As soon as you have a signed contract, you’ve got to get ready for the gig, even though the wedding is probably months away. Here’s what you’ll need for a flawless wedding performance.
Contact the on-site wedding coordinator.
When a bride books your services, get in touch with the wedding or reception site sales staff and let them know that you’ll be there. Ask if there are any particular details you should know about the wedding, and share what you have learned about the bride. They will be very grateful that you gave them a heads up, because they will be able to plan for where you’ll be setting up. If you have any questions about the venue that the bride cannot answer, such as where the electrical outlets are located, this is the time to ask.
If you have never performed at the bride’s wedding site, make an appointment with the coordinator or the banquet manager for a site inspection (make sure to bring your promo package along to the site inspection, too). Check it out and take notes about where to load in, stairways, service elevators, available electricity, lighting, and the dimensions of the performance area. If you’ll be performing outdoors, is there protection from the elements? Is shade available? Are heater lamps available? Is there a backup location in case of threatening weather?
If the on-site coordinator cannot answer your questions, or if you have any concerns, share these with your client immediately. You client has plenty of time to address your questions when you present them months in advance, instead of days before the wedding. For example, if you will be performing outside in April, and the weather is usually iffy at that time of year, you’ve got to talk to your client about it if the on-site coordinator doesn’t have an indoor option for you. Let your client know that they need to have an alternative “Plan B” for bad weather, or else you may not be able to perform.
Say thank you.
Make sure to thank the person who referred your new client to you. Give them a phone call or send a little handwritten note of thanks. But the best way to say “Thank you!” is to return the favor-send them referrals, too!
Select the music.
Immediately after a bride has hired you, provide her with guidance about how to select the music that you’ll be performing. It’s your job to educate her about when and where music can be used at her ceremony and reception.
Let the bride know how many tunes she’ll need for the prelude, her cocktail hour, during dinner service, or for dancing. Give her the option of selecting the type of music she wants or actually providing you with an itemized music list, chosen from your repertoire list.
The most important selections that the bride needs to make are her entrance and her first dance song. She’ll remember these tunes for the rest of her life, so leave the decision up to her. I usually ask for specific titles for each element of the ceremony and reception, and most brides comply. However, some will want to leave it all up to you, and if that is the case, just go with it. It will make your job easier.
Post your repertoire list on your website, or email or fax the list to your client. I like to email instructions for selecting music as a follow-up to initial phone conversations with the bride.
For religious weddings, instruct the bride to contact her priest, rabbi, or pastor to approve any specific ceremony selections. Some churches or houses of worship do not permit non-religious music or certain selections to be played. It is the bride’s job to check with her celebrant well in advance of her wedding day so that she can make an informed decision about her music.
Here are some other specifics to ask the bride when having the music discussion: Find out which selections the bride does not want played, under any circumstances. And if you are a reception bandleader and your group is capable of playing some CDs when they take a break, ask if the bride has any favorite CDs she wants played, too.
Advise the bride of when you’ll need to receive her music list. Write that due date on your contract, and include it in all email correspondence and phone conversations until you receive the list. Explain that you must have her song list in advance so that you’ll have plenty of time to rehearse for her big day.
If you are within a week of the deadline that you have given the bride, then phone and remind her that you need her music list. I’ve warned brides, “If you don’t tell me what to play, I’ll play whatever I want.” This fact is also part of my contracts, but when brides hear me say this live and in person, 99% of the time they will jump on the task right away. Most brides want to be in charge of making all of their wedding decisions.
The few brides who don’t bother choosing their music will trust your abilities and be happy with whatever you play. The only music question you must have all brides answer is, “Do you want to walk to ‘Here Comes the Bride’ for your grand entrance, or do you want me to play something else? You’ll remember your entrance song for the rest of your life, so please let me know what to play.”
If the bride has hired a wedding coordinator, ask her permission for you to share her music decisions with the coordinator. Most coordinators appreciate receiving this information prior to the wedding, and they may use it during the wedding rehearsal itself to confirm the bride’s choices of music.
It is completely up to the bride what she wants to have played at her wedding. Comply as best as possible. Sometimes she’ll make ridiculous requests. Even if she wants funeral music at her wedding, then ultimately, that is her choice. But if she wants you to play a song that is completely inappropriate, tell her why you have reservations about playing it.
The bride will look at you as a wedding music authority, so it’s fine to offer your personal opinion about whether her choices will work at her wedding. However, never tell the bride what kind of music to select. Don’t boss her into making certain music decisions based on what you do or do not like playing. Here’s Pastor Rob Orr’s view on this topic:
“The biggest no-no for a wedding musician is to tell a bride what she must have played. What this really points to is a musician who doesn’t know how to play many selections and is forcing his meager song list onto a bride. Instead, the bride should be telling you what she’d like to have played, and you should be offering her supportive advice.”
Schedule band members and roadies.
Bandleaders: Get your personnel to commit to the date immediately, as soon as you know the requested instrumentation and the bride’s choice of music. Schedule rehearsals far in advance, because you’ll want to have plenty of time left to add extra rehearsals if someone can’t make it. Or you may just want to add another pick-up rehearsal to tighten up your band a bit more before the date.
If you hire assistants, sound techs, or roadies, make sure they also commit in advance. I find that usually one month’s notice works well for scheduling.
Reception bandleaders: Devise a timeline with the bride.
Include your start and finish times, when to make certain announcements, proposed time of food service, important key songs to play and when to play them, and the names and correct pronunciations of the wedding party’s names. Share this list with the wedding coordinator or hotel contact so that you are all on the same page. This will keep you in the loop when they get wind of changes well before the wedding day. If there are important changes to your song list, you’ll have plenty of time to include them in your rehearsals.
Rehearse for the bride.
If the bride wants you to perform with her friend or relative, and you have agreed to do so, arrange a rehearsal as far in advance as possible. Charge the bride a fee for this rehearsal, because, in essence, you are rehearsing for the bride; you are performing with her friend as a favor. Schedule this practice session far enough in advance. Then if you decide after the rehearsal that it’s best for everyone that you don’t perform with her friend, the bride will have time to decide what to do instead-She can opt to ask her friend to perform solo, with a karaoke tape, or not at all.
Find out the particulars of the music and the performer before you rehearse. What song will be performed? In what key? Do you both have the same version of sheet music?
When you get together to rehearse, if the other musician or vocalist is too nervous, can’t hold a pitch, can’t count a beat, or simply stinks, don’t agree to work with them. Make sure there is a clause in your contract that states that the client can’t cancel your agreement because you won’t perform with the bride’s friends.
For receptions, if your band is fine with winging it when someone wants to get up and sing into the mic, then that’s okay. Everyone is having fun, and they have no expectations of performance quality when you are acting as a karaoke band. But for a ceremony, don’t play with anyone without a rehearsal. If you perform with a bad amateur, they could make you look bad, too. No wonder many musicians refuse to perform with people they don’t know.
Rehearse for yourself.
I’m not going to tell you to practice. You know that. But what I will suggest is a way of preparing your wedding performances that may be different than preparing for other gigs.
Determine the song order as soon as you have received the bride’s music list. Make sure to ask about the music she wants you to avoid, as well as the songs she wants you to include.
Bands and ensembles will want to set rehearsal dates in advance, where the music can be distributed to each member to discuss a game plan of which tunes are used for each wedding element. Even if everyone in your group has all the tunes memorized, each member should write down the order of tunes. Practice the music in this sequence. By doing so, you’ll limit the amount of discussion needed between songs, avoiding dead air.
As a soloist, it’s up to me to decide when I have to start working on the tunes. If the bride has chosen particularly challenging pieces, then I’ll give myself more lead-time to get to work. Then, as the wedding day approaches and it’s time to run through all the music, I photocopy the sheet music needed for the wedding day and place it in a binder, in the bride’s music list order. This way, I won’t have to sort through a bunch of loose sheet music at the wedding, wasting time trying to find the tune.
I also make frequent use of sticky notes, labeling sheet music so that I know which tune is for the seating of mothers, the processional, the bride, during the ceremony, and the recessional. I also write notes to indicate how many bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearers will be part of the processional.
If you are a ceremony musician, develop your peripheral vision by looking up from your sheet music from time to time as you run through the processional and bride’s entrance music. Learn to wind down music in various places, before the last measure, in case you have to bring the music to a close because the wedding party has already arrived at the altar.
Take one piece of music, say the processional, and practice improvising around the melody. Take it slow, removing the tempo so it just floats free-form. Practice noodling. Be prepared with extra music, running through a few extra tunes that are in the same style and genre of the rest of the bride’s music list. Prepare and bring along more music than you’ll need for the gig-you never know when you might need to play overtime.
Reception bandleaders also need to develop peripheral vision, knowing where the bride is in the room and keeping an eye on food service. It will be up to you to make announcements for the father/daughter dance, additional family dances, the cutting of the cake, the bouquet and garter toss, and so on. You may also need to invite different tables of guests up to the buffet table to avoid long lines of people snaking around the reception hall.
Even if you have your act down solid, practice anyway. And definitely do a quick run-through of the material, in order, on the day of the wedding before you leave-this has a mysterious ability to cement into your mind the fact that you know your act. When you start to play, your brain will say, “Oh yeah, I know this stuff. I just played it before coming here,” and you’ll sail through all the music.
Here’s a fabulous quote regarding the results of practice by conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy:
“Working hard at practice is also the best defense I know against pre-concert nervousness, which can never be entirely eliminated but can be psychologically prepared for by convincing oneself that one has done all the homework necessary for a solid performance and everything will work out all right.”
There is more to a wedding musician’s homework than just practice…
Fill in the blanks.
When you contracted with the bride, there might have been a lot of information missing, information that she didn’t know about months before her wedding day. Don’t leave for the wedding without having this information in your grasp. This may include any or all of the following:
- An event-day phone number
- An on-site contact person
- A map or directions to the location
- Wedding colors or theme for any particular dress requirements
- The name of the celebrant
- The name of the banquet captain
- The name of the wedding coordinator
- The name of the person who will be paying your balance upon your arrival
Phone the bride one week before her wedding day and get any missing information, along with a final guest count (so you will know how loud to set up your sound system before the guests assemble). Also review anything that she has promised to supply for you, such as a meal, a stage, a certain number of electrical outlets, a loading zone, or house sound.
Ask the bride to remind her celebrant to take a moment to talk with you about your cues on the day of the wedding, before the ceremony begins. If the bride is having a wedding rehearsal, suggest to her to remind her celebrant then.
Review all the wedding details with your client to confirm that nothing has changed. This is also the time to remind them of any balance due on the day of the wedding.
Decide what to bring.
Each wedding is different. The equipment that will be needed for one may be unnecessary for another. So, if you are a bandleader, discuss with your band what equipment will be loaded in and what equipment your musicians need to be responsible for taking to the gig. You can discuss this at rehearsal or just prior to the wedding day.
I used to forget many important items for weddings-everything from my microphone and amp to my music stand and sheet music. Find a system that works for you so that you don’t leave anything at home.
Here is the system I now employ: I pull all my equipment that’s needed the night before the wedding gig and put it near the front door. And if my amp needs recharging, I do that overnight, too. I lay out my clothes for the gig, including my street clothes for loading and unloading.
On the day of the gig, I place the amp with the other equipment and then start loading the car. I always load it the same way, putting equipment in the same location in the car for every gig. That way, if I forget something, there is a “hole” in the back of my car, where that piece of equipment belongs. I also do this when I’m packing up to go home at the end of a gig to avoid leaving an important piece of equipment at a wedding venue.
It’s a major inconvenience to have to drive back to a venue to retrieve a piece of equipment. I’ve learned this the hard way. Once, I left my rolling gig bag at the curb when loading up my car after a wedding. When I arrived home, I noticed the hole in the back of my car where the bag belonged, and I immediately phoned the country club where I performed. The banquet captain didn’t know where the bag was. I freaked out and began counting up the hundreds of dollars it would take to replace all the microphones inside that bag.
I jumped into my car and sped back to the country club. It turned out that a caddy found my gig bag and locked it up in the golfers’ lost-and-found, a place where the banquet captain wouldn’t have looked. That episode forced me to be much more careful of the location of my equipment at all times.
From The Musician’s Guide to Brides ©2010 by Anne Roos, published by Hal Leonard Books. Reprinted with permission. Order The Musician’s Guide to Brides at www.halleonardbooks.com and get 25% off plus free shipping. Enter promo code NY11 at checkout. (Free shipping is by least expensive shipping method and applies to U.S. orders only) Order it here.