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Hiring a Musician? What to Look For, What to Ask.

Are you thinking of hiring a musician for an upcoming event, but you feel unsure how to evaluate a musician and don’t know what questions to ask them about their music and performance?

Here are some pointers.

How do they sound? You will want to listen to their music – recorded or live. Trust your first impressions! Even if you feel you don’t have a lot of knowledge to evaluate the sound, an untrained ear can tell a lot.

I always enjoy when I am playing and a child comes up to me, and says with a sense of surprise in their voice, “You are so good!” Reviews can be helpful, too. That tells you what people in your situation thought of the musician’s talents and how they performed their job.

Experience? The musician you are hiring should have a lot of experience and great reviews to show for it. Are you thinking of hiring a student? They will be less expensive, but less reliable, too. Finishing their term paper may be more important than showing up for your event.

What is their repertoire? Does the music speak to you? They should have lists of music for you to choose from and a wide range of music to appeal to all your guests.

Are they a full-time musician, or is music a side line? If the person you hire is a full-time musician, your event will be of prime importance to them, and not secondary to their “real” job. It also means they spend more of their time making music – so their skills are sharper, and they can devote the needed time to your event.

Their instrument? You won’t be an expert in the types of instruments available, but you can see if it is a full size, professional instrument, or a smaller model. A smaller instrument will have less sound. Does the musician have amplification? If your event will be outside or will include a large number of people, amplification is essential.

Are the musician’s materials and communication business-like? Do they respond to you in a timely way? If so, then you have a good chance the musician will also act in a businesslike manner at your function: showing up on time, dressing appropriately, interacting positively with the venue and your guests, and performing in a great way.

Do they use a contract? Remember, a contract protects the musician, but it protects you, the client, as well. 

It should include all the event details, so there are no misunderstandings.  

And what about “Contractors” – people who hire the musicians for you?  

Most contractors are not performing musicians. Perhaps they once were, or maybe they are DJs, or just work for an office that does this type of work. I find that their bottom line is rarely to find you the finest musicians; the contractor wants to find the least expensive performers so they can make a large mark up. 

They seldom ask the questions the musicians need to know about, which means you may not get what you really need. 

For instance, they could hire two people to play together who have never met, and they will be given no time to rehearse. Or they don’t ask you the details of your service, or the theme of your party, to be able to tell the musician(s) so they know what music would be best for you.

I love to hire other performers, and with my Juilliard contacts, my years performing in groups, and 20 years of running a diverse concert series, I have fabulous connections. I have organized many ensembles for events, ranging from a group of 22 musicians to perform for a wedding, a 16 piece string orchestra for a 50th Birthday Party, numerous duos and trios, string and brass groups, costumed singers, a lute player, and more.

My goal is to find great performers who are great people, totally reliable and wonderful musicians. They won’t be the least expensive, but they will be excellent! And they will have all the details they need to do a great job.

And finally, what about the fee? Perhaps that is the FIRST thing you are considering, but I’m sure you know the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” I have found it to be true in music. If you want someone who has a high level of expertise, lots of experience with high reviews to show for it, a musician who will give time and devotion to your event, and wow you and your guests, why would you expect to pay the lowest price?

Think of what music does, how it creates a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere, and how important that will be for your perfect day. And what do you think your guests will remember years from now, the special shoes you spent so much money on, or the music they all loved?

One of the things you are buying by paying a higher fee is total reliability, experience, and professionalism. Unexpected things happen in the best-planned events, but an experienced musician has dealt with the same thing before and will carry on and make it work in the most extreme circumstances. You will have many things to worry about on the day of the occasion. By paying for a full-time professional musician, music won’t be one of them.