For almost 9 years now I have conversed with couples about their wedding music. Over steaming cups of coffee illuminating their joyous faces, they look into my eyes and ask “ I was wondering… well… what I’m really hoping is to walk down the aisle to Canon in D. Can you play that?” I’m always both happy and a little sad over this interchange: happy because yes—we can and do play Canon in D with passion. Sad because I know that the fact that we do play the song doesn’t really tell this bride about our ensemble: because any musician playing for wedding ceremonies better have the most popular selection of the past two centuries hot on their fingertips…in reality these brides aren’t learning as much as they might think about their options. So what questions really do distinguish one company from another? Here are 3 points of discussion to ask the band leader & company owner that will separate passionate professionals from the musical vultures looking for a quick buck at your expense.
1. What is your musical background? Tell me about the other members of the ensemble. How do you go about adding new musicians to your ranks?
2. What types of music do you play? What instruments/combination of instruments do you offer?
3. Where do you get your music? Do you do special requests for songs? Do you arrange the music specifically for your group or do you play off of music from other sources?
As you listen to the answers to these questions, you should be able to tell whether the people have well thought out answers or if they are scrambling to make themselves sound competent. Beware the person who just gives a blanket yes without explanation and if money is a factor in your decision, be sure and clarify what additional costs might be involved in the various offerings. Many groups will arrange music but additional fees above the listed price may be involved.
While photos, flashy advertisements and even referrals are handy, you are hiring these musicians to play live music, so there is really nothing you can do that is as important as listening to samples of their music. I am simply amazed how many times I field calls from brides who want to know how much we charge without having heard our music. Most companies have audio samples on their websites as well as a CD they can send you to listen to. Don’t worry if you don’t see a sample of the actual song you want to have played—most musicians try to give a sampling of the various types and styles of music they specialize in—so for example, if you hear a Beatles tune, chances are pretty high that you could have a great rendition of the Beach Boys. You can also request things like “I’d love to have a fast version of Canon in D” or “I’d like Ave Maria with vocals instead of instrumental.”
Wedding advice columns often tell brides to listen to the musicians performing live before booking. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but keep in mind that the repertoire and even the conduct of an ensemble in a concert setting is going to be different from how they will be at your wedding. To cut right to the point, your wedding is about you and your relationship. Everything—music included should be aimed at drawing attention towards that. Imagine Lady Gaga performing at your wedding ceremony—while just perfect for millions of screaming fans in a stadium, it would be beyond awkward to have someone in a meat dress singing as you walked down the aisle! The music and the musicians should play in a way that focuses on you.
The bottom line is that you should not be intimidated about the process of finding great live music. Just because you might not play an instrument yourself does not mean you can’t tell whether something is beautiful. . .and you certainly can tell if you are being treated with courtesy and professionalism. Live music in the right hands will add the perfect soundtrack to the visual beauty and joy of your day!