I’ve played many dozens of wedding ceremonies over the years and I was recently a father-of-the-bride myself so I know that while weddings are joyous occasions they are also a time of some stress for the those planning the event. Here are a few things I’ve learned. If you happen to be asked to play a wedding, or perhaps are planning one yourself and want things to go smoothly I hope this will help. Or put another way, learn from my mistakes!
The wedding planners and various books on the subject will say to book the music at least a year in advance. This is a good idea because it gives everyone plenty of time to plan and quite frankly, dealing with the bigger issues such as food, the facility and unending small details will be higher on the list of important issues than the guitar player at the ceremony. But don’t be surprised if over the course of that year the bride changes her mind about songs she’d like. To minimize this somewhat annoying tendency I have a special CD that I send to the bride and groom with some nice arrangements of a dozen or so well-known songs and suggest which work best for the processional and recessional. Alas, this strategy doesn’t always work and there is often a “special” song that the bride would like to use for walking down the aisle. That’s OK, it’s important to be flexible. Just give me enough time to arrange and learn it – don’t email me a week before the ceremony with a new request!
As with any other one-time business arrangement, be sure to get something like a contract with all details clearing laid out. Always, always, always ask for a non-refundable deposit to secure the date. If you’re lucky enough to get a good reputation for providing good music for wedding ceremonies you will get quite a few inquires and a deposit is standard. It should be in the range of 25% of the total fee.
If you’re expected to do a rehearsal, add about 50% to the cost of doing the ceremony alone. At the risk of sounding crass, time is money so don’t short change yourself! Base your fee not only on the time you’ll be expected to spend at the wedding and possibly the rehearsal but also your travel time. In a few cases I have even been offered overnight accommodations for doing weddings that involved a lot of travel. I am not going to discuss actual fees I charge but suffice to say, unless I am playing a wedding of a relative or good friend, I make it worth my while. Don’t be embarrassed to ask what you think you’re worth and if possible, network with other musicians in your area to determine the going rates. Believe me (again, speaking as someone who just walked his daughter down the aisle), weddings are expensive propositions these days and the bride and groom, or whomever is writing the checks expects to pay a reasonable fee for all services involved with the event.
Be prepared for almost anything when it comes to the service itself. I recently played a wedding (a casual outdoor affair) where it was immediately obvious that no one had thought through details like the order of entry for the mother of the bride, grooms parents or the wedding party itself. Compounding the confusion was that the bride wanted different songs for the entrance of those various people. Also, the officiate was a family friend who had never done a wedding before. So I had to basically take over the organizational aspects of the ceremony – this was a time when it definitely was a good investment on their part to pay me to attend the rehearsal.
The other end of the spectrum is the bride who has thought through every tiny detail of the ceremony but at the rehearsal it becomes obvious that some plans just won’t work. This is when you need to be as diplomatic as possible to not ramp up the stress the bride is already feeling. Things work out. That should be your attitude. Even when the priest is downright hostile to you because you’ve invaded his church and are in his view taking a paid gig away from his organist!
A final thought. I’ve learned that at times the bride and groom go way overboard with music requests. I do my best to remind them that it is NOT a concert. Guests are there to be part of their very special day. The music should enhance but not intrude on the proceedings. I provide incidental background music as guests are being seated, then a special song or two for the entrance of the bridal party, then a recessional at the end of the ceremony followed by more background music as the guest depart. Occasionally I have provided back-up for a singer/friend of the bride and groom in the middle of the ceremony but frankly, I discourage this because it tends to break up the flow of the ceremony, and it means more rehearsal time with the singer, who may or may not be quite as wonderful as the bride and groom imagine. Again, time is money. Sorry!
Weddings are wonderful, special events. I know my daughter’s wedding was one of the highlights of my life. Guitar music is a natural and almost organic option to enhance the special day. The trick is knowing how to use it to its best advantage.
Peace & good music,