26 Jul A guide to hiring a pianist for your corporate event
So you are planning an event for your company and thinking of hiring a musician.
Somebody suggests hiring a pianist. What a smart notion!
Companies hire pianists for various types of event – press launch, company 20th anniversary drinks reception, retirement of the company CEO/Chairman, supplier gala dinner, charity fund-raiser, Christmas party, train-station re-opening, quiz night – the list goes on.
Before getting bogged down in researching / trying to book a pianist for your event, lets back up, to consider your strategic objectives and some of the practical considerations.
As a full time pianist for events, having played the piano for all kinds of companies, I feel qualified to:
- Explain why your initial instinct to hire a pianist over any other type of musician was a good one – and why it makes business sense;
- Illustrate why hiring a pianist is a great choice compared with hiring other types of musicians;
- Offer you some tips for getting the most out of your pianist booking.
1. Benefits of hiring a pianist for your event
At a corporate event, a pianist will typically be on-site anywhere from one to four hours – depending on what’s required and what section – or sections – of the event they have been booked for.
However, have you considered this? Although four hours’ work sounds like a lot more than one, it is almost the same from the pianist’s point of view. Let me explain. When a pianist is booked for an evening / afternoon event, that time-slot has effectively gone, whether they are playing for an hour or a bit more. How does this relate to you? Well it means that you can get great value for money.
For example, if you are you planning your company’s Christmas party, you might have the pianist play during both the drinks reception and the sit-down dinner. You would pay a similar price for one section as two sections of the evening, so why not get great value for money and do both!
And, here’s a secret, so please don’t tell anybody. Most event pianists love their job – the more time they spend playing, the more they’ll likely be also enjoying what they are doing.
Finally, compared with the cost of hiring two different acts for two sections of your event you can get great value for money by booking the pianist to do both.
b) Enhancing your event’s theme
The second main benefit of hiring a pianist is that they can tailor their repertoire to the purpose and theme of your event.
In the instance where there’s no brief, the pianist might deliver:
- Upbeat jazz standards for say, a drinks reception; or
- A mixture of contemporary pop, vintage pop and jazz standards during a sit down dinner
But if you are more specific with your brief you can get exactly what you’re looking for, e.g:
- Disney theme tunes – for a toy, kiddy, or indeed, Disney related event;
- 70s/80s/90s vintage pop sing-a-long classics for an after-party;
- Elton John covers – for, a Rocketman themed party;
- TV theme tunes – for a quiz night;
- James Bond covers, for a Bond-themed night;
- Contemporary classical pieces for an art-installation.
c) A live performance, responding to the vibe
For a pianist, its not just about playing the songs – in the same way a DJ might play a track. An experienced, talented pianist will judge the mood and vibe of the event and play the chosen songs with the appropriate gusto or restraint, or speed, as required.
Further, a pianist might infuse a pop cover with a slightly jazzy style to give it a classy or cheeky twist. It just depends what’s required on the night and how the pianist responds to everything going on around them.
A conscientious pianist should have the proverbial feelers out constantly, checking the room to ensure that what they are playing optimally supports the atmosphere at the time.
Just like a DJ, a pianist will generally – and possibly sub-consciously – be looking to cover an “entertainment arc”, e.g.
- Starting reasonably quietly while there are only a few people in the room;
- Building things as more guests arrive;
- Delivering a boisterous flourish as the atmosphere hits its peak; and then
- Dipping down at the end when people start saying their goodbyes and looking for taxis.
Hiring an experienced pianist will mean they will know exactly what to do and when.
d) Scaling your guest list with relative ease
The final benefit of hiring a pianist for your event is that just one pianist can provide you with the capability to scale.
For example they can entertain 300 people just as easily as 50.
Yes, this is possible – from just one musician. How? The answer is sound equipment. Lets look at two scenarios.
Scenario 1: The pianist is performing on an acoustic piano, already present at the venue, or you’ve had the piano hired in.
Once your guest numbers exceed 50, you will very likely need some amplification. A sound engineer with the relevant equipment will be able to position a microphone or two around the piano, connect this to their sound equipment and project the sound around the room – providing just enough background music volume to accompany the sound of chatting guests.
Scenario 2: The pianist is playing on their own electric piano
There are two options when the pianist brings their electric piano:
- The pianist will likely have their own dedicated PA system, capable of projecting to around 150 guests maximum. Just let your pianist know how many guests you are expecting so they can plan accordingly.
- A sound engineer, who’s either on-site, supplied by the venue, or is one you’ve hired in, can plug the pianist’s electric piano into their sound system – which will likely have capacity for 300-400 guests.
2. Pianist versus other types of musicians
So we’ve just looked at the main benefits of hiring a pianist for your event.
But a pianist and a corporate event is also a particularly good match – when considering other types of musicians. Here’s a few examples why:
- Sax. Unlike a sax player, a pianist can carry an entire song – the rhythm, all the chords and melody, making what they are playing instantly recognizable. Can a sax player do that without a backing track, or a band behind them? – No.
- String quartet. The piano is well regarded for having a pleasing sound that you won’t get bored with. A string quartet might be fine for a drinks reception but if you are looking for a whole evening’s worth of entertainment, can your ears really endure the sound a string quartet for more than about an hour? Again the answer is likely to be no.
- Acoustic guitar/singer. With a well-chosen pianist, your event will be lent a classy vibe that corporate events demand. By contrast, a singer with an acoustic guitar has its place, but this tends to be more suited to a casual-type event.
3. Getting the most out of your pianist booking – practical considerations
Here are some practical tips for when you’re in the process of booking your pianist:
Recce – If you’re planning your event in advance and if the planning stage warrants it, your pianist might be able to join you for a reconnaissance meeting at the venue. You might discuss things such as how many guests, what you see happening on the night. Logistical items are also high on the priority list for discussion, such as position of the piano, amplification / microphoning.
Piano options – Your pianist should be able to advise you on the range of portable electric piano options they can personally supply you with. They may also have a good relationship with a trusted acoustic piano supplier and will be able to either put you in touch, or facilitate the piano hire.
Charity – if you are a charity you will probably be able to negotiate some kind of discount on the pianist’s standard rate. The pianist will likely want something in return, for example a link from a news item on your website, a complimentary page in your event brochure. Good old fashioned bartering is on the table as long as everyone wins!
Christmas parties – if you are specifically organising a sing-a-long as part of your Christmas party, do email your pianist a list of songs ahead of time so they can ensure they have their music prepared.
Fees – On the subject of costs, good-quality event pianists typically charge £350-£550 per event.
Choosing your pianist – I don’t need to explain how to go about finding your pianist – anyone with access to the internet is perfectly capable. All I will say is that when you have come up with your shortlist, if you feel you don’t have a good enough ear to judge their piano playing, just ask a colleague.
10 of my favourite corporate piano playing gigs
Finally, here’s ten of my favourite corporate events that I’ve played at. The range of these events demonstrates in particular that events are truly a people-based affair. Having had my Myers-Briggs personality test carried out years ago I know I am more on the extrovert side than the introvert. It means that corporate events for me are a lot of fun – because its about the people as much as the piano playing.
- Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, 2019: Entertaining tens of thousands of members of the visiting public, all week in the Country Living Pavilion.
Fun Factor: Visitors singing along, dancing and making requests.
Client: Country Living Magazine.
- Drinks Party for the European Premiere of Mary Poppins Returns, 2018: Entertaining VIP ticket holders to the European Premiere of Mary Poppins Returns, screened at the Albert Hall.
Fun Factor: Playing “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” to delighted nine year olds.
Client: Disney UK.
- Playing at Ebbsfleet International for the government’s Healthy New Towns Initiative, 2018: Entertaining commuters during England’s ascent to the Word Cup semi finals 2018. My piano playing was also picked up and featured on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.
Fun Factor: Working on a rendition of “Three Lions” with a group of schoolchildren on a day trip.
Client: Ebbsfleet Development Corporation.
- Diageo plc’s new bar opening, 2017: Hired to entertain senior staff at the opening of Diageo’s new bar at their corporate headquarters in Bishop’s Stortford.
Fun Factor: Swigging Diageo’s brand new Pink Gin product and taking a few mini’s home too.
Client: Diageo plc.
- Waitrose Supplier Gala dinner, 2017: Entertaining Waitrose’s suppliers at a drinks reception at the vast Battersea Evolution, before guests made their way to dinner, for entertainment, provided by Craig David and Niles Rogers of Chic.
Fun Factor: One of Waitrose’s bagged lettuce suppliers revealed how to get extra life out of my lettuces!
- Jigsaw Christmas party, 2018: Entertaining the entire staff of Jigsaw with pop and Chrismastime favourites at their HQ in Richmond. The piano was mic’d up to a large room by sound engineers.
Fun Factor: Watching some amazing Singing Waiters, which took the entire room by surprise.
- MoneySavingExpert Staff Quiz, 2018: Hired by MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis OBE to provide the musical clues on the piano for his staff quiz.
Fun Factor: Working off-the-cuff with the energetic and effervescent Martin Lewis – a fun time was had by all.
- Trinity Mirror plc, Christmas party, 2016: Supporting Trinity Mirror’s “Pop Stars and Celebrities through the Years” theme, I hired The Voice finalist Jamie Johnson, who I’d worked with previously to provide some beautiful accompanying vocals.
Fun Factor: Rehearsing the Christmastime classics at my home studio with Jamie.
Client: Trinity Mirror plc
- Annual WellChild Awards, 2019. Entertaining guests at WellChild’s annual Awards drinks reception at Claridge’s in Mayfair.
Fun Factor: Playing in Claridge’s French Salon, and spotting a few of the Charity’s Celebrity ambassadors.
- Corniche Penthouse Launch, 2018. Playing some elegant cocktail jazz for the press launch of St James Group’s 6,903 square foot luxury Penthouse, valued at around £30million.
Fun Factor: Walking around the stunning glass-walled Penthouse and checking out the incredible view of the House of Commons!
Client: Luchford APM.
About Bryan Edery
I’m a professional pianist for corporate events, parties and weddings. I also work with 18 pianists, who I supply for companies’ events and shows. I am based in London and cover London and the Home Counties. If you have any questions about this article or require any assistance in booking a pianist for your event please get in touch!
Bryan Edery © 2019
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