Monday, 15 April 2013

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - Up's And Downs Of Band Life

More Than Just Gigging

Wedding Band In Manchester Liverpool Lancs
Wedding Fayres - Fun Sunday Afternoon?

This is actually going to be a tough one to write, as it might be easy for the reader to see it a moan or rant, but actually, if you see past that, hopefully it might help give an insight into the other side of being in a wedding and function band, the side that doesn't involve being on stage rocking.

If you manage to make it to the end of this piece, then hopefully you may have more of an understanding about the work that goes into self-management, promotion and why we actually charge for what we do (and not just doing it for the love of the music, yes, that HAS been said!). If I do rant, I will try and apologise!

Non-Music Work 


Lets start with the worst and work backwards toward the good stuff, I think that might make this a bit more bearable for all concerned.

Finding Gigs

I did talk about this in a previous wedding band blog, but I think its important to understand that most bands, even those that are gigging in pubs / clubs regularly, NEED to try and find new places to play from time-to-time. Whilst offers do come in, they do tend to be from recommendations given from people that have seen us, and as most people rarely travel far to pubs or clubs, that means the catchment can be quite small. Whilst this is great for building up a local following (even cover bands can have these) and guaranteeing "bums on seats", if you want to move into other geographical areas you have 2 options.
  1. Join an agency (losing out on a % per gig and not really knowing where you are play).
  2. Burn some discs, print some flyers, put petrol in the car and target an area and give it some spiel.
Due to our affinity with having control of what we do, we prefer to go and drum up our own business at the moment (not to say it won't change), and whilst these trips are not always successful, we are pretty good at seeing a place and knowing if we would fit, both physically and musically. By doing it this way we have our own small circle of venues that we can play on a regular basis, but without it being so frequently that both ourselves and the clientele get bored.

Pretty Vegas Rock Band Warrington
The Saracens Head, Warrington - We Shared Some good Times!
The other reason for searching for gigs is that unfortunately, sometimes Landlords leave a place, and this happened recently with The Saracens Head in Warrington. This is a venue that we have played since we first started as Pretty Vegas, but despite having some great nights, the Landlords were at the end of their tenancy, and decided not to renew. We played for free at their leaving party (they had been exceptionally good to us over the years!), and despite it being the best night we have had there, it was tinged with sadness as we knew we would never play there again. The pub was getting new tenants and a refurbishment, turning our stage / live room into seating for the new dining expansion. This means that if we want to play for the people that would come to see us, we need to find a new venue, and that means option 2.


Websites Pretty Vegas Wedding Band Use For Promotion

Any band that thinks that there is one route to promotion in this day and age is sadly mistaken, even for a wedding rock band there is a lot of work needed to get your name out there. In addition to the trawling of the pubs and word of mouth, there is a huge amount of web work needed in order for potential Clients to find out about the band and actually approach us for performances.

If you have a look on our links page, you will see that there is whole host of websites and directories that are aimed at helping brides find everything that they need for the big day (most are free to join, some you have to pay for!). Some are more involved than others, but all need work to find, register for, set up and manage, but we have noticed ourselves that we have had a great deal more contact and work as a result, so it is worth it.

Obviously, we have a Facebook page, which is a per-requisite these days, but its amazing how many people rely solely on this for their online promotion. Yes, its easy to setup and run, and it ticks a lot of boxes, but if a band thinks that Facebook is the sole answer, then they are very much mistaken. We tend to use Facebook for local gig promotion, Wedding Fayre announcements, making connections, but mainly for communicating with Clients. As our aim is to try to give them the event they want down to the last detail, its so quick and easy to have a proper conversation about what they want and don't want.


For the uninitiated, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is needed to help you get found when people are using search engines to find what they are looking for. So if you search for wedding band in Manchester, wedding bands for hire, rocking wedding band or top wedding band, SEO is what helps determine what it is you actually get  in the results.

Now, I say "for the uninitiated" with tongue firmly in cheek, basically because until about 9 months ago I knew nothing about it apart from using the Keywords section of my WYSIWYG website maker. It was because of my lack of understanding that we weren't even coming up in the first 20 pages of Google searches, so I researched SEO and how to implement it. Hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) of research, followed by hours and hours (you know this part!!) of registering the site for all the important directories (not related to music, related to actual website listings!), using all the available free tools, looking at tweaks for the website code. All the things that people pay others to do (I am cheap), I did it for Pretty Vegas and whilst there is always stuff to do on SEO, there has been about a 500% increase in inquiries from  as we now appear first page for our target searches. And all done with honest "white-hat" techniques (oooooh, get him with his lingo!).

Wedding Fayres

For Pretty Vegas, wedding fayres are a bit of an odd thing, as it gives lot of potential Clients a chance to see us play, but it never feels to us like they are actually seeing the real Pretty Vegas, and even though we get booking from the fayres, we always want Clients to come and see us in a more realistic setting to be sure they are getting what they want.

The thing with them is, when we do them (we always do them at Briars Hall) we can't help but feel that the other exhibitors are looking at us in anger as we do our "product display" as they cannot do their own one-to-one sales pitches with us playing. In truth though, we always feel that we can't really get across what we are about in a short 20 minute slot on a Sunday afternoon. What Clients are booking us for is a party, and is it better for them to see a video of us in a real setting?

That I suppose is why we normally don't take a deposit until they have been to a proper show. Yes, we can be more sedate or more rocking, but we want Clients to make an informed decision before they part with one of the biggest single expenses of their special day. As I said earlier, we are a rocking wedding band and its important that Clients know exactly what is on offer. Hopefully though, they get a chance to see how dedicated and passionate we are about what we do, so again, its a very important part of the "behind-the-scenes" work that we put in.

Backings & Rehearsals

Pretty Vegas Rocking A Sweaty Pub Gig
Confidence - Comes With Practice!
The only way to get good is playing, and it might come as a surprise to know that even after 20 years, we still rehearse every week as a band, even if just for an hour on acoustic guitars. We do this to make sure that when we gig a song, we have confidence in what we are doing, and to constantly try to improve our setlist. At the time of writing we have 61 songs that we gig with, but have another 4 that we are getting ready to add to that, and have probably dropped another 30 or so that we feel just weren't up to the job.

To give you an idea, even if I find a MIDI file of the track we want, I will do a rough mix and set it up with virtual instruments on the laptop, then we run through it and tweak things (either timings, general structure things to suit how we do things, drum edits) before I do a full track in the studio. Without practice, this is about 2 hours work for every track. If we are doing a medley, add 1 hour for each track within that medley (to ensure consistency in playing and tempo).

Many of the songs we do have had the tracks created by myself from scratch, and as I don't really play keyboards too well, I have to painstakingly run through and sequence each instrument note for note on the laptop. This can mean a track can take me 10 hours to sequence fully, and sometimes, these too are trashed if they just don't work out as we had hoped! That can be a bit heartbreaking, but at the same time, there is no point in being precious if it means a sub-standard track, so I just think of it as a learning process (well, that helps me keep my sanity on it!).

Open Mic Nights

Love 'Em!!

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods

Acoustic Set Pretty Vegas And Steph Woods
Pretty Vegas Wedding Band - Acoustic With Steph Woods

The best part of open mic nights is that you can run through a song, then play it live an hour later, which is a great freedom for Pretty Vegas given the fact that we use backing tracks and normally have to play in such a regimented fashion (even though I tempo map the songs to add more "swing"). Over the years we have used open mic nights when we haven't gigged for a while, to try new things out, and to get our foot in the door of venues. When starting out, it was a godsend for us to be able to get some live experience, and then they seemed to go away for a while (certainly in our area).

Fortunately, there has been a resurgence in the last couple of years. I think some of this is down the fact that many places want live music, but don't always have the money to pay acts, so this is a great way to get something happening cheaply. It also helps venues build a live music reputation, and for new acts its a wonderful opportunity to get up as audiences are generally as supportive as it gets, helping with nerves and offering advice.

The last open mic night we played (in pictures above) was the best we have ever done, as we had the second opportunity to play with the truly wonderful Steph Woods, who joined us to play some Pink, Alanis Morrisette, Adele, Bon Jovi and Evenscence after we played her leaving party the weekend before.

Steph Woods Female Vocalist WEddings and Parties
Steph Woods - Soon To Be 4th Member Of Pretty Vegas???

As a professional female vocalist, we were extremely pleased when we were booked to play for her leaving party, and more so that she wanted to get up on the night with us and do a few numbers to help celebrate the fact that she was going to Gran Granaria for 6 months to work.

Pretty Vegas and Steph Woods - New Wedding Band Lineup??
Pretty Vegas At Steph Woods Leaving Party

What we never expected was how good we sounded at that first rehearsal, and after 2 more and her party, we had a chat and are all hopeful that on her return, she will be joining Pretty Vegas as a full time member. Hopefully she will get signed in the meantime and we can be her roadies, drinking ourselves to death, but if not, then her being in the band will just HAVE to do!

Anyway, after the gig, we spoke about the open mic night in the venue that hosted the party, and she said she wanted to play again before she went, so we got together, ran through some songs and then got up and played them live in a format she had never done before. She might be a professional female wedding singer, but its fair to say she was out of her comfort zone that night, but excelled and we got another booking out of it, so again, another worthwhile endeavor!

So, Worthwhile?

I hope you have read all this and agree that whilst there is a lot of "thankless" work that goes into the band, its not done without there being a goal at the end, and the main one is having the opportunity to play live and it being a great show, whether its a pub gig, function or wedding. As long as we keep getting the bookings and people keep filling the dancefloor, I assume we will have to keep putting in the work. Hmmm, can Steph run a website?????

Pretty Vegas
(Oh, and this took 4 hours!!!)

Pretty Vegas Rocking A Wedding With A Guest


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