Anyway…. I wrote about this subject a couple years ago but I think it’s worth revisiting. One of my students has been asked to play at a wedding ceremony in a couple months and she is stressing out about it quite a bit. I’ve played many, many wedding ceremonies over the years so we’ve been working on the tunes the bride has requested. I am playing one myself in a week or so and at least I have some idea what to expect. But there are no guarantees – I sincerely believe that many people go a little crazy when planning wedding ceremonies. This leads to some interesting experiences, to say the least! So, if you have been asked to play a wedding ceremony here are a few things to help you prepare and be ready to go with the flow. Which in spite of the best laid plans you will surely have to do.
As a recent father-of-the-bride myself I know what planning for that special day entails. I learned early on that the best course of action for a musician hired to provide music at a ceremony is to go to whatever lengths are necessary to make my end of things as stress-free as possible for all concerned.
This starts with (as gently as possible) convincing the bride that this will not be a concert, i.e., the music should not intrude on the event and draw focus away from where it rightly should be: the bride and groom. Or bride and bride, or groom and groom. Yes, the music should be a part of the ambiance, essentially just one component in overall setting. Unless some song has huge significance in the lives of the participants, no ceremony should stop so a song can be performed. Occasionally I will be asked to play back-up for a friend of the wedding couple who is a singer. That’s OK, I guess, but I still think it is a distraction. Also, this means rehearsal time.
And that gets to perhaps the stickiest issue of all. There is no way to say this without sounding crass: time is money. The more time I have to spend in rehearsal with others, whether it be a singer or the rehearsal of the ceremony itself, the more I have to charge. The more travel that is involved with doing the wedding (and the rehearsal if that is necessary), the more I have to charge. If a particularly difficult and unfamiliar piece of music I must learn and perfect is requested, the more I have to charge. Sometimes I encounter resistance to these realities, which requires some serious biting of my tongue. I know for sure that I have lost wedding gigs because of this monetary reality but so it goes.
Speaking of rehearsals – is it necessary for the musician to be there? No doubt it eases the mind of the participants but an experienced professional musician will have sound files that can be forwarded or a CD that can be played while the wedding party rehearses who walks down the aisle. Having a professional wedding planner helps tremendously with this. But if the couple feels better having me at the rehearsal, I am happy to do it. The fee will be adjusted accordingly.
And how about the music itself? I have about a dozen nice instrumental arrangements of well known popular and classical pieces that work great for processionals and recessionals. It’s common however for the couple to request certain songs and I usually try to comply, within reason. I have had some VERY strange song requests for wedding ceremonies over the years, however. The wedding I’m playing in a couple weeks includes a couple in that category. I will paste a smile on my face and play them, because that’s what being a hired musician (hired gun?) is all about. I wish I could begin by announcing, “At the request of the bride….” But alas it doesn’t work that way – ha!
Here is a short list of must-haves if you’re going to play a wedding:
As much knowledge of the venue as possible. This will determine what you need in terms of sound reinforcement – and everything that goes along with that like extra extension cords, batteries for your tuner, extra mic cords and guitar cords in case one of yours dies. Be absolutely certain you have discussed access to a power source with the wedding planner or bride.
A music stand and a stool of some sort. If you’re playing an outdoor venue, be sure to bring along clothes line clips to attach your music to your stand so the wind doesn’t take away your music right at that crucial moment when the bride is making her entrance! And of course, double check that you have your music before you leave home.
I won’t get into specifics of equipment that I use but it helps to have stuff that sounds good but isn’t too heavy. There’s no telling how far you will have to carry your gear. There are some pretty good battery powered amps on the market these days, which make a lot sense especially for outdoor ceremonies.
Your guitar bag should always include spare strings, capo and digital tuner of course. Hopefully, you won’t need them.
Finally, be sure to arrive well before the event is to start so you can deal with any glitches, which as I said at the beginning there are almost sure to be. Do a good sound check before any guests arrive, factoring in the acoustics of an indoor venue or the weather in an outdoor one. Windy conditions require more volume, but be very, very careful in that regard. Few things are as much of a buzz kill during a wedding ceremony as feedback from an amp or PA system.
Weddings are some of the most joyful events in a person’s life and I do everything in my power to make the music frosting on the aural wedding cake, so to speak. If you’re going to play your first wedding, be prepared for just about anything and keep a smile on your face.
Peace & good music,