Wedding Wednesday: adding music to your big day

Let’s cut to the chase: we’ve all been to weddings that were terrible if only because the entire night was spent chained to your seat by the terrible music choices of whatever vendor was setting the tone for the evening. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do everything in my power to keep that from happening. Luckily for all of us, I sat down with Kat Langdon of Toronto jazz trio Lady Be Good to chat all things wedding music.

Photo courtesy of Lady Be Good

Where to start?

Make your wedding music wishlist with Kat’s three can’t-be-missed items in mind: budget, style and venue. Since you’ll probably book your venue before you book your band or DJ, consider what your venue can accommodate. Kat puts it pretty simply: “don’t hire a 10-piece band if your reception is in an intimate restaurant”. Makes sense, right?

You can’t book a band without knowing what you want your band to do, so start there. You’ll likely be looking at two completely different vendors if you want Top 40 hits to get people on the dance floor after dinner versus if you want ambient music during dinner to complement the atmosphere but not overwhelm your guests. At the end of the day, you want someone you can mesh with, someone who can “create the perfect soundtrack to your night”.

Consider any technical requirements (space, sound systems & hook-ups, electrical plugs) along with any budgetary concerns that come along with them. For example, our venue has a fee for outside DJs to hook into their existing sound system while other fees apply for different sizes of bands. When considering your budget, Kat emphasizes understanding where to get the biggest bang for your buck. A few insider tips from Lady Be Good’s bandleader:
  • Every band member will need to be paid. So, hiring a trio will be less expensive than hiring a 10-piece band. Keep your budget (and venue space) in mind and choose accordingly.
  • Keep an eye on the schedule. Many couples tell me they want us there for four hours then we spend the first hour and a half waiting for speeches to be done. You will be paying the musicians for their booked time whether they’re playing or not, so be realistic with the itinerary. Your Dad’s speech will not be five minutes, trust me.
  • If you’re hiring a band for 3 hours over dinner time, it’s customary to feed them. Keep that in mind for your planning. (Note: some venues may have a discounted rate for vendors. Ask!)

The Great Debate: Band vs. DJ

At some point – OK, many points – you’ll be asked whether you’d like a live band or a DJ at your wedding. Of course, there are pros and cons to both, but this is one of those decisions where you can have a happy compromise.
Kat’s considerations:
  • Live music has an energy that playing a track simply can’t duplicate. It’s much easier to get your shy cousin up to dance when there are lively entertainers getting everyone in party-mode.
  • A good live band will give your guests a memory they won’t forget. It’s dinner and a show all in one.
  • DJs are generally lower in cost and can be extremely flexible in terms of requests thanks to their huge catalogue

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No matter what, getting professional vendors is a must. It may be an attractive cost-cutting measure, but using your iPod in place of a DJ leaves you lacking on a few fronts. As Kat explains, “you may have perfected the art of the playlist, but a professional will be able to gauge the flow of the evening, MC the night and take care of any technical challenges that may arise”. Whether your DJ or bandleader will be playing your chatterbox cousin offstage after a too-long speech or realizing your crowd prefers oldies to the 90’s pop the bride was adamant about playing, there are certain things your iPod just can’t accomplish.

Now, about that happy medium. Kat suggests a few options for incorporating both a band and DJ into your big day.
  • Hire a smaller trio to play your ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner then have a DJ who will get your guests up on the dance floor at the right time.
  • Hire a band and a DJ for the reception. Hire the band for a shorter time, right after dinner, to do a couple of sets. Then have the DJ finish the night (and cover the breaks!)

We’ll probably end up with a hybrid of option A & option B: live musicians to set the mood during the ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner and then a DJ & band to carry the reception.

How do you decide what to play?

Control freaks, take note: while it can be tempting to spend hours (days…weeks) creating a list of your “must-have” and “do not play” songs, remember that you’re hiring a professional. Kat suggests limiting requests to 5-7 songs, reminding anxious couples to ” sit back and trust [the vendor’s] ability to craft the soundtrack for the night”. Especially in the case of a band, you’ll want them to showcase what they’re best at and allow them to craft a setlist to keep the pace, energy and volume on-track for the night.

The First Dance

This is one of the areas where, as a bride-to-be, I have the most anxiety. Not only is everybody (400 people in our case) watching you, but they’re also silently (or not-so-silently) judging your choice of song. Kat’s advice? “Pick a song that means something to you as a couple, and don’t judge it! Maybe it’s popular, maybe it’s corny, maybe it’s almost silly. If it means something to you, that’s the song you should dance to.” [Our potential first-dance song is a little corny (OK, mega-sentimental) and maybe a bit too short. Kat just made me feel lightyears better about it, though.]

Still stumped? Kat suggests…
  • Thinking back to moments in your relationship where you were dancing. Maybe a friend’s wedding? Maybe a party you went to?
  • Thinking of a time you were driving in the car and a song came on that you both loved.
  • Making a list of movies you both love then check our their soundtracks.

One piece of wedding planning advice:

“Once you make a decision, let it go and enjoy. There’s a lot to organize for a wedding, so work together and let the experience be fun.”
Thanks to Kat Langdon from Toronto jazz trio Lady Be Good for being such an excellent interview! If you’re on the hunt for ceremony musicians or a wedding jazz band, check out Lady Be Good’s website and YouTube channel.

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