Wedding Music Q&A

Answers to some great wedding music questions we were asked recently on Facebook.

We jumped into a forum on Facebook recently to answer wedding band and music questions from some lovely “bridechillas” around the world. The response was great, so here are some of the top questions and answers from the day (names changed for privacy).


Terri asks about costs and organising

Q: “My first ‘misconception’ is that ‘it will be expensive’ and it will be ‘too inconvenient to organise’ (without a wedding planner and considering all the travel expenses and logistics) for a destination wedding. Any thoughts?”

I’ll answer your second question first: if the band is professional, they won’t be hard to organise for a destination (or any) wedding. They should be able to gather the info they need from you and run with the rest, leaving no heavy lifting to you.

As for your first concern: I agree that music can feel expensive, after all, there is live music everywhere we go, performed by all kids of musicians. So, it’s hard to gauge what it’s “worth”.

I do know that live music adds an ambience and intimacy that is unmatched, and is often one of the most-enjoyed/commented-on aspects of weddings (as couples later tell us). Compare that cost with the others, and live music is actually quite less, in comparison. Here in OZ, you’re looking at $2.5-$3.5K for a live band all night. I’d say go for it, but I’m biased!

Musician Sally asks about costs and destination weddings

Q: “I’m a professional musician who has played piano and violin at a lot of weddings, so I appreciate the value of live music and also understand that musicians should be paid. I also know that what I ask to play weddings is in line with a lot of other musicians who play weddings.

I’m doing a destination wedding, and I wanted a wedding band, but the quotes I got (and I asked seven or eight bands) were so ridiculously expensive from the bands, there is no way I would even consider it. And I’m a musician! I would never, ever consider asking someone for such a ridiculously high amount of money to play for three hours for a wedding. So I guess my misconception is that I could find a wedding band that was affordable and I was totally wrong.”

Hey fellow muso! I think the destination aspect is probably the wild card here: you’re essentially hiring people to travel and be on call for the whole period they’re away. I’d look into local musicians – see if people in your musical networks have colleagues where your wedding will be.

In terms of costs, we charge around what the going rate is here in Australia (as determined by competitors, and the years we’ve spent realising what the product is worth, in terms of work involved with planning, performance and event coordination). I’m not familiar enough with US prices to know if you’re being over-quoted or not.

It’s a tough one though, as there are so many levels of musician out there – there’s always someone to do it cheaper. But, if that philosophy were applied to catering, the dress, flowers, etc, clients would immediately be suspicious that the end product will be compromised. At the end of the day, I do think that most musical suppliers charge what they’re worth.

DJs and song requests

Q: “I have booked a DJ for my wedding, because I feel like my song requests are really specific. For example, the Barry Manilow cover of “You Make Me Feel So Young” is my father daughter dance song. That specific version is important to me. Bands are super talented but unless Barry Manilow is the front man of that band that song isn’t the same! Lol. 

I know that bands can totally learn songs, and I’m sure most bands are willing to be flexible in terms of what they’re offering. I’m curious, how do you deal with the varying song selections or styles couples and guests are looking for?”

Hey Yasmin! DJs are great for the scenario you’ve described: when hearing the original recordings of songs you love is paramount! You’re right – most bands learn songs as part of their service. How well they learn then, well, that’s the kicker. It’s tough to gauge the musicianship of someone before knowing them (it’s like I said to Sally above, there are SO many differing levels of “professional” musician). We try to emphasise the years of music university training we’ve done, as a way of ensuring a level of quality to the client. So, I encourage people to at least look into the credentials (as much as art can have credentials!) of the musicians. That, and listening to live audio and video as much as possible.

Onto your question of styles: again, if you’ve got trained pros, who are highly musically-literate, styles almost become inconsequential. They should know the backbone of each style and understand how to emphasise it. We tell clients we “play it all”, and allow them to look through our songlists to pick/choose what they do/don’t want to hear on the night. Though, we never ask clients to choose the entire set lists song-by-song: we’re more looking for guidance for the flow of the evening, rather than locking us into a specific sequence of songs (because weddings NEVER run exactly to schedule, so we need to be flexible!) We also find that couples pick us based on the sample audio and songlists we have to show on our website.

For the mix of music on the night, we highly recommend playing classics from all eras. There’s no quicker way to cut the dance floor in half than by playing e.g. only early-2000s house, or only 90s RnB. Having golden oldies in there too might seem uncool on paper, but when every guest is inspired at one point or another to get up and dance, it buoys the dance floor, keeping it stocked and diverse – and FUN, which is what a wedding should all be about (IMHO). For most of us, our wedding was a celebration, not a high-society fashion shoot, so the aim is interaction and vibrancy. Just my two cents!

How do you find the right band?

Q: “I have so many questions thank you for posting this! My fiancé is a drummer and really wants a live band for our backyard reception at our home in Austin, TX. I want a band as well but I also want to be able to play an awesome playlist I have.

  • When during the reception is the best time for the live music vs. “the playlist”?
  • How long do most bands play?
  • What is the easiest way to find a local band that will play our wedding?
  • What questions should I ask when booking a band?
  • How far out should we book a band?
  • What is the average cost of a band?
  • Should I provide seating and a meal for the band?
  • What is the best type of band to have at a wedding?
  • How much do you tip a band?”
Hey Rebecca, thanks for the questions! Congrats on planning to get married in such a musical Mecca! Jealous.

Do you picture guests dancing to your awesome playlist, or would you be happy to have it going over dinner? The simple solution would be to have it playing over the PA (sound system) while the band takes a break – possible their dinner break – or over several breaks. The band would usually break at least for 15 mins between “sets” of music, but often longer than that (for at least one break) if you arrange to have reception proceedings like speeches in between.

Or, you could have the band playing over dinner, but switch to your playlist later in the evening for dancing. It wouldn’t be that dissimilar to having a nice cocktail-style band over dinner, then moving to DJ for dancing once the formalities are done with. This would likely be cheaper too, as you’re requiring the band for less time (and earlier finish too).

Mostly we’d offer 4 x 45-minute sets of music, suitable for a 5 hour (standard for here) reception. I’m not sure on what is standard for the States or Texas, but I imagine you’d soon see a pattern of what’s common if you’re Googling local bands, which brings me to:

What’s the easiest way to find a local band? Well, musicians have finally caught on to the internet and digital marketing, so I reckon Google is the go here. Try “wedding reception band Austin” and search through the first and second pages of results – keeping in mind the first three and last three sets of listings are paid Google ads (nothing wrong with that, we do it, but good to be aware of). Only consider bands with audio online to listen to – video is great too. Reviews are probably the most important way to find out if you can trust the quality. Google reviews and Facebook reviews are the most honest, if you ask me. All our testimonials on our site are real, but I’m sure some sites don’t have real ones! Google and Facebook reviews are submitted by the user, and there’s no incentive for them to do so, unless moved by the band’s service. Some wedding directories may incentivise their reviewers.

Chat to your shortlisted bands and get a feel for their personalities. If you get a weird vibe, don’t hire them! They should be happy to meet with you for a coffee to chat, or email/phone at least. Musicians can be a disorganised bunch, but NOT in the wedding industry, so if you feel like they’re unprofessional, don’t use them.

I’d say music is often one of the last-thought-of aspects of weddings, but possibly should be considered earlier given some bands book out up to 12 months or more in advance.

Costs? Well my $AUD. 2c may not be worth much in $USD (!), but we charge between $2.5K and $3.5K for a 4-piece – to 6-piece band. That’s a 5-hour reception with 4 x 45-minute sets of music, all equipment provided.

I’d say you’ll find brilliant local musicians who will strike the balance between great musicianship AND comfortable rates. As for tipping – I have no idea! Sorry, I can ask around my friends stateside and I’ll get back to you.

Most bands would love a meal provided – it’s part of our agreement usually, as we arrive early and leave late, we’d miss dinner by hours either side. It keeps the musicians full of energy and focused! For chairs, this is case-by-case. Most will stand (adds to vibe!)

Stylistically, I say go for the music you love! If you want intimate acoustic folk music, find that. Jazz? Get a great little jazz combo. Or, if you’re picturing late night dance floor antics, get a killer covers band that does it all. You may find that most professional wedding bands do a mix of both, so they can be your cocktail/background music early on, then dancing later.

I hope I’ve covered it without putting you to sleep! Any more questions, please fire away!

Beach ceremony music

Q: “My question is not specifically related to bands and open to any and all solutions – How would you say one or two live musicians would feel about playing on the beach for our ceremony? (Reception is DJ’d at another location.)

We will have no electricity available for them and it could potentially be windy. I haven’t asked anyone yet but I’m thinking about live music for the ceremony. Also, if any one has recommendations for what instruments would be best suited to acoustic/beach set up that is also appreciated!”

Beach weddings are rad – I had one myself last November!

I’d get in touch with some bands and see if they can offer a solution – they may have a portable battery PA (sound system), or they might elect to play acoustically (unplugged). It can be tough for some singers to sing without a microphone, but others will be comfortable if it’s only for a song or two (i.e. the ceremony, but not music before and after). We’ve hired a battery-powered speaker before which did the job very well for about $30 in Melbourne, Australia. What’s your location? I’ll have a Google for you if you like.

The wind can be a bit tough, but if it’s tough for the musos, it’s tough for you guys too. I imagine if it’s blowing a lot, you might have some umbrellas arranged horizontally or something, beside/behind you to block some of the wind and sand? I’d offer the same for the musicians – it’ll also act as a bit of a reflector to point the sound back towards your guests.