Creating Ambiance for Life's Celebrations - Instrumental Background Music

How To Choose Live Music For Your Wedding Day

By Rick Iacoboni

So you finally set the date for the big event – your wedding. You remember that the last wedding you attended had live music at the ceremony, for dinner & cocktails and for dance music at the reception. Upon arrival, you knew right away that something special was happening. There was electricity in the air. Live music has that effect on people. It's the intangible that ties all the senses together. Now it's your turn to stage a wedding and, without question, you have decided to include live music. You want to show your guests that you have stepped up to the plate and made a conscious decision to make your wedding day unforgettable.

Ceremony and Dinner & Cocktail Music
Once your wedding date has been booked, it's never too early to begin looking for performers that will create the appropriate mood for your special day. Like other event vendors, the good ones get booked early - some over a year in advance.

For the ceremony and dinner & cocktail music, you want musicians whose volume is just below the level of conversation. You don't want rock stars, you want ambiance! You must decide the following:

• Do you want strictly instrumental music, or music with some light vocals?
• Do you want popular, jazz or classical music played - or a combination?

Next you must determine the number and configuration of musicians. Assuming that price and space are factors, the most common options are soloists, duos, trios and quartets. Soloists most commonly include guitarists (electric and acoustic), harpists, steel percussionists and keyboardists. Duos, trios and quartets usually include a combination of the instruments already listed along with percussionists, bassists, strings and brass players. Before booking ceremony music, check with your religious institution or whoever is marrying you to see if there are any music restrictions, rules or requirements.

Dance Music
Once your guests have been welcomed and have been fed, it's time to party! This is "make or break" time for your wedding reception. The right band will create memories. The wrong band will send everybody home early. Assuming you did your homework as previously recommended, here are the factors to consider when choosing a dance band:

• Music Type: Do you want rock, big band, Motown, country, ethnic, hip hop
  or a band that plays a variety?

• Size of Band: There's no secret here that the larger the band, the greater the
  expense. However, due to technological advances such as digital sequencing,
  bands can now create a full sound - such as horn, string and percussion parts
  -- with only a minimal amount of performers.

• Specifics: Do you want a female and/or male lead singer? Do you want lots of
  guitars, horns or strings? Or do you want accordions and button boxes? Do you
  want the band to be entertaining, i.e. interacting with your guests? Or do you
  want the atmosphere more restrained?

• Logistics: Your options can be limited due to size and shape of the venue's
  dance floor and stage area, volume limitations, storage space for the band's
  equipment, electrical outlets and the venue's closing time. Outdoor events pose
  even more variables, especially extreme weather conditions.

Finding Musicians
Names of performers can be obtained through a variety of sources:

• Referrals (friends, family, co-workers and other vendors:
  photographers, florists, etc.).

• Musician websites

• Event planners/consultants

• Booking agents

• Other musicians

• Bridal magazines

Once you have narrowed down your choices to 3 or 4 performers, contact each performer by phone to check availability and pricing. Often first impressions will indicate if your personality is compatible with that of the performer. You'll also get an early indication if the performer has a professional demeanor. Booking fees vary based on a number of factors including number of musicians, number of hours they will perform, load-in/out time, travel, holidays and the day/time of the event.

Ask each artist if they have a website, printed materials and audio and/or video samples. Reputable and experienced performers will have at least two of the four requested items. Find out if you can see and hear a live performance. Additionally, ask each performer for testimonials and/or letters of recommendation from previous clients.

Wedding Festivities
Another important criteria in choosing the right band for your wedding reception is their ability to conduct the wedding festivities, which includes - but is not limited to - announcing of the wedding party, toasts, cutting of the cake, the first dance, the throwing of the bouquet & garter, father-daughter dance and other master-of-ceremony duties. As previously recommended, before booking your band, ask if you can see a video of them conducting the wedding festivities at a wedding; or ask if you can visit an upcoming wedding reception in which they are playing. This requires permission from the bride and groom. This is a very common request.

Performance Agreements
Once you have selected your performer(s) and have agreed to terms, it's time to put it into writing in the form of a contract, AKA "performance agreement." This will be supplied by the musician(s) and include all the pertinent information such as date, times, venue, compensation, breaks, set-up/departure time, number of musicians, method of payment, etc. Discuss overtime fees. It is customary to place down a third to a 50% deposit, with the balance due no later than the night of the engagement.

Regarding hospitality, always provide the performer(s) with water, beverages and/or coffee. For performances over four hours, it is recommended that you offer at least sandwiches to the musicians. It is acceptable to either limit or deny the performer(s) access to alcohol. Tipping the performer(s) is welcome, but not required.

The dress code should be dictated by you. Give the musicians and/or band advance notice about what they should wear. Decide if you want the musicians in formal attire (tuxedos), business casual (sports jacket with or without a tie) or just casual. Female musicians should dress accordingly.

It is fair to expect the performer(s) to use good manners, arrive at least 30-60 minutes prior to the designated start time, play what you agreed upon and act professionally at all times. As your event draws closer, establish contact with the performer to review details and re-confirm all pertinent information.

If the performer's fee exceeds your initial budget, it's time to evaluate the situation. Music will make or break your wedding. Perhaps you can cut back in another area so you can book your first choice performer. Professional musicians deserve to be paid what they are worth. If you want the best, you will need to pay accordingly.

Percentage-wise, live music makes up only a fraction of what a wedding costs. However, it's the one variable that ties everything together to make an event truly memorable. Five years after your wedding, your guests won't remember the ice sculptures, the video presentation or favors. What they will remember is the ambiance, spontaneity and memories that live music creates. That they had a great time! That it was fun and lively. Nothing has the impact of live music!   

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About The Author: Rick Iacoboni is an acoustic guitarist who has performed instrumental background music at more than 1,500 personal and corporate events.

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