How to Hire a Band for Your Wedding

Go ahead and give yourselves a big high five for making one of the smartest decisions when it comes to choosing your wedding entertainment—hiring a live band. Plenty of couples choose a DJ, and that might be fine for them, but you are choosing to “86” that played out idea go exceptional. Even though you’ve made a great decision, there is more involved when it comes to choosing the right band. There is often little variation when it comes to DJs, but there is a lot more variety when it comes to live music. Often more detailed decision-making skills come into play when finding the right band. Wait, don’t leave! Don’t let that deter you. We’ve done some of the legwork for you. We’ll go over what to look for, what to ask about, and how to make the best choice for you and your event.

The tough questions

Before you even get on the phone or the internet, you have some choices to make. Ask yourself these questions:

  •         What kind of party are you going to have?
  •         What is your favorite music to celebrate to? (If you are having a tough time deciding what you want, the Gigmasters website can help give you ideas and information on a variety of bands).
  •         What kind of music will be best for your guests?
  •         Are you looking for some light background music or do you want a band that can emcee your party and knows how to turn up the party all night long? Or maybe a little of both?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help steer you towards the right band. If you are having an elegant affair, a band who proclaims that they will “rock the pants off your party” might not be the best match. On the other hand, a wedding with a lot of older guests might do well with a band that can play music from a wide variety of eras.

Your entertainment is a very important part of the celebration. The music is often closely linked to some of the best memories of the event (aside from the ceremony, of course). The band you choose will help create and reflect the vision you have for your reception. That being the case, some things you will want to know about a live band:

  •         What is their style?
  •         What genres of music do they play (you might want a mix across a wide spectrum of genres or maybe you want them to focus on one or two specialties)?
  •         What do they typically wear when they play receptions and are they willing to reasonably fit the style of your event if necessary?
  •         What is their track record/turn over rate with band members?

Once you’ve found some likely candidates that might be able to help you have the party you want, there are some questions you’ll want to ask or know about them. Important things like:

  •         Does anyone in the band know how to emcee? Are they willing to do so?
  •         Do they know how to turn a shy crowd into dance floor party animals?
  •         Are you able to see them play live?
  •         How long has the band been together and how often do they perform in a professional setting? (local garage bands might be fun in theory—supporting your community talent—but a band that occasionally plays the local bar scene might not have the equipment or ability to make the leap to such an event as a wedding).
  •         If not, what kind of samples of their work are available (CDs, DVDs, videos posted their website or even better, client/guest videos uploaded to YouTube or other places online)? Are you able to get a solid idea of their skills and style through one of these means?
  •         Does the band know the venue where your reception is being held? If not, are they able to check it out beforehand to make sure they will have what they need or make adjustments/arrangements beforehand so that all runs smoothly the day of? (If they are not willing to check out the venue beforehand, this could be a giant red flag and has the potential for wedding day disaster).
  •         What is the plan when a musician leaves the group or can’t perform on that date?
  •         What is the bandleader like to work with? How well does he interact with his musicians? How well does he interact with guests?

This last question is not really one for the band, but rather others who have worked with them. They can be your eyes and ears. Previous clients, professional party planners, event or sales managers at the venue, photographers, caterers, entertainment agencies can all lend valuable interpersonal information that you won’t find on the band’s website.

Checking out a band’s website or other info online can give you added insight into the band’s personality. 

Even if they play some of the same songs as other bands, each band had their own distinct style and character and one if them is your perfect match.  

The contract and pricing

The first question that is probably going to be on your mind is, “how much will this set back my budget?” Well, that depends on a lot of factors. The number of musicians, how long you want the band to play, travel costs, even the day of the week can all have an effect on the price. These and many other things should be discussed and clarified in your contract.

Since it’s not realistic to have a freshly written-from-scratch contract for each client, most contracts are going contain standard boiler plate terms and conditions. It’s important to read it through to make sure you know what you are signing up for and if the contract provides you with what you need. Does that mean you’re stuck with exactly what they give you or you can’t hire a band because the contract isn’t specific to your requirements? Most likely not. There is often room to negotiate, add, and amend certain aspects of the contract to give you exactly what you need. Some things you might want to be spelled out in the contract?

  •         The members performing—who and how many. The who part might be a little tricky—a band can’t always guarantee that all current members at the time of the contract will be available a year or more later at the time of your event. What you can have in the contract is the number of instruments and singers you want.
  •         Clearly outline the number of hours the band will play, the location, and when during the event the band will play (cocktail hour, reception, etc.). This is also the time to work out an overtime rate in case you just don’t want the party to end and you need the band to extend their playing time (it’s a dance floor buzzkill to have to negotiate it while the band is just about to pack up at the end of the night).
  •         What are the band requirements (often known as a rider)? Are there meals to be provided for the band members? Production costs? If the band is from out of area, are you paying airfare and hotel expenses? Riders can be negotiated to an extent, but think carefully about a band that has big and possibly unreasonable stipulations in their contract riders and won’t negotiate.
  •         Will the band need to rent extra equipment or lighting and if so, will it be an extra cost to you?
  •         Who will set up and break down the sound system (will they or do they expect you or  the venue to do it?)
  •         What is the cancellation policy?
  •         Is there a backup plan in case of equipment malfunction or other issue?
  •         Is the payment schedule outlined? How much and are deposits due? (It’s not uncommon for a band to ask for a 50% initial deposit).
  •         Does the band have liability insurance? (Many bands will have a Force Majeure in the contract which removes liability in case they can’t fulfill their contractual obligations because of natural or unavoidable catastrophes).

In the end, you want to make sure your wants and requirements are clearly spelled out as well as costs—extra costs on your wedding day are not surprises you want to have to deal with.

Band breaks

Well they are only human after all, so it’s natural that musicians will need some breaks from playing. It’s important to know what to expect beforehand and to go over if and when you want the band to play and when is a reasonable time to break.

  •         Outline when you absolutely want the band to play. Some prefer that the band take a full break when the entrée is served or during a formally served dessert course.
  •         When do you want dancing? Between courses? After the meal only?
  •         If you want the music to be continuous, find out if the band can rotate musicians or if they have any pre-recorded music they can play during their down time.
  •         It’s common practice to provide band members with a vendor meal (same as guests) and water. This should be included in the contract/rider

Choosing the music

Picking your favorite party music can be a fun detail, but with a live band you get the added bonus of being able to choose which type of musicians you want playing. How many musicians play can be regulated by what your budget allows, but the more musicians playing, the fuller the sound. There are 4 main sections that can be incorporated in a band: brass (trumpet, trombone, sax); rhythm (drummer and percussionist); harmony (keyboard, guitar, bass); and vocals (the singers). Not every band may contain all sections, but you definitely want to find out which options are available.

When it comes to picking the music, some couples like to leave it up to the band leader—trusting that he will play the appropriate music at the appropriate time, keeping a good flow going throughout the night. Others like a more hands-on approach, choosing specific songs and genres they want played. Some things you will want to discuss with the bandleader:

  •         Do they have any specialties? They could have some great songs that you haven’t thought of or knew about that they play well or know to be 100% certain crowd pleasers.
  •         If you have any special songs to request or a specific playlist, give the band plenty of advanced notice in case they need time to learn to play them.
  •         What kind of background music do you want (if you are choosing to have background music)?
  •         Will you walk down the aisle to live music and if so, which song? Will you walk into the reception to live music and if so, which song?
  •         Which song do you want played for the first dance, mother/son dance, and father/daughter dance?

Even though the task of finding a wedding band might seem a bit overwhelming, it’s good to know you don’t have to make a blind decision and hope for the best. The internet—such a marvelous invention—is full of people who have plenty to say (good or bad) about the wedding bands you are looking at. Don’t be afraid to read some solid reviews and get an overall picture of the band (you can’t just take one person’s word for it).

You can also ask for referrals and reviews from friends, family, colleagues, and event professionals who have worked with the band or seen them perform.  Check to see if a band has won any awards (Ok, not necessarily a Grammy but awards like Wedding Wire’s Couple’s Choice or other local and national awards). This can be an excellent indicator of a great band. Despite all the factors that need to be considered, the one thing you should know is that you made a good decision going with live music.

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