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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.