The Complete Guide to Live Wedding Music

Written by    Last updated: May 24, 2016

Organising your dream wedding day is an exciting prospect for every newly engaged couple, but with an extensive number of options available at every corner, it can certainly feel like an overwhelming task at times: where to hold the big day, what style of dress, what theme and of course, what music? Wedding music expert Adam Mezzatesta of Bands for Hire shares his knowledge.

Harp wedding music by Bands for Hire |

Image courtesy of Bands for Hire

Music is a crucial part of the day for most brides (and grooms!) but if you haven’t been involved with event organisation or weddings in the past it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this article we’re going to look at the various points of your wedding day when you might like to consider live wedding music, the numerous different styles on offer and how to best organise your schedule and logistics on the day.

Assuming we’re looking at a fairly conventional wedding day there are four key areas that you might want to focus on: the ceremony, drinks / champagne reception, wedding breakfast and evening entertainment. That’s not to say you have to break the bank with a different act for each part of the day, many musicians and bands offer packages to cover multiple times of the day and your venue will likely offer recorded music through their system as well.

Ceremony Music

The ceremony is without doubt the most personal part of the day and so it’s important to choose wedding musicians who are open to performing your special song requests at those critical times. Whether it’s a solo harpist, string quartet or acoustic duo, each will have their own package on offer, however, I would recommend that you first consider what you’re after and ask for quotes based on your own specific requirements. As a general rule, you will probably want the following to be included:

  • Guest Arrival – 15-20 minutes of background music before the ceremony
  • The Wedding Procession – One song for the entrance of the bridal party
  • Signing of the Register – Two songs as the register is signed
  • The Recessional – One song as the bride and groom exit followed by guests

Most artists are happy to learn one new song per event due to the time and effort required to learn new material, however, if you have additional songs you’d like that aren’t in their repertoire, they will often be happy to learn these at an additional cost. It’s usually a good idea to mention this when enquiring to get the best deal and avoid any unexpected fees later down the line.

Piano wedding music by Bands for Hire |

Image courtesy of Bands for Hire

Drinks Reception Music

With the ceremony over it’s now time to (slowly but surely) usher your guests over to the drinks reception. At this point your guests will be ready for something to get them warmed up; a gypsy jazz band is always a sure fire winner or perhaps a contemporary acoustic band to get those toes tapping.

When considering your ceremony and afternoon musicians you might also like to note that it’s often more cost effective to book an artist that can cover both. With this in mind it’s important to think about the logistics; will your musicians need to turn up slightly earlier to set up in both locations before the ceremony? Will they need two PA systems or can the ceremony music be completely unplugged? The truth is that your musicians or live music agent will have been in this situation time and time again and will have their own preferred method of working so don’t be afraid to ask these questions prior to signing on the dotted line.

An afternoon band will usually offer approximately 2 x 45 minute sets to cover drinks and nibbles, if booking an act who provides PA system they’ll also provide music during their break so you won’t need to worry about awkward silences between sets. Whilst you may be concerned about keeping your guests entertained every second of the day, they’ll most likely be enjoying their time mingling under the hot British sun (er… hopefully). When the day comes you won’t want to be worried about your musicians so be sure to book through a reputable agency or ask your band for reviews before making your booking.

Wedding Breakfast Music

The options for your wedding breakfast are vast, just be sure that the music will be at such a level that you and your guests will be able to hold a conversation at a normal level. Solo harpists, string quartets and solo pianists are all popular choices for the wedding breakfast as they’re unimposing and purely instrumental. With that said, many solo singer / guitarists are regularly booked for the breakfast as well, it really does come down to your own personal preference and what kind of atmosphere you’re looking to create.

String quartet wedding music |

Image courtesy of Bands for Hire

Evening Wedding Band

When hiring a wedding band for your evening reception there’s a lot to consider, will set-up and sound check interfere with your wedding breakfast, what times will they play their sets, how long will they play for and what exactly is included in the price?

Most bands will quote based on an arrival time of around 5:30pm/6pm onwards. This means that if performing in the same room as the breakfast and speeches, they’ll be ready to start setting up as soon as the room is ready. Ideally they’ll be a bar or second room for guests to go during the turnaround but it’s not a disaster if this isn’t the case; set up takes approximately an hour or so and can be very quiet right up to the sound check which generally only takes 10 minutes or so. For an additional fee your band will likely be able to arrive prior to the meal to avoid any disruption. This is sometimes preferred depending on your venue set-up but can prove costly, essentially paying each musician an hourly fee for their time.

Bands for Hire |

Image courtesy of Bands for Hire

What times should the evening band play?

With the formalities over by around 7pm you may be keen to kick straight in with the band but that’s rarely a good idea. A wedding band generally offers two sets of around 45 or 60 minutes each so it’s usually recommended that the first set start at around 8:30pm or 9pm to ensure you don’t peak too early.

Below is an example of how you might schedule your evening but every wedding venue is different and may also have their preferred way of working:

  • 6pm – Band set-up / Room turnaround
  • 7pm – iPod playlist / pre-mixed music through the band’s PA system
  • 8:20pm – Cutting of the cake / First dance
  • 8:30pm – Band set 1
  • 9:30pm – Evening buffet and iPod playlist
  • 10pm – Band set 2
  • 11pm – iPod playlist for the last hour
  • 12am – Evening ends

This is purely a guide, you might prefer a 9pm start with just half an hour of recorded music at the end but it’s usually a fine balance.

One last point to mention is that all bands will provide music of some sort between sets and until midnight, this will generally be either a playlist on auto-mix or an iPod. Many bands will offer a ‘manned DJ set’ which will involve a member of the band DJ-ing from a laptop instead for a small extra fee, it’s often a cheaper option when compared to hiring a separate DJ and can be a nice addition to your evening.

Hopefully this guide has given you a number of things to consider, just remember there will be lots of experienced suppliers involved in your wedding so never be afraid to ask lots of questions!

With a wide variety of live music on offer Bands for Hire are certain to have something that fits the bill, from solo guitarists and harpists for the ceremony, to acoustic duos and jazz trios during the drinks reception, right up to the main evening wedding band.


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