What to Look for in a Band for Your Wedding or Event

by Dennis Winge

If you were to go a bar and hear a great band, that doesn’t necessarily mean that booking them for your event would be a great idea.  Of course, you should love the sound of the band you’re are considering booking.  You should love the sound of the lead singer’s voice, the repertoire they play and the overall style.  But there are many other factors to consider when booking a wedding or event band.

  • Experience – You want a band that has performed many events of your type before, so that they can help you make decisions more easily. You can tell how much experience a band has had (apart from the experience they claim to have had) by the questions they ask.  Example would be “Do you have any special requests for first dance or for the father/daughter dance?”  or “Do you want the band to select the music played in between sets or would you like to create your own playlist?”
  • Gives Practical Suggestions – Experienced bandleaders may even pose questions to you that you hadn’t thought of like “Who is going to be the liaison with the band on the day of the wedding?” Certainly, you don’t want to have to be running around trying to get the payment together for the band at the end of your event when you are trying to figure out how to carry all the gifts and there are guests asking you where you are going next so they can continue the party.  Bandleaders think of things they know will make it easy on you later.
  • Creativity – Just because a band knows what is common for events doesn’t mean they are ideal for you if they can’t think outside the box a little. For example, for your ceremony, is the musician as familiar with Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” as he or she is comfortable with playing “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles or “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri?  [I personally have played everything from church hymns to the Lumineers at ceremonies.]
  • Big Repertoire – While we’re on the topic of repertoire, keep in mind that if you and your fiancé love the sound of the band, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the guests will. You don’t want to alienate your parents and their friends.  You should consider a band that is ‘accessible’ to all ages.  A good band has a huge repertoire knows how to keep everybody happy and play a little something for everyone, even your crazy distant relatives. 🙂
  • Takes Requests – You want a band that is willing to learn new material. This is your special day, and if you have your heart set on hearing a certain song, then you should be able to ask for it without any resistance from the bandleader.  Of course, if the number of special requests is lengthy, the bandleader may ask you for an additional fee to learn and rehearse them.  But overall, you want a bandleader who not only accommodating ahead of time but liaisons well with your attendees and takes requests from them when appropriate as well.
  • Accommodates Your Budget – This one may be the most important of all for you in planning who you book. Many bands have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.  In other words, “x is what we do, y is what we charge.”  This is very dangerous for you because what happens if they are just out of your range?  Do you pass on them or do you find a way, albeit stressful, to make it work? The most experienced event bands can typically customize the number of musicians to meet your budget.  For example, a trio of guitar/voice bass and drums is relatively small ensemble but can still get people dancing and having a great time.  Will your guests really miss the backup singers or the saxophone?  If your trio knows what they are doing, no one will even think about it.
  • Serves Several Functions – And while we’re on the subject of ‘take it or leave it’ type of bands, this can also be dangerous because now you may have to hire other musicians for other parts of the day. In high-end weddings, it is not unusual to see a string quartet for the ceremony, a jazz duo for the cocktail hour, and a top 40 band for the reception, for example.  Most couples, however, do not have this type of financial luxury.  If you are looking to save money, find a band whose individual members can perform your ceremony (most typically the guitarist or pianist) and your cocktail hour (commonly with 1, 2, or 3 musicians).  You will pay extra for these services, but not nearly as much as if you had to hire separate bands.
  • Understands their Function – And while we’re talking about ‘functions,’ it is important that a band understands their role in your event. It’s not all about them.  They are there to add enjoyment to your event by being able to adapt to the changing needs of the event from moment to moment.  If they are sensitive to the needs of the event, the repertoire they play during the cocktail hour will be drastically different from the time after dinner when almost everyone is on the dance floor.  It may sound obvious, but some bands are oblivious.  The best bands adapt so well that it always seems like the perfect song for each perfect moment.  That’s the way it should be!
  • Uses Contracts – Using an agreement with a live entertainer or band is in your best interest because it ensures that the band is responsible for providing great entertainment no matter what may come up. For example, what if the lead singer got very sick on the day of your event and there was no contract?  A contract ensures responsibility on both ends and reduces anxiety.   [Quick personal story here: in over 20 years of playing events I only once had to exercise the “musician(s) have the right to send a suitable substitute if unable to perform” clause in a contract.  It was the day my wife went into labor with our son.  The sub did such a great job (according to the client) that I later joked with him not to outdo me.]
  • Has References – Not only should you look at the reviews on a band’s website or listing (and be wary if they don’t have them), but you might also consider asking the band for references. Even if you don’t contact them, it still shows credibility on the part of the bandleader.
  • Communicates Well – Look at how the bandleader writes to you, texts you, or speaks to you. If you feel like you’re just another potential client to him in the initial stages, it’s likely that you’ll feel that way all along.  Look for someone who gives you personal attention.
  • Asks for a Deposit – Similar to the use of contracts, most professionals secure the date for you by getting a deposit. This is the way it has always been done in the music business and for good reason.  Consider a good bandleader who has their first-call regular band members plus at least 2 or 3 subs on each instrument.  If you don’t secure the date by putting down a deposit and the band happens to still be available at a later time, the bandleader may have to get subs, (which don’t always work out as ideally as when my son was born.)
  • Has Industry Contacts – A good musician will have contacts such as a good caterer, officiant, DJ, etc. Ask them for their referrals, and you will be in a much more powerful position to make informed decisions for the other aspects of your event.

I hope this helps you and I wish you all the best in planning your wedding or event ! 🙂

About the author:  Dennis Winge is the bandleader of his Jazz Ensemble, as well as a rock cover band called “The Way” He also plays solo and works with countless other live music configurations listed on his website.  He is also the owner and head teacher of Guitar Lessons Ithaca.