Coordinating Killer Music for an Outstanding Wedding

So you have finally landed your first gig playing at a wedding. You are part of an ensemble and you are the one gathering information and coordinating music for the ceremony. You want to create music the wedding party will always remember Their experience with you will make an impact whether you are a viable and legit musician. How do you start? 

​1. Your attitude is of a servant.

You are to represent them and serve them. You are to provide a service. Make it the best experience possible for the party hiring you for. Ask questions, Find what they want. If they don't know what music they want, then suggest and have music available. Make yourself available by text, phone and email during the whole planning process. I touch bases every week with the hiring party when I plan a wedding. If they have a complaint I acknowledge it and ask what I can do to fix it. If they apologize for complaining or altering a plan,even last minute, I remind them I am to provide the best service I can for them and ti is totally fine. I do not show any evidence of being bothered in my voice or expression when I plan a wedding.

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2. Music details.

 

You should have a large collection of music available for a wedding. Categories of music I have with my ensemble are as follows;

1. traditional/classical wedding music 2. music from the Baroque period 3. Showtunes/Movie themes 4. Celtic 5. fiddle/bluegrass(we are a strings ensemble and we have played at a country western wedding)6. jazz 7. big band.I would suggest you have at least 4 hours of music available; our largest weddings have requested we play for 4 hours.

Another way to help you plan music for a ceremony is to understand how a ceremony is laid out and how you as a musician would provide your service. In my experience, I have been asked to provide prelude music, ceremony music. and postlude music. Prelude music is provided before the ceremony. This could be a few minutes as guests arrive and seat or it might be during a pre-ceremony meal. Postlude music might be for a few minutes as guests depart or might include music for the bride and groom's opening dance following the ceremony. And ceremony is music played during the ceremony. An important thing I work out with the hiring party is whether music during the ceremony is to end at specific events within the ceremony or can be played to the end. For example, your bride chooses Canon in D while she walks in. Does she want the piece to play to the end after she has arrived or does she want the music to conclude as she arrives? To plan for this I ask the hiring party details about how long the walk-in path is in approximate feet or yards, from the time the bride departs to when she arrives with the groom. I have had ceremonies where the walk-in distance was a hundred feet and i have had ceremonies where the walk-in distance was a few hundred yards. Also, ask similar questions about the distance the bridal party comes during the ceremony and how many are in the bridal party. I have not had to show at any rehearsal to get this figured well. Also, ask the approximate time it takes for the bridal party to come down the aisle and the time needed for the bride to come down the aisle. It is not uncommon for elements of a ceremony to be timed to coordinate music with that element of the ceremony. By asking time and distance you will not need to show up at a dress rehearsal 

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3.Wedding Coordinator​

 

Ask if the wedding party will use a wedding coordinator. Some parties will use a paid coordinator and some parties will use a family member. When you ask if there is a coordinator, some parties will not be familiar with a wedding coordinator. Knowing if the coordinator is a family member or a professional will help you find the coordinator when you show up to play music that day. Many times the venue hosting the ceremony provides a coordinator and then asking any of the employees at the location when you show makes it easy to find your coordinator. If it is a family member it may be a little harder to find your coordinator.

The coordinator represents the wedding party to you while you as the music coordinator represents your ensemble to the wedding party. When you arrive the bride and groom will be busy getting pictures taken, getting dressed, and will not be available to set up your group or help you get everything ready for the ceremony. Similarly, if the wedding party has any questions, the coordinator will be able to ask you and you can relay the information to your ensemble members. 

4. Pricing & Financial

 

Always quote high so that final price can be what you said or lower. Figure your base rate or charge per hour or charge per musician rate, and if the wedding party requests more hours, reduce the rate of the additional hours. In summary, the more hours a wedding party requests means additional hours should be charged less. Obviously circumstances will vary and you may choose to keep the same rate regardless of hours, but this is what I choose to do. Sometimes in planning music for the wedding party, the wedding party may not know their exact budget and you may not know available musicians untill time comes closer. If there could be any questions in regard to cost or exact number of musicians available, work out all possible prices and costs that could be possible depending on musicians available ahead of time and put it in writing so that when the wedding party decides the budget, then what you provide as a musician is as previously discussed.


5. If the wedding party doen't know, guide and suggest

 

You will plan ceremonies with people who know nothing about music nor where to start. Find out what mood they might want your ensemble to set. Is there a favorite song? Is there a certain style of music the wedding party would like. I have had weddings where the wedding party had no idea where to start and I set up classical wedding music for them. I have had ceremonies where they knew what music they wanted for the ceremony but did not know what to do for prelude music. Finding what mood is desired before the wedding will help you choose music for the prelude. The customers have always been pleased and tips often come. 

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6. Professional

 

Make yourself available to whomever you plan the ceremony with. You will often be starting the planning of the ceremony three months ahead or more. Make your phone, text, and email available for this person. Use any social media available. Be prepared that this person may not get back to you as much as you might like to get things coordinated. Do not express any frustration to them, but remember rule number one. You are a servant providing a service in which you are being paid. Let your attitude and voice express that you are providing the best service you can for them. If you need to express that their lack of communicating to you has made it hard to plan, express it as a fact and then ask how you might help them communicate easier with you. You will find most times the planner is just busy with life.

During the last four weeks or so before the ceremony I make verbal contact with the person I am planning the music ceremony with at least weekly. Discuss when your ensemble arrives. Our musicians arrive at least an hour early. Discuss how you will handle bathroom breaks with this person. If you are playing at an event for several hours, then make sure you have music and musicians playing while one musician at a time is using the bathroom. Have the music needed for the ceremony available to all musicians ahead of time, so they can get their music together for the day of the wedding. This list will list the music in the order it will be played. You may get an outline of the wedding ceremony where you write in what song is played where for your co-musicians. Is a canopy available if it sprinkles while musicians are playing. If not, should your group purchase one? It is common to request the wedding party provide water for the musicians. Make sure and request chairs.

One area I go over with the person I do initial planning with has to do with the music details, the wedding coordinator, and starting specific musical pieces at the right time. It is not uncommon for the bride to be out of view of the musicians which means the musicians need to be cued as to when to start the music for when the bride starts her walk. Sometimes other members in the wedding party who come in before the bride may also be out of view and the musicians need to be cued. Bring this to the attention of the person you plan the ceremony with.

Do not let the person you plan the wedding with get lost in communicating. In the process of planning I will not tell this person to call another person in our group, without telling that other person in our group that the guest will be calling her too. I take it one step further. I contact the other musician in our group and ask she calls the guest and follow up. I tell the guest if he or she does not hear anything in a few days, to call me back and let me know. In a few days I touch bases with the guest I am coordinating music with. 

7. Contract & Signature

 

Will you use a contract? Will you create your own or will you purchase a general contract. If you play occasionally, and you don't have a contract , then write a summary of what you are providing for the agreed upon fee, with a place for date and signature. You will need to decide if you want a deposit for the ceremony or not, and need to include that in your summary or contract.


 8. Arrangements written for the wedding

 

With our ensemble, one of our members can write arrangements for the wedding if we cannot find the piece available for purchase. Do you charge for any arrangement requested? Is one arrangement included in the wedding? How much notice does the person writing the arrangement need to get it ready?

Our member has a hard time saying no to a request of arranging music. If she coordinates the music, she often puts 2 to 3 pieces together for a wedding and spends several hours at it, with no cost to the wedding party. When I coordinate music I charge a fee for an arrangement which is paid to the one arranging and have the one putting together the arrangement talk with whomever I am planning the ceremony music with to work out if there is enough time to create the arrangement.