Booking the Band

Want your guests on the dance floor all night? The right band can get them there.

Photo courtesy of Andy Kushner Entertainment.

Your wedding day is a sacred day in the life you’re starting with your significant other. But let’s be honest, it’s also one big party! If you’re like most couples, you hope your guests will drive away saying that was the most fun they’ve had in a long time. What’s one sure-fire way to make that happen? Find a good band. If you’ve decided to go with a band instead of a DJ but you’re not sure how to pick the right one for you, help is on the way. We asked local music man Andy Kushner of Andy Kushner Entertainment for his top tips for booking the best band.

Know your party atmosphere. Think about the atmosphere you’d like to have for your wedding celebration. Is it an elegant affair with an emphasis on food, conversation, and music in the background? Do you prefer an all-out dance party in which music is the focus? Or perhaps you’d like a combination where the party begins with toned-down music and after dinner the band cranks up for dance music. And what styles of music do you prefer? Once you’ve created your vision, it’s time to look for a band.

Research the bands. In recent years, it seems that bands are booked four to six months in advance. However, the more popular bands can easily be booked as much as a year in advance. Determine your budget, and seek out referrals not just from friends but from industry professionals who regularly hire or work with bands. Consult event planners; caterers and salespeople from venues; and vendors such as photographers, videographers, lighting companies, and independent caterers. These people have probably seen it all and know not just which bands sound and look good but also which ones truly understand how to work with a wedding crowd. Look through bands’ promotional material and get an overall feel for them, although referrals and word of mouth should be of utmost importance. If you’re concerned about having the exact same band members who were there when you hired them, know that there’s turnover as in any other business. The key is that they have a consistently good reputation and that the bandleader, who sets the tone for the band and party, is well respected.

The contract. Entertainment contracts are fairly similar with boilerplate terms and conditions. However, make sure you fully understand them and that your particular concerns and requirements are clearly addressed. This includes the specific amount of performance hours, location, the price of any additional musicians added to the core group, and other included services—such as musicians for your ceremony and cocktail hour. Negotiate a predetermined overtime rate—in 30-minute increments—in case you decide at the last minute to extend your party.

Song list. Understand that there’s typically time for 25 to 35 songs, depending on the length of the meal, toasts, and other rituals such as the cake cutting. Try not to micromanage your band’s set list—instead let the group know the styles of music you prefer and if there are any songs from its list that you really want it to play. Trust your band to know its strengths and to be able to read the crowd and choose the right songs at the right time. As for special songs, such as first dances and father/daughter dances, most bands will learn one or two song requests that aren’t on their song list as long as you discuss them as least 30 days ahead.

Schedule of the party. Normally, timelines are created by your planner or the catering director of your venue, taking your input into account. However, I recommend getting your bandleader’s opinion before the timeline is finalized. Often, he or she will have suggestions to help the overall flow of the party. It’s also important for the band to be aware of the specifics prior to its performance so that it can be fully prepared. Some key issues include whether to have dancing between courses and how many breaks—if any—the band will have. “Continuous” doesn’t mean having the entire band onstage performing the whole night but rather rotating some musicians during prescheduled times, such as during the meal, cake cutting, and dessert. Some bands prefer to have full breaks during these times in order to refresh themselves and possibly change outfits. When this occurs, it can play a CD, though I often recommend that the bride and groom create a CD with some of their favorite songs that aren’t in the band’s repertoire.

Overall, you want a band that has the ability to set a tone reflecting your vision for your party. The cliché “enthusiasm is contagious” is absolutely true. Ultimately, our job as entertainers is to help facilitate one of the most important and special celebrations of people’s lives. A good band understands this and considers it a pleasure and honor to be a part of so many people’s special moments.


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