One of the difficult things about planning a wedding is that you’re suddenly expected to make good decisions about things you may have never thought about. What’s more, these decisions can be expensive!
Choosing the music for your reception is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Good music is what keeps your guests at the party long after the cake has been cut. A week after your wedding, not many people will be able to remember what your flowers looked like, but they’ll know whether or not they had a good time and a large part of that good time depends on the music.
So, here you are with this huge decision to make, but until now, the most expensive musical decision you’ve made is to spend $29.95 for a double CD set.
That’s why I sat down with the beautiful Becca Kaufman, leader of the Becca Kaufman Orchestra. In addition to leading this popular Chicago-area band, Becca also spent 5 years hosting “I Do, I Do” a call-in wedding talk show. When it comes to weddings, she’s seen it, so I thought Becca would be the perfect person to give us 10 top tips for having a great wedding band.
1) Get recommendations
No matter what the vendor, this is really the number one tip. It’s the reason OneWed lets couples rate vendors. Your wedding reception site and other vendors will all have bands to recommend, so will your friends. Similarly, your bandleader probably attends 40 or more weddings a year, she’ll definitely have caterers, florists, and photographers to recommend. If your bandleader of choice is out of your price range, or booked, don’t be embarrassed to ask for recommendations of other bands, either. Musicians tend to know each other pretty well, they want to see good musicians work.
2) Listen closely
When you contact bands they should provide you with a demo CD or DVD, listen to it. Many people mistakenly believe they’ll be able to see the band play at a wedding or other event, but this rarely happens. Think about it, do you want strangers at your wedding checking out the band? What’s more, it may not be a fair representation of the band. What if the other bride wanted a full two hours of disco music?
3) It’s all about personality
As Becca says, “Motown is Motown.” Every band you talk to is going to be able to play it, and most likely, they’ll play it well. What you’re looking for is a bandleader who matches your style. You’re going to be working closely with this person, and he or she is going to set the tone of your party. The band should have a song list for you to look at, but don’t be too tied to what’s on there. A good band, if given enough time, can learn new songs. If you have last minute requests, the bandleader can always put them on an iPod.
4) Find someone you trust
Good questions are the key to finding someone you trust. Ask questions about contingency plans. What happens if the bandleader is sick the day of your wedding? What if her keyboard player breaks a finger? It’s not that there’s one right answer to any question, but you should feel confident that the bandleader is a professional who has thought about how to solve problems. Pay attention to little things, too. Does the website look professional or thrown together? Are your phone calls and emails answered promptly? Do the promotional materials look up-to-date, or were you handed a cassette and a purplish mimeograph?
5) Be wary of too good a deal
Musicians cost what they cost, so if the band is cheap, the bandleader may be cutting costs somewhere. Maybe the sound system is sub-par, maybe he doesn’t really have a band, he just throws together musicians for hire when he gets a gig. Or maybe he just isn’t very experienced. Ask questions about the sound system, how long the band has been together, and how many weddings the bandleader has done. Most bands have set prices, but may be willing to make special deals for “off times.” Friday nights, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, or weekends in January, February, and March are all slow for wedding vendors.
6) Don’t micromanage
You know what kind of music you groove to, but what about Great Aunt Sally or little cousin Jimmy, what’s going to get them on the dance floor? You should expect to have one or two meetings with the bandleader to talk about the playlist, but then trust her to read the crowd and put together the sets in the best way possible.
7) Think about and understand your budget
A wedding band can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000 depending on the number of people in the band, the experience of the band, and where you live. If you live in New York or California, most bands will quote you a price for four hours of music. In Chicago, a typical reception is three hours, with two fifteen minute breaks. You may also want music for your ceremony, cocktails and dinner, so keep that in mind when planning your budget. Ask questions about transportation and parking costs. You should also ask about feeding the band. If you have musicians showing up at 4:00 to play in your ceremony, and staying until midnight, you’re going to want to feed them. Make sure you’ve discussed this in advance with both the band and the caterer. Many caterers will provide you with discounted meals for your band and photographer. Finally, tips are not required, but are definitely appreciated. A standard tip is 10%. You can either give this to the bandleader and ask him to divide it among the band, or put a small amount in separate envelopes for each musician. If you feel the bandleader has gone above and beyond the call of duty, it’s also appropriate to give him an additional tip.
8) Think holistically
That’s just a fancy way of saying that you need to think of your wedding as a whole event, not separate pieces. If you’re having 200 guests in a massive wedding hall, a five-piece band is going to get lost. If you’re having your reception in the church social hall, there may not be room for a ten-piece band. Work with the venue, the bandleader, the caterer, and the photographer to come up with a good plan and a good schedule. Make sure they all know how to contact each other as well.
9) Keep the band and the bar together
Becca says that if possible, you should keep the bar in the same room as the band, otherwise, you’re asking people to choose between drinking and dancing. To me, this kind of advice is why you should hire an experienced bandleader. There are a lot of talented musicians out there, but a true wedding professional has so much more to offer.
10) Don’t wait until the last minute
A good wedding band may book dates up to a year in advance. If you have special song requests, the band usually wants six to eight weeks to learn them. Since the band can be a large part of your budget, making this decision early on may influence your other decisions. All of this means, hiring a band should not be a last minute decision.
Thanks again to Becca Kaufman for sharing her wedding expertise.