You've got the caterer, the open bar, table setting, even favors for everyone. You're set for the big reception. But there's a tough one to go–procuring music. Where do you start? How do you avoid employing the world's worst DJ or some slack-jawed hacks with guitars?
For my own recent wedding, I had it easy. Most of my friends play instruments, and, thankfully, most of them are good. I ran the risk of having the entire guest list onstage instead of in chairs having dinner, but I asked all my gypsy jazz-playing compadres if they'd like to form a sort of all-star band for the big day, so Swing Caravan and Left Bank Swing combined. Gypsy jazz seemed a perfect genre choice, a lively acoustic version of swing jazz with a dose of Continental savoir-faire. I've seldom had so much fun, and well, if you can't have fun at your own reception…
There are few things that can ruin your wedding day so thoroughly as bad music. An unruly DJ who plays "Hotel California" for the first dance can make your evening suddenly seem tawdry. On the other hand, if your crowd likes to boogie and you're stuck with "Flight of the Bumblebees," you've got a whole 'nother thing coming. Guests and wedding party alike are usually in for an hours-long listen to your choice of band or DJ. So how do you find someone who'll do the right job for you?
The first thing you'll likely discover is that, like everything else about a wedding, you'll have to pay more than you think for good music. DJs often count on weddings to pay the bills. Bands simply wonÕt do weddings cheaply, but keep in mind that itÕs an awful lot of work to get everything right under the unique pressure of pleasing a wedding party.
You might need a DJ if you want tremendous variety in your musical choices–few live bands can pull off both "Woolly Bully" and "Harlem Nocturne." You'll give up the elegance of live music, and you might well get a dose of cheesiness–an alarming number of wedding DJs offer cornball emceeing that's more high school dance than upscale affair. Of course, many possess an understated suavity that's just right. It's worth inquiring about the exact role the DJ usually plays and clarifying precisely what you want and when you want it. It's also worth, if you can get it, a recorded example of the DJ's emceeing, or at least some word from former clients about what flavor of DJing you're in for–every DJ can play CDs, but not all can unobtrusively and skillfully guide your reception.
DJs possess one great advantage–they have to have good sound reinforcement in order to create a reasonable money-making business. You can generally expect high quality, and the music they play won't be subject to variables like how many gin and tonics the drummer's had. Often their bread and butter is weddings, so they know the drill.
Still, as a musician myself, I can't help but encourage the employing of local musicians for weddings. Live music is far more elegant than recorded, and a good group of players can punctuate the day with just the right soundtrack. The trick is twofold: you have to choose the right genre and find a willing band. The choice of genre is vital–a classic rock band may be great for a boozed-up bacchanale, but do you want the slow choices to be "Turn the Page" and "Open Arms"? Traditional folk music, from klezmer to Irish, is often just right–traditional sounds were, after all, employed for all kinds of occasions, weddings among them, so there's plenty to choose from in terms of romantic and up-tempo dance. But whatever your cup of tea, just make sure your band is capable of more than one mood.
Finding the band can be a challenge, though the Web is, thankfully, is making that chore much easier. Perusing the Advocate's music listings in the genres you like can give you some ideas of who's out there, and going to a few shows is the surest way to know what you can expect. There are bands that specialize in weddings, but they're often less interesting than those who play cafes and bars regularly. It can be a great idea to go in the more unusual direction of not employing a cover band–many talented players prefer to do their own or traditional music rather than choose from what's popular.
If you spot a band that's just right for your day, there are some important considerations. Is the space you're using set up to incorporate the band? Will they show up in blue jeans? Do they have a working, sufficient means of amplification? The last is extremely important–when in doubt, it's always better to have amplification. You can turn that down, but you can't turn up an acoustic guitar, no matter how hard you try. Is the band's existing song list big enough to fill the amount of time you need? Be very clear on exactly how long you want the band to play.
And perhaps the biggest consideration is the set list for your big day. Are there specific songs you must have? If so, give the musicians a great deal of lead time, so they can learn the tunes comfortably. Many bands, it's worth noting, perform their own songs much better than they will perform songs they've never done before–it's frequently worth going light on the new material.
Whatever your choice, you'll get the best results from finding flexible DJs or musicians to help you create the atmosphere you envision. If you've asked all the big questions in advance, you can relax, let them take the reins and turn your attention to the vital work of enjoying your big day.