What is the most important element in setting the mood for your wedding? Music, of course!

But, how do you choose and hire musicians for your wedding?

If you are already planning your wedding, you may notice that many of the wedding websites are very visually oriented. The photos are beautiful and much is written about color and design. But, let’s not neglect the audio aspect of your wedding. It’s more important than you may realize. What can change your mood more than music? Maybe it’s an uplift from hearing your favorite song. Or maybe it’s comfort from a familiar melody when you need it. Perhaps a certain song brings back a strong memory. Whatever the case, people often leave the music for their wedding as an afterthought, but it can have a huge impact on the mood you are trying to create both at your ceremony and your reception. Poorly chosen music or performers can make an event seem “cheesy” or can even be annoying enough that people will want to leave early. Conversely, good music can draw people in and make them want to stay and have a good time.

But how do you choose? Choosing the best groups or bands to meet your needs and your budget can be intimidating for the average person who has never hired musicians! I play in and run a string quartet called Go 4 Baroque, as well as a band called Bar None. I’ve played in several other bands over the years and have over 20 years of experience in the wedding industry. With that and the number of weddings I’ve attended as a guest, I feel that I can give some relevant advice for choosing musicians.

Your first task is deciding what you want for each portion of your event such as the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing. You can hire musicians for the ceremony only and have a DJ for the rest. Or you may want live music during the cocktail hour and even dinner. Depending on the type of event you are having, if you don’t plan on having dancing later, maybe these same musicians can handle the whole event. If you are having more of a party/dancing atmosphere, then you will probably want a band that can start playing after dinner. Yes, all this live music is expensive! But, look at the overall expense of your event. Are you paying thousands for flowers, food, alcohol, et cetera, and then saving a few bucks on the thing that can make or break your event?

That said, you now need to find musicians to fit your needs and get some prices, so it’s good to have some thoughts about the types of musicians you are looking for. For the ceremony, you will want to stick with groups that play weddings. There are things that are different about playing for weddings than other types of events, and groups that do this all the time know what those things are. They can help you select music and know what works well for various parts of the ceremony. They will know how to handle prelude, processional, and recessional music as it’s being played live during your wedding. People are often tempted to hire a friend for this, but unless it’s a friend that plays weddings, I would advise against it. I have had many last-minute calls from brides freaking out because their friend or relative chickened out. For your piece of mind, hire a professional.

For the cocktail hour and dinner, see what the cost is for additional time from the group you hire for your ceremony. Much of the cost for a group to play is contained in the first hour. Once they are there, additional time may be much cheaper than you thought. For example, for my string quartet, an additional hour is less than half what the first hour costs. Most groups can change up the type of music they play from ceremony to cocktail hour. My string quartet might play mostly classical during a ceremony (depending on the requests) and then switch to mostly contemporary during a reception. We have a repertoire that includes Broadway hits, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Coldplay, Disney music, and more. Classy doesn’t have to mean stuffy.

Now that you have some idea of what you’re looking for, how do you find musicians? Just like anything else – do an internet search! It’s very difficult to go out and hear ceremony musicians live, like you could for a band. And, unless you know of a friend who hired a group and was happy with them, the internet is the best way. There are a number of wedding websites that have lists of ceremony musicians. One of the most important things to look at are the reviews! No matter how beautiful the music, the reviews can tell you if the group is hard to get a hold of, or if the booking process is super complicated, if they were helpful with song selections, if they were on time, if they are experienced, and more. Once you’ve made the initial contact, do they answer inquiries promptly? If not, they may be even harder to reach after you’ve booked them. I would also look at a video. Audio clips could be anyone playing. But, a video shows the musicians playing live, so you know what you will be getting.

Another thing to consider if you are having musicians play during any part of your reception is whether they are able to offer a sound system to amplify their sound. Indoor receptions can get very loud with all the talking and laughing. Outdoor receptions have the issue of sound floating up and away. Many of my clients have not even thought about a sound system for a string quartet, but once it’s been explained and they opt for it, they are happy they did. You hate to think you are paying for music and very few of your guests are hearing it. Many groups do not offer this, and frankly, very few of their guests are hearing the music.

If you are hiring a band for your reception, some of the same considerations as above will apply. But, in addition, you should probably try to go out and see them live if you can. Some bands specifically specialize in weddings, so they may be more difficult to go and see, and you may have to rely on a video and reviews. Others might be playing at a local venue or festival and you can check them out there.

It is highly recommended that you work with musicians that use a contract that is signed by both of you. That protects both parties.

OK, you’re convinced. But, your budget just won’t allow it. There may be ways to save money elsewhere and make it work. What about compacting the timeline and eliminating a possible gap between the ceremony and reception? That saves money from several vendors. Are you paying for things that only the wedding party will be affected by? Hours of limo service? Photographer time at hair appointments? You get the idea. What are all these things worth if the atmosphere at your wedding is not what you want, be it classy, fun, social, or whatever? What do you want to hear from your guests as they are leaving? A polite and yawning, “Thanks for inviting us.”? Or, “We had the best time ever!”? Flowers, photos, dresses, party favors don’t create the difference between those two statements. Music does! Let’s discuss your special day.

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