Live Music at your Wedding: 8 common mistakes and how to avoid them
What should you think of when hiring your Wedding band or musician? All Town Music answers all of your questions.
It’s important to make sure your wedding is a celebration of love with your nearest and dearest, and not get distracted by the glitz and glamour of a 21st century wedding. However, there are inevitably a number of other elements that contribute to creating the day you’ve always dreamt about – a beautiful venue, delicious food, plentiful drink, THAT dress, a best man’s speech that borders on marital sabotage… the list goes on. However, here at All Town Music we maintain that live wedding music is absolutely fundamental to creating a special, personal day that will live forever with you and your guests! Whether it’s poignant piano as you walk down the aisle, a live band performing your first dance, cool jazz out on the terrace or dancing to your favourite tunes until the early hours – match the right live music with the right moment and the result is magical.
Having performed at, and organised live music for, hundreds of weddings all over the UK and even in Europe and the Middle East, unfortunately there a several live music faux pas that we see time and time again! So for tips and tricks on how to sidestep the biggest repeat offenders and make the most of live music at your wedding, read on…
To put it bluntly, a sound limiter can single-handedly ruin your live wedding music. Sound limiters measure the volume in their surrounding area and cut electrical power to the band’s equipment if it exceeds a certain level. With sound pollution regulations becoming ever-stricter to prevent nearby business and residents from being disturbed, more and more wedding venues are having to install a sound limiter to keep their local council happy.
Unfortunately, these devices tend to limit not just sound levels but fun, enjoyment and atmosphere! Keeping one eye on a sound limiter while performing makes it very difficult for your wedding band to focus on entertaining your guests, not to mention the disastrous effect of the power and therefore music completely cutting out if the band does accidentally stray into the red. Imagine this happening during your first dance! There is also not a lot a band can do on the day to solve any issues, with volume thresholds often set so low that an unamplified drum kit alone will trip the system before the rest of the band even plugs in. In this case, it is impossible for the band to turn down or play any quieter and you’re in for a long night of constant interruptions and sudden silences.
As a result, we always strongly advise avoiding any venue with a sound limiter to ensure that the live wedding music you’ve invested in can have its desired effect. Bear in mind that venues have a vested interest in getting your booking, and sadly some will intentionally offer you poor advice on the potential impact of their sound limiter. If you’ve already booked a venue with a limiter installed, ask them what its upper limit is and use the following guidelines to book an appropriate wedding band:
< 90db – almost any music will be an issue, solo classical instruments only!
90-95dB – a string quartet or jazz trio might be ok, but any drums or dance music will cause serious problems
95-100dB – a small pop/rock band might be able to work within this limit, but the music will likely seem subdued and uninspiring
< 100dB – most bands will be able to avoid tripping the system, but the music and atmosphere will still suffer
If it’s too late to change either your venue or your band, at the very least warn them of the sound limiter so that they can come prepared or maybe even suggest an alternative line-up!
Scheduling your live wedding music for the wrong part of your day is another easy mistake to make. While a vocal & piano duo’s intimate performance is perfect for your wedding ceremony, there’s just no way that they’ll pack enough punch to get the party started later on! Similarly a fantastic wedding band is wasted earlier in the day when your guests aren’t quite merry enough to pull out their dance moves.
Without wanting to spell out common sense advice, think about whether you want your live wedding music to blend into the background or take centre stage, and book a band whose size and volume matches accordingly. One or two acoustic instruments will suffice during your ceremony but if you want a band that gets your guests on their feet it needs to contain bass, drums and a decent PA system. Think also about the tempo and style of music – a jazz band’s smoother repertoire might nicely compliment your wedding breakfast but they’ll need to play more up-tempo swing numbers to get people shaking their stuff on the dancefloor afterwards. If in doubt, ask your band for advice on when their music will go down well!
Band versus food
While we’re discussing the appropriate time for live wedding music, we have to mention another common mistake – making your band compete with empty stomachs! Having live background music while your guests eat and drink can create a relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere, but if you’ve booked a wedding band to get everybody dancing then don’t ask them to perform while food is being served. Given that food and live music will likely be two of the most expensive parts of your wedding day, it is a considerable waste of your hard-earned cash to schedule them at the same time. Quite frankly it could be Coldplay performing in the next room – the buffet is still going to win.
The best advice is to make sure that your wedding breakfast or dinner service is completely finished before your evening’s entertainment gets going. Alternatively, if you’ve organised food for later on, serve it during the band’s break between sets. And if you particularly want live music while your guests are eating and drinking, make sure to book an acoustic band or jazz band that will blend into the background, and save your up-beat wedding band for when there are no culinary distractions!
Leaving it too late
As the final part of the day, sadly it is often the live music that gets cut short when a wedding runs behind time. Even if you avoid the temptation to try and make your wedding extra-special by cramming too much in, speeches and other unpredictable factors make it difficult to estimate accurate timings. Realistically almost every wedding runs late, so build time buffers or contingencies into your schedule so that by nightfall you are still on track and your live wedding band can give your day the spectacular finale it deserves.
In addition, make sure your band has enough time to set-up and soundcheck. Depending on the amount of equipment and the size of the band, they can require anything from half an hour to two hours to fully set-up! And even if it’s to crowbar a knife-juggling fire-breathing clown into your day, don’t sacrifice the band’s soundcheck as it’s their only chance to get their balance and levels right. As with a sound limiter, the band can’t focus on entertaining your guests when they’re dealing with sound issues mid-performance, not to mention that the first song the band plays is often your first dance – not the best moment for ear-splitting feedback to ring out across the room! It’s best to have the band soundcheck when 5-10 minutes of noise isn’t going to disturb proceedings, for example when the venue is redressing your room for the evening or your guests are unwinding outside. Alternatively, bands are often willing to arrive earlier so that they can set-up and soundcheck before you and your guests arrive, although this may cost a little extra for their time.
Location, location, location
Employing your band in the wrong part of your wedding venue can be just as detrimental to their efforts as scheduling them for the wrong time. With guests wanting to keep their drinks topped up, your band will struggle to keep tempting them back to the dancefloor if the bar is too far away. Similarly, tucking your band away in a small room that nobody ventures into will ensure that their efforts are completely wasted. If your venue is large and sprawling, then position your band in a central location so that people can’t help but be enticed by the live music – either the same room as the bar or in an adjacent room where they can still be heard.
The opposite is obviously true for live background music – if the band is too prominent it can make conversation difficult. Leave the band enough space to set-up without encroaching on your guests and avoid positioning dinner tables too close so that everybody can still hear themselves over the beautiful live music.
Not seeing a band live
A wedding band may sound great in the studio, but it’s very difficult to get a feel for whether they can entertain your guests by watching a sterile, audience-less promotional video. Producing a memorable live performance is a very different skill to just being musically gifted. It’s also worth bearing in mind that we live in an age of very sophisticated recording technology, and with a bit of studio trickery a band can create promotional material of a far higher standard than they can actually provide live! Seeing a band in action will make it clear whether they can engage with a crowd or are just playing for their own benefit.
Ideally, you should physically go to see your prospective wedding band live to see whether they can deliver the goods on the day. Failing that, as many wedding bands do not regularly perform in public, you should request some footage of a recent live performance to see if it lives up to their promotional video. Also bear in mind that bands often work with a range of different musicians, so if it’s the performance of a particular vocalist that you love then check to ensure they will actually be singing with the band on your wedding day.
Booking your bands, DJ and PA separately
You will most likely get the best deal on your live wedding music by booking everything together. Modern PA systems are compact but powerful and a lightweight digital DJ desk with a portable hard drive full of MP3s can now do the job of racks and racks of expensive vinyl. This means most wedding bands are entirely self-sufficient and can offer a PA system and DJ service at a fraction of the cost of hiring a dedicated DJ. It’s perfectly normal for your live band to provide the PA for your entire wedding and DJ until the early hours as part of their standard wedding package. However, if you’re paying your band to DJ then beware of them just pressing play on an iTunes playlist! Make sure they guarantee that they will have a dedicated band member who is actively DJing all night – mixing songs, building momentum throughout the night and taking requests so your guests hear the songs they love.
If you’re looking to book multiple bands, such as a jazz band for your drinks reception and a wedding band for your evening’s entertainment, again you are much better off booking both together. An agency with multiple bands will be able to co-ordinate musicians, equipment and travel to reduce their overheads and give you a better price. Some bands also have sister or companion bands featuring many of the same members, and offer discounts for double bookings for the same reasons.
Telling the band what to play
It’s best not to micromanage your band’s musical choices! Choosing a few songs that are particularly meaningful to you to be performed live is a fantastic way of personalising your wedding day, such as during your ceremony or for your first dance. However, it’s important to remember that when you book a band, you are also booking their set list! A good wedding band may know a lot of songs and be able to slip in a few requests throughout their performance, but they will also have carefully honed a set list over many many performances that they know will appeal to all your guests and keep them dancing all night. Either requesting a long list of obscure tunes or banning the band from playing half their repertoire is like tying their hands behind their backs. Also remember that depending on a band’s line-up and musical style, some songs or genres will not be playable or just sound plain awful if performed live.
It sounds like simple advice, but for the best experience book a band that plays a style of music you enjoy, and then let them do what they do best – play the songs they know you and your guests will love and that they’ve been rehearsing and gigging for years!
Hopefully you’ll now be in the perfect position to fill your wedding day with unforgettable live music while focusing on what’s most important – enjoying those special moments with your newly-wed and your loved ones.