Sometimes people say that the way to decrease cost for music is to skip the live band and DJ entirely and just use a playlist from an ipod. I’m a bit-biased as the owner of The Music Dept – Home but this is more like cutting music than decreasing the cost. Perhaps equivalent to getting artificial instead of fresh flowers. Here are my four in-depth steps to get the most from your music budget:
- Choose one band/company to handle all of your musical elements on that day. Look for versatile and flexible artists to cover Ceremony, Cocktail Hour, and Reception. A single provider creates efficiencies that will save you money. Ask for reviews, check Yelp, and don’t rule someone out just because they don’t have a flashy website or video. Many of the best musicians for your wedding are too busy playing weddings to focus on their self-promotion and web presence. This is a referral based business, so trust in your friend’s reviews and the feeling you get from a phone consultation. I can often save a client lots of money if they are willing to go with a slightly older artist or someone who doesn’t have a video. People today feel reassured by performers with top promotional materials and glamorous Instagram pages. However, there are TONS of great people out there who don’t feel the need to “sell” a skeptical client because they are happy just working hard and making couples happy every weekend.
- The biggest drivers for the cost of a live wedding performance are preparation, expertise/experience, travel, and reserving the date (ie: turning down other opportunities that might arise.) Therefore the majority of the cost is built into the first hour. If you’re hiring a 6-piece band for the reception they can probably offer a duo for your cocktail hour for just a few hundred dollars. If you were to hire a String Duo that came just to play the cocktails it would certainly be above $500. There are also musicians that can lead the music for ceremony and cocktails while also DJing for the reception. The bottom line is that once musicians are at your wedding its in your best interest to have them play as many styles and hours as possible. This is an all around win because once the musicians are onsite, setup, and in-groove of performance they are happy to keep entertaining while earning more money for that date. With that in mind, I would be careful with anyone that gives you a fixed-flat hourly rate(ie: one hour $400; four hours $1600.) Its just not how the business works.
- Choose which of the three sections of the wedding(Ceremony, Cocktails, Reception) is most important to you and share this with your band/music agency. They can suggest the best way to utilize your budget. Here are some scenarios that can fit within a total of $2–3k:
- If you absolutely dream of having a String Quartet for your ceremony you can save money by having both the cocktail hour and Reception played by the DJ.
- If you’re crowd isn’t into dancing you can have a small and versatile band of top musicians cover all three sections(Ceremony, solo; Cocktails, jazz duo; Dinner and Reception; Quartet with One-Singer.)
- If you must have Greek Dancing at the Wedding Reception start your search for that specialty element and work backwards from there(eg: Greek Trio for Dinner/Dancing, DJ for cocktails and other parts of reception, Solo Musician from the Greek Band for Ceremony-if you don’t want Greek for the ceremony make sure he can play other styles.)
Lastly, the best way to save money is not to start by picking your dream band and then trying to negotiate them down to your actual budget. Music is a business like any other there are real costs for band(s), individual musicians, and agencies. There is a tipping point in negotiation at which the price becomes too low for the performance to be up to the usual standard. A reputable pro will walk away before things get to this point, but situations where companies will do anything to close the contract are a recipe for disaster(and nasty Yelp reviews!) Suppose that the keyboard player is working for 40% less than usual that day. So, he decides not to cancel that last lesson he teaches. He leaves a little later than the extra-conservative usual, hits some traffic, and he’s late for the ceremony. Or perhaps the DJ usually rents an extra high-quality wireless mic for a wedding in the super-frequency jammed area of midtown Manhattan. But with the negotiated price the rental cost is the difference between whether or not its a date worth taking, so the speeches are interrupted by static interference.
99% of wedding musicians will go above and beyond for their clients. This is a customer serviced based business and everyone is almost trained to say ‘yes.’ However, if the budget is tight and musicians are trying to over-deliver there can be a snowball effect where little details that would normally be addressed can go by the wayside and the success of the performance can be endangered. The blame for the situations above would rest on the musicians, but I’ve seen many situations(especially involving high-ticket bands and DJs) where an over-negotiating sales person leads to a booking that really shouldn’t have happened and in the harsh reality of live performance the little details that where overlooked can become glaring mistakes. Again, an experienced professional will recognize this danger and walk away or scale back the overall scope of the music services before committing to a wedding they can’t deliver with aplomb. However, couples should be aware of this potential pitfall if they drive a hard bargain for the lowest possible price a vendor will work at.
A budget should never prevent someone from having incredible music at their wedding. If both the couple and musicians are smart, resourceful, and flexible its really not that hard to enjoy incredible music throughout the wedding.