Behind The Music | 12 “Musical Musts” & More

Soulsystem Orchestras, Onstage (photo: Andre Maier)

"Don’t Let Yourself Be Surprised," say our Manhattan Bride bandleaders and DJs, and so they've given us these "12 Musical Musts."

1. Specify dress for your musicians.
2. Confirm load-in location, entrance, and time.
3. Is there adequate space for all instruments?
4. Have they checked the acoustics of your venue?
5. Should they place speakers around the room?
6. Are they responsible for bringing all the equipment?
7. Does their contract have a rider? (Review it carefully.)
8. Does your venue need dedicated electrical outlets for the band, the photographer, the coffee urns?
9. Is your dance floor too big? Too small?
10. Did you specify your musical tastes for different times of the evening?
11. How do you want to be announced?
12. Who is giving speeches, and when?

Presentation, Stage Size, and Acoustics

The Onstage Look

Specify what you want. A lot of bands have women wearing short sexy dresses, but many brides object to that. Normally, male musicians wear wing-tipped white shirts with black tuxedos, but there are bands who wear black shirts or no jackets. "Your band has to fit the image you want."

Stage Size ... Is the space sufficient for the size of your band? A small drum kit alone takes up 30 square feet. Add a keyboard, bass, guitar, and amps, and a band can take up a 20-by-15-foot space. "If they don’t know, you might ask them to take a tape measure to their next performance. It’s not something you should take lightly, unless you have a large venue."


"Bigger bands don’t necessarily mean louder bands. A four-piece band can have very large speakers and will be far louder than an 18-piece band without amps. The instrumentation and amplification system are crucial in relation to your venue. The more non-porous areas you have, the more problems." A problem venue is one with marble floors, many windows, glass, or anything else that won’t absorb sound. "Your venue and band can offer suggestion to improve the acoustics, but it may add to your budget."


Make sure the band knows the location of the load-in entrance and what time to arrive. "Tell them if there is an elevator, because bands have a lot of equipment. Is there going to be someone to help them?"

Soulsystem Orchestras, Dancefloor Excitement

Soulsystem Orchestras

Volume Control, Sound Systems, & Equipment

Not Too Loud

If you are extremely sensitive to volume, you can ask your bandleader to bring a clear plexiglass shield for the drums. (It sends the sound up, rather than out at you.)

Many bands normally bring a speaker for each side of the bandstand, but if these are the only speakers, they have to pump up the sound to be heard in the back of the room. "But if you put speakers around the room, you can lower the volume, because the sound is distributed, so your band doesn’t have to play as loud. Also, guests in the perimeters often can’t hear the speeches, but this type of 'surround sound' solves that.

"Volume does not necessarily ensure a good party. You want it lively and there does have to be a certain volume to have energy — but it doesn’t have to be painful. Often the biggest complaint you get is, ‘I couldn’t talk to people across from me during the meal because I couldn’t hear them. There should be conversation, and the best time to allow that is during each course. Then bang it out in-between."

If the venue has a sound system, make sure it’s adequate for your band. "Some sound systems are set up for speeches, not for bands, so the sound comes through the ceiling, not the sides, and you don’t have any floor sound."

Equipment Riders

Don’t assume that the band is bringing a piano. If their contract doesn’t specify it, make sure they are fully equipped. "Many bands love to use an acoustic piano, and they always ask if the venue has one. It should be tuned to 440 pitch the day of the event."

Some contracts have a rider which lists what you must provide. "Some riders can list equipment that you must provide, plus food and transportation. They may expect you to furnish the drums and the sound system. So when you hire your band, be sure you don’t have to provide any of that."

Francis A. Varrichio Orchestras

Robbie Scott & The New Deal Orchestra

Short Circuit Blues

"We can’t tell you how many times we hear stories about the band blowing the circuits. The floor was packed and then ‘Bam!’ Silence.

"Find out if your venue can accommodate the amount of electricity you need. The photographers often plug into the same circuit as the band. But both photographers and bands use a lot of power. Sometimes the solution is just to run additional power to one side of the room. But the biggest mistake is letting the photographer and the band plug into the same outlet, even with a 20-amp circuit.

"Many music contracts request two 20-amp designated circuits that no one else can use. You have to check what your band needs because some bands use more than 40 amps. You want to watch those bands anyway, because you’re in for a pretty loud night."

The venue won’t necessarily have all those details. "If you’re going to an established hotel or reception site, they will usually ask those questions and make sure you have sufficient power, and enough space. But some couples, in their desire to do something unusual, have their wedding at a location seldom used for weddings, like in a tent on the beach or in a new loft. Those places might have inadequate lighting and electricity.

"There are portable generators, but they can make noise. You might be able to put the generator outside and run a wire back in. It's always best to have a generator if you're doing a tent party. One band was doing a party in the Hamptons when the entire block got blacked out, but they kept the party going on because they had a generator."

Stolen Moments, Bride on Dancefloor

Times Square Orchestra

Each coffee urn alone takes 15 amps! "You have hot water for tea, decaf, regular coffee, and generally there’s a backup. That’s 60 amps. A band takes 40, so that’s already 100. You haven’t lit the tent yet. You can easily use up your power.

"These are not things to make you worry. They’re just a checklist."

The Perfect Dance Floor

There are formulas for how large your dance floor should be, given your number of guests.

"Figure about two and a half feet per person, with 50 percent of the guests dancing. For 150 people, a 30-by-30 space is a good size. You don’t want a dance floor that is too big — because it won’t look like there are people dancing. You also don’t want a dance floor so small that people can’t move.

"You should also consider the coating on the dance floor. Sometimes a place will buff the floor to such an extreme that people will slip on it."

Choosing Your Music

"Number one: If there is specific music you don’t like, you must advise your band. No band could guess that you don’t like a particular style of music.

"The second thing is to give the band as much information about the music you do like. Swing, big band, disco, rock, top 40, Motown. The more input you give, the better." But don’t tie their hands. "The worst thing you can do is say, ‘Play this first, followed by this, followed by that, and then do this.’

"That’s telling the baker how to bake the cake. If you keep them looking at a playlist, they can’t react to the guests. Give them enough leeway to get a feeling for the party’s timing. Timing is everything."

Stolen Moments, Dancefloor

Times Square Orchestra, Times Square

Wedding Speeches

"A lot of brides don’t want the bandleader to be a comedian. So talk about what your bandleader is going to say. What are the appropriate announcements? How do you want to be announced? Do you want it to be Mr. and Mrs.? Do you want it to be Pat and Allen? Are your parents to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs.?

"Write out the pronunciations phonetically. You don’t want people to say, ‘Who?’ "

How many speeches will there be? When will they occur? Will you permit anybody else to come up who’s not on the authorized list? Structure your announcements and toasts. It's often best when we're strict about that. If you’re not on the list, you don’t speak, unless the bride or groom says it’s okay.

"You can end up losing the momentum of the party because some character who’s had a few drinks and thinks he’s funny, gets up and goes on for 20 minutes."

Entrance, Cocktails, Reception

"Every wedding is different. In most Jewish weddings, for example, just the couple makes the entrance. In Italian and Irish weddings, they usually want the bridal party introduced. Sometimes they come in and form an arc.

"It’s nice to have music when people first arrive. Depending upon whether they are arriving for a ceremony or a cocktail hour will determine the kind of music."

"If you have a jazz trio for the cocktail hour, are they capable of playing the ceremony the proper way? If you want Vivaldi or Beethoven, make sure they can do it."

Many people prefer strings for the ceremony. "It's fitting to use the instruments the pieces were originally written for. But not everybody’s pocketbook allows different groups to be at the wedding. Make sure your band has the appropriate instruments, whether it’s a flute and a piano, or an upright bass and a piano, to make the sound acceptable."

Soulsystem Orchestras, Entertainment

Regal Brass

"Often the music you have for your ceremony carries over into your cocktail hour. When the ceremony ends — and the musicians should still be playing the recessional music as your guests are leaving — they go into the cocktail room. The mood is anything but festive if you don’t have music playing.

"We often recommend bringing in a guitarist or a pianist to play in the other room as the guests walk in, so there’s an upbeat feeling. It could be an additional expense, but it’s well spent. Your guests will appreciate being welcomed into the cocktail area with some kind of music."

Jazz or Show Tunes?

"There's a phrase ‘recognizable jazz.’ Take a song like ‘Just in Time,’ speed it up a little and make it non-danceable. Improvisational or fusion jazz, for many people, is not their cup of tea when it comes to a party. But there are people who like that, and if they specify it, that’s a different story.

"Some people prefer show tunes for cocktails." But the important thing is not to let the music overpower the conversation, since, if you’re having a seated dinner where your guests are each at their respective tables, the cocktail hour is one of the last chances your guests have to talk to everybody.

"Remember, if your cocktail musicians are in the band, they have to leave the cocktail hour early. It’s generally not noticeable because people are in full conversation, but if that bothers you, you can arrange for extra musicians. That’s not done too often, because it's not a necessary expense."

Ready To Play ... First Dance

The orchestra should be ready before the first guest walks in. "We’ve been a guest at weddings where you walk into the room and the orchestra is still setting up and having conversations.

"What do you want to walk in to? Do you want Cole Porter or rock and roll? Many brides prefer to open elegantly."

You and your groom are not in the room at first. There’s a good 15 minutes before you make your entrance. "But the atmosphere created prior to your entrance is important. It depends on the ethnicity of the group. Jewish families, for example, often will dance prior to the entrance of the couple. Other ethnicities will not dance, so the band plays background music, bossa novas or soft Sinatra.

"One exciting way of bringing in a bride and groom is with no announcement. Call it the ‘paparazzi entrance.’ Go into the first dance by just playing the music! You get the same results, the applause and whistles and everything else, without the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen.’ However, there are many couples who have waited a long time to hear their names said. They want to be announced. Be sure to go over that.

"Who is going to be invited to join in, in what order, and what follows the first dance? Sometimes you go into an ethnic dance or swing. Sometimes you sit or do the toast right at that point.

"You should discuss what you like to listen to when you’re dining. Again, give the band some leeway because they have some things they may do." If you’re going to do high energy, top-40 type music, it’s better to do it later because earlier in the evening you’re having your entree. "Like everything else with your wedding, it’s a very personal thing."