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Subject:  Hiring Musicians (written by a musician) Date:  9/26/2006  5:21 AM
Author:  pkpdjh Number:  1896 of 1961

Here's a bunch of ideas on saving money and time for music for your wedding. I am professional musician and have booked and played a zillion weddings. (However, I also have a day job, so I try not to do very many anymore.) I think if you know a little bit where the musicians are coming from, you'll be a lot better off. If you avoid agencies, you have already saved 50%.


The number one thing is trust the musicians about the music itself. They are pros. Frankly, they don't want to stress over every musical detail of your wedding, but they probably don't need to. They have probably considered more processional/recessional combinations than you have. If you know exactly what you want, tell them. That is great. If you're not sure, don't start a negotiation/wild goose chase. Let them recommend everything and veto anything that doesn't work for you.

If you are talking to a professional who is at least 26 years old, you should be fine. The only thing that you might want to watch out for is shady starving-artist characters. When you talk to them on the phone, it will be obvious. Some musicians run their business like slick corporations with fax machines, tax ID's, etc.. Others are more seat of the pants. But most know what they are doing, otherwise they wouldn't be surviving as musicians.


If you want live classical music (string quartet), call the nearest college with the best music school. Colleges usually have a "gig office" that doles out gigs fairly democratically. They charge a reasonable price, but there is no agency fee. College students don't want to screw up gigs from the gig office. That's financial suicide.

A string quartet can be nice for before, during or immediately after the service. If you want a little more intensity go with a brass quintet or quartet. If you are in a church and you can put them up in a balcony, you will feel like the Princess of the May. Outside

If you're really tight on funds but want to stay classy, it's probably easier to go with a string trio or an organist with a trumpet player.

Most jazz pianists have played more than enough classical music to convince 90% of your friends that they are a regular with the local symphony. Then there are fews guys (like yours truly) who can throw together a mean Wedding March and enough classical music to give you

If you have a back-to-back wedding/reception. You can probably get the pianist to show up early for under $100. Expect an extra bump if the guy has to set up a keyboard twice.


If you want live jazz, take your honey out for a night on the town of live jazz. Go to three clubs/coffee houses/whatever. Keep in mind, these guys are pros. They have probably played 1,000 songs or more in their life. They can probably learn just about anything you want. (Obscure pop tunes might cost a little extra and it's probably better just to play the recording). Ask the musicians if they do weddings, just in case they are day-job guys or university profs who have retired from the wedding scene. You want to ask the leader. If he was slick enough to land this gig, he can likely handle your wedding.

Most jazz guys can:

- completely program your wedding, including classical piano stuff for the service
- do all the announcing of the wedding party when you enter the reception
- play classic pop/rock/R&B tunes (be selective ...)
- play recordings of music for your favorite tunes through their sound system
- provide a PA (or hire another musician who can) for background music during set breaks, etc.

The size of the jazz group depends on three things:

- the size of your wedding
- the room where they will be playing
- how present you want them

The first thing to remember is jazz guys can always play quieter. If you want them to play a quiet dinner set and then rock the house while you dance the night away, that's fine. You can hire a piano/bass duo for dinner and add drums, sax and vocals to rock out. Here is the order I would add players:

piano (or guitar)
melody instrument (sax, trumpet, trombone, guitar)

It's a little harder for a group with vocals to be background music. You can skip the horn player and add the vocalist, particularly if there is a vocalist you really like.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of solo piano. Solo piano is really for concert halls and lounges.


If you want recorded music, the iPod and/or iTunes is your friend. (My personal opinion is 90% of DJ's are annoying, play the same music and have a tendency to forget that they are not the star of your wedding.)

Some DJ's are very good. The best bet is getting a DJ you heard at someone else's wedding. Otherwise, you're gambling.

If you want to do it yourself, see if you can find a friend who has access to a PA system. (A/V teachers, sales guys, whatever)


Never go through an agency if money is an issue. An agency generally doubles the cost of live music and doesn't really guarantee anything (I have seen agencies screw up more gigs than musicians). You also miss out on the fun of working with a truly awesome musician. In every major city, there are guys who are world class players who might be able to tell you what is was like to play with Miles Davis or Ray Charles. (I'm not one, but I can recommend some in Phoenix. ;) ) If you go through an agency, you could very likely end up with a band like the one in the Wedding Singer. (I've been there. We all have.)

After you have talked to a musician directly, call an agency and inquire about prices. You will feel like you are getting away with murder.


- Musicians do not expect to get fed, but it might be worth spending the money to give them dinner. I love calling up guys and saying, "Hey, we're making $$$ and we're getting to eat dinner." In my experience, if we get fed, usually everything else goes well.

- Make it clear to the leader what the policy is for eating, drinking, and drinking alcohol. I hate being the leader and seeing my sidemen head to the bar or appetizers not knowing if that is cool with the couple. Depsite the reputation, musicians will not raid your open bar. They will however be very appreciative of a nice glass of wine during the break.

- Musicians do not price things expecting a tip. If the guys do something special for your wedding, then I think a tip is fair.

- The best way to pay is to pay the leader all in cash. He may have had to pay one guy extra for bringing sound equipment or writing a chart on your favorite pop song.

- I don't really know what classical folks charge, but they have a different concept than jazzers. They are more about charging you a fee to show up because they general don't have 4-hour gigs.

- My general rule is $50/hour/musician. I live in Phoenix which is probably a fairly cheap market. I will charge extra if we need to bring special sound equipment for a huge room, if we have to learn extra tunes, or the person is just a big pain. Keep in mind, musicians only have so many Fridays and Saturdays per year. If they live in a cold weather climate, they have to cash in during the summer.

- You can ask musicians to play extra time if things are rocking, but you have to pay for it at about the same rate.

- If you live far from a major city and need to hire musicians to travel an hour or more, you pretty much have to pay them for the travel time at about the same rate as if they were playing.

I hope that covers it. Feel free to ask more questions.
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