Two people joining together in love is one of life's great gifts. Your wedding day is a milestone for you and your fiancé, but also for family and friends. The wedding will be a personal expression of who you are. Lots of hard work and planning will go into making the event "perfect." Some dream about this day from childhood, but rarely are they prepared for the many decisions involved with turning the dream into a reality.

The dress, the setting, the menu, the seating arrangements, the limo, etc. are all important details, but your band will play a vital role in shaping the lasting impression people take away from your special day. Will guests remember it as a fun party with family and friends mixing it up on the dance floor all night long, or will it be remembered as a party where everyone stayed seated or fled to the hallway? Your entertainment can literally make or break the party, so you should take special care when considering who to book for your event. I can attest to playing at many fun and memorable parties in places like Knight of Columbus and VFW Halls where the food and surroundings are not necessarily "Ritzy" but the party was a blast!

Your band will also be one of the larger expenses you'll incur. It's best to get as much info about them as possible beforehand to ensure you get good value for your money. The following are answers to some of the most common questions I encounter when working with couples who book my band.

Q:  How much do you charge?

A:  The cost of a band will vary depending upon how many musicians make up the band, the number of hours of the affair, the distance to the venue, and the time of year. 

The best bands are made up of members who play together in a set ensemble on a regular basis. A band will have a core of musicians that comprise the basic group. This usually consists of a lead male vocalist, lead female vocalist, keyboard, bass, drums, and guitar. Many bands commonly have a saxophone player and/or other horn section musicians as well. Most bands have some flexibility about the number of players, but will insist that the core group of musicians not be altered so as not to degrade their ability to perform at their best.

Receptions are usually four hours long, but many affairs also require a solo musician or small ensemble at the ceremony and/or the cocktail hour. The issue of overtime cost should also be dealt with in advance, as some parties just don't want to quit, and the band will need to be paid to stay longer. Overtime must usually be paid in cash, so adequate planning is a must.

Since most bands arrive for set-up two to three hours before the start time, distance to the venue is a major factor. If the band you like is based in Staten Island but your reception is in the Hamptons, it will become a much longer day for the band because of the commute, and will add to the cost.

Certain times of year are busier than others and a wedding in September will usually be more costly than one in February because of simple supply and demand.

Q:  What kind of music do you play?

A:  The answer to that one should always be "all kinds." Most weddings feature a wide variety of guests who are young and old. Any good professional wedding band should have a large repertoire with a variety of styles, from current dance music to swing and everything in between.

Q:  Can I request songs?

A:  Yes. Wedding bands should be open to learning special requests. The most common special requests are songs to introduce the bridal party, the first dance of the wedding couple, father and bride dance, mother and groom dance, and special ethnic dances like "The Horah" and "The Tarrantella." "Happy Birthday," dances with grandparents, and special anniversary songs are also common. 

No band can realistically learn long lists of songs for every affair, but should expect to learn at least the minimum discussed above. If your band is busy and has played together for a long time, there is a good chance that they already know many of your requests. Make a list in advance and ask the band leader if they know any of the songs you want to hear. It is helpful if the band can provide you with a song list to choose from and also make suggestions. A band will also appreciate a DO NOT PLAY list. If there are songs or styles of music that you do not want to hear at your party it's best to make it known beforehand.

A common mistake that couples make is a request like, "I don't want to hear anything but current club music at my wedding." This is usually a recipe for disaster. It will certainly alienate a large portion of your guests, and will limit the good vibes you're trying to create. A better bet is to give the band a general idea of the style of music you like (and dislike), and they will emphasize your likes at the appropriate times. The mark of a good wedding band is one that knows how to read the crowd and play the music that's making them dance.

Q:  Will you provide continuous music?

A: This varies from band to band, but most of the top shelf bands provide "continuous" music. 

That said, the band does have to work with the maitre d and staff in coordinating the various courses to be served and picked up. You may want to have high energy dance music playing non-stop from start to finish, but that will hamper the service flow and inhibit your guests from enjoying their meal. The policy of most venues is that courses cannot be consumed and cleared if everyone is dancing non-stop, so they will insist that the band adjust their sets accordingly. Listening music is played as courses are being served and eaten. Restricting dance music sets allows for a schedule to be met so that things like toasts, cake cutting, garter ceremony, special dances, etc…can also happen without hampering the flow of the meal. The dining music is usually handled by one or two musicians at a time, rather than the whole band. 

Q:  Do I have to feed the band?

A:  There is no requirement to feed the band, but most couples do. If you cannot afford the extra expense of a multi-course dinner, most venues offer a less expensive meal that you can provide. If you can't swing the extra cost of the meals at all, advising the band in advance will allow them to make it a point to slip into the cocktail hour for a bite to eat before the reception begins. 

Many feel that the cost of the band is considerable enough that providing a meal on top of it is excessive. That's understandable, especially in a tough economy. However you should consider that the band and sound company will arrive at the venue two to three hours before your party starts. They need to set up and make sure that everything is working, in tune and sounding as great as possible before guests enter the room. Commuting time to the venue is also a factor, as well as afterward when it generally takes a minimum of an hour to break everything down. That's an awfully long time to go without anything to eat, so if you want your performers to be at their best from start to finish it's a good idea to make some sort of provision for food. (Most bands greatly appreciate any provisions, be it a full course meal or a sandwich).

By Russ Paladino of Sound Image Entertainment