With everyone thinking more carefully about money these days, it may seem like hiring live musicians for your wedding is an luxury reserved for the wealthy.... when a portable CD player might do just as well! But if you have your heart set on walking up the aisle to the sound of a string quartet, or having a harpist serenade your guests during the meal, there are certainly ways to make live music more affordable, or to ensure that if you do book a professional group – you get the very best out of them.
Here are some top tips for making the most of your wedding musicians.
1. How many do you need?
Firstly think about exactly what you need – if you’ve only got 40-50 guests, do you need the volume of a full string quartet, or do your group offer a string trio or duo which would be equally as lovely, but cost much less? Many brides automatically think of a traditional string quartet, but if the group own a selection of music especially scored for duo or trio, this can be an original and intimate alternative. One thing to double check – is the music they’ll be using especially written for fewer instruments? Make sure this is the case because just using the quartet score with one or two parts left out will sound empty.
2. Dates and Times.
As with all wedding suppliers, for most musicians - weekend dates over the summer are in high demand and get booked up a long way in advance. It’s common for ensembles to implement a minimum booking time of several hours because after all, these are the busiest days of their year. However, on weekdays or for winter weddings, many groups are happy to play for a shorter period – so you won’t end up having to pay for a 4 hour booking if you only need music for a couple of hours (pre – ceremony, service and drinks reception)….. and perhaps you may be able to negotiate a special rate for say, a Tuesday afternoon in February – a day the group are unlikely to be busy.
3. Do you need them to play continuously?
Musicians get lots of enquiries from couples asking for 6 or 7 hour bookings, whereas actually they don’t need constant music played throughout the day – just at certain periods. If you would like music as guests arrive, for the ceremony and drinks – but then you’ll be off having photographs for an hour before the wedding breakfast, find a group who are flexible about what they actually charge for. Although some groups charge from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, there are lots of musicians who are happy to charge a nominal fee for ‘waiting time’ between periods of playing. That way, you could hire a group to play for 3 hours, but with two half hour breaks built in – stretching the time to a 4 hour booking overall. This saves money and also means you can make the most of hiring live musicians – there’s no point to them playing in an empty room while all your guests are outside being photographed.
4. Location, Location, Location!
This may seem utterly obvious, but do visit the venue with the estate agents mantra in mind! Think about where you’ll have you’re your players positioned so that they can be seen and heard. Raising a group up on a platform or small stage at one end of the room will always help the music to project more acoustically, and keep antique instruments out of harms way. Ask the venue to keep a space clear in readiness for them to play. On a few awkward occasions our group has been booked to play during a meal and found there’s literally no room for us – ending up in a corridor outside the reception room. Occasionally, a hotel have positioned us right in the middle of a room, but quickly realised that we’re blocking the path of all the waiters and tripping everyone up – so we spent 20 minutes of valuable playing time waiting for the hotel staff to move tables around and find us an alternative area . If you’re paying good money to have live musicians, you want to make sure your guests are able to hear and enjoy them.
5. Calling in the Amateurs
If you’re really on a budget, perhaps you’ve got friends or family members who might be happy to play something for your special day? Obviously they’re unlikely to sound as polished as a professional, or have such a wide selection of music but it can add a very personal touch to the wedding and any small mistakes or wrong notes are more likely to raise a smile than ruin the day. We’ve played for wedding receptions where the music for the ceremony earlier had been performed by the brides nephew and his trumpet, with one of the ushers accompanying him on piano! Of course, you can hire a professional group to entertain everyone later on if you need music for the reception – leaving your musical family members to relax and enjoy themselves with everyone else.
6. Longer bookings – better value.
Most of the time, musicians charge the largest part of their fee for the first couple of hours, just to make it financially viable to take the day off their paid orchestral work or cancel music teaching. The hourly fee then usually drops dramatically for further hours…so it’s better value to have them play longer once they’re there. Although it might be your dream to have an organist and brass quintet for the ceremony, then a flute / harp duo for the drinks reception, a string quartet during the meal and a live band at night followed by a disco, you’ll end up paying significantly more than if you’ve got the same people playing throughout. If you can find a group with a really varied repertoire, you may be surprised that they can produce a totally different sound and change the atmosphere at different times throughout the day. As an example, you could have classical music for the ceremony, light music, jazz or show tunes during the drinks reception, and pop / rock covers during the meal…… this will keep your guests interested and as you’ll be booking the same group of people to be there the whole day, it’ll work out much cheaper than hiring in (and co-ordinating!) 3 or 4 different sets of musicians.
7. Less can be more…..
Occasionally we’ve played for weddings where the couple seem to have had lots of inspired ideas but booked every wedding entertainer to arrive at the same time – this has obviously cost a lot of money. Imagine a harpist playing in the hallway with a quartet in the room next door drowning her out, a table magician performing card tricks, a singing waiter who bursts into song, a toastmaster trying to make announcements and someone else twisting balloons into animal shapes at another table. Save money and have just one or two things going on at once so that your guests can fully appreciate and enjoy each diversion in its own right.
Of course, when weighing up all the costs of a wedding, you may decide that you want to spend your budget elsewhere entirely and have recorded music…. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that one of the things guests remember most about a wedding is the entertainment. Fantastic live music during a reception will delight your guests and keep them talking about your wedding for months. The exquisite harp music as you walked up the aisle, or the string quartet who played a special request for your grandmother stick in the mind more powerfully than those carefully co-ordinated chair covers which matched the floral arrangements.
By Vaughan Jones – Violinist from the Manor House String Quartet – a group who play at over 100 weddings and functions every year.