How To Become a Show Band
What Exactly Does a Show Band Do?
Kimmy Terrell is the owner of Southern California’s Sensation Music & Productions, which represents several renowned Show Bands that performs at corporate events, charity galas, holiday parties, weddings, and other private celebrations. She’s also the lead vocalist and Bandleader in the Sensation Show Band. Of her work, she says, “They call it the music business for a reason. It’s treated no differently than other businesses. As the owner of a Show Band, my responsibilities are booking a show and creating a [client] database. I service my customers; I call, email, and visit their offices. These are my clients in my database. It typically consists of agencies that work with corporations so I network in meetings, I advertise, and have preferred vendors in magazines. I do social networking. Then, on top of that, I have to be sure my collateral material (meaning photos and promotional videos) is relevant, up-to-date and what my buyers want to see.
One of the things we provide is costuming; we create a look for a client’s event. For instance, if I’m doing a party for a formal event and they want us in formal clothing I would provide that look for the client. We create a centerpiece for the evening. We learn about their demographic and we would perform the most suitable music for that particular event. In addition, as part of being an owner, we run rehearsals, we do all the charting for the musicians, and we expect when they show up to the stage or even to rehearsal, they’re ready to go. If they want to just be a part of it as musicians, it’s a very different role than being a [Band]leader. I provide their clothing (for the most part). I tell them when and where to be and what to play. Then they get to go home. It’s a very different experience than being on the leadership side, which is finding the clients and providing customer service.”
For a Show Band member, advancement can mean taking a position with a band that regularly performs for big-name clients, as it will mean more money and exposure. Creating and becoming a Bandleader for one’s own Show Band could also be considered a step up if a band member wants to take on more responsibilities. Starting a production company that books Show Bands for corporate gigs can also lead to an increase in income, a greater hand in creative direction, and of course, more responsibility.
Education & Training
Although a Performance degree could be helpful in learning the necessary skills and attaining a high level of musicianship, Show Band members do not need to have academic or conservatory music training. As long as they can play well, Terrell says, “We don’t require anything like that. What we do require is just talent and some kind of connection the music. For instance, we have three bands and if I’m trying to hire a saxophone player for my disco band and they hate disco, they’re not going to have any connection to it and it’s going to show on the stage. I can’t have anybody get on the stage who isn’t ready to show up and be on the stage. We’re a Show Band. It’s about having fun, dancing, connecting to the audience, and smiling. My horn section is a dancing horn section. If they’re just standing there with their noses buried in the books, that doesn’t work. I’d rather have them not play the [right] note and just have a connection. Connection is everything; they’re up there having fun and dancing. If they’re just standing up there, looking bored, and not digging it, they’re not going to be on stage.”
What skills do you need to be a Show Band?
The good news for an aspiring Show Band member is that no previous band experience or special skills are required to join a band. Of course, band members must be skilled performers, so they probably already have some experience onstage. “They just need to have the people skills and know how to play their instrument,” Terrell tells us.
“I don’t have time for ego,” Terrell says. “There are some bands who that works for. For some bands, it has to be all about the sunglasses and the leather — or whatever it is — but in my bands, it’s all about the connection. Because it’s all about the audience.”
The type of person who would make an excellent Show Band member is, she adds, “outgoing, energetic, warm. All Show Bands are treated differently. Mine are pretty special, in that I really value a family atmosphere. We have people in our bands who have been there for years — and you really can feel that. We’ve been through everything together: marriages, divorces, celebrations. It’s a lot of integrity and [there’s] a lot of family in it. When we travel, our cheeks hurt cause we laugh so hard. We know each other and take care of each other and that translates when we go on stage.”
Show Bands work nights, sometimes traveling to reach gigs. “From the Leader’s perspective, I keep like a 10am-3pm schedule then have performances on the weekends,” Terrell says. “Oftentimes, with a Show Band, you’re working a lot of corporate events and those happen during the week. So, with a typical event taking place, we have to get there at approximately 4:30pm for soundcheck. Events can go from 6-10pm or 7-11pm. We really don’t rehearse. We might create a little longer soundcheck if there’s something custom we’re learning or if we’re playing a wedding and playing something we don’t know.
Thankfully you don’t find too many Show Bands in bars because they have much later schedules. Being involved in a Show Band is a little more high end; we get a better clientele and the hours are earlier.”
Although aspiring Show Band members may be able to find band openings in Craigslist’s musicians’ section, when Bandleaders look for new members, Terrell tells us, “most of it is word-of-mouth [and] a lot of it is referrals. I’ll call another band or someone I know and say, ‘Do you have a tuba player in mind?’ Then I’ll get the number and have the person out for an audition. I do have musicians that call and say, ‘Hey, I’m a drummer. Whenever you’re looking for someone, can you think about me?’”
How Much Does a Show Band make?
Show Bands can earn a very good living off their performances. What they take home varies, based on the price charged by the event producer. “It’s a percentage based on what we charge so every event is different,” Terrell explains. “Sometimes we have a seven piece band or a twenty-one piece band. It’s all percentage and scale.”
For those just starting out, who have never performed with a Show Band before, Terrell recommends the following basic steps:
- “Have a picture and a recording of you playing. It doesn’t need to be a video; it can be just a simple MP3. Then just find out who the leaders are in Show Bands and start shooting it out. Follow up and follow up.
- As soon as you get that break and that ‘in’, you get out on that stage and you keep smiling. They’ll remember you.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
For Bandleaders with an existing band, Terrell says, “Get a video. Get your people in place, design a small medley of music (about two minutes or so) and get it recorded. That’s the single [essential] piece. Everybody wants to know, ‘Do you have video?’ It has to look and sound good. Keep calling clients and sending out the videos because it’s a numbers game.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“As an owner, it’s having too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s about keeping it clean and having certain people making decisions.
From a [band] member’s perspective, if you’re eager [to join a band] and get yourself in a position to be asked to play with someone, be there on time, be clean, be dressed properly. Get your smile on and be ready to just leave whatever is going on in your life behind at the door. You can pick it up on your way out. You better be ready to perform. You have to have fun. Be on time.
Be sober. It’s especially difficult in our business, with musicians having the stigma of ‘Oh, musicians are unreliable or hammered all the time.’ A Show Band is known as a clean, corporate group of musicians that are very different than what you see in a rock band or a bar band where people are drinking. My bands don’t drink, only occasionally after a show, if a client offers us something. Sobriety is a big one.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
As mentioned earlier, “You can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. There’s an etiquette that I know my members appreciate. If there are one or two Leaders and somebody comes in and starts discussing event details, everything is put over to the Leader. There’s no communication for the band; they don’t have to worry about that stuff.
When you start a Show Band, you want to make it your own. You’re hiring the people to create your vision. You don’t want to blur the lines. You’re a Leader — an owner, a manager — that’s your job. When musicians come to work for you, you have a clear line of who’s in charge. To succeed, you have to have those lines, otherwise, you start getting people with too many opinions and it can get too emotional. If you’re providing a good product and have good people, they need to know the conversation [i.e.] if the client comes up, you just refer them over to me and it keeps it super clean. Then you tell everybody what’s expected of them — ‘This is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it’ — and if they want to be on your stage and continue doing it, they do it. It’s really clear. Otherwise, I know some bands that do a whole ownership thing where they each are an owner and they all take part in booking. That can work too, I guess. but I haven’t seen too many bands that succeeded that way because, with six or seven people [in charge], it gets messy.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Kimmy Terrell is the owner of Sensation Music & Productions, the Southern California-based company behind the Sensation Show Band, Polyester Express, and Betamaxx. SMP Show Bands perform for high-end corporate clientele, including DisneyWorld, American Express, ABC Television, and several top Vegas casinos. They have also worked with foundations and associations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Humane Society, and the Alzheimers Association. SMP Bands have appeared at private events for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Whoopie Goldberg, and the Beach Boys, as well.