I spent my 20s working weddings every weekend, where I managed 10-piece wedding bands and booked smaller jazz bands. I’ve seen everything from a drunk uncle attempting to steal a musician’s guitar so he could play “Mustang Sally,” to a MOH becoming so emotional that she stopped the band to give a 20 min speech to compare the bride to a “beautiful gazelle.”
On wedding days, I was responsible for making sure the bands started on time and followed the event timeline — in turn, ensuring the bride and groom were happy. Sounds simple but, at this point in your wedding planning, you may be starting to realize that emotions are on high alert—not just with the bride and groom. When you're trying to juggle parents, budgets, and everything in between, the last thing you want to worry about is if your band sucks.
While I can’t help with your soon-to-be in-laws, I can give my expert tips and tricks to keep in mind when deciding on a wedding band.
Ask for Recommendations From Friends
Word of mouth from trusted sources are invaluable when it comes to wedding vendors, and bands are no different. Put it out there on your social accounts, text friends and keep your ears open when you go to other people’s weddings. If you loved your friend’s band, then ask for their contact info. Be resourceful and leverage your network.
Don’t Totally Rely on the Internet
Overall, the Internet is great—how awesome is it to be able to do research on your vendors from your couch? But the Internet can also be misleading. A beautiful website with studio recordings doesn’t mean a band sounds great live. Just because they don’t have an Instagram account doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. Definitely take a look at reviews, but make sure to see the bands in person as well.
Go See a Live Show
Now that you have a list of potential bands, you need to go see them in person. The only way to know if a band is right for you is to grab your partner, make a date night and hit the dance floor.
Check out their stage presence. Do they interact with the crowd and keep the energy up? Or are they robots just going through the motions? You aren’t renting an iPod playlist for the night—make sure the band is creating the vibe you want for your big day. Also, keep an ear out for tracking. Smaller bands tend to play with music tracks because it replaces missing instruments and cuts costs. In my opinion, tracks are a bad idea. Live bands aren’t cheap so if that’s what you booked then that’s what should be delivered.
Period. For example, if you love Motown music, and the band is offering a cheaper deal as a 4-piece band with tracking, do not do it! Motown music needs a horn line and keyboards to do it justice. Without them you will be very disappointed.
Request a Set List
Great work, your list of bands is now whittling down. Time to ask for a set list—this can give you an idea of how they pace the night. A great setlist follows the energy of the evening. Your band will mostly likely break their playing up into three 1-hour sets with small breaks in between sets. The first set typically falls during dinner so the music should be reflective of that vibe — jazz standards or Frank Sinatra are great options. Once the plates are cleared and your guests are ready to hit the dance floor, remember this is a marathon not a sprint; start slow with classic throwbacks that guests of all ages will enjoy.
Think Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind and Fire, Journey, or even Garth Brooks—anything that has solid singalongs. The final hour of music usually hits when people are feeling their buzz and the kids and older guests have headed home, so that’s when you can turn it up with the Cardi B (or your own version of the turn up).
Do Not Dictate the Set List
Requesting a set list and dictating the set list are two very different things. Trust the flow of the band’s sets, because the band knows things you don't. For example, I worked with a band that developed custom medleys paired with simple choreography. They were so much fun to watch but if we removed or added songs to the medley, the performance would suffer. Now if you really dislike the set list but you still love the band, you should request their overall song list. Their song list will be massive—the band should be open to you highlighting songs you love and songs you hate.
It’s reasonable for them to then insert some of your favorites and kill a song or two you absolutely hate. Maybe that song reminds you of an ex or just has overall bad juju—don't be afraid to tell the band. You should be collaborative.
Trust Your Band
You love their vibe, you love their music and they’re available for your date! Now sign the contract and let them do their thing. You are paying for them to curate the music and deal with the nitty gritty. If you loved them live, then you can trust that people will be dancing and having a great time. Plus, trusting your band allows them to protect you from your drunk uncle screaming “Free Bird” and your cousin’s plus one who keeps requesting “that-song-with-the-guitar-solo.” We love our guests but no one asked them for their Spotify playlists.
And Finally, Read the Rider
Yes, odds are your band has a rider and, yes, you need to read it. There won’t be anything crazy in there like “please no red M&Ms,” but they will need waters on stage and small breaks. A happy band is a happy event, trust me. Making sure the band stays hydrated and rested will then ensure your dance floor is popping off.
Your rider will also confirm start and end times with a note on whether extensions are allowed. Ideally you don’t mess with end times the night of your wedding, but let’s say everyone is having a great time and your venue has no problem with you extending by 30 minutes. Please ask your band about extending BEFORE the last set. There is nothing worse than the band putting all of their energy into the last set only to find out they need to play for 30 more minutes. At this point they are exhausted and most likely will tell you no.
It doesn’t mean the band doesn't love you and your wedding, it just means they do this every weekend and they want to go home to their families. Ever see a musician playing a show that s/he doesn’t want to play at? It kills the whole vibe.