Planning a wedding with live music: what you need to know
Our advice: a series of regularly updated articles written by band leader Mike Paul-Smith, detailing everything you need to know before booking live music for your event.
For many people, planning a wedding reception is the first and only time you will take on the role of "event planner" and it can seem quite daunting. We perform at hundreds of weddings every year, and have a few pieces of advice for you when making the arrangements for having live music at your party.
1. Plan your timings carefully, but be flexible
The best bit of advice we can give is to be flexible with your timings. It's safe to say that almost every wedding reception runs late, and whilst everyone thinks theirs will be the first to run to time it usually won't be (we play at two weddings a year which run to time, and the rest don't!).
So whilst planning your timings carefully, always have it in the back of your mind that the drinks reception, dinner, and/or speeches may run over by at least 20 minutes each.
In my experience, the most common reason weddings overrun is because people haven't allocated enough time for the speeches. We sometimes have an informal band room sweepstake about how long the speeches will take - the winner is almost always above 45 minutes, sometimes more like 60 minutes, so it's worth planning for them to last that long (even if you've told the best man that he only has 10 minutes!).
2. Make sure you leave enough time for the band to set up
If you are booking a band to perform for your evening party, it's important you plan when they are going to set up.
If you are having the band perform in the same room as your meal, you'll need to think about whether they set up before, during or after dinner. A typical function band such as The Get Downs takes at least 60 minutes to set up, although I always recommend you leave 90 minutes to be on the safe side - this contingency time has been necessary before when access to the performance space has been difficult, or when there have been technical issues with the venue (often with sound limiters - there is a whole article about these nuisances here).
Setting up before dinner is often preferable, if there is enough space; however, it may increase costs as it involves the band arriving early.
Setting up during dinner is actually less disruptive than you may think - our function band line-ups use a digital, recallable mixing desk, meaning we don't need to do a loud soundcheck and can usually set up during dinner with barely anyone noticing.
Setting up after dinner is often the only option if space is limited and tables need to be cleared to make way for the band and the dancefloor.
If you are having the band set up after dinner, it's important that you think of a way of getting guests out of the way quickly (see point 5 below) and it's also worth making sure your venue know that they need to clear the tables as quickly as possible - as our 90 minute set up cannot begin until the stage area is clear.
One excellent idea is making sure there is an 'activity' for guests after dinner. I love the idea of having the speeches in a different room, such as the bar. It gets everyone out of the way to let us set up, and it means people can stretch their legs after a long meal - this worked very well at a recent wedding. Alternatively, right after dinner could be a good time to get a group photograph (another great way of getting guests out of the way for us to set up).
Our equipment ready to be loaded in to the venue in flightcases. If we are setting up after your meal, we will often unload the equipment ready for a quick get-in when the space is cleared.
3. Don't start the band too early
This one may sound a little odd, but bear with me. One big mistake I find people make time and time again at weddings is having the band start performing too early.
The problem is that at a typical wedding, guests have usually spent a long time sat down during dinner and listening to speeches. When the speeches are finally over, I find that people want to stretch their legs, catch up with friends who were sitting on the other side of the room, and get some fresh air.
Another odd quirk of human behaviour (which I've discovered the hard way) is that people often don't dance if it's light outside (or indeed if it's too light in the room)! If you're lucky enough to have a wedding on a beautiful summer's evening, people are most likely to want to enjoy the evening sun for a while before heading inside to party as it turns dark.
Both of these things mean that if you start the band too early, we will be performing at a time that people would rather be doing anything but dancing. Instead, I'd suggest you delay starting the band for at least one hour after your meal has finished if you don't want our high energy dance music to go to waste!
I've thought about this a lot, and decided that at your average wedding 7.30pm is too early for the band to start if you want people to dance - and planning the first dance for 8.30pm or even 9pm is a much safer bet.
One reason I think people start the band too early is that photographers are usually only booked until the first dance. It's worth talking through the timings carefully with your photographer, and I'd encourage you to book them for an extra hour or so in order to start the band a bit later. That way you also get some get pictures of the party, which I think are some of the best photos you get on your wedding day!
4. Don't start the band too late
On the other side of the coin, it's important not to start the band too late - or people start to head home. It's often hard to predict in advance the absolute best time for the band to start performing - and a really top quality like band, like ours, will be flexible on the night and ready to go when the time is right for you and your guests.
5. Have some ushers on hand who know where people need to be, and when
Having been performers and guests at hundreds of weddings, I've noticed that they are often exercises in people movement - guests spend most of the day being moved from one area to another (or even between different venues). It's very important that you have some ushers or a Master of Ceremonies who will be able to direct people at different stages of the day.
This is particularly important if the band is setting up after your meal - there's nothing more frustrating than being ready to set up, but waiting for half an hour whilst guests are milling around and slowly making their way to the bar.
Finally, moving guests from one area to another always takes a bit longer than you think it will - which is worth bearing in mind when planning your timings.
6. Plan where the band is going to change, and when they are going to eat
Obviously the band needs somewhere to change, and ideally that space will also serve as a "green room" for us to use for the rest of the evening - it's worth thinking about that as soon as possible, so that you can reserve the best space at your venue.
Like all professional function bands we do ask for a hot meal at evening events and it's worth thinking about the best time to serve this. Sometimes there isn't enough time to eat between sets, so before we start playing could be the best time to eat. Also, we're very happy for the band meal to be your evening buffet - however, please do think of a way for the band to get served quickly; if the band gets stuck at the back of the buffet queue (which often happens) we obviously can't be performing and that could mean we start late.
Some pictures of happy musicians eating - because who doesn't love all those things...
If you have any questions about your event timings - or top tips you've learnt from putting on events - don't hesitate to get in touch. You can email me or call me on 07855 488 462.