Everyone hires a DJ for wedding receptions and special events. Do something brash and hire live musicians. Here’s how you do it.
Ask your wedding planner, the venue, a party planner, your friends and your family for recommendations. Call music schools, especially if you want classical players or mellow background music. Google the kind of music you want followed by your city: “bluegrass, Kitty Litter Montana.” Entertainment agencies can help. Try sites like Gig Salad or Gig Masters. Maybe you’re already a fan of a local band that’ll do special events. Don’t hire cousin Bob because he’ll play for free. You might get what you pay for.
Ask where you can hear clips or see video of live performances – don’t rely on studio recordings. See them live if you can.
Contact two or three bands/solo musicians. Ask their fee, what kind of music they do, how many members/instruments, the list of songs they perform, their availability, if they take requests and if they’ll let cousin Bob sing a song. The answer’s probably “no” on the latter. Your guests will thank you.
Seal the deal
Choose the musical act you like the best. Put everything in writing – date and time to play, pay, song requests and venue. Is a meal included? What attire are you expecting? What is their cancellation policy? What is their contact information? Do they require a deposit? What equipment do they bring (amps, mikes, lights, stage)? What equipment do you provide? Some will learn special songs but it may cost you more.
Don’t assume anything. Negotiate all of the details – do you want them to emcee? Play only background music? Play only dance music? Play only songs cousin Bob knows?
A contract that both parties sign is best although printed emails may work. The bandleader should have a copy and so should you.
A few details
Musicians need a break about once an hour. Some will play recorded music during their breaks but you should ask to make sure.
Don’t be surprised if they ask for a minimum rate even if you just want a couple of songs. They still have to drive out and set up. Sometimes it still means being at the venue for a couple of hours.
If you are providing equipment make sure it’s everything they need. A mike from a DJ set-up or a speaker’s podium will not work. Be wary of systems that come with the hall – more often than not, they’re only suitable for speaking and not for live music.
A stage is nice but not always required. Where ever you want them, make sure there’s room. Ask the musicians if you aren’t sure.
Don’t just hire the cheapest musicians. A $50 jazz guitarist is either lousy or 12 years old. On the other end of the spectrum, just because a band asks for $5000 doesn’t mean they’re the best. You can get a good idea of the going rate if you contact several bands.
It’s customary to add a tip, especially if they let cousin Bob sing.
Contact the bandleader or agent a couple of weeks before to make sure everything’s good to go. Confirm the date and time. Make sure they know the venue address, parking information and how to reach you or your planner the day of the event. Ensure that you know how to reach them on the day of the event.
Even cousin Bob will have a good time.
If you’re anywhere near Ottawa, Ontario, consider hiring my band Ottawa Valley Special for your party or wedding. We’re a four piece band that plays bluegrass and a whole lot more (French Canadian, classic country, folk, blues). Give me a shout here.
I hired live musicians for our wedding reception. We weren’t a dancing kind of crowd, though; I had a recorder and harpsichord group (which sounds pretentious, but it wasn’t, really). But the venue guy’s eyes bugged out, and he wrote down that we were having a tape recorder and harp…
Here’s another tip: invite the musicians to have cake or a drink or food if you can. I used to sing at weddings and was sometimes invited to the reception and sometimes not; I assumed that since my paid gig was the ceremony, then if I was invited to the reception, then I got to eat. But the musicians paid to play at the reception probably won’t get any refreshments unless you make it clear that they’re welcome to a glass of something and/or a plate, or have something sent over to them.
I agree, food is always appreciated by the musicians.
Great article, Jamie! Couldn’t add much more . . . and I agree 100% that if you feed your guests you should do the same for the musicians. We always include that in our artist contracts.
My experience with Gigmasters and other similar sites is that the clients tend to just take the lowest bid. This often discourages professional musicians from finding value in using those sites. And, as you point out, often you do get what you pay for.
If you can, it is best to get recommendations from someone who has hired the musicians before and, if they are performing locally, go see them live if you can. Stage presence doesn’t always come through on a recording (though video helps).
Thanks for the advice! It couldn’t have been timed better, we were just starting the planning of 50th birthday party and stumped as to what to do about music. I just got off the phone with a great musician that we found and hired from GigMasters. (I already told him to get there ready to enjoy the buffet dinner). Thanks again for all you do!
My pleasure. Thanks for having live music AND feeding the musician.
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