New Orleans has no shortage of musical talent. Having a bevy of options is great, but it also can make choosing music for the big day a big pain. Enter the booking agent — a talent scout of sorts whose job it is to take the "oy" out of choice. Several companies in the city are dedicated to contracting DJs, local and national bands, solo acts and other performers to provide the soundtrack and entertainment for special events, especially weddings.
In this digital age when many musicians have a boundless social media presence and contact information listed right on their websites, using a booking agency may seem outmoded. Industry insiders say, however, that the need for these organizations is on the rise in this era when anyone can create a Facebook page and call himself a musician. Booking agencies already have vetted their sponsored musical acts, and can connect clients with groups that may be unreachable to the public.
"[Agents are] music professionals, and we've been in the business for several years," says David Hansen, president of Hansen Music Productions and music booking agent. "I started playing when I was 8, and did my first professional gig at 15. I started my booking agency in 1994, and I've been playing the drums at Houston's (on St. Charles Avenue) for 11 years now. We know the business."
If the decades of experience isn't a convincing enough reason for couples to use a booking agency, there are many practical advantages to consider. An agency has access to a variety of musical acts, from the classic brass band to lead the wedding procession to zydeco and top-40 cover bands. They also will take care of transporting equipment such as sound and lighting systems to and from the wedding venue if the musicians don't have their own.
"We have a lot of insider knowledge," says Mimi White, booking agent at White Oak Productions, "which is especially important for out-of-town brides who don't know the (local) market. We also know who will show up on time."
There's a compelling financial advantage too: Musicians often give booking agencies a discounted rate, according to White. That's great talent at competitive prices — a unicorn in the increasingly expensive realm of wedding planning.
Brass bands are almost as ingrained in wedding festivities as the "I do's," but couples are incorporating more expansive music styles into their nuptials.
"The larger trend is brides going for DJs, but we still get requests for local, live music, usually a combination of brass bands and what I like to call 'brunch trios' and other smaller groups (that play traditional jazz)," Hansen says.
Amanda Thompson, owner of Frenchmen Street Productions, notes the popularity of the DJ/live band combination at receptions. The changes in music coincide with the atmosphere the couple is trying to create at that moment.
"We can provide low-key, ambient music while guests are dining, then kick it up to funky dance tunes when it's time to get the party going," she says.
White notices a similar trend that seems to coincide with the age range of clients.
"Older couples usually request a traditional jazz group, or will pair [that] with a DJ. Couples in their twenties and thirties want cover bands."
White says DJs have moved beyond two turntables and a mic. Competition for disc jockey gigs is rising, and that competition is sparking creativity.
"DJs [are becoming] a little more interactive," she says. "The lighting game is stepped up, and some DJs have an interactive website that lets guests choose playlists."
Even top-40 bands are coming up with new draws for potential clients: White has seen bands that install a video wall at the wedding venue to play a mashup of music videos for the songs they're covering.
The ingenuity doesn't stop there. Some agencies — such as Frenchmen Street Productions — can provide performers to accompany their music acts, such as women wearing cage-like dresses that hold several (full) Champagne flutes, tarot card readings, caricaturists and aerial performers.
What's a New Orleans wedding without a brass band? There may not be such a thing, according to White, Thompson and Hansen.
"The second lines are a must-have now," White says. "The photo of the bride and groom dancing in the street to brass band music is a standard."
Budget-conscious couples may try to cut costs by limiting the number of band members in the brass band. Hansen understands that keeping costs low is important, but so is the sound of the band. With only three members, the harmonies, melodies and bass that make second line music so resonant are missing, and he doesn't recommend skimping on brass band players.
"If there's less than five people, I don't consider it a real brass band," he says.