Once you've decided to book a wedding band instead of a DJ, it's time to find the right talent for you. But before you jump in, we recommend preparing. Here, representatives from two elite groups walk you through the process of hiring your entertainment. After all, your music sets tone for your entire event, so it's important to choose carefully.
"As soon as the couple gets engaged, the band is one of the very first things they should try to lock in," says Glenn Carvin of the highly-regarded wedding band the Atlanta Showstoppers. Another professional, Dennis Smith, agrees. His band, the award-winning Party on the Moon, books a year or more in advance. "It's not unusual for highly sought-after party bands to get booked at least a year or more out, and that's particularly true for the most popular months for weddings, like spring and fall," Carvin confirms.
Don't get too ahead of yourselves, however—you'll need to find your venue before booking a band, especially since you'll want an idea of the performance space. You'll also need to lock in your wedding budget to narrow down your options. Finally, you'll need to decide if you want the same group for your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception, or if you'd rather hire different people for different portions of the day.
Ideally, you've been to events with memorable music and you can research who performed at them. Not everyone's so lucky, though, and hiring talent that you know can come with a caveat. Just because the band at your local bar is great for that crowd, for example, doesn't mean that they're prepared to entertain at an occasion like a wedding. If you don't have first-hand experience or the groups that you do know aren't right for your nuptials, both Carvin and Smith consider word-of-mouth to be one of the best ways to discover bands. Turn to trusted sources—like your friends, family members, or planner—for referrals. Alternatively, you can search the web for recommendations.
For many, working with an entertainment agency simplifies the online search process. "A good agent will tell you the truth and help you find the perfect match for your event. Also, if the band has to cancel or has an issue, the agent is in your corner to help you," advises Smith. It's crucial that the agency you work with is well-respected. Good ones "can make a variety of recommendations" based on your specific wishlist, Carvin shares, and they'll act as a middleman between you two and the performers.
Before you book, know what to ask, and get your questions answered. Aside from the basics like availability, you should figure out the size of the band since that can impact what you pay them and how you accommodate them. Knowing which instruments they play is also valuable, as it'll help you decipher if they can deliver the sound that you crave. And inquiring about their flexibility is crucial. Do they always work the same way, or can they adjust their performance to suit the flow of your celebration?
On the topic of flexibility, "ask the band where you can find their most up-to-date song list and how they can handle special requests," says Carvin. In the end, they're there for the music, right? "Some bands are fairly restrictive in allowing the client to pick out specific songs and will push for the freedom to do 'their' show. That may be great as many really good bands have very rehearsed and choreographed shows, but if you want to hear the songs that are important and meaningful to you and not just the show that the band has rehearsed, make sure that you have that conversation," he adds.
"You wouldn't buy a car without a test drive and I wouldn't recommend hiring a band without seeing them," Smith also advises. If you can't witness them live, at the very least, ask for a video—seeing is just as important as hearing, because you'll want to make sure that their look fits the vibe of your event. If you're worried about their appearance—perhaps they typically dress informally—you can then ask about that, too. Don't just worry about your needs, though. Inquire about theirs as well. Does the band take breaks? Do they provide their own equipment (for both sound and lighting)? How much do they charge, and what's their payment plan? Before you sign anything, make sure that the contract outlines your requirements and agreed-upon details explicitly.
Decide on the Details
Congrats—you've officially booked your band! Now, you need to settle on the specifics. "We always ask the couple to go through our entire song list and highlight as many of their favorites as they would like. The more feedback they give us, the better, and while we can't necessarily guarantee every single song, their selections will give us a pretty good idea of what they like best," Carvin says. "While we don't recommend that the client 'dictate' a specific playlist, we very much encourage feedback and in most cases will be able to customize what the client wants into what the band does best—and that's generally the best 'recipe' for keeping the party going strong and the dance floor packed all night."
If you need your performers to learn some stuff, "be sure to get your special dance songs to the bandleader ASAP," Smith shares. In addition, "make sure that the band is clear on the timeline of the event." Together, you'll have to create a music itinerary, so that there's a suitable soundtrack throughout the festivities.
Hold Up Your End
"Most bands will provide a contract 'rider' that will spell out their needs and what the client is responsible for," says Carvin. This can include everything from food-and-drink asks to power requirements. "Beware of bands with big contract riders," Smith warns. Usually, it's proper etiquette to feed your vendors, including your band. That and other "day-of responsibilities can be addressed ahead of the event by a good agent and bandleader," says Smith. According to Carvin, "clients are also usually responsible for providing a stage to the band's specifications."
When you pay your talent depends on what's delineated in your contract. But what about tips? Both Carvin and Smith say that while they're appreciated, they're not expected or required. "If you feel like the band went above and beyond to make sure that your wedding was everything that you hoped for and more, by all means, feel free to show that appreciation monetarily. However, in the long run, a better way to express that is to write a note or send an email afterwards that the band can use as a testimonial," Carvin recommends.