How to start a professional function band and get paid gigs

Starting a function band isn’t just about the music – it’s a serious business decision that will take time, investment and some good decisions.


Running your own band gives you more control over the set, style, band members, client relationships and, of course, money. If you’re after something that’s more than a pub-gig hobby, you’ll need a strong work ethic, good people skills and serious drive.

Interested in having a shot at it? Good! Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve learned during our years in some of the most successful function bands…

Pick the right people for your function band

Pick the right people

If you’re setting up a party band, the most important element is your front person/people. The vocalist(s) will be the focal point of your act and demos and usually the main reason a client decides to book. As well as a great voice, they’ll need to be a skilled performer and entertainer – charismatic, committed to the performance and embodying the spirit of the event. Sometimes they’re also asked to double up as Master of Ceremonies, rallying the crowd to the dance-floor and keeping them there, announcing intervals, cake-cutting and asking whose red Volvo Estate has blocked the car park. Get a vocalist who can deliver in skill, personality and professionalism, and you can form a band around them.

When it comes to musicians, professionalism and attitude is as important as musicianship. Songs can be rehearsed and musicians improve over time – a lack of organisation and a bad attitude are harder to fix. Choose band members who are in control of their time and don’t have so many commitments that they’re likely to cancel last minute gigs. Gig opportunities require quick responses so make sure you’re working with people who return phone calls and emails quickly and can manage their diaries.

If you don’t know where to look for band members, Facebook’s a great place to start as it has lots of dedicated groups designed for musicians looking for work. You could also try the places where musicians get together – such as music colleges, rehearsal studios or jam nights.

If it takes a while to find the perfect people, don’t get disheartened. All bands evolve over time so go for a best fit and see how things go. We’re not going to get on with everyone 100% of the time, so weigh up what’s important and stay professional. Some people like to be best mates with their band members, but in the function world, as long as everyone’s on time, prepared and polite, you might consider saving yourself the stress of finding the ‘perfect’ people.

Managing your bands finances

Management and finances 

As soon as you can, work out a management structure with your colleagues. Do you want a band that you run entirely, and pay musicians to play in, or do you want everyone to have a stake in it and pool their talents? For example, one of you might have a knack for admin, somebody else could drive the van, and someone else deals with clients and agencies. It’s important to be clear on your expectations from the beginning to avoid issues later on.

Band is brand

Spend some time working out your unique selling points and make sure these come across in your promotional material, website, and of course performance. Do you do mashups, or only certain genres? The more niche you are, the harder gigs might be to chase, but you could also charge more for being specialist. If you have a strong brand, clients are more amenable to you using dep musicians if you need to, because it’s about the overall act and performance, not each individual. If you have a strong brand, it’s easier to show deps what they need to do to fit in straight away and carry the vibe.

Branding your function band

Building a brand will require a strong look. A band's image is important and whether you like it or not, you need to play up to your genre. If you're a sophisticated jazz band marketing yourself for cocktail parties and corporate events, dress up in your smartest evening wear. If you're a Mariachi band, don't expect any interest without the Charro suits. If you want to be something completely crazy and different, go for it, but be bold and memorable!

It’s about your audience

While you need to enjoy what you do, the remit of a function band is to entertain, create a celebratory atmosphere and in most cases get people dancing. You're not here solely to indulge your own musical whims.

Function band audience

So give guests the songs they know and love, and keep party song choices up-tempo and uplifting. There's a reason The Smiths and Bob Dylan don't often feature on party playlists – unless you’ve been booked as a niche band. 

Also, bear in mind that private parties and weddings are more often than not multi-generational events; you need to appeal to the grandparents without alienating the teenagers. So if you're a rock, pop or soul band playing covers, make sure you play songs from all eras. Keep your set lists up to date with the latest chart-toppers. A varied set won’t just keep partygoers entertained it’ll save you from performing songs you might grow to hate!

Give the promotional material your best shot

Word of mouth and referrals will contribute to a chunk of your bookings, but the majority of visitors to Function Central book without ever having seen a band play live. This means the quality of your promo is essential, so don't cut corners. Get the best promotional video, audio and photos you can afford. It pays in the long run.

Invest in your function band promo photography

Video is expensive, but most clients won’t book without it. Consider your filming location, the backdrop to your video and the message this sends about your act. Your potential customers need to be able to envisage you at their event. If you're not filming live at a gig, you should try and replicate the atmosphere of an event, even if it's just in the choice of backdrop and the lighting. A video in a stale rehearsal room is less persuasive. 

Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again – and keep working on your performance

Make sure you know your material well. When you play live, you want to be concentrating on entertaining the crowd and giving a good performance, not trying to remember the next chord or thinking about the structure of the song. Reading lyrics off a sheet or iPad is a no-no: if you want to get paid for playing, you should know your material and be able to learn new lyrics quickly (unless it’s a last minute, one-off request). Rehearsing can be expensive, but it will soon pay off – even if you have to get a job in the rehearsal studio to pay for it.

Think you’ve learned everything? Don’t get complacent – you can always improve! Monitor your progress by recording and videoing your performances, then getting the band to critique them. 

Selecting the right music gear

Get the right equipment, and have Plan Bs

Since many of the functions you’ll play at will be at private venues and stately homes without their own sound equipment and lighting, you'll need to provide this yourself. There are a wide variety of PA systems available, and most of them are portable. If you’ve lots of gigs in the diary, hiring for each event will get expensive, so it’s worth investing in a good PA. Everything you have should be PAT tested, and make sure you have Public Liability Insurance – not just to cover you should disaster strike, but because many high end venues won’t let a client book you without it.

Bring spares for strings, leads, and even instruments if possible. Some bands even carry spare PAs or amps. Whatever you do, make sure there’s always a Plan B or C in the back of your mind should you need it. Have an idea of how you can turn things around for your client when things don’t go to plan. How about the power goes in the venue and you end up doing a candlelit unplugged set? You don’t need to have a list of possibilities, but stay calm and think creatively to keep your client at the heart of the event – even if your guitar’s just been snapped in two.

If you own a van, make sure it’s in good condition, road tested and insured. The last thing you want is to be sitting in a motorway layby while the bride and groom wait for their first dance. ‘My car broke down’ or ‘my phone died’ aren’t acceptable excuses. You’re paid to be prepared and on top of things, so don’t let poor maintenance and a lack of organisation hold you back. 

Get out there and get gigs

As with all marketing, audience is key, so think about how your potential clients will find you. If you were a bride looking for a wedding band, where would you search? Wedding exhibitions, music agencies, wedding dress shops, Google…? There are plenty of places to advertise your services and you don’t need to be a marketing specialist – just think creatively and see what’s successful for you. 

Function band gigs

One of the simplest ways to get gigs is to get on the books of a trusted live music agency. They’ll add a commission to your fee, but can often get you better rates and more regular gigs. They’ll have longstanding client relationships to help you get repeat bookings, and will be able to offer help and advice to make sure your band is delivering on every level.

The most important thing when setting up a function band is to believe in yourself and stay positive. It can take a while to get things off the ground and bookings with top clients and venues, but if you can keep going when things get difficult, you’ll be gigging every weekend in no time.

ICMP recently unveiled a new partnership with Function Central which will offer even more performance opportunities to our students and alumni.

Author: Mike Ausden is a musician and co-founder of live music booking agency Function Central. Function Central offers an easy way to find and book function bands, musicians and DJs for weddings, parties and corporate events, anywhere in the UK.

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by Mike Ausden
March 23, 2021
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