This article is not for the faint-of-heart. As you can see from the above header, I am hereby answering the question, “How Much Should You Spend on the music for your wedding?” And the answer is “as much as you can.” I am going to say something even more controversial now. Music is NOT the place to try to save money. I am not saying that you should overspend, that you should spend more than you can, or more than you have. But I am saying that the IMPACT higher quality music and musical presentation has on the overall outcome of your entire event, is often overlooked and undervalued by many people, even many wedding professionals. Most people do not consider the following: the difference in what you would spend for a higher quality musical ensemble is such a small percentage of the overall budget for your affair. Really, think about it, do the math!
I have spent my entire career explaining, educating and encouraging clients to spend more money than they thought they needed to. And why? Because in order to get something really good, really special, it costs more. It just does. We all know this. And we all accept it when it comes to our dining out experiences, the homes we buy, the cars we drive (refer to Part 1 of this blog series). We even accept it when it comes to choosing the venues for our weddings and parties. We usually choose the places that are in the top range of what we can afford. And why? Because we want our party to be the best it can be, we want it to reflect our taste, our style, our stature. So what many people do not realize is how much of an impact the music makes on every aspect, almost every single moment of your affair, and can enhance virtually every part. I can only speak of the way we (at Starlight Orchestras) do things, but think about this (some musical aspects to consider when evaluating pricing)…
Arrivals and Ceremony Music
There is music playing as your guests first enter the venue; be it a building, a hotel, a chapel, a ballroom, a club, or even outdoors when guests first leave their cars. There is music playing as guests are waiting to be seated at the wedding ceremony. Once seated, there is of program of listening music for the 20+ minutes before the wedding ceremony begins. There is wedding music for the processional, and much of what I have already outlined can be highly customized. There are special musical selections for different groups of people in the bridal party; pieces for the officient, the grandparents, the bridesmaids and ushers, the children, something dynamic for the Groom, and then something extremely special for the Bride. There might be music during the ceremony itself, and then of course, music to punctuate the recessional.
Cocktail Hour Music
As the recessional ends and guests start leaving the ceremony area, we ideally want music to be playing as your guests enter the cocktail hour space. This means that music is being played simultaneously in two places, and the musicians are maneuvering behind the scenes to make this happen.
Reception – The Party!
When we open the ballroom; specific and carefully chosen music is playing to welcome the guests as they get acclimated, find their tables, and make their way to the dance floot. Then there is music to announce the bride and groom, special music for their first dance together, then skillful and artful transitioning to music for all guests to dance to. In between dance sets, there is a variety of walk-on music for the celebrants proposing toasts and making speeches. There might be ethnic music for special circle dances, and certainly lots more fun party music, often including special requests. During food service, the music softens to create a lovely dining experience. There are special moments where brides and grooms dance with their parents, and there are special songs for cake cutting. There are ways to use music to end the evening, or to transition to different types of after-parties. The music is constant, it is always changing with the moment, accommodating and underscoring whatever might be going on throughout the 6 or more hours of the event. During all of this, the bandleader needs to be thinking ahead, spontaneously planning the next moment, coordinating with the maître d or event planner, feeling the pulse of the crowd and at the same time conducting and leading the musicians. The musicians need to play well, look great, and keep it going for hours and hours. There is a lot of responsibility and quite a lot at stake. The success of the dance portions of the evening have everything to do with the “calls” that the bandleader makes; what songs are chosen, in what order, at what tempo. This is something that cannot be planned or decided ahead of time; because every crowd is different, every night is different, and what song might excite or motivate guests at a particular moment one night might either not work or need to be placed in a different spot on another night. The bandleader’s skill and intuition in reading the crowd is as important as his or her ability to lead the band. To take it a step further, the band must be completely prepared (well rehearsed, with each member having the skills and versatility needed to perform whatever the bandleader may be requesting, which is often a surprise.) Whew! Sounds like a lot, and it is!
All of these moments, every single one of them, has the potential to be impactful and meaningful; filled with emotion, overflowing with romance or bursting with exuberance and a sense of celebration. And on the contrary, we can miss the opportunity in all of these moments if the music just isn’t good enough, if the bandleader is not talented or skilled enough, if the band is not strong enough,
The Band vs. The Brand
Here is something interesting I just noticed. I have written 11 paragraphs, (1019 words) about music for your wedding, and I haven’t even really talked about “the band.” When clients begin the process of looking for music for their weddings, they believe they are searching for the right band. They want to see videos, hear tapes, see song lists, listen to the voices of the singers. And even though these elements are truly important, it is the concept behind the band (in this case, the STARLIGHT BRAND) that creates the blueprint, and it is the skill of the bandleader that brings it to life. People don’t realize this when they come in for their “sales presentations.” They don’t realize that the singers and the instrumentalists are carrying out the vision of the creative team behind the scenes.
I have come to think of the bandleader as a master chef (okay, a celebrity chef) preparing a special recipe. The dish will come out only as good as the ingredients being used (the performers), but it is the recipe (the concept behind the brand) that makes it unique, and the way it is prepared by the master chef (bandleading skills.)
One more point about how impactful the music is. It is important to remember that once your guests have arrived and have seen the beautiful décor, have witnessed the nuptials, and have experienced the “wow” moment of entering a ballroom that has been transformed by a master designer; his work is done, and then the “party” really begins. There are more than four hours ahead of us. The party becomes a journey. And that is when the bandleader really goes to work! There is a delicious meal to be served, and fine service to be enjoyed; and there is all the space in between with the potential to segueway from magnificent atmosphere into excited, joyful celebration. It is the music that energizes, that creates the ebb and flow; the rise and fall, that modulates the energy, that makes the party come alive. The music is the “whoosh factor” that has the capability of propelling the party like a shooting star throughout the night sky.
If that is not worth paying for, then I don’t know what is! Essentially I am saying that the better the music, the better the party; from the ambiance to the emotion to the flow to the fun.
Confronting your Fears
We may have all kinds of hesitations, fears, concerns about showing too much, making too much of a splash, not being sensitive to the current economic climate, etc. etc. etc. People project ahead and worry that others might over-scrutinize, think they “over-did it,” went “over the top.” But, in my experience, once your party is underway, guests are there and everyone is beginning to have a good time, you are no longer worried about many of the things that concerned you before. You just want your event to be the best it can be, and offer the best scenario you can for providing a festive atmosphere. That is when you truly realize how important the expertise of the music provider is: it is the one element that creates the MOTION! Once a party is underway, I have NEVER heard of anyone wanting to hold back, to be low-key, to be subtle. On the contrary, this is when you want the ability (and have the tools) to make magic!
And again I say, if that is not worth paying for, then I don’t know what is.