Chapel Hill

Why Do Bands Charge More for Weddings?

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Photos are from my own wedding, thanks to the wonderful Katie Garcia Photography

You’re floating high on the dreams of planning the perfect wedding and reception, which is essentially a big party to celebrate the union of you and your significant other.  People who do not normally engage in event planning are suddenly thrown into the position of entering into contracts with a bunch of different event service providers – a baker, a caterer, venue managers, a florist, and maybe even a band to provide live music for the event.  This can all get very expensive very quickly and most couples are trying to get the most out of their wedding budget.

But you think you can swing getting a band, because your friend’s garage band made like $126 in tips at their last gig, this should be completely affordable, maybe even cheaper than a big name wedding DJ, right?

You start sending out inquiries to bands that look like they might be a good fit for your wedding reception and are blown away at the responses.  How dare they?  Your friend’s band was grateful for that $126 in tips, why can’t these bands play your wedding for something comparable?

This example is an exaggeration, of course, but I do find that some responses to my quotes for wedding receptions have an air of indignation.

Charging more for a wedding just because it’s a wedding is something I hear people say about wedding vendors.  While I can’t speak for the other service providers, I can give you some insight into why bands charge more for weddings and it’s not just because the event is labeled “wedding” – there are a number of factors that go into a band’s decision about what to charge for a couple’s special day.

HIRING PROFESSIONALS

The odds are fairly good that if you are researching bands and finding them in your searches or on wedding planning websites that these bands are made up of professional musicians whose base non-wedding pay is already more than the tips at your friend’s garage band gig.  You hire professionals because you don’t want to worry about the music – you want it to sound good, you want the musicians to be experienced, you want them to conduct themselves professionally and be able to roll with all the unexpected punches that go along with any wedding reception.  You don’t want to look up mid-reception and think, “Why is there no music right now?” or “Why is this drummer so loud?” or “What the hell is this song with depressing lyrics?”  Bands who are experienced professionals are going to anticipate your wedding’s needs and deliver a product that is appropriate for the day.

WEEKENDS ARE PRIME TIME

Most weddings occur on a weekend or holiday, when people are already off work and ready to have fun and relax.  These are also the same days that restaurants, bars, festivals, and lots of other events also want to hire bands to draw people to their establishments and events.  With supply and demand comes an increase in cost, as well as musicians maximizing their prime time, since weeknights can be tricky for musicians to get gigs (depending on the area).

As an added factor, bandleaders also want to hire the best musicians for the gig and want these musicians to have a financial incentive to keep this gig.  If a musician is offered a different gig on a weekend that pays more than the gig you offered them, that musician will often take the higher paying gig.  This results in more stress for the bandleader and could result in a reduction of quality of the music, depending on the proximity of the musician’s cancellation to the wedding date and the availability of good substitute musicians.

SPECIAL REQUESTS

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Special request from the band: can we have a piece of cake? 🙂

Last-minute, unanticipated requests are a wedding specialty.  I have a template questionnaire I send to engaged couples to assess how much work and how much time the wedding in question will take.  Inevitably, there is always something that the questionnaire didn’t anticipate or that the couple didn’t know at the time they filled out the questionnaire.  This can be anything from a venue change to unanticipated electrical access issues for outdoor weddings to the bride’s cousin wanting to sing a song with the band that the band doesn’t have in their book to a completely different reception time.  Sometimes the engaged couple will forget that they need an emcee and someone in the band is drafted to do this job, or they forget to tell you that they need your PA for an hour in the middle of the gig so everyone can do toasts.  Part of paying more for a wedding band is that you are paying for the flexibility to make major changes to a contractual agreement that the band has to rely on in order to prepare and schedule their day around your wedding.  It is rare that there are not changes to terms set forth in the wedding/band contract at some point between the date of signing the contract to the date of the wedding.

PREPARATION

Unless a band is a dedicated wedding band that only plays weddings, chances are that a wedding gig will require some extra preparation beyond a normal gig for the band – that may be in the form of custom charts for the band to perform (i.e. a special first dance song, the groom’s favorite song, that cousin wanting to sit in who sings a certain song in a certain key, etc.), working in extra players/musicians/sitting in, additional rehearsal(s), and, perhaps the most time-consuming for me, communicating about the wedding.  Weddings require a lot of attention to detail and all of that is done via phone and email over the course of the months between the booking and the event, usually increasing in the week(s) prior to the event.  Weddings necessitate a written and signed contract for me, which isn’t always the case with other venues who book us regularly or people with whom we have worked before.  Some weddings have wardrobe requirements in terms of colors or formal attire, which means some or all of the band have to plan ahead to acquire these items and spend money to accommodate that request.  Weddings are a one-shot, don’t-mess-this-up kind of event, so it’s important to take the time to get the details right; but this means more time and work from the band, who, conversely, can show up to their weekly/monthly gigs with minimal preparation.

LOAD IN/OUT

Weddings often have difficult and/or lengthy load-in or load-out scenarios.  Weddings are frequently held in locations that do not regularly accommodate live music, which makes it difficult to plan for things like the following:

  • Access to electrical outlets (in relation to wherever the bride/groom/wedding coordinator want the band to set up)
  • The logistics of loading in and out (access to stairs/elevators/ramps, traversing long hallways and multiple levels, loading in/out through high traffic areas like kitchens or the reception crowd)
  • Dealing with traffic/loading zones while loading in
  • Locating (and sometimes paying for) parking
  • Outdoor logistics (grass/hills/rocks/bugs/critters/standing water/weather)
  • Gatekeepers, which can literally mean a person at a gatehouse for a gated community and they won’t let you in because someone forgot to put the band on the guest list.  This can also mean other people at the venue who take up more of your time and prevent the band from timely loading in, such as an indecisive or absent (when the band arrives) wedding planner who isn’t providing the band with information they need or someone at the venue forgetting to leave space for the band to set up and the band has to wait while someone goes and gets someone else to move the chairs/tables/whatever that are blocking the area where the band is supposed to set up

If the ceremony is at the same venue as the reception, this almost always necessitates a load in that is anywhere from 2 to 6 hours before the band actually reports for duty to perform.  This is additional time that the bandleaders and, usually, the drummer, have to take out of their day to go to the venue and set up and then either hang out at the venue or go home and come back during the interim time, as opposed to a regular gig where the band would simply load in about an hour ahead of time and play almost immediately after loading in.

Ultimately, it usually takes longer to load in/set up and break down/load out than the typical band gig.  Sometimes we can anticipate what logistics are involved in advance and sometimes we can’t.  If we do a walk-through prior to the wedding day, then that is additional time we have added to preparing for the wedding gig.

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Sitting in with the Boilermaker Jazz Band at my own wedding

SCHEDULE…WHAT SCHEDULE?

I have yet to work a wedding that stayed on the schedule I was given ahead of the wedding, if I was given a schedule at all.  The band is expected to roll with the shifting priorities and requirements of a wedding, which, in turn, affects the amount of time we have to play, sit and wait, and the beginning and/or ending time of the band’s performance.

One of my biggest complaints about wedding gigs is that, because the wedding runs on its own schedule without consideration for the band (which is fine, for the most part, this day is not about us!), the newlyweds do not often maximize the band’s playing time and we ultimately play less than anticipated, overall.  We really do want to perform for you!  However, you are paying for our time in its entirety (playing or not playing), so if we’re contracted to play from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and the party just really got started at 7:00 p.m. because of toasts/photos/arrival/cake cutting, I’m sorry, we have already been at your wedding for a good portion of the day and our contractual obligation is over.  Often this is upsetting to the bride/groom/other person in charge, they may get angry at us, give us a guilt trip, or they may even offer to begrudgingly pay us more money to stay longer.  This is a very awkward situation and everyone feels terrible – we want to provide the wedding with something of value, but we also want our time to be respected.

In a similar vein, you can’t expect the band to make up for the delays by playing for two hours straight – this is brutal to people who are hitting/plucking/strumming/blowing, essentially using their bodies to create music, without a break at some point (usually somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour of playing).

There may be specific instructions for where and how to enter or when and how the band can leave and we are waiting and paying attention for these things to happen, looking for certain cues to indicate action on our part.  With these delays we may be checking in multiple times with the wedding coordinator to get updates on how to proceed or what the new plan involves, since the paper plan is out the window.  If there is no wedding coordinator, there may be multiple people telling us different things about what the band is supposed to be doing at any given time.   We want to do this right and whoever has the plan, we are willing to go with that new plan.

EMOTIONS

The stakes are high and there’s no dress rehearsal for this show, we are all striving to deliver the best possible services; inevitably, some things will go awry at weddings and there are always people who will get emotional about it and project that onto the staff or whoever may be nearest to them – wedding planners, grooms, brides, fathers of the brides, mothers of the grooms, caterers, whoever has a stake in the day and/or a job to do.

EXTRA COSTS

There are always extra costs, some surprises, some known, such as the aforementioned specific attire or any additional sound equipment that may be needed to accommodate the requests from the bride/groom or the logistics of the venue.  I would also note that another difference in wedding v. regular gig is the absence of merchandise sales, CD sales, and tips; obviously, this would be super tacky to hawk our wares at your wedding or pass around a tip jar, but it is one consideration among many in the added cost.  There are also fewer intangible rewards, such as creative license in the gig itself and applause – I don’t know that I’ve been to a wedding where the crowd burst into applause, but I have been a part of many weddings where the guests either generally ignored the band or, if they are dancing, didn’t clap after songs.  Perhaps applause at a wedding reception is not necessarily appropriate, but it’s one of those things that can add to the feeling that a wedding gig is more work.

RISK FACTOR

This is one type of gig that is at great risk for cancellation, as we certainly can’t control matters of the heart.  I always build in some sort of deposit and cancellation policy, because there is risk in taking a gig like this, as we are often holding this date months, maybe even over a year, in advance and turning down other gigs.  It’s also risky dealing with people who are not used to booking bands – there are certain norms in the professional music community that may seem odd to someone who is not a professional musician, but are necessary in order to accomplish the gig; if they are not willing to see the necessity, to accommodate the basic needs of the band, or to communicate the necessary details requested, then the gig and/or preparing for the gig can quickly become a nightmare.

IN CONCLUSION…

To sum everything up, it’s simply more work to accept and execute a wedding gig for a band and, for this and all the specific the reasons stated above (and probably some I’m forgetting), this is why your average professional band will often charge more for a wedding than they would charge for a regular gig.   That said, while a wedding is more work, that does not mean that bandleaders avoid wedding gigs.  The examples listed above don’t all happen at the same time, there are a lot of wonderful aspects of performing at a wedding, and I don’t know of many bandleaders who would refuse a wedding gig with appropriate compensation – there’s a lot of love that is shared, with families and friends coming together, and we’re all here to have a big celebration and contribute to that celebration in some meaningful way.

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Durham Magazine – Getting to Know the Mint Julep Jazz Band

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Durhamites, be sure to pick up a copy of the April, 2016 issue of Durham Magazine for a feature on the Mint Julep Jazz Band!  Durham Magazine writer Sophia Lucente interviewed yours truly, Lucian Cobb, and Keenan McKenzie to put together this snapshot of the band’s history and life in Durham.  You can read the article (as well as the entire issue) online here.

Farewell 2015, It’s Been Swell!

Just a little note to say thank you to everyone who has come out to a gig, hired me to sing with their band, hired the Mint Julep Jazz Band, and supported the Mint Julep Jazz Band’s Kickstarter and resulting album. In 2015 I performed 58 nights with 4 different bands in 13 states – 2016, I am ready for you! Look for more singing, DJ’ing, and an appearance on Michael Gamble and his Rhythm Serenaders‘ new album!

Battle Axe: Front to Back – October 14, 2015

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To celebrate the release of the Mint Julep Jazz Band‘s new album Battle Axe, we are going to do a Front to Back concert, wherein we perform the entirety of Battle Axe from track 1 all the way through track 16 in order!

This is a free show at the wonderful new Blue Note Grill location near the old Durham Bulls field in the warehouse district – there will be much more room to dance! Join us for dinner at 8:00 p.m., show begins at 9:00 p.m. and runs until we finish!

If you still need to pick up a copy of the album, we’ll have plenty on hand at the show, or you can buy it just about anywhere digital music is sold – CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify…

See you Wednesday! Try the ribs!

Six Weekends on the Road – SC, NY, VA, NH, MD, and TN!

I’ve probably lost my mind, but I am beyond excited about the events coming in August and early September! The first two are for fun and the last four are gigs, which also happen to be fun – I love that singing has afforded me such great travel opportunities this year, performing with several different bands! Here’s where I’ll be, barring forces majeure:

August 8-10, 2014 – competing and social dancing at the Southeast Summer Brawl in Columbia, SC

August 16-17, 2014 – immersing myself in a 1920’s alternate universe and dancing like a mad flapper at the Jazz Age Lawn Party in New York City

August 21-24, 2014 – I’ll be pulling double duty at the International Lindy Hop Championships in Arlington, VA, DJ’ing and singing with the Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five!

August 28-29, 2014 – I’ll be joining Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders on vocals at Swing Out New Hampshire!

September 6, 2014 – the Mint Julep Jazz Band returns to the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD, courtesy of the Jam Cellar!

September 12-13, 2014 – I’m back with Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five for the Knoxville Lindy Exchange!

So many exclamation points!!! Six states in six weekends – see you on the road!

Our State Magazine – Music in the Library

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The Mint Julep Jazz Band was excited to be invited to provide music for Our State Magazine‘s Music in the Library video series, which shares and highlights songs from North Carolina musical artists filmed at Our State Magazine’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. We filled up their cozy library space with eight musicians, swing, and hot jazz on a hot June afternoon and the results came out great, using just three microphones and three cameras.

The band recorded “Swingtime in Honolulu,” “Rock it for Me,” and “Miami Boulevard” – visit the Our State YouTube channel for all the videos from this series!

Frankie 100 NC

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The Mint Julep Jazz Band is proud to be performing at Frankie 100 NC, North Carolina’s Frankie Manning Centennial Celebration, a once ever event celebrating the life and legacy of Lindy Hop pioneer, educator, and global ambassador Frankie Manning, who passed away shortly before his 95th birthday. This year Frankie would have been 100 years old and the global Lindy Hop community is set to celebrate, with a huge event in New York, Frankie’s hometown, and smaller celebrations worldwide.

The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be performing at the main dance on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at the Carrboro Century Center from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Come join us for some Lindy Hop and be a part of this celebration for NC, which is drawing dancers from surrounding states and beyond!

Chapel Hill High School v. Duke University – An Inadvertent Battle of the Jazz Ensembles

This past month we’ve had two dances pop up with ensembles that are not regular dance bands – Chapel Hill High School’s and Duke University’s respective jazz ensembles. They had, in my mind, potential to overcome some of the problems some local adult big bands face, like the fact that some of these kids are picking up these instruments every day and playing 5 days a week in an ensemble setting might give them an edge. Also, how would the high school kids stack up against the college kids? I’d heard some good things about the Chapel Hill High School’s jazz program, but then Duke kids are probably some of the most gifted students in the nation.

Might I suggest a version of "Tiger Rag" for next year's dance? :)

Might I suggest a version of “Tiger Rag” for next year’s dance? 🙂

The first dance was Chapel Hill High School’s swing dance on March 8, held in the high school gymnasium, but not without substantial pomp and decorations. This year was the 18th anniversary of the annual swing dance, which is a fundraiser for the band boosters that includes the dance and a silent auction of goods and services from local businesses. The gymnasium was packed with teenagers, mostly standing around or solo dancing in groups, but some were actually partner dancing. Parents and adults had a seated area near the stage. A large stage was set up with risers for the band, which was necessary since the band was a giant big band – something like 8 or 9 trumpets, as many trombones, even more saxes, plus students trading off spots in the rhythm section.

That piano intro is like a call to arms, a trigger for a jam circle!

That piano intro is like a call to arms, a trigger for a jam circle!

The dance itself was quite a show – the band director kept things moving with announcements, introduction of the numerous (I counted at least 6) guest vocalists, and promotions for the fundraiser and silent auction, leaping into the next musical number as soon as he was finished speaking. The song selection was a mix of classic swinging tunes (Jumpin’ at the Woodside and Leap Frog were highlights), songbirds and crooners on slower dance tunes, some 50’s/60’s Sinatra, a token neo-swing song (vocals performed with gusto, I might add – I had to smile), and a smattering of ballroom fare. Overall, the tempos were up and most of the songs kept us moving. The kids in the crowd cheered for their friends when they were featured and the vibe in the room was extremely positive and supportive. When the band took a break, a student combo played the breaks. The first band break was a little more swinging than the second and that was their only big misstep, having a group play more modern feeling tunes that lacked the drive to be danceable during that second break.

In spite of being outnumbered 50 to 1 by high school students and feeling only slightly awkward being the only dancing adults in the room, our group had a pretty good time. What the high school kids lacked in skill they made up for in enthusiasm and spectacle. I hope more members of the swing dance community decide to come out to this dance next year, both to support these burgeoning jazz and swing musicians and as a great opportunity for outreach to all these high school kids who were dancing and enjoying themselves. If only they knew they could do this every weekend!

The dance floor at Duke Gardens is amazing!

The dance floor at Duke Gardens is amazing!

The second dance was at Duke Gardens on March 27 and was a collaboration amongst Duke Gardens, Jazz@ Duke, the Duke Swing Dance Club, and the Duke Jazz Ensemble. Duke Gardens has played host to a number of DJ’d swing dances over the past few years and is arguably one of the swing dance community’s loveliest venues. This dance was not only free to all who attended, but also had an impressive buffet set up on the patio for the dancers to partake. The Duke Swing Dance Club did a great job with promoting the dance and teaching the beginner lesson before the dance. This is the second year the Duke Jazz Ensemble has performed in collaboration with the Duke Swing Dance Club, although the location of the dance was different from last year.

I had high hopes for the Duke Jazz Ensemble for several reasons:

– The students were older, had probably played their instruments longer, and I knew that gaps in the ensemble were often filled by more skilled community players.

Les Brown and his Blue Devils

Les Brown and his Blue Devils

– In the 1930’s Duke University was host to several dance bands and orchestras, including Les Brown and his Blue Devils from 1933-1936, before Les Brown went on to start his Band of Renown. Under the direction of Les Brown, the Blue Devils made some hot recordings and went on several regional tours. Check out this fantastic recording of the Blue Devils performing “Rigamarole.” Arrangements from Les Brown’s time at Duke and from later years reside in the Les Brown Scores Collection at Duke University Libraries – I am salivating over this collection!

– I have on good authority that there are other swing era charts (as opposed to post-WWII arrangements of swing era songs) in Duke’s music library, per a former Duke student who performed in the jazz ensemble.

– In the Facebook event the Jazz@ promoter posted that the band would be performing “swing-style Jazz from periods before, during, and after the 30’s.” I’ve only heard one other Triangle-based big band perform a 1920’s piece, which was the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, a band made up of professional musicians and college professors from around the state. The Facebook event also had 180+ RSVPs, which meant lots of people and potential energy.

So with all of these things in mind I was fairly confident that the Duke Jazz Ensemble would deliver a dance that at least had some variance in song selection, perhaps some lesser known tunes with hot arrangements. Musicianship-wise, they had an edge on the high school students because the students did take solos, but most of the solos were done by the excellent Brian Miller, a local professional, whose solos were definitely a highlight of the dance and who appeared to carry the band at times.

However, the Duke band lacked the presentation, showmanship, and energy that the high school event excelled at executing. The Duke ensemble had no vocalists, though they played many of the same vocal tunes as the high school band, just as instrumental arrangements. The guitar player slouched in his chair and plucked single notes on his hard body guitar, instead of laying down the essential rhythmic chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of quarter note chords that completes a swing rhythm section. Most of the tempos were around 150 bpm and songs ran well over 5 minutes – in several instances there were 8 minute songs, which can be purgatory for a newer dancer who may only know a few moves. There were a few really slow tunes and some faster tunes, but the band seemed to fall apart toward the end of the faster tunes, which were around 180-190 bpm. Toward the end of the night they played a combo tune while the rest of the big band just sat there – if you have a big band, use it! We can hear small groups any time. There were also no 1920’s tunes, as were promised, and, arguably, no 1930’s tunes – the repertoire was 1940’s-1960’s and the drummer never left the ride cymbal except to play fills.

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One of the songs the band performed was an arrangement almost identical to Count Basie’s “April in Paris,” a song that was recorded in 1955 or 1956 and released in 1957 on an album of the same title. This particular recording is quintessentially new-testament Basie and any swing DJ worth his/her salt will know this tune. A local dancer/DJ was dancing in front of the band when they performed this tune and at the end, after they hit the big sustained note as an ensemble, she yelled to the band, “One more once!” No one cracked a smile and they stared blankly at her. She addressed them again, “One more time!” More blank stares, no shout chorus. Brian Miller was the only one within earshot who acknowledged that she was referencing the recording and told her that the band did not have that version of the arrangement. I don’t know if this means that the rest of the band had not checked out the recording of the song they just played or if they were being obtuse, but it did not sit well.

I’m going to declare the Chapel Hill High School Jazz Ensemble the winner of this battle – while the Duke Jazz Ensemble played a post-WWII repertoire with the addition of improvised solos, the Chapel Hill students captured the energy and feel of the swing era and songs of later eras, as well as considering the needs of dancers in terms of song length, rhythm section, and creating a connection to the audience through the bandleader and vocalists.

Mint Julep Jazz Band Plays Shakori Hills – April 20, 2014

The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be joining the stellar lineup of musicians for the spring 2014 Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, along with the Indigo Girls, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Del McCoury Band, and dozens of other great local, regional, and national acts. We’ll be performing Sunday, April 20 from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in the Dance Tent – they’ll have a wood floor in the tent so everyone can cut a rug and avoid the mud. 😉

For more information about the festival, the artists, the location, camping, tickets, schedule, and any questions you may have, visit Shakori Hills’ comprehensive website at http://shakorihillsgrassroots.org.

This is our first music festival, so we are really excited – see you there!

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Not All Jazz Swings

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but I really just need to put it out there, for the Triangle dancers and jazz musicians, for various reasons.

Norfolk, Virginia swing DJ Bill Speidel has already written the article I would write at this point in time, called “Do You Want to Swing, Virginia?” I encourage dancers and local jazz musicians to read this and note the examples. While I do have a bit of a broader interpretation of what swings for me, I think Bill narrows the issue to make a point.

If it doesn’t swing, then it doesn’t inherently inspire me to dance.