I am often asked by potential clients why there is such a huge difference in the quality of a band when the prices are sometimes very similar? My answer is simple. Some band leaders want the job so badly they are willing to tell the client anything they want to hear to get the contract. Some "high priced" bands may not be able to deliver the goods due to the size of the band (too small), the professionalism of the presentation (no tuxedo, questionable gear). Sometimes the sound of the band may not be the same as the demo you listened to eight months ago when you contracted the band. The rest of the answer is not so simple. There are so many bands out there trying to get your business that seeing the forest for the trees can be difficult. There is nothing so upsetting to a client than the realization that scrimping on the band (not just price but your evaluation of the band) has resulted in poor performance, no satisfaction among the families and a not so good time experienced by your guests. Sometimes it seems the only "good time" is experienced by the band leader when the balance check is handed over.

Let's go over what you need to look for when searching for the "perfect live music" for your wedding reception. Keep in mind when hiring a band for your families and guests that your goal is to please as many people as possible from your guest list using the same performers. Not an easy task. Variety being the "spice of life" it is also the spice of your chosen music. The band should be able to seamlessly move from a swing tune to a rock tune to pop and country, soul and motown then back again on a dime. Your cousin's garage rock band is probably not your first choice but neither is The Jonas Brothers. You have to find a happy median and be able to trust the band leader to deliver exactly what is in the contract. Here are some tips...

1. Meet personally with the band leader.

This can be done when you plan your vendor meetings. Notify where the band leader should go to meet you. The date, the time and the exact location. Ask during the meeting how long the band has been together, the venues the band has recently played and how many references the leader can supply.

2. Get those references!

Get names, emails and if possible, phone numbers for recent references. These can be parties the band has played, brides and/or grooms the band has been hired by and wedding planners and coordinators the band has worked with. Before signing anything with the band leader be sure you get as many answers as possible from these references. A "no answer" response should be considered a negative one. No one wishes to criticize the decisions they have made and sometimes will avoid answering reference requests simply because they don't want to re-live the negative experience. A single "no answer" should not be the deciding factor but if say five out of eight references refuse to answer you may wish to reconsider your choice.

3. See and hear the band.

Go to a performance of the band. Many brides and grooms do not mind the band's potential clients coming by later in the reception to see and hear the band. Try and visit a performance that will use the same amount of musicians in the band that you are considering. I play many gigs with a reduced size band. This can be a budget issue or a room size issue or for many other reasons. Just be sure the band you are going to see is the same band being proposed for your reception.

4. Be objective and reasonable.

If the band does not fit your needs do not hesitate to move on to another decision. I make bids and quote on as many as 10 possible gigs per week. From that my band may confirm one or two bookings. I do not take this rejection as a personal issue. I realize my band, because of it's size (up to eleven musicians) and the space we take up (a large stage usually) that we are not going to physically or economically fit all budgets. We are a variety band with four horn players, a four piece rhythm section, two female vocalists, two male vocalists within the band and two permanent road crew members. We supply PA, lights for the stage and the dance floor, a CD player and iPod connection for break music, we provide MC announcements during our shows, etc. In other words we are a full service, one stop shop for your live music. Sometimes our price and size is just too much for a potential client. I am realistic and reasonable with my clients and expect the same from them. Honesty is always the best policy.

5. Have a great time!

The key is music selection that is enjoyable by you, your partner, your families and your guests. The dance floor should be an extremely busy place during your reception. Encourage the bridal party (the maids and groomsmen) to get out there on the floor and get things going. To reach this happy median with your reception music you should closely scrutinize the band song list far in advance. Have the music list sent to you. Read over it closely. Cross out those songs you do not want played, circle your favorites and leave the rest blank as neutral. My band has over 300 custom arrangements that are actually read by my players. Everyone in my band reads music proficiently which increases the possibility of pleasing my clients when we get to the performance time. If a song list is not discussed at the vendor meeting be sure to ask to have the song list sent to you before signing the performance agreement. Know as much about the band as possible before making a commitment.

6. Secure your date with a reasonable deposit.

Do not pay the entire performance fee up front. A one third to one half deposit is the norm for booking a band for your reception. A warning light should shine as brightly as the diamond in your engagement ring if a full balance deposit is required. Be sure the deposit is to be fully refunded should the band cancel for any reason. By the same token if you cancel the performance for any reason the deposit is expected to be kept by the band leader. Many musicians and support crew commit to a date when you hire a band. If the date is cancelled by the client the band leader must cancel all these bookings, usually with a small payment to each band member for cancelling them. This is what I do, otherwise I lose the loyalty of my best players. It does not happen often, perhaps once a year but handling it professionally is the key to this and all other relations with both my players and my clients.

7. To tip or not to tip.

Tipping a band is not required and should not be a key factor in your decision making process. If the band leader continually brings up the tip leading up to the performance it is completely justified to ask them to stop bringing it up. The tipping decision is made by you, the family member who is paying for the band and of course the decision should be based on the performance. By the same token if you see the dance floor full, the band sounds great and the presentation is professional then by all means a tip is in order. Still, the decision is yours. No tip is alright too!

8. After the reception.

You should expect a thank you note from the band leader within ten days of the reception. You may still be honey mooning when the band leader sends this to you. Expect the band leader to request a reference from you. This can be a short statement that is placed on the band's website and demo material. Or just an email address from you that potential clients can communicate with you about how the band performed.

There are many other tips and information that will help you choose the perfect band for your budget, your families and your guests. But be sure you please yourselves with your decision. It's your day and should be fully enjoyable and worry free! Feel free to contact me through my blog with any further questions you may have. I'm here to help!

James Fenno
Band Leader
Original Recipe Band
Austin, Texas


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