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Advice from Wedding Musicians


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I have been to three weddings this summer and at each one a band was hired to play covers and all time faves for the evening reception.

It was surprising that they all played to an excellent high standard and got me thinking that perhaps there could be a career to be made in wedding entertainment.

I play with a competent group and want to persuade them to put the band up for hire.

Can anyone share upsides and cons of turning a regular beat combo into a wedding band?

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You will have to dress up.  Also being told to turn down is a pain.  I suggest being self-contained with your own PA system as well.  Also put together a good E-press kit.  How many pieces is the band?

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Biggest things to get you gigs: professionalism, playlist and flexibility.

Outkaster is correct, having your own PA suitable to play large rooms and outdoors is crucial.

I used to sub for a well-known wedding/event big band. Everyone read notation, but most could wing it if they had to.  Yes, tuxedos in terrible colors...:barf:

I have also done weddings over the years as a solo, as a duo, as a quartet...

Beware the Bridezillas...they are more common than you think.

Get hooked up with as many local wedding planners as you can find. Treat them with respect...they will make or break you.:wave:

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BRIDEZILLA -beware - run - don't look back......

There is an entire industry telling women that their wedding day is going to be the best day of their life, as long as two things are met (1) it's pefect (2) it's more spectacular than all of their friends' weddings.

We did a wedding once for a banquet manager. Everything was fine until she walked in and started barking at the help, these flowers belong over there, the napkins are folded all wrong, ad infinitum.

On the other hand, we did another where the father of the bride included on the contract, "overtime 'till we drop." He danced with every femal from the tots to the grannies, we went 6 hours, he paid us overtime plus some extra money, and had a blast.

Good points: Money is good

Bad points: Pressure - learning an obscure first dance song you'll never need again ;)

Most are between the two examples I cited.

As noted, 100% self-contained, prepare to be an MC as well as a band, play at an appropriate volume, there may be micromanagers and a schedule, be flexible it never runs like the schedule, know when it's time to be sonic wallpaper and when it's time to be a dance band, and learn a lot of current hit songs.

We did a Polish wedding and learned 6 polkas. We played "The Clarinet Polka", the old folks danced, and the kids said, "No more polkas, let's rock and roll."

We played another where the groom was a black Jamaican immigrant, the bride was the white daughter of the Methodist minister that hired us. We learned a lot of Reggae at the suggestion of the minister. We got there, realized the Jamaican's wanted Soca music, not Reggae. Leilani asked, I did a single for a while, and she came back with Soca music we collected while on the cruise ship. We DJ'd the soca, knew it well enough to sing along and being a good faker, I could play things on the sax that don't get in the way. One guy said, "You sound just like the records, you can get a lot of work in the Jamaican community). :D The dance floor was either black or white, depending on what we played, with the exception of two songs where everybody danced, "Old Time Rock n Roll" by Bob Seger and "Hot, Hot, Hot" by Arrow (not the wimpy Poindexter version). We had a great time.

As I got into my 40s, I quit doing weddings, unless they are second or third weddings. I found easier ways to stay booked that didn't require me to learn so many disposable songs.

Weddings are a good gig if you have the right personality.

 

Notes ♫

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I have a ton of wedding-gig experience (both playing and contracting).  I had a band that gigged weddings for many years but I switched to classical music 20+ years ago.

First of all: Do not undersell yourself.  In my area DJ's are getting $1200 (for the cheapest ones) and up for a wedding (some regularly get 2-3k).  That being said, a band that charges $2k for a wedding in my area will-not-work - believe it or not.  A band has to charge more-than-a-DJ to be taken seriously....."that's" just the way couples think...  

#2: be polished; sound good, dress well, & have a PA that's "corporate-clean" (not beat-up, club worn, dented grills, etc.)

#3: you will need a sound-guy to help you set up / break down quickly plus provide a playlist while the band goes on breaks (to keep the party going).

My current wedding gig is in a classical trio that plays ceremony/cocktail hour exclusively.  This year we have over 40 weddings......

I have seen more wedding bands this year than I have seen in the past several years...so live bands seem to be coming back (yay!).

 

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Posted (edited)

We had a wedding gig a few weeks ago.  Typical 6 hour wedding gig, $2500 +$600 sound.  Booze, food, cake, always in our agreement.  If you want to play weddings almost exclusively, I recommend contracting with an entertainment/booking agency(not for us!) and around here, they get 20% of the gross, but also do marketing of the band.  A high quality video of the band performing in front of a large audience that are dancing and clearly having a good time is highly recommended.  

Positives:  Usually booked far in advance, pretty good money, meet interesting folks, expenses for tax purposes, may get additional wedding/party gigs in the future, who can turn down booze and food in a party atmosphere?

Negatives:  may need to learn new/contemporary music constantly although some like it, long commitment for one day(6+ hours?), setting up/sound check while dodging caterers, sometimes obnoxious audience, drunks(band?), requests to lower volume or songs you don't or won't play, may require formal clothing(not for us!), sharing gross with entertainment/booking company.

All I can think of now.  Good luck!

Edited by capitalist
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I don't mind paying booking agents for their work.

I don't mind songs that many musicians don't want to play.

Since don't play current top40 gigs anymore, I'm relieved that I no longer have to learn a new song only to have it considered old and no longer desired a month or two down the road. I paid my dues doing that, enjoyed it at the time, and there is nothing wrong with it, but at this stage in my life things are different. I learn a song after it has been proven to be a classic, and 90% of them won't go out of style for at least 10 years.

The thing I disliked about weddings, was learning an obscure song for the first dance. It was usually a song that 99% of a general audience never heard, and was only good for one play, on that wedding gig.

When I was doing weddings, I gave them a choice for the first dance (1) any of the songs in our list (2) I'd learn any song they like for an additional fee as long as we could cover it and I had enough notice (3) I'll DJ the first song if they supply the recording on CD or Flash Drive. Of course, CDs are no longer in the picture, but I'm not doing weddings anymore either. I found an easier way to gig steadily with much less pressure.

BTW, when doing wedding gigs, I almost always wore a tux.

Notes ♫

 

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On 8/1/2022 at 7:13 AM, sandishure said:

I have been to three weddings this summer and at each one a band was hired to play covers and all time faves for the evening reception.

It was surprising that they all played to an excellent high standard and got me thinking that perhaps there could be a career to be made in wedding entertainment.

I play with a competent group and want to persuade them to put the band up for hire.

Can anyone share upsides and cons of turning a regular beat combo into a wedding band?

I took my band from a 5-piece, ~$500 a night bar band to a 6-piece ~$5000 a night wedding band about 10 years ago.   In the process we lost one of the original 5 musicians who didn't want to go on the journey and added 2 female vocalists.

Your main competition is going to be from DJs and the trick to convince the client live entertainment is worth the extra money and then you (of course) have to deliver on the promise.

A lot can be learned from the DJs -- give 'em the familiar party hits, keep it high energy and upbeat, don't bore them with a lot of long guitar solos or space between songs.  We have found younger audiences have short attention spans so we do a lot of medleys where we run though as many as 10 songs in 20 minutes.   But these are not the types of gigs where you want to start playing songs that you really like that maybe they don't know because you think it's really cool.   

Some of the stuff said by others is very true.  Including don't undersell yourself.   We turn down gigs below a certain price.  We are going after high-dollar clients who are spending a LOT on their wedding.   They actually expect to pay more in many cases because they understand with a higher fee comes a better product.

Be prepared for long days.   A typical wedding might include needing to be set up by 3 PM before they start their ceremony, and the band won't start playing dance music until 8.   

We upsell additional services rendered.   We go in with a base price for 3 hours max of reception/dance music.   If they want us to play during their cocktail hour, or during the ceremony, or provide recorded music in a separate location, or they need a wireless mic for toasts and speeches?  Those all get added onto the price.

We carry around enough gear to accommodate those various situations.  Powered speakers.  Wireless mics that can be used by guests or the officiant.   A small mixer in case we need to set up in a 2nd location to do a cocktail set.  

You'll need a dedicated sound engineer.

You'll need lighting.

The boys all wear matching suits.  Small thing, but the clients always seem to appreciate the professional appearance.

We offer to learn up to three 'special dances' --- Bride & Groom and parents' dances.   We usually have fun with this and enjoy the challenge, even if the songs often only ever get played that one time.   Pro tip:  they don't want to dance more than about 2 min.  Get out before the bridge.  Less to learn.  

The setlist is pretty time-tested for effectiveness.   What I've found works best for us is we start the night with some disco and Motown classics that virtually everyone knows, move into some 90s/00s and a couple of current songs that maybe the older folks won't know so well but the younger guests will, and then end the night with some classic rockers everyone can stomp and sing along too.

One thing different from doing a bar gig where you play to the same fans regularly -- we rarely play for the same people twice.  For better or worse, our setlist hasn't changed THAT much in 10 years.  No one gets burned out on it.  The more current songs need to be switch out every year.  Current hits fade quickly.   Although we've been doing this long enough that now we are bringing back a few of what used to be current hits as 'classics'.    lol

We work on getting the crowd involved.  Including bringing people up on stage to dance around and sing along and whatever creates more fun for them.  Stuff a DJ can't do.    #1 rule?  The event is about the bride and groom and their friends and family.   It's not about the band.  We aren't there to put on a concert.  We are there to make their wedding pop and be as much fun as they can possibly have.

You'll need to hook up with agents if possible and have good promo material.  Professional photos and video.  That can cost you some money up front.

All n all, it can be a lot of work to run a band at the level you'll need to run if you want to make decent money.   And a lot more than my band charges can be earned by bands who offer full horn sections, dancers, etc.   Find the niche you're comfortable with and work it.   But it's not for every band/musician.   Many would much rather just show up to an easy gig, set up their amp, play songs they mostly like, and get their $75/per man and drink tokes and head home.   Nothing wrong with that.  What we do and how we do it pays a lot better but it IS a lot more work.   So you gotta be up for it.

Best of luck on your mission, should you choose to accept it.   

 

 

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