When you plan an event in another country, music and entertainment can be great allies in giving your attendees a real flavor of the destination's culture, history, and people. If, that is, you take the time to work with your local contacts. Don’t settle for tired or sanitized acts—or those who might work great for an educational or optional activity but lack the sizzle and engagement you need for an incentive program. Here’s my advice:

Probe deeper with your convention services manager and destination management company. Tell them you want to consider something outside the usual options.

Talk to everyone you meet. I have found many great acts by asking people at the resort during site inspections—the concierge, someone in the AV department, even a waiter. They have a good sense of the local scene.

Be a scout. If you visit local restaurants or clubs that have entertainment, the manager or your server will be excited to share with you his favorite local artists and how to reach them. Even asking around at other resorts, cultural centers, or music stores has led me to incredible artists and acts that were not on “the list” from the hotel or DMC.

Less can be more. Help the talent understand you are looking for a short presentation of the more exciting elements of their show. It’s no surprise that with today’s fast edits and sound bites we all have shorter attention spans. Show that you respect their culture and artistry, but explain the reality of the event: It has been my experience that talent will accommodate and deliver just what you request.

The Dance Band Challenge
The reality is that you’ll have limited options for quality dance bands that can deliver a U.S. playlist in international locations. The big challenge is that the singers and musicians are trying to play music they have not grown up with, music that is an expression of a different country and a different culture—and they are probably singing a language that is not their native tongue. It’s not an easy task!

One option to guarantee success is to bring a dance band from home. If you’ve had an evening or two immersed in local culture, most attendees will be ready for a night of good old rock-and-roll and classic dance music. But if your budget simply prohibits this option, here are two other ideas for you:

Look to the city. If you are in a resort area, you might check a nearby city for a band that might be of a bit higher caliber than you can find locally. You’ll still be paying for travel, but it will be less costly travel. And these bands often provide their own gear and sound system at no additional cost.

Add something. You can supplement a local dance band lineup with performers from the U.S. or Canada. For a program in Bali, I combined an American sax player with a good local band, to add a little rock and soul influence, then helped them choose the best songs for a set list that would fit the expectations of the U.S.-based client.

I also recently had great success bringing in a top-notch U.S. vocalist and two dancers to perform with the best local dance band in Cancun. We also added an extra guitar and amp so that one of the VIPs could get up and jam with the band!

Final Thoughts
Avoid hiring any talent you have not previewed, and make sure what you see is what you will get! This is most important if the entertainment is a significant part of your event and not just a quiet background act. A lot can be lost in translation, especially if there are layers of producers, agents, and a DMC. By the time your request gets passed on through all these layers, well, you can imagine what could happen!

I always connect with the band leader before an event—at the very least on site before they begin. It takes just a few minutes to say hello, recognize them, help them feel appreciated, and ensure that the act knows your expectations for the event. Doing this can often inspire them to step up and perform better because they feel a connection to you and your guests. You are no longer an unknown client being defined by three layers of middlemen. The connection also makes a big difference if you need something changed or have a special request halfway through the event.

Bill Hopkins has spent 25 years performing, coordinating, and producing event entertainment. Visit his Web site or e-mail bill@hoprock.com