My last article left us orbiting Planet Party, and away missions visited a few lucrative locations; playing at private events, graduation shindigs, and even corporate wingdings. But the mother ship won’t beam us up until we’ve made our final visit to the most well-paid, but potentially perilous location of all – gigs at weddings.
This is a place you don’t want to visit until you’ve got some experience, or even a proven track record. Why? Every wedding gig you play will be the most important day of someone’s life, and you’d better not mess it up. (And that person is the mother of the groom. B’doom tish!) You’ve got to bring your A-game and keep it razor-sharp for every minute you’re at the event. So until you’ve got one, there’s no point even considering it.
Every caution I made about playing private parties goes double here. You aren’t there to tie one on, but to stand in for the hosts and really show people a good time. You need to be professional in the way you behave, dress, and deal with the inevitable changes that will occur. You need to be ready for anything.
Getting started in the wedding circuit – and it is a circuit – relies heavily on reputation. This is a business in which recommendations play a key role. You get the next gig because at the last one someone thought you did a fantastic job. People talk about that great band at their mate’s wedding, and soon enough you get another call, then more. Every wedding attendant is a potential referral – inded ongoing bookings may be made right there by guests planning their own nuptials.
All the same, there are other avenues for finding clients. One is simply word-of-mouth. You hear about an upcoming wedding of an acquaintance and you let them know you’d be delighted to play their gig if they’re hiring a band. Or you may be approached directly after a club gig and asked if you play weddings, which is just one more reason you need a few business cards in your back pocket at all times.
Wedding-circuit lounge lizards will have web pages and even directory listings – but one of the best calling cards of all is simply a
YouTube link to some really great footage of you playing, preferably at someone’s wedding. That will tell your potential clients exactly what they need to know right away, and can save the need for a demo CD.
Wedding gigs are tied down to the late spring to early autumn months, with a peak flurry in the middle of summer. For NZ that means a lot of gigs in January and February, dying down through March and April. Weather is always a constant concern, and may result in a cancelled gig. Whatever happens, maintain your cool. Remember that while such changes may be an inconvenience for you, they’re much more of a catastrophe for the wedding party.
Nearly every wedding service provider nowadays has some kind of down payment. The reason why is that bookings tie up business and personnel on vital days during a limited time of year. The more important weddings are to a band’s income stream, the more likely it is that the band will charge a deposit. At my own California wedding the band wasn’t too dear to hire – but the deposit was 50% of their fee.
Now your band may not be so ambitious, and you’ll probably play a few very casual weddings at first. But deposit or not, you will need some negotiating chops and a bit of a business plan when booking wedding gigs. Don’t be afraid to ask what you think your band is worth – and to increase your rates if you hear that a peer band is making much more. Don’t gouge, but don’t grovel.
The wedding planner may want a professional-looking invoice, and maybe even itemised costs if you’re renting equipment like a PA or lights. The most important thing is to speak with confidence about your ability to play the gig, and your willingness to work with them to make the special day unforgettable. That will put their minds at rest, and get them off your back about micro-managing everything.
Every wedding has its own playbook, but there’s a pretty common schedule to most. The part where you come in mostly follows the ceremony and wedding meal – for the wedding dances. After a couple of sets, the bride and groom depart the wedding, and guests remain until the food and drinks run out.
A big issue here is around soundchecking. Some planners will tell you, “Oh, just show up around dinner time and set up.” They don’t know how loud, or important, a soundcheck can be. Don’t believe a single word of what these people say. The time to show up and set up is 90 minutes before the wedding starts, and that means the ‘arrival from’ time and not the ‘tying the knot’ time. You want to be set up, soundchecked and at ease before anything else happens. This will give you time to deal with emergencies and you absolutely do not want anything to go wrong on this day.
Yes, you’ll be hanging around, waiting for things to start for quite some time. Make it clear to the wedding planner that your band will need to eat something during the wedding feast. This usually isn’t too much of an ask, especially at bigger weddings – but they need to know in advance in order to make sure enough food is ordered. Don’t fill up too much – you don’t want to lose your edge to a carb crash.
So your job is to fit in that schedule in any way requested. Your keyboardist may be asked to play the wedding march or you may be asked to play (quietly!) during dinner. You absolutely must accept that you’ll be making frequent announcements, and you’ll have to be at your most charming and sincere for the whole time. You might even have to play favourite songs on request of the bride and groom, so be prepared and learn those in advance. Certainly one of these will be the first dance, which might even be a waltz – a strange thing for a rock band to play, but there it is.
You never know how long you might be up there. Some weddings go on and on for hours, so make sure that you’ve contracted a certain maximum playing time, maybe even stipulating an extra charge for additional sets. Two sets is the norm.
Don’t get all hurt and defensive if you’re told that the wedding doesn’t need a second set after all. It’s almost never a comment on your playing. You have to understand that sometimes people start to leave earlier than expected, especially if the wedding runs late and there’s a long drive home. Then again, be ready to play a third or even a fourth set because some people really know how to party!
The strangest thing about weddings is that they can be more out-of-control than any club gig. People really drink a hell of a lot, especially in front of an endless supply of alcohol. Usually, this is just a happy simmer of booziness, but occasionally things erupt. There are a lot of mean drunks out there, and they get set off very easily by meeting the new in-laws.
Since punching out the father of the bride is usually not a safe option, then the next best thing can be that musician who’s been flirting with their girlfriend in between sets. In the roughest of the rough clubs we played my bands were treated with huge respect by everyone – but at weddings we had more than our share of rough-housing from drunken guests. So really just stay out of it. Don’t mingle when people are out of control. Don’t give anyone an excuse to abuse you, and usually you’ll be safe.
Join me again for our next Building Blocks Stage Trek mission; In Search of Nightclub Gigs.
Thomas Goss is a producer, band coach, and composer/orchestrator with an international clientele that includes Billy Ocean, Melanie C, and Canadian jazz star Nikki Yanofsky.