Finding a safe, viable career performing music is no easy task. While it might not be the first choice for every aspiring musician, one way to make a decent bit of money from gigging is to start your own wedding band.
It takes a bit of time to get your wedding band off the ground, but for me it was an obvious choice–starting up a professional gigging band, such as a wedding band, offers a better guarantee of regular income than you might have with your original music.
Why do most musicians start or join wedding bands? The money. Unlike an original band, you don’t have to worry about how many people are coming through the door or how well you promoted the show. Once a wedding band has established itself it can have gigs booked a year out, all with guaranteed money.
And the money is good! As a wedding band you can expect to charge anything from $1250 upwards per show. Even in times of economic downturn there are still a lot of people willing to spend big money making their special day a memorable experience.
To run your own wedding band, you need to think of it as a business enterprise that will need a little bit of time and money invested up front before it pays off. It is, however, a rewarding career choice both in terms of the money and the people you meet. Finishing a night’s work knowing that you’ve helped make someone’s big day an especially memorable experience is rewarding in itself.
This article aims to help you set up your own wedding band and give you advice on how to run it as a successful, rewarding business.
Step 1: Putting together the band.
Like any band it is important you have a group of people that you work well with together musically but what is hugely important in this field is having a group of professional minded people that can look and act the part and not jeopardise future bookings (see 5 Traits of a Professional Musician).
All of you will be representing the band on and off stage so having a group of people that look and act accordingly is key to your success. From my experience the two biggest pitfalls that wedding bands face are having someone that feels they are above manual work or having members that you would be worried about talking to wedding guests.
As well as being able to play well together it is worth considering how each member can contribute outside of their duties as a musician. Think about what everyone can bring to the table to cut down paying additional crew – is someone in the band quite business minded? Do you have a marketing wizard that could make your self-promotion stand out? Can someone act as a sound engineer? Do you have enough drivers/cars or someone with a van? Without these, the journey ahead will be a lot harder if not impossible.
You will be expected to be a self contained unit so can’t rely on crew that a venue might ordinarily provide. It will make all of your jobs a lot easier if everyone pitches in on unloading gear and setting up.
The best wedding band jobs I’ve had in are when everyone contributes in their own unique ways and gets along. Having a group of people you actually like spending time with is important and avoiding infighting can be the difference between this being a rewarding lifestyle career and another day at the office.
Step 2: What will you need?
One of the biggest problems you will face on setting up a wedding band is having the capital to get all of the equipment you’ll need to go out and gig. One solution to this is going out and playing some bars as a cover band when you’ve got a set together and using some of this money to fund it. Not everyone has the money up-front to cover these costs and if you want to avoid using a credit card / loan this is a good solution that will mean you won’t have to worry about debt before you’ve even started.
As a basic set-up you will need professional quality instruments and gear, a PA system capable of handling large venues and enough lighting to make sure you’re well lit when a venue doesn’t have these facilities.
Often the places you play aren’t designed for bands or will be located far away from any music hardware stores so remember to bring a spare of everything you can and plenty of power extension cables and multi-sockets with a decent fuse on them in case there aren’t sufficient power supplies at the venue.
Think about your set up as a mobile stage that can be easily transportable and can set up in as minimal time as possible. In this line of work I have played venues from teepee’s to large scale halls and often you won’t know what to expect until you arrive so it really doesn’t hurt to be over prepared.
A lot of venues (especially at corporate events or though booking agents) will want to know that all of your electrical equipment has undergone all of the necessary safety checks and that you are covered for public liability insurance so it’s best to get this sorted as soon as possible to avoid losing bookings.
Depending on what sort of music you are playing and how you want to put yourselves across as a band this will differ in each wedding band but it is important to dress right for the gig. Just look smart and try to look like you all belong together.
You will be expected to look the part and it is your choice whether you choose to go for matching outfits or try to fit into a visual theme. It is important that you are dressed formally but set yourselves apart from wedding guests/waiting staff.
A lot of wedding bands opt for matching colour themes, but there is no rule of thumb. Check out what other bands are wearing and think about bands that stand out in your mind for how they look (Temptations, Bruno Mars etc…).
Picking a visual theme that works for your band can make all the difference, especially on agency sites where people are browsing a variety of groups.
Step 3: Coming up with a repertoire.
Choosing your repertoire will depend on what sort of band you want to be. There are a huge variety of bands that people book for weddings such as jazz trio’s, big bands, pop covers.. so it is up to you to decide whether to want to cover a niche market or try to cater for everyone.
Unless your wedding band is playing a specific genre and you feel that your set will meet the expectations of this you are going to want to try and cover all of the bases. Most wedding bands will have a style that they play in but try to keep everyone happy. There will be a broad age range so it helps to have a few from each popular genre – 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, disco,some light rock classics and try to throw in a few recent chart hits for the kids!
You will be booked largely on the basis of what type of music you play so be careful to monitor which songs go down well with crowds and consider learning songs that are popularly requested.
If you’re largely out of touch with pop music, try asking a younger friend/relative or keep an eye on the charts for songs you think your band could do a good job of.
What some bands do is offer the client a song request of their choice if booked far enough in advance. This can be really useful for first dances or for songs that hold a sentiment to the newly weds and can make quite an impact if played right and make it all the more memorable for the client.
When it comes to learning the songs it is rare that the band will follow charts so being able to improvise and have a good rapport with the rest of your band will make your lives a lot easier and cut down on practice time. Considering how many songs you’ll need to learn, especially in the first few months before you’ve got a set, you’ll probably want to spend as little time in practice room as possible.
Successful, well functioning wedding bands I have been in in the past have discussed songs together, picked a key that works best for the singer and then learnt the songs in our own time. Practice time can then be spent productively once everyone knows the songs and is largely time to try out putting songs into medleys or adding exciting motifs to the music to make the show memorable.
If you have a prominent musical director type in the band they might have their own ideas for arrangements and each band will play songs in a unique style to themselves as you are trying to make a wide spectrum of music sound good with one set-up.
Some bands choose to learn songs exactly as they are on record while others favour fitting them into medley’s with other songs or doing their own thing with them. How you decide to approach this will affect the product you’re trying to sell, as some bands rely on authentic and true-to-record versions as a unique selling point.
It is unlikely that you are going to be passionate about every song you play so it might help to try leaving your personal feelings towards music at the door. By the hundredth time you’ve played any song you will feel relatively indifferent to it but it is important from the audience perspective that it looks like you’re enjoying every moment like it’s your favourite song.
Step 4: Booking gigs.
First and foremost, when you’re up and running and ready to get gigs, you need to think about booking from the perspective of somebody planning a wedding.. typically the bride. While I often pick up weddings from playing bars and club nights, many brides-to-be don’t want to dedicate a lot of their time to watching different bands as they have a lot of other things to think about and entertainment might not be on the top of their list of priorities.
You might consider paying money for advertising in wedding magazines, websites or wedding planning phone app’s. Some of these will cost you so are worth waiting for later down the line when you have the dollar to fork out.
There are booking agents that you can audition for / apply for but from personal experience these are not to be relied upon for consistent work. They will also take a generous commission and you may find that it is better to think of these as a way to fill the occasional date rather than use them as a long term solution.
Wedding expo’s are another route to take although again, will depend on some money up front to be there. This can take a few different forms from playing occasional slots during the day to sitting at a table with a display talking to potential customers. This is where a full on charm offensive can be of utmost importance and often serves as a fantastic opportunity to network with other wedding related businesses who may choose to promote your wedding band through their own work (e.g.- recommending your band in bridal wear shops or putting a link to you on their website in return for the same).
This is a huge industry to itself though, and while it will cost you to be there it is a rare opportunity for a captive audience of wedding planners to take an interest so use each second you’re there to push yourself and chat with people. Even if you don’t get as many bookings as you’d hope for it will help you get into the mindset of your client and understand what people are looking for in a band.
Having a strong online presence is important as many people will do the majority of their wedding planning online. So get yourself a website made, don’t overwhelm the viewer with information just tell them what package you offer, what sort of music you play and try to provide some pictures/audio clips of you playing, any other media is an added bonus.
Equally, social networking sites and free ad sites can be a useful tool for directing people towards your band. There are plenty of sites out there that will advertise on your behalf for little to no money so try and be creative when you’re writing the description for your band to make you stand out.
You should try and get a testimonial from each gig you play and put these on your website and it is useful for clients to see whether paying customers feel that they got their moneys worth.
Generally, wedding bands are booked far in advance of the day itself so when you start out you shouldn’t expect to be playing any high paying gigs for a while. It is important to manage your diary effectively and plan up to 2 years in advance but putting in the time will pay off in the future. Use this time to play more immediate gigs, it will help strengthen you as a band and make sure you’re well practiced in a live scenario before you’re asking for serious money.
Step 5: Managing the business.
While there are obvious benefits to playing music that people already know and love and a decent wage at the end of a night, it’s important to remember that like any other business you are going to need to give it a lot of attention to keep bookings coming in.
When you have some gigs booked, there are a few things to think about and plan ahead to make sure the day goes smoothly. Think about how long will it take to get to the gig and when you are going to be able to set up and sound check. You might be left with a tight schedule to do this if guests are arriving early or the venue is being used earlier in the day so don’t turn up a few hours before you’re due to go on and expect that people can work around you.
It’s worth taking into consideration that there are also additional things to budget for like new gear, food costs and transport costs.. all of these things mount up so try and keep some money in the bank if you can and always try to keep some money free in case of emergency. If an expensive piece of equipment breaks down you will need to be able to cover hiring gear if you aren’t otherwise able to borrow any.
When you are negotiating a price with the client it is best to have a clear price structure in mind beforehand; often people will try to get away with charging as much as possible and the client will smell the BS a mile away.. look at how much other people are charging for what you’re offering and try to give a fair price for what you offer.
Offering a range of packages to suit the clients needs
As well as the wedding band itself, you might want to consider offering a range of different packages in different price ranges; these can include:
- Offering a DJ service in addition to a band – often the client will want to book the evening’s entertainment in one package rather than pay for a band and a DJ separately so if this is something you can provide then it’s seriously worth considering. Even if it’s just a laptop with a good range of music some people will be more than happy with this, just be honest about what you’re offering up front.
- Incentives for booking early – this will help to encourage clients not to hold off until the last minute and secure you bookings for the future.
- An acoustic set for reception/meal – this can be a really nice extra touch if you want to provide some light dining music before your main set and can make you a talking point before the evening begins
Setting aside a marketing budget and using it wisely
To be more efficient with your marketing budget it’s best to keep track in the first year of how you’re getting each booking which will help you determine what is the most effective way that works for you. You can analyse this in your second year and help you plan a more focussed strategy with minimum waste.
One way to do this is by keeping a spreadsheet so that you have a clear record of what’s working for you and what you could spend less on in the future. It’s all about figuring out what works for you best but once you have a more refined strategy you will find it this a lot easier.
Playing in a wedding band is all about delivering a great experience for the client. It is natural for a lot of wedding band musicians to feel like they are selling their soul a bit by playing cheesy pop covers but you are aiming to provide an evenings entertainment that will cater for as many people in the room as possible.
Keeping your ego in check is important as well, as nobody wants to hear a rip-roaring guitar solo and the focus is going to be very much on the bride and groom. It’s not to say that you can’t stand out or offer something truly memorable but bear there are limits (http://youtu.be/KaZdQtwkQfg) so do what you are paid to do.
Word travels fast in this businesses and it is often the case that when someone is getting married, they will have friends doing the same before too long. Making a good impression at one gig can lead to further bookings so it is important, even if you’re just playing a bar, to look like you’re having the time of your life. Reputation is everything.
Finally, I’d say that the most important tool you can have in playing in a wedding band is a good attitude. Try to approach the band from a customer perspective and find creative ways to showcase what you do. Being a solid, exciting band that people will remember is important but you will find that the relationships you build by being a professional and reliable character will go a long way to ensuring your success.
And smile, always smile. It’s their special day.