Can we tentatively reserve a date on your calendar without a deposit, while we decide on venues?
Yes, but on these terms: A ”tentative” reservation means I hold a specific date or dates until either of the following occurs: 1) the first person gets back to me with a decision, or 2) another client calls with an inquiry, or intention to book us. When a second client calls, I attempt to contact the first client who then must either make an immediate decision, or release the reservation..
How do we officially book you?
“Booking” us means signing a contract and making a deposit. First we agree on times, price, and location. Then I email an engagement agreement (contract) which requires ,a signed copy returned to me with a check for the deposit. I am not officially “booked” unless there is a signed contract between the purchaser and me, and the deposit payment has cleared my bank. Delays in returning the contract and deposit can result in the loss of your date.
Note: The surest method of booking us is to call me first, before booking your venues and other vendors! Simply ask me to identify our open dates over a 2-3 month period, and have me put tentative holds on, say, 5 or 6 nights that you think may work for you. Then, go out and line up all the pieces of your event. In the meantime, I’ll keep your dates safe, or call you when there is an inquiry on any of them. Finally, call me back to verify the date you have settled on. I will then release the other tentative holds, and we’ll finalize your date with a contract and deposit. For the growing list of clients who absolutely must have the Michael Benson Band, this is the way to guarantee that will happen!
Do you take Credit cards?
No, only checks payable to Michael Benson, or cash. There is a non-refundable deposit of 50% due at the time you sign the contract. The final payment is due one week prior to the event.
How many breaks do you take?
We normally take 1 break in three hours, 2 breaks in four hours, and 3 breaks in five hours. Some circumstances may dictate a variation of this, ie. the need to take one extra break, or one less break.
When do you take breaks?
We are very flexible on this. The first break is usually during the dinner hour, and the next after a very long set of dancing, usually 80-90 minutes. Breaks are not based on the clock, but more on the needs, momentum and energy level of the party. Fatigue ultimately does need to be addressed, so that our performance can continue at the optimal level. One thing is for sure, when we take a break from dancing; the crowd will be READY for a break, because we will be relentless during our trademark 80-90 minute non-stop sets. There isn’t a second of pause from one song to the next. Our work ethic and energy is legendary.
How long are your breaks?
Generally, 15 minutes. Sometimes longer during the dinner hour, and sometimes shorter just prior to the last set of the evening.
Do you play music when you take breaks?
Yes, an MP3 or CD player is built into our sound system. We always have appropriate music mixes for every phase of the party, and they play from the moment we break til the moment we return. Background jazz for the dinner, dance tunes for the dance portion, and even special or ethnic music. If you want us to play your own mixes, we will. The best way for that is for you to bring your CD or iPod for me to play on our system.
Can you play for the whole evening without taking a break by rotating some members in and out of the band?
No, because our product and repertoire will suffer when one member is out. Each musician is integral to the whole. Imagine a five-member basketball team playing with only four…they probably couldn’t win a game. Then imagine a five-man dance band, where the drummer disappears for 15 minutes, followed the lead singer, and then the bass player. If our lead guitar player was to take a break, we wouldn’t be able to offer songs featuring him, which might be the very songs we need at the moment. If I took a break, the band would be without keyboards, lead vocals, and leadership.
This model exists in some cities, and I’ve heard about it. I can’t say what the performance quality was in those situations, but I will certainly never handicap a band of our stature, compromise our product, or short-change our customers.
How do you normally proceed through an event?
We usually begin playing classy background jazz when guests first arrive for cocktails and hors d-oeuvres. This takes the edge off of a cold, quiet room. During dinner we continue playing more subdued, elegant classics, staying below the conversation level. Then we transition into fun dance music that gets everyone involved for the rest of the event. Once we get the dancing rolling, our crisp pacing is relentless, without as much as a second of pause between songs. The energy we deliver is phenomenal. Even our break music segues smoothly in and out of our sets, so there is literally non-stop music all night. There are several variations of this format, but we are best known for reading a crowd, keeping them elegantly entertained at dinner and then partying on the dance floor until the last song. Our flexibility and range of repertoire keeps us agile and responsive to whatever crowd we have at hand.
Do you provide your own stage lighting?
We do not bring any of our own special lighting for the stage or room. We are happy to perform with whatever ambient lighting the venue offers, and we have our own music stand lights that we use to read music and perform for the event. PLEASE NOTE: I do recommend a local lighting company – GREENLIGHT EVENT DESIGN (www.greenlighteventdesign.com). They are highly creative and effective in accomplishing any lighting needs for stage and room. Contact their office at: 206-973-7427, or Brian Waltz at 206-920-2004 (mobile).
HOW DO WE GO ABOUT CHOOSING MUSIC FOR THE EVENT?
The simplest way is to navigate to our website song lists page (follow the “Listen” tab), click the pdf download button at the bottom, print and then mark them any way you want. You can check, highlight, or star the songs you like. you can also cross off songs you don’t want to hear, or, simply make general comments about broad areas of music you do and do not like. Then email that list back to meat least 2 weeks ahead of time, and I’ll use it as your own, personal request sheet for your event.
Reading a crowd, sensing their energy and tastes, and responding to people spontaneously is our most celebrated skill. Once I know a client’s musical preferences, I choose the songs moment by moment. I rarely, if ever, pre-determine set lists or script a playlist in advance. This method will most likely fail. We are at our best when we have the freedom to make musical choices as we go, creating and capitalizing on the momentum we build with an audience. By starting the next song literally while the previous song is ending, we generate a non-stop flow of music and eliminate any dead time between songs. In dancing sets, this captivates crowds and creates an intensity that’s irresistible. If you give us your favorite songs – specific or general, and trust us to do what we do best, your event will be a great success, and well remembered for a long, long time to come.
Do you take special requests?
Absolutely, all the time! If there are 1 or 2 songs you want, but don’t see on our list, ask for them and we’ll most likely learn them for you. It’s important to send that to me at least 2 months in advance of your event. When guests request songs at the event, we are always happy to play them if we are able – that is a natural part of entertaining an audience. Please let me know if you DO NOT want me to take requests from your guests, or, if there are certain songs you don’t want played, no matter who asks for them.
Any additional requests we cannot do can always be incorporated into our break music mixes for you, and there is no limit to these. So you can truly hear everything you want.
Do you handle the emcee work, ie. announcements?
Yes, it’s a natural part of my service and keeps the event flowing and organized. This can include introductions of the wedding party, grand entrance for the couple, toasts, notices for dinner service, family photos, cake cutting, first dances, bouquet toss, send-offs, transportation notices, and last dance notice. My microphone is also available for those who will make welcome statements, toasts, and speeches. It is a corded, not wireless mic, which ensures that it will always work dependably!
May we ask you to stop and announce various events like photographs, cake cutting, sorority songs, toasts, speeches, etc.?
You may interrupt me as much you like, since it’s your party however…may I gently suggest that once we get rolling with dancers, you don’t interrupt that flow until our next break time? I have seen many receptions where doing that has absolutely killed the energy and momentum we had built up, and those parties never really recovered afterward. It’s best to lump toasts, cake cutting, and first dance into one segment, and/or perhaps do bouquet/garter toss later at the next break. The more times you stop people while they’re dancing the more likely they are to fade away.
Do you play ethnic music, such as Jewish, Italian, Norwegian or Hawaiian?
What do you wear?
Most of the time, we perform in black tuxedos with classic white shirts/black bow ties, or modern black shirts with long silver ties. Other options include matching black suits, sport coats w jacket & tie, business casual, sports casual, and Hawaii shirts.
Does your group get too loud for small spaces, or sensitive ears?
No, not unless the people in charge who are paying for my service want it that way, and are happy with our playing volume. I ALWAYS check in with my clients throughout the evening to be sure they are satisfied with the level of our sound, and whether we are too loud or not loud enough. I respond immediately if they ask me to turn the volume down. (see below) We have had 5 pieces playing in a room seating only 50 guests, and not been too loud for them.
A side note about sound volume: There is often a divide between the interests of dancers and the interest of “talkers”. Sometimes, both interests can coincide. If possible, plan to utilize some of the venue space for a seating area that is more suitable for conversation, away from the dance floor, and try to seat those who want to talk more than dance, furthest from the band.
If a successful dance party is an important element for your event, remember that modern dancers usually want and need to have a strong music level to keep them on the floor. When a request to turn the volume down comes right at the peak of the dance momentum, it may (and has) emptied the floor. Or, if the crowd is lingering at a bar in the adjoining room or foyer, they will really need to hear the band coming through loud and clear from the next room, as incentive to get back to dance. (See question #15!) So as always, the sound volume is a matter of delicate balance, which factors into the over-all goal achievement. We’re proud to be able to handle the issue wisely, and graciously.
Do you provide music for ceremonies?
Absolutely! Typically, I play piano, and or guitar and organ. I sing any pieces that are necessary, including classical standards, and I accompany other vocalists as well. Sometimes a flute player joins me to make a piano/flute or guitar/flute ensemble. Another variation is to add a trumpet. If you prefer the sound of string quartets or harpists, I have excellent references.
What do we provide for the band in terms of food and beverages?
Food and beverage provisions for us are the norm. Our work time is usually 7-9 hours including load in, setup, tear down and travel. Therefore, our clients usually include us in their meal count – either plated or buffet. Alternatively, arrangements are made with adjacent restaurants, such as Newcastle’s “Calcutta’s” bar and grill, for ordering from their menus. Bar refreshments on our break is appreciated after working 80-90 minute high-energy, non-stop sets.
What are some tips you have to offer from your experience?
Can we adjust the times from what we initially put into the contract?
Yes, this is fairly common when we book so far in advance. If we have another same-day performance, time changes may be restricted.
Do you ever allow guests or friends of the family to sing or play with the band?
In general, yes. I realize that some very special memories can be created in situations like these. However, I prefer to discuss this in advance, with standards of ability, conduct and playing etiquette agreed upon by the purchaser and myself. In rare cases, a damage deposit has been required. I will retain sole discretion when considering spur-of-the-moment requests to sit in with us. Personal conduct is an important factor as I make that judgement.
Is it necessary to meet with you in person before our event?
Not usually. Most of our planning and communication can take place very conveniently by telephone, conference calls, and email. However, if you do wish to meet ahead of time, I am happy to do so at a mutually agreed upon location. I treat such meetings as consultations, and I charge $50/hr. for my time. This excludes travel fees if the time or distance is significant (ie. greater than 30 miles or 30 minutes, one way).
What are the musical differences between your various group sizes?
To best serve you and your guests, we prefer to work as a quintet, and most always do. With that, we completely deliver our amazing range of repertoire, which best meets the needs of any audience, any request, and the varying moods that can occur – ranging from classy cocktail jazz, to elegant dining music, to full-on dancing in modern to classic styles. Venues are rarely too small for our quintet. We can adapt to any situation, even acoustic environments requiring low sound levels for conversation or intimate table configurations.
When we scale down from quintet to quartet, either the lead guitar or the saxophone will be the instrument we lose. Without guitar, there will be a loss of the most upbeat, current songs in our repertoire, since that instrument is integral to contemporary music’s sound and style. The result will be less range of repertoire, and less of a modern energy and feel. Songs that feature guitar obviously won’t be played.
Scaling down from a quartet to a trio leaves the guitar and sax player out, who also doubles on flute, EWI (electronic wind instrument), hand and electronic percussion, and backing vocals. For events where dancing is anticipated, it’s best not to leave the sax player behind. Saxophone is an indispensable bridge between big band swing and contemporary musical styles, and provides great energy for audiences.
Our trio is ideal for intimate settings where the goal is background music for listening. The trio can provide dance music too if needed, and is also ideal in a swing-era style application. It can either have an upbeat feel, or a classy, sophisticated elegance for more formal settings.
All group sizes can be presented either with or without vocals, depending on our client’s objectives.
Are other smaller configurations available?
Yes. Other options include duo and solo applications. For example: solo piano, piano/bass, piano/sax, solo sax, guitar/sax, guitar/flute. These options work well for smaller cocktail receptions and background music.
NOTE: On prime wedding season Saturday nights we normally have quintet minimum group size, due to very high demand and long wait-lists of people hoping to secure our services. We are more flexible on off-season Saturdays, and week nights.
So how would you quickly sum up your group differences?
The quintet carries our complete repertoire, with the broadest musical choices including the most modern, upbeat material. The quartet is more limited, but capable of providing a great variety of listening and popular songs for dancing. The trio is superb for light dancing and easy listening jazz. Understandably, clients compare group sizes for budget concerns. But I recommend you carefully consider the outcome you want for your guests, and how you want the event to be remembered for years to come. Often, the money that is saved will cost you more in the quality and longevity of memories.
Does your “starting and ending time” include time for you to set up?
Our starting and ending times, as listed on the contract, indicate when we will actually begin to play and when we will stop. Our set up and tear down of equipment takes place BEFORE or AFTER those times. We typically arrive for set up 1 hour before we are scheduled to start playing.
What about tipping?
Gratuities are always appreciated. When you feel that our service was extraordinary and played a pivotal role in making your event an unforgettable experience… please consider a gratuity in the range of 5-10%.
What’s the advantage of hiring your band over a dj?
Unique – there’s nothing unique in the music you already have on your iPod or CD. The artistry and talent that world class musicians bring to their performance is priceless, and becoming more rare all the time. Live solos on guitar, sax, keyboards, bass and drums won’t happen with a dj.
Creative flexibility – in real time, when they have to, live bands can extend, shorten, re-arrange, vamp, transpose pitch, modify tempo, and alter lyrics of songs to fit requests and respond to “spur of the moment” dance situations. Sometimes these tools literally save the day. Dj’s can’t do these things. Prime Example –So you’re watching as a new couple JUST walks onto the dance floor fresh from the bar – at the very end of a slammin song, and they’re lovin it. They want this vibe to keep going, NOT to change. Cuz they’re ready to groove together on it. How do you extend the song for them and not kill the vibe? If you’re a dj, the song is gonna end. You can’t hit rewind cuz that’s the beginning of the song and that’s lame. You can only hope the new song coming up will work out. But, if you’re a live band, and you’re the MBB, you repeat the final out-chorus OR, revert to another verse OR, add solo jams OR, add more choruses, etc. etc. as needed. You have real-time OPTIONS to re-arrange the song, and so you do! The couple stays, connects, and commits to the floor. We did this twice last night at Alderbrook Resort and Spa. Voila! Success! Done! #whyyouhirethemichaelbensonband
Memorability – a phenomenal, live performance will be talked about for many years, especially when they keep an entire audience rolling for hours. But who will remember a dj after a month? I often see clients from 15-20 years back who say “everyone is STILL talking about the music at our wedding!”
Energy & excitement – most people rarely, if ever get to experience the raw energy and excitement of a sizzling, live performance up close and personal and when they do, they hit the dance floor with passion from the get go. But the dj standing at the table rarely moves.
Entertainment value – how entertaining is it to watch someone wearing headphones and pushing buttons?
Cost – a dj may save you money, or will he? You might spend $1000-$3000, even up to $5000 for a dj. But that’s just for one person. Our band may run $4000-$5000, but that’s for 4-5 musicians. Comparatively, that’s a very good value.
Repertoire – the MBBand’s songlist is so huge, it shatters the misconception that a live band is limited in what they can play. That’s not us. We play everything, 100% true to the original, or better as clients often say. Audiences from around the nation and the world are continually stunned by the range and depth of our repertoire. And we always learn special requests at no charge.
Complete package – if there’s any song(s) the band doesn’t currently do that you want, you still get to hear it during the break. You can even request your own custom mixes for us to play on mp3/CD. So with our live band, you have absolutely everything.
Can we have a live band and a dj at the reception?
You could, but sometimes it’s awkward. One often detracts from the other, so it’s better to choose one, not both. Several of our couples have learned this the hard way and were disappointed. Consider these issues:
The best plan for having a dj after the band is for everyone to head to a bar at the end of the reception, where a completely new vibe can be set.