When I was thirteen, I became a man. I'm talking about having my Bar Mitzvah. Raised Jewish and middle class, it was a fairly big deal, and part of that involved planning a huge party. So, my mom dragged me to some random office (meaning some event planner's tacky living room) and she pulled out VHS tape after VHS tape of bands for me to review and consider to play my party. With all the mullets, sequined tuxedos and catalogs of cheesy songs that only my parents knew, it was an extremely painful decision for a teenager caught in the throes of grunge and metal.
Flash forward ninteen years. I'm at a prime age where many of my friends are reaching that huge milestone of marriage. Couples are sobbing through vows at a rapid pace and that means it's time to party. Given the eclectic tastes and often particularly refined sensibilities of my age group, I would never expect MY friends to hire some horribly out-dated "dad band" and, really, nobody should. We want our music, we want professionals and, frankly, we want it to be cool. Nothing makes me feel less like celebrating good times than another square rendition of "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang.
Enter Brandon Whalen, long-time Denver musician with My Body Sings Electric and the creator of a new service called Chops. His goal is to provide carefully curated musicians to make sure your next wedding/party/event is as awesome as you are. I decided to chat with Brandon to find out more about the services that Chops offers, the passion it takes to make money as a musician, and get his input on what he thinks it takes to make sure your wedding goes off without a hitch, aside from the one that matters.
Ross Hostage: What drew you to the idea of starting a wedding/events entertainment company? Did you go to a party and see a terrible cover band? Are there any instances where your involvement in My Body Sings Electric (or as a musician in general) drove you to start Chops?
Brandon Whalen: I've honestly been thinking about this problem of making money as a musician for ten years. It's a really hard thing to pull off even when you are touring several months out of the year. You come home broke, and it sucks. But then you go back to work at your normal day job and that sucks even worse. What inspired Chops was this realization I had a while ago that there is a huge pool of totally un-utilized musical talent in our city. The wedding industry was a perfect target to get these musicians more paying work.
Weddings are a lifetime milestone and people are willing to pay a fair price for musicians in that scenario. Also, at my wedding a few years ago, I had a "super band" made of up friends I knew from years of playing music in Denver (Sean Bennet, Matt Chimes, Nick Danilyuk, Jon Shockness and a few more). It was really awesome. Way better than any other cheesy band for hire.
You’ve referred to bands that traditionally provide these services as “Dad Bands.” What makes the musicians involved in Chops different from that stereotype?
The "Dad Bands" angle to Chops is like this: I think if your music tastes are more modern and unique, we're your best bet. You don't want a 35 to 40 year-old-guy singing "This is The First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes in the middle of a two hour set list of '80s hits. It would just come across as awkward and forced.
I certainly don't want to bash any musicians who are out there working and doing their thing. However, I do think a lot of people want authenticity and passion from the musicians they hire and that is the benefit you get when you work with us. The musicians you hire from Chops were probably on the road 60+ days last year, starving and packed into a van. That requires a lot of passion for what you do.
Speaking of laughable caricatures of a bad party band, who wins in a wedding band-off: The band from the Wedding Singer or the Dan Band from the wedding scene in Old School?
I'm a big fan of the the Dan Band. The mixture of inappropriate language and forced innuendo in everything they do is just amazing.
Why do you think there is often a divide between artists who play original music and those who gig in cover bands to make money? Have you encountered any stigma so far about promoting “wedding bands”?
I think we have a bigger divide between these groups in Denver especially, because nobody comes up in the music scene doing cover music here. It's different in places like Nashville where there is an amazing cover band in every bar, and when you get into that community you realize they are using it as a way to fund their personal creative endeavors. We simply don't have that option here, yet, and that's probably why I haven't really had pushback from musicians on playing cover music. I think Denver musicians have been hurting for more outlets to be creative and make cash with their abilities.
How do you differ from other booking services? What do you think Chops offers that other entertainment agencies can’t?
Well, we're sort of a mix between a booking agency and event service company. If you need a stage, sound and lights, we'll handle all those details as well as provide the talent. However, what really sets Chops apart is the fact that we curate the musicians on the roster. I've seen these folks play. I know they are amazing, and if they weren't impressive they wouldn't be booked through us. That's how we make the service different and cool.
You’ve met with area wedding/event planners. What has the feedback been like? Do you think that Denver’s overall support of the arts plays an important role in garnering interest?
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The folks I've talked to in the wedding industry are very deep in the way they do things. I've heard more feedback on the booking process and contracts than I have on the overall idea. Our message probably needs to be more clear and more defined but, at the end of the day, it's pretty simple. We find amazing musicians to work with and you can book them to play your party through us.
Since Chops offers curated playlists, it’s obvious that you’ve thought long and hard about what to include. What do you think is the most over-played song at a wedding or party? What pitfalls do you think people can/should avoid in order to have a successful party or event?
We have a strict "no cheesy crap" policy. Don't ever expect us to show up and play "I Love Rock and Roll." Some asshole requests that song at every wedding. We don't care if your Great Uncle wants to hear it. We're not going to do it.
If you want your wedding, corporate event, whatever to be awesome, you have to put in a little extra work on the research to make it more "you." It's too easy to just use an event venue's list of three or four vendors for everything you need. You're not going to get much more than the standard services if you do it that way.