Free Guide to Booking a Band
Your wedding is likely to be one of the most important days of your life, and it’s quite possible you may wish to have live music through the day and into the evening. This can take a little bit of organisation (especially if you haven’t booked a band before) and using an agency with lots of experience in arranging wedding entertainment can make the whole process much easier, it’s also often a good idea to speak to the band leader (most good agents will put you in contact when the time comes) to go through a few key points before your big day. Like everything else you will be arranging, the more you can do in advance, the less you’ll have to worry about on the day.
You won’t be able to book your entertainment until you have chosen the venue for your wedding. Most wedding venues have a wedding coordinator, or someone you can talk to about any constraints regarding live music. For example, there may be a sound limiter*1 which the band will need to know about, or space limitations which may restrict the size of band you can choose. It’s also a good idea to check how easily the band can access the stage area. For example, if there are stairs and no lift this may affect the hire charge as the band may need to allow extra time to load in the equipment, or bring additional stage crew. It’s also worth making sure there will be enough parking available at the venue for your band.
It’s possible your ceremony will be in a different room or building from your arrival drinks, which could be in a different room again from your meal and possibly there will be a different room again for the dancing. Whilst this can make it easier for bands to set up and perform their sound check without disturbing you or your guests, it is often difficult to entice guests out of the dining area into another room for some dancing.
This isn’t an issue where the meal and the dancing take place in the same room, however another potential problem can arise. Most professional wedding bands use high quality PA equipment*2 and lighting, but these can take time to set up. Current health and safety practices also require band leaders to ensure the safety of their musicians, so many prefer to have most of the sound and lighting equipment set up before musicians access the stage area to set up their instruments. It’s important to check with your band how much time they need to set up and perform their sound check, and make sure this will fit in with your timings. Many bands can offer alternative set up options to avoid unwanted delays (for example, an early set up before you begin your meal, or a split set up, whereby the PA and lighting is set up before your meal and the rest of the equipment is set up and sound checked during the table turnaround*3 after your meal). There may be additional fees charged for these options, so it’s important to talk to your wedding entertainment specialist about your set up requirements at the earliest opportunity to obtain an accurate quote.
Handy Hint: If your wedding is on an off-peak date it might be worth trying to negotiate things like early set ups at no extra cost. Of course, this strategy will only work if you negotiate before actually making the booking! So it really does help to be well prepared with what you want before you book your band.
Most indoor venues that have bands regularly will have enough power sockets near the stage (although it’s always worth checking to make sure!). Electricity is more likely to be an issue when you are using a marquee. Most bands will have either a technical rider or some information about their power requirements which can be passed on to the marquee company. If they don’t offer it to you, please do ask them. Lighting in particular can use a lot of power and you don’t want your evening to be plunged into darkness the moment the band strikes up the first chord!
Most reputable wedding bands take a great deal of pride in their appearance and will require a secure private room in which to change into their performance outfits, put on makeup, leave their personal belongings whilst on stage and rest in during breaks. Most venues have smaller conference rooms which can be perfect for this.
You’ll have already catered for your guests and possibly considered food for your photographer, videographer, etc. Please also consider the amount of time the band will be spending at the venue and make some sort of provision for them (most bands will still be packing up equipment long after you and your guests have left). As a general rule, if any members of the band need to arrive before tea time (approximately 6.30pm) to begin setting up for your wedding, it’s a good idea to arrange a hot meal for them. Members arriving after tea time (for example, to set up during your table turnaround) can usually just be included in your buffet. They’ll also need soft drinks and/or drinking water for the duration of the time they are at the venue. Remember, a happy well fed band will put much more energy into their performance than a hungry band.
Special song requests
Most wedding bands are very happy to learn a special request for your first dance. Please do check before confirming your booking if this is important to you. It’s a good idea to give the band as much notice as possible (usually at least a couple of months) so they have time to rehearse the song, bearing in mind they may have quite a few new ‘first dance’ songs to learn during peak wedding season.
Although most bands will do what they can to accommodate your preferences regarding choice of songs for the rest of the evening, please do remember that experienced bands have a good idea what works well at a wedding and it’s often best to leave the set lists in their hands. Many bands will carefully structure the evening, starting gently (so as not to exhaust your guests too soon) and building to a climax at the end of the night. Whilst it’s usually possible to fit in a couple of your favourite songs from their play list (or even exclude a particular song you really don’t like) in general your evening is more likely to be a success if you leave the band to use their experience when choosing songs.
Playing times and breaks
Usually the band will kick off their first set with your first dance. You may wish to think about how much time you’d like after you’ve finished your meal and speeches to chat to friends and family, touch up your make up, etc, before the band starts and let them know. If you are having a buffet, it’s also a good idea to let the band know what time this is scheduled for, so that they can announce it and plan to take a break during this time.
All bands will need to take breaks and it’s worth asking what provision the band makes for keeping the atmosphere going when they are not performing. Nearly all bands will happily leave a CD playing during breaks, at no extra charge, but some may also offer an in-house DJ option. This can be considerably cheaper than hiring a separate DJ, as well as possibly taking up less space. Of course, all bands will be happy to work with a separate DJ too.
Live music earlier in the day
Many bands can provide smaller line-ups to play gentle background music earlier in the day, for example, during your arrival drinks and when you have your photographs taken, or during your meal. It’s always worth asking as this can be a much cheaper option than hiring a separate band.
Peace of mind
All professional bands should have adequate public liability insurance and their electrical equipment will need to be PAT tested*4 every year. Most entertainment booking agencies will have screened their bands to ensure they have the required insurance and certificates, but it’s worth asking just in case…!
On a final note…
Finally, it’s important to know that, whilst all of this preparation will help to eliminate most potential problems, ultimately you need a band who can be flexible with your timings on the day. Not many weddings run to schedule and musicians who can accommodate last minute changes with a smile on their faces will go a long way towards helping your day be the magical day you wish to remember for the rest of your life. A good agent will guide you through the above and know the bands that will work best for your special day.
*1 A sound limiter is a piece of equipment consisting of a microphone (usually situated above the dancefloor in the ceiling) which records the volume of sound in the room and a method of conveying the level to the band so they know to turn down their volume (often this is a discrete lighting system which shows red when the volume is too high). There will be a maximum limit (usually around 90-95 decibels) and if the band exceeds this limit for 5 seconds, the power to all of their equipment will automatically be cut off. Whilst having a sound limiter is often an essential requirement for the music licence at a venue, it can be difficult for a live band to stay beneath an unreasonable limit. Some bands refuse to play at venues with sound limiters (as there is a risk of damage to their equipment if the power is cut off) but many will try to work within the constraints. Ultimately it is not possible to guarantee the power will not be cut off but most reputable bands will take care during their soundcheck and the performance to ensure their volume stays within the parameters.
*2 P.A. (Public Address) equipment used by a band generally consists of the main speakers, monitors, microphones and mixing desk. The main (often called ‘front-of-house’) speakers are the largest ones, usually set at either side of the stage area, and they project the sound into the room. In addition to these, the musicians need smaller speakers which are usually set facing towards them (called ‘monitors’). These speakers are individually set with the balance of instruments each player needs (often they will need to hear their own instrument louder than others, for example). Sometimes bands use in-ear monitors (these are most often used by singers) and consist of a small cigarette box shaped receiver on a belt pack and ear phones worn by the singer/musician, plus a transmitter which is situated usually beside the mixing desk. The mixing desk is usually set to one side of the stage, or at the back of the room behind the audience. Most, if not all of the instruments have microphones or leads which transfer the sound to the mixing desk. As you would expect the mixing desk is used to mix the sound, adding effects as required, and sends a stereo signal to the main ‘front-of-house’ speakers.
*3 The ‘table turnaround’ is an expression often used by venues for the period of time after your meal and speeches, during which time the tables are cleared, sometimes moved, and reset for the evening. It can sometimes take between 20-40 minutes.
*4 PAT stands for Portable Appliance Testing and is carried out annually. A suitably qualified electrical tester uses a special piece of equipment to test each piece of equipment (including all power cables, etc) and make sure it is functioning properly and fit for use. They put stickers on each piece of equipment with the date the next test is due and provide a certificate to the band leader (sometimes a separate certificate is issued for each item of equipment).
Hiring a band to play at your wedding
Before booking your band:
Sound limiter at venue?
Stage size ok?
Access ok for heavy band equipment?
Enough electrical sockets/power available?
Set up and sound check arrangements ok?
Any additional options required, eg. live background music earlier in the day, or DJ option?
Public liability insurance and PAT test certificates?
After booking your band:
Dressing room arranged?
Food and soft drinks arranged?
‘First dance’ song request sent to band?
Estimated start time and buffet timings sent to band?
Find a great band and talk to one of our experts ………