment itself.
In a recent test conducted by Dr Agnes Chan of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, scientists tested the verbal memory of 60 female college students, half of whom had at least six years of music training before the age of 12. “We found that adults with music training learned significantly more words than those without any music training,” Chan and her colleagues say.
While training delegates in a classical instrument is probably outside the scope of even the most off-the-beaten-track event, playing classical music – especially symphonies by Bach and Mozart – during down times, or in the background of coffee breaks and drinks receptions can lead to better and longer lasting information retention. It has also been shown to be the most calming and relaxing type of music, which naturally makes people more open to new information.
There are studies that have proven an inconclusive correlation between classical music and intelligence or IQ – the Mozart Effect as it’s commonly referred to. However, for the purpose of energising the brains of participants, classical music during the appropriate times can and will have a positive effect.
There are a number of questions event planners should ask themselves when trying to narrow down musical choices. The type of gathering, the demographic of attendees, the logistics of the space as well as the overarching goal of the event all play key roles in ensuring that the music choice is the correct one.
Cultural differences in an ever-global economy can create issues when trying to please one and all. But if the event is a theme – for instance a gala dinner in India – then appropriate, local music as background during the meal enhances the overall effect and adds to the ambience of the evening. While emphasis is placed on age – and certainly a retreat for the most senior partners in a firm may not be best suited by an accompaniment of Britney Spears hits – often event planners forget that oldies are in fact goodies, and a well-selected list of favourites from decades past can strike the right note with all in the room. Likewise, there are styles of music that transcend regional differences, like jazz bands, pianists, string ensembles, and for the right occasions, cover bands.
It has been proven that personality, more than age, dictates the types of music different people enjoy. Blues, jazz, classical and folk music are generally appreciated by those who are intelligent, tolerant and politically liberal, according to research by Dr Peter J Rentfrow, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. He also found that country and religious music fans tend to be “cheerful, outgoing, reliable and conventional”. Those who appreciate alternative and heavy metal music tend to be physically active, curious risk-takers. And, aficionados of rap, hip-hop and dance are reported to be outgoing, agreeable people who generally eschew conservative ideals.
While personalities and research are helpful, when looking at the bigger picture it is really the event itself that makes the decision about music clear. Explains Chris Walmsley, founder of Last Minute Musicians, a UK-based company that helps companies find the right acts for their events: “Most corporate clients who are organising an evening reception with dinner and speeches are keen to portray an atmosphere of class and sophistication Therefore, experienced, qualified musicians are a must have. Professional musicians will not only look appropriate, but will also choose an appropriate repertoire and judge a room so as to play at the most suitable volume.” Often, professional musicians from local philharmonics and orchestras play in smaller groups on the side, ensuring the event’s entertainment is of the highest quality.
Hiring a DJ can be an easy way to ensure that a variety of music is heard throughout the event. However, it is far less visually appealing than a live band playing their instruments, a soloist singing, or a group coordinating the sounds of voices and instruments together. Unless the event is one in which people are sure to be dancing, DJs are less appealing than a soundtrack played in the background by the A/V staff at the venue.
Just as an event planner would not book a venue without seeing it, or hire the caterer without sampling the canapés, a live band (save big name stars, perhaps) should always agree to a try out. Planners should also hear as many bands as possible before booking just one, and always have a few back ups in case the lead singer becomes ill, or the violinist misses a flight.
The issue of locality comes into play when looking to hire an artist or group from abroad, as logistics can become difficult and costs can skyrocket quickly. Corporate Event Music, a company based in Los Angeles, with experience hiring and coordinating musicians all over the world warns that when looking for a star-studded act, “solo artists and a group of musicians are much different when you are managing a corporate event. If you are working with a solo artist there is only one car, one plane ticket, and one hotel room. Groups and bands require [a lot] more funding.”
Working through a company like Corporate Event Music can save both time and costs. “We have group discounts on all forms of transportation around the world for artists,” says the company. “Many of our artists travel frequently to cities in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and all over the United States. This helps us give you the lowest cost on transportation and housing for a group of artists in a band.” It also allows foreign companies direct access to the names they want for an event. But, be warned that big names sometimes come with big egos [see sidebar], so research and homework on the reputation of the artists is a must before signing on the dotted line.
Throughout the process, spatial constraints, audiovisual equipment and capacity, as well as the logistics of set-up and any movement throughout the event should be taken into consideration. Sound checks, potential hurdles and timing should be discussed with the venue’s A/V staff in conversation with the musicians. Appropriateness is really the key in choice, and diligence in finding and hiring the best band or performer to fit your budget fundamental to the success of the musical component of the event.
At the end of the day, the music should serve a purpose, whether it is to relax delegates, put them in a particular mood, accompany a gala dinner or reception, or provide big name entertainment for the evening. Music is just one component of the event, which should be coordinated with all others, bringing the theme home and focusing delegates on the task at hand – be it dinner, retreat activities, seminars or brainstorming – not on the music itself.
While hiring a big-name act can heighten enthusiasm for an event and will certainly wow your audience, be careful in choosing the artist as the urban myths about superstar egos may become more reality than a thing of fiction, creating headaches, annoyances and the potential for significantly increased costs.
One Hong Kong-based financial services firm holds an annual event that brings together its analysts and clients from around the world. The seminars, breakout sessions, briefings and press conferences culminate in a party with free-flowing drinks, haute-cuisine live cooking stations, entertainment of every variety and one big act every year. Last year, an American pop star, whose singles have topped the charts for nearly two decades, was invited to perform and proved more problematic than the company had bargained for.
While it is customary to fly a star first class, this songstress also demanded first class airline tickets for her remarkably extensive entourage as well. When she was told that she was being put up in one five-star hotel, she rejected it in favour of another’s Presidential Suite, which cost the company far more money.
The night of the event, the pop star did perform for the agreed upon amount of time, but not one moment longer, while previous acts have stayed on to entertain for up to an hour longer. But antics and egos aside, part of the problem was that in an economic climate like the present, the audience needed an upbeat escape, while this singer is primarily known for ballad-like tunes. More pop and dance numbers that in the past have had the audience on their feet would have made more of an impact.
Says one company member in charge of meeting the star’s needs: “In the end, it was more hassle than it was worth. She’s a great singer and a legend, but for our purposes, we needed someone that would have been a bit more realistic and had fun with what is always a really incredible party.” She continues, noting, “next year, we’ll obviously be a lot more sensitive to [the performer’s] reputation and the potential for extra requests that could cost us quite a bit of money outside of our budget”.
Ask Yourself: Things to consider when choosing music, courtesy of Corporate Event Music
• Is the music for background entertainment or a feature of the event?
• Is it necessary to have one style of music for the early part of the event and another style of music for later in the evening (potentially background pianist or classical quartet for a reception, then a larger band for dancing)?
• Is your event designed to entertain your guests or do you expect them to be networking and discussing business?
• What is the age range of your guests?
• Is your event going to be held in one or more locations?