6 Tips for Hiring Musicians

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By Online Dementia JournalAugust 16th, 2021

6 Tips for Hiring Musicians

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by Mary Sue Wilkinson,

Founder of Singing Heart to Heart and Author of "Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care"

Have you ever hired a musician to entertain the residents you care for? Maybe you got a tip on a great performer or maybe it’s someone you have seen play somewhere. From my many years of playing music professionally in bands, I know scores of wonderful musicians. The list of musicians that I would hire to bring music to senior communities is much shorter. Why?

For starters, as funny as it may sound, some of my musician friends are admittedly a little afraid of old people and/or people living with dementia. They may be used to a bar crowd or a more impersonal situation. They may be insecure about their ability to play the type of music that will appeal to older folks.

Activity budgets are precious. I hope this list will help you make the best use of your entertainment budget.

But first, just a note about entertainment versus engagement. These tips are specifically for those times when you are hiring an entertainer. Some of these same tips apply when you are hiring someone to lead music engagement experiences or music therapy. But this list is more suited for those times when you are hiring someone on an occasional basis, as an entertainer.

Here’s what to look for:

1.    Friendly, outgoing personality. Don’t assume a musician will be personable. Most are, but some are focused more on their art than their audience. Big smiles, a welcoming stage presence, and a willingness to chat with residents before or after a performance will make for a much more enjoyable session.

2.    Popular repertoire. What kind of music do your residents like? To put it bluntly, this isn’t about you and your taste in music. You need to know your audience. While you can’t please everyone all the time, you probably have a sense of what most people would enjoy. If you’d like to have a variety of music, you should discuss this with the musician before you hire them. Don’t expect them to be a human juke box. But do share with them what will please your group and make sure they are comfortable with those expectations.

3.    Themed music. Consider bringing in musicians who can deliver a special musical program. Some musicians focus on one kind of music such as classic country, show tunes, hymn sings, folk, classic rock, etc. Others may even focus on one artist such as Elvis or Frank Sinatra. You might want to build a special party or event around special music.

4.    Good communication and information the musician will need. As the old saying goes, Communication is a two-way street. Once you have established that the musician has an appropriate repertoire, spend just a little time getting to know the performer. Have they played for seniors before? A good fit for your community will be someone who is interested in learning a little bit about your residents. Be prepared to discuss what you are looking for, where they will set up, how many residents they will be playing for, what they might expect in terms of response from the residents, etc. Will the residents want to dance? Will they want to sing along? Will they need to bring a sound system? How long should they play? In general, I recommend 45 minutes, that seems to be the sweet spot in terms of attention span.

5.    You get what you pay for. Yes, there are some wonderful musicians who are able to donate their time. I would never discourage you from calling on them. But please don’t lower your standards too much just because they are willing to play for free. Your residents deserve the highest quality experience you can provide. And frankly, a talented musician deserves to be paid, just as you would pay for any other service you provide.

6.    Good music is good marketing. I can’t tell you how many times sales people schedule tours during our music sessions. Families are looking for quality of life. And I think most activity directors would agree – music is one of the most popular and meaningful activities you can offer. Keep this in mind when you are advocating for your activity budget. Finding the right musician will be beneficial for everyone. It’s really very simple. Music makes people happy. Happy people make life better.

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