Playing at a wedding – advice for your first gig

You’ve secured your first gig. What next? Playing at a wedding for the first time can feel a little intimidating, and the couple will usually look to you for advice on what music you will play and which parts of the wedding. I’ve played at lots of weddings, so here is my advice for those doing it for the first time:

Which parts of the day will you play for?



Ceremony

The most important part of the wedding is the ceremony. This usually takes 20-30 minutes depending on whether it’s a civil ceremony or church wedding (although sometimes religious weddings can be a lot longer!) – plus around 20 minutes before while the guests are getting seated. I usually suggest playing for:

  • 20-30 minutes before the ceremony, while the guests are arriving
  • The Processional (entrance) – usually a short clip from a song (it usually doesn’t take any longer than 1.5 minutes)
  • The Signing of the Register – usually around 10 minutes, normally around 3 songs
  • The Recessional (exit) – a song for the couple to walk back down the aisle to

Drinks Reception

This is the bit in between the Ceremony and Wedding Breakfast, when all the photos are taking and the guests mingle. It lasts about 1.5 hours, and whatever you play here will usually be background music.


Wedding Breakfast

This typically lasts between 2 and 3 hours. Again, this will be background music.

    What to play

    Deciding what music they would like for the ceremony is a very important choice for the couple. It is a very big part of what will make the day special and unique for them. Whether it’s in my repertoire or not, I always ask for the couple’s requests for any music to be played for the Processional, Signing of the Register and Recessional. As long as it’s not something completely unreasonable (I’ve never had to turn down a request yet!), I always learn their requests free of charge – as once I have these songs in my repertoire, they are there for me to use for future weddings.

    For the rest of the day, I ask the couple whether they have any other requests that they would like me to play, but also advise them that I am happy to choose music that I think will be suitable for their wedding. If you have a long set list, you can tailor what you play according to the mood and age of the guests who are nearby and may be listening. You’ll quickly get a sense of how to do this, and you may even get asked for on-the-spot requests!

    It is worth putting together a set list of the music you are happy to perform, as often couples will ask for this to some inspiration when choosing their requests.

    On the day

    Make sure you know where you are going and allow plenty of time to get there. I usually arrive at the venue an hour before the ceremony starts – that way I’m not panicked and have enough time to get everything set up.

    Speak to either the wedding coordinator or the registrar – ask them to give you clear cues when you are due to start and stop playing. This is especially important for the Processional (you won’t always be able to see the bride walking down the aisle) and the Recessional (I’ve found that different counties have different ways of ending the ceremony, so make sure you know what your final cue is!).

    Contracts and payment

    It can be very useful, and it appears to be a much more formal arrangement to the couple, if you provide them with a contract for your services that both parties sign. Invoices are an alternative, and great for keeping records – but at the very least, make sure you have all communication between yourself and the other party in writing. That way if there are any discrepancies, you have something to refer them back to.

    I also always ask for a deposit (of £50) to confirm the booking and secure the date. Once this is paid, it shows that the client is committed to having you play for their wedding. Otherwise, there is nothing stopping them from finding a ‘better deal’ and messing you around.

    I ask for the final payment a week before the wedding. For me this is usually done by bank transfer, and most people are happy with this arrangement. Only once has someone questioned what would happen if I didn’t show up to the wedding (if I were in their situation I would be nervous too, as I’d essentially be paying money to someone I’ve never met!). I avoid agreeing to cash on the day, as the couple have so many other things to remember and it can be easy for them to overlook it.

    After the wedding – asking for feedback

    A lot of the time, the couple will send you feedback without being prompted. However, if they don’t, I usually email them about a week after the wedding to let them know I enjoyed playing for the wedding and that I’d really appreciate it if they could write a short review. Reviews are essential to future clients who are trying to decide whether to book you – so building up a collection of positive reviews will benefit you.

    Conclusion

    Weddings are very rewarding events to play for. They are one of the most important days of a couple’s life, and it feels good knowing that you have contributed to their special day. If you have any comments or would like any advice on performing for a wedding, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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