Music is an important part of each one of our weddings. In fact at our last wedding we had a total of 3 live bands, 1 string quartet and a DJ – it was almost a mini festival. So over the years I’ve come to learn a thing or two about advising couples on where to start and what to think about when it comes to the musical entertainment.
WHERE TO START
First up you need to begin with thinking about which elements of the day do you want to incorporate music into? Top of the hit list are typically: the ceremony – both before and during; the post ceremony drinks reception and then the evening party entertainment. You’ll want to think about the style and “feel” that you want from the music at each point. A string quartet suits a ceremony perfectly whereas for reception music you might opt for something a little more upbeat like an acoustic guitar duo. Aside from the evening party, most of the wedding daytime music is an accompaniment to something (drinks, ceremony etc.) and isn’t something you need people necessarily to get up and dance to.
DO YOU NEED AN EVENING BAND?
You’ll also want to decide whether you want that music to be live. Personally I am a big fan of the atmosphere that a live performance brings. If you don’t have the budget to stretch to multiple live performances, I would prioritise the evening band - nothing quite else gets the party started like it (assuming it works for your venue – see below!)! Yes you can opt for a playlist but with a good band you have the connection with the audience – the band will play to the crowd and create the right level of F-U-N!
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACTS
In terms of choosing your acts you might thing that the obvious place to start is with your musical tastes? Wrong (well, almost). Your musical tastes are the second most important part of choosing your acts but the first is to take into account any limitations or special restrictions at the venue. Noise pollution from weddings is a big topic for venues, especially those with neighbours. I hate to be the party pooper but many venues place restriction on music – their licenses rest on it.
VENUE RESTRICTIONS APPLY
So this is the dull but important bit to work out before booking any of your music acts. Venue restrictions can come in many forms but there are some key ones to check. First up is time. Most venues have a cut off at night, all venues vary but typically most are 11pm, there are some who allow later (although they may charge to extend). Then there are noise limiters – these are the stuff of wedding planner’s nightmares. There are various types but in short limiters are set to a decibel level, if the music goes above this level, the limiter is tripped and power gets shut down immediately. If your venue has a noise limiter I would seriously rethink choosing a live band as an option. The sound level of a live band is difficult to control – yes there are some tricks and tips (ask the drums to deaden the sound with cushions or old carpet, get them to use brushes and not sticks) but it is so difficult to control and nothing will kill your party than the power being shut down mid celebration. A DJ is a much better option – they can control their sound levels. If your venue has a limiter and you are intent on a live band, firstly, be warned, and secondly find out the decibel level and their reset policy. Some venues will allow multiple resets, others have a “trip it once and game over” policy. Oh, and I would also find out who is in charge of the reset and how quickly they can be in place to do this (but mostly I would opt for a DJ!). Finally, in terms of restrictions, some venues have a “no amplified music outdoors” policy.
PRIVATE HOME MARQUEE WEDDINGS STILL NEED TO BE MINDFUL
A lot of my weddings take place at private homes in marquees. Just because you are getting married at home, doesn’t mean you don’t need to be mindful of the music and sound levels. The good news is you should not need a private events license for the music (although you will if your guests are purchasing alcohol…) but it is always best to check with your local council first. Even if you check and the council advises that no licence is needed, you are still subject to environmental health regulations. In short, if a neighbour complains an environmental health official could shut down your music on the night. The best way to avoid this is to warn your neighbours and also aim to finish loud acts at a reasonable time.
THINK ABOUT THE SPACE AND LOCATION
Space and location are other important factors. How much space does your band have to perform? How much space do they need? A DJ will take up the space of a drum kit so if you opt for both band and DJ make sure to take this into account, for example.
How To Choose
With the party pooper pieces out of the way, you’ll want to start with the type and genre of music you like. For bands, I would advise getting on some band agency websites and looking at what they have to offer. There are some great professional agencies out there with a variety of high quality and varied acts. To name but a few, I have worked with and would recommend, The Band Boutique, Freak Music, ALR Music and Eight Ray Music.
The Technical Stuff
There are a few other, easy to overlook, considerations when it comes to booking music acts. Check the technical side with them. It is easy to assume that the band will bring all their PA kit, instruments and a sound engineer to run the sound. Don’t assume this! Some don’t and expect you to provide it. If they do, most agencies have a company they typically work with. If you have multiple acts, as we did last weekend, I would strongly urge that you book a specific sound engineer to cover it all. It may seem like another expense but so worth it to ensure the sound runs smoothly and as it should. Again, any interruption due to an issue will quash the party spirit.
Another element that falls into the “easy to overlook” category is timings. Yes, you’ll need to agree set timings but you’ll also need to agree a couple of others too - load in and sound check. Load in is the time it takes for the band to load and set up equipment. This will vary depending on how much they have and also access to the venue (if they have to walk up 3 flights of stairs for example). Then there is sound check – typically 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the band. Crucially you do not want the band to be loading in, in front of guests. You also do not want the band sound checking whilst you are mid ceremony. It is not uncommon for me to ask a band to load in and sound check pre 3pm if I have a 3:30pm ceremony – even if that band is not on until 8pm that evening. This is especially the case where I have a marquee wedding or where the main events are taking place in close proximity to one another (can you imagine the band loading in and sound checking during your drinks reception or wedding meal?!).
The rider… we’ve all heard of the extreme ones (blue M&Ms only anyone?). But most bands have some form of rider. It might be as simple as soft drinks and 1 hot meal per band member. It might be as excessive as specific alcohol on tap accompanied by blue M&Ms… the point is check it and allow for it!
There you have it. In a nutshell my learnings when it comes to planning the music at a wedding. Huge thank you to Karl at Freak Music for his expert contributions!
Image credits - 1, 2 and 4 Modern Vintage Weddings Images 3 and 5, Joe Short