Orchestrating a Finely Tuned Event
Part One: Finding the Right Tempo
Being a composer of music, I have often been curious about the similarities between orchestrating a symphonic composition and orchestrating an event. More than a clever cliché, I do believe it was my studies in music that was the basis for my success in the event industry. Even though my studies eventually led to a degree in Commercial Music from Oakland University in Michigan, I had years of studying classical music. Classical music has a very mathematical aspect to it and contains a very precise series of formulas and repetition that have a “cause and effect” outcome. When you closely listen to classical music, you hear a repetitive pattern of questions and their answers are presented in musical phrases. You don’t need to be a student of music to hear this…you just have to listen carefully.
So how does this help in producing successful events? I could write chapters on this topic, but there are some basics that I think are very wise to consider when producing an event; starting with tempo. Tempo is the most basic element of a musical composition and I think it makes as much sense to produce your event at one tempo as it does to write every pop song at 120 beats per minute (as most are). Take, for example, the dinner portion of a final night gala event. Of course you are focused on what lighting will make the ambience the most comfortable, and you make sure there’s an odd number of votives on the centerpiece, but what is your music doing? Is it classical? Is it themed? What is the tempo of the music and how does it change from song to song? Is it random or is it for reason? A spirited tempo in music makes people eat faster. Is this an event where you want guests to eat quickly? Then go ahead…manipulate your audience! Maybe it’s the final night of an action-packed four-day-long incentive program and there’s no business, but just a good feeling of “wrapping it up” that you want to convey. Show that in the background music you choose; after all, you’re the composer of this symphony.
I often get clients that will give me a recipe of their favorite Broadway shows they want us to pay tribute to because maybe they are their favorites, or they are their kids favorites, or simply because they are familiar with the songs from that musical. I say that all makes sense; however, are you trying to just carpet bomb your event with Broadway shrapnel? Or are you using theater to (dare I say) emotionally manipulate your audience to feel something? Yes, I love hearing a great Broadway belter sing “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables as much as the next person (OK, maybe more), but you might find it a difficult segue to be completely swept up with lyrics such as “I dreamed a dream that life would be… so different from this hell I live in!” and then when the song is over, lights up and… “the award for Perkiest Sales Manager of the Year goes to…” That might be kind of comical when looking at it from this angle, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen people try to approach their event this way because they loved Hugh Jackman in that movie, or whatever the reason may be.
Now, take that song, and put it in a sequence (not so different than the play or movie) where you’ve built the audience up with high energy, big company numbers that move at a pace that is almost unstoppable…and then take a complete 180, with a tasteful musical transition that completely changes the mood and tempo in your audience with a song such as “I Dreamed A Dream” to create a moment that emotionally connects to your audience, and then quickly take them to a different musical place so that they’re not focused on the “hell” the singer is singing about. Give guests an evening full of carefully conceived tempo and you will create a true happening. Suddenly, the venue, food, décor, or destination doesn’t even matter to these individuals – this night will be defined by the feeling evoked. It isn’t by accident, and it works every time.
I remember an event I produced in the ‘90s that was a tribute to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and was produced in a tent at the Inn at Spanish Bay for one of the great corporate names of Wall Street. After the show that night, the VP of Marketing said to me “Sam, you have no idea how much money I made off you tonight.” I was a bit taken back by that comment and I asked him to explain what he meant. He told me that what we did with our event created an atmosphere…a “feeling level” that perfectly set the stage for good business transactions to occur. Evidently they did on this night and it left me wishing I had worked on commission instead of a set fee for our performance! But in the long run, I’m quite happy if what I do makes people a lot of money. I’m just glad that I orchestrated that event on that very special night, and was proud to be asked to “top” that night for the following year’s event.