Live wedding music: a complete guide

Published by Claire Gould on

Tess and Tom at their marquee wedding in Swallowfied by Richard Skins Photography

This is a guest article from Bands for Hire, with header image by Richard Skins Photography

Choosing the right music for your special day is as important as any other aspect of your ceremony and reception. Not only do you want your favourite music as a couple to characterise this celebration of your new life together, but you also want music that all of your guests, young and old, will enjoy. Music is a highly personal experience – we all associate the songs we hear with different things, so you’re going to want to make sure the music you provide helps keep the joy and love your friends and family felt at your wedding alive in their memories.

This may seem like a tall order, especially if you’re new to event planning – after all, there are so many options vying for your attention all the time, so it can be hard to know where to start. Don’t worry – help is at hand! In this article, we’ll break down the various stages of your wedding day and suggest which live music acts would be the most effective and the most practical for these special moments.

Let’s assume that we’re looking at a typical wedding day, which can be split into four key areas: the ceremony, the drinks reception, the wedding breakfast, and the evening entertainment. Hold on – we’re not suggesting you need to shell out for a different act for each part of the day! Professional wedding bands are well aware of these key areas, and many of them offer packages to accommodate them. Plus, your wedding venue will most likely offer recorded music played through their system, so you’ll have plenty of options.

Music for Your Ceremony

As the most personal part of the day, this is where you’ll want the most say in what music is played. Whether you choose a solo harpist, a string quartet or an acoustic duo, your ceremony musicians will have their own package deal – but it’s always best to think carefully about how you want things to go, and mention this, along with any other specific requirements you may have, when you’re asking for an initial quote. In general, you’d want at least the following from a ceremony musician:

Guest arrival – 15-20 minutes of background music before the ceremony

The Wedding Procession – one song for the bridal party’s entrance

Signing of the register – two songs as the register is signed

The Recessional – one song as the bride and groom exit followed by guests

You’ll find that most artists are more than happy to learn one new song per event (that’s usually the limit, due to the time and effort required to master new material), so feel free to request your special song when you make your enquiry. However, if you have additional song requests, don’t be surprised if you’re faced with additional cost. The best way to tackle this is to outline all your requests and requirements early on to avoid any unexpected fees later on.

Music for Your Drinks Reception

Once you’ve tied the knot, it’s time get your guests over to the next key stage of your wedding: the drinks reception. By this time, they’ll be in the mood to celebrate – so you’re going to want some upbeat music to get their toes tapping, like a gypsy jazz band or a contemporary acoustic band.

You’ll probably find it’s more cost effective to book an artist that can cover both the ceremony music and the afternoon music. The only thing left to figure out here is the logistics – will your musicians need to turn up earlier so they can set in both locations before the ceremony starts? Will they need separate PA systems for both events, or can the ceremony music be unplugged? Fear not, as this won’t be the first time your musicians have been in this situation. They’ll have their own preferred method of working all figured out, so don’t be afraid to raise these questions before you seal the deal.

Most afternoon bands offer two sets, about 45 minutes each in length, which is usually enough to cover drinks and nibbles. If you’re booking an act that provides their own PA system, they’ll most likely provide recorded music through it during their break, so the fun never has to stop! And even if there is a lull in the music, your friends and family will be far too busy socialising to notice.

To save yourself from worrying about your musicians on your big day, book through a reputable agency – all their acts will have been through a stringent vetting procedure before being advertised. It’s always worth checking out reviews and recommendations too.

Music for Your Wedding Breakfast

There’s a vast range of options available for wedding breakfast music – just make sure the music’s kept at a modest level so your guests can still enjoy their conversations. Unimposing, instrumental music as provided by solo harpists, string quartets and solo pianists are all popular choices, as are guitarists and solo singers – it’s really down to what kind of atmosphere you’re looking to create.

Music for Your Evening Entertainment

There’s a little more to take into consideration when planning your evening entertainment, in terms of both the music and the logistics. What sort of band should I hire? Will set-up and soundcheck interfere with your wedding breakfast? What time should the bands play? How long do you need them to play for? And what’s covered by their price?

What sort of band you hire is of course up to you – but always ask if there are alternative lineups available. For example, you might be envisioning a jazz band – but the jazz band might perform as a trio, a quartet or even an octet or nonet. Think about the effect you want, and the band will be happy to discuss how this can be achieved with you, and how much each option will cost.

Again, we’re talking generally, but most wedding bands give their quote with a 5:30pm/6pm arrival time in mind. This will probably coincide with the breakfast and speeches – so, if possible, book a wedding venue with a bar or second room, as the band will start setting up as soon as the room is ready. It’s not a disaster if you’ve only got the one room, however – while set-up can take up to an hour, it’s mostly quiet, and the sound check rarely takes longer than 10 minutes. Some couples prefer to pay an additional fee for the band to arrive and set up before the meal – this can be costly, so be sure to make the enquiry before you sign anything!

The formalities tend to be over by roughly 7pm, and you may be tempted to jump straight into the evening entertainment – but in most cases it’s best to leave it a little longer. As a wedding band typically offers two 45 or 60 minute sets, it’s better to start the first set at around 8:30pm or 9pm – or you run the risk of peaking too early!

Here’s an example evening schedule – you might want to skip a couple of steps, or even add a few more:

6pm – band’s set-up
7pm – formalities end, iPod playlist through PA
8:20pm – cutting of wedding cake, first dance
8:30pm – band’s first set
9:30pm – evening buffet, iPod playlist through PA
10pm – band’s second set
11pm – iPod playlist through PA
12am – end of evening

A final thought – all wedding bands provide some form of music for between sets and up until midnight. This tends to be a custom playlist or an auto-mix on an iPod or similar device. Several wedding bands also offer their DJ services, a ‘manned set’ using a laptop for a small extra fee. This is often far cheaper – not to mention more convenient for you – than hiring a separate DJ.

We hope this guide helps you throw the wedding you’ve always dreamed of. And if you take just one thing away from this, we hope it’s ‘don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions’!

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Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.

1 Comment

Peter Haken · November 30, 2019 at 4:09 pm

The music is so important, my favourite is live Ceili festival style.

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