How To Hire Entertainment For Your Wedding

A six-part series that tells darned-near the whole story! Remember: you just can’t hide bad entertainment!

Pt. 1: You Just Can’t Hide Bad Entertainment

By Adrian Cavlan

You’re getting married? Wow! Congratulations to you! Odds are, you are going to be having some kind of party to celebrate your nuptials, right? Well, hopefully this series of articles can help you plan one of the most important parts of any party: the entertainment!

Oh – wait a minute: every aspect of your wedding is important, isn’t it? Not just the entertainment, right? Absolutely true, but there is one thing to keep in mind: the entertainment, by its very nature, will be one of the most highly visible parts of your celebration and will largely determine people’s lasting memory of whether your wedding was “good”, “fun”, “successful” or, sadly, kind of a bust.

Now, let me qualify by saying that the exchange of vows between two loving people who hope to spend their lives together is never a bust in my mind, regardless of all else. But the lasting impression your party (and by extension, your judgment and taste) leaves on the people who you consider to be the most important in your life is another thing entirely!

Here are some very interesting wedding entertainment statistics, from well-known sources, about what happens to people’s opinions after their vows…

• 72% of all brides say they would have spent more time choosing their reception entertainment.
• Almost 100% say they would have spent more of their budget on the entertainment.
• During wedding planning, Brides say their highest priority is their attire, followed by the reception site and caterer – reception entertainment is among the least of their priorities. Within one week after their reception, 78% of Brides say they would have made the entertainment their highest priority!
• When asked 81% of guests say the thing they remember most about a wedding is the entertainment.
• 65% of all couples that chose a band to entertain at their wedding, said, if they had it to do over again, they would have chosen a disc jockey.

*These statistics were published in St. Louis Bride & Groom Magazine in 2003. Sources include: Simmons, 2001; USA Today, 2002; National Bridal Service, 2001; The Knot, 2002; Brides Magazine, 2001. This rendition of these statistics from the American Disc Jockey Association website adja.org

The moral of the story is that you just can’t hide bad entertainment. You can easily ruin a $50,000 wedding with an $800 band, or a $15,000 wedding with a $400 DJ. Make an investment in your families, your friends and most of all yourselves that will help create the right kind of unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime!


Pt. 2: Professional-Grade MC’s Are Rare And Precious

By Adrian Cavlan

In Part 1, I went over the importance of choosing high-quality entertainment for your wedding. That’s an easy thing to just say, but actually doing it is not an easy task. In the coming installments, I will share the ins and outs of how to go about the process in a savvy and educated manner.

Now, let’s talk about what is probably the most important component of good entertainment at a wedding, regardless of what kind of entertainment it is: the Master Of Ceremonies. What exactly is an MC (Master Of Ceremonies) and how does it differ from simply “a person making announcements”?

A good, professional-grade MC is a person who:

• Is well-spoken
• Is well-groomed
• Is well-mannered
• Can think very quickly on their feet
• Pays a great deal of attention to detail
• Is tactful
• Has a keen sense of timing
• Is sensitive to social dynamics
• Is respectful of and responsive to all of the attendees at the event
• Understands his/her role in directing the event proceedings, without dominating them.
• Understands his/her role in the final determination of how the event will be perceived.
• Is experienced and can provide references if asked

Additionally, this person should be committed to spending the necessary time with you prior to your wedding to gather all the details that he or she will need to present your wedding in personalized way. The bottom line is that even with all the skills listed above, they won’t be able to do that if they don’t know who you are and what you’re about.

Most people nowadays assume that their DJ will also act as their MC at their wedding. In the lower strata of the DJ/MC market, this may be a problem, as certainly someone who is comparatively “cheap” as a wedding DJ almost without question will have little or perhaps no training in this area. Entrusting this person with the presentation of your wedding reception can be a recipe for disaster. In a scenario like this, if you must have that particular DJ, ask a relative or friend to be your MC and have them do a little research to prepare. At least that way, any level of un-professionalism can be countered by a) the audiences love and affection for that person and b) the warmth and personal nature of having a relative do the honors.

There are no academic institutions that routinely offer a standard curriculum in this discipline, so what usually ends up happening is that the owners of the DJ companies train their new people to a widely varying standard of competence… or lack thereof. Remember, the student is a reflection of the teacher, and mediocre or worse MCs seem to be the rule.

The best thing you can do with prospective MCs is to meet with them, talk with them and get a good feeling for their basic personality and manner. If you approve, odds are good your guests will too. Just make sure you are on the same page as to what your expectations are, as well as likes and dislikes. There’s nothing worse than potentially embarrassing or awkward “surprises” that your MC “thought would be fun” amplified over a P.A. system on your wedding day!


Pt. 3: There is nothing better than a great wedding band.

By Adrian Cavlan

The very best wedding bands truly understand their role and the reason they are at your wedding: to play your choice of music, entertain you and your guests and make everyone happy. The members are talented, versatile, accommodating, well-groomed and conduct themselves with class. They will have a good long history of playing together and be well-rehearsed, having a repertoire of literally thousands of songs spanning all eras and styles. Within that repertoire, a well-chosen variety of maybe 200-400 of the songs will be “tight” at any given time, with perhaps 80-100 being razor-sharp, knockout quality performances at the ready. They will be capable of playing well at a perfect volume for your event, with no need to overpower the room so that they can “feel it” up on stage.

Here are some important factors to consider when comparing bands:

• How many lead vocalists in the band?
• Male and female lead vocals?
• Do the rest of the band members sing too? If not all lead, at least harmonies?
• Orchestration: assume drums, bass and one guitar, but is there a second guitar? How about keyboards (today’s MIDI to computer software packages can beautifully reproduce just about any sound you can imagine)? How about a saxophone? Or better yet, a horn section?
• Is the band leader willing to act as your MC, and if so, is he/she any good at it?
• Are they experienced with playing weddings and can they provide references?
• Do they have a video demo you can view online? If not, can you attend a rehearsal or showcase?
• Do they provide their own P.A.?
• Do they provide their own lighting?
• How long will they need for load-in and sound check and will your venue be willing and able to accommodate them?
• Will the venue have enough power for the band’s gear, sound system and lighting system?
• Do they carry liability insurance?

The best wedding bands usually have a manager and perhaps even a separate agency that handles their booking. They should have a Sound, Light & Stage Plot that can be faxed for your review as well as the venue’s. Think in terms of logistics: most bands prefer a stage area of about 10’ x 20’, so if you are having a 50 person reception in a room that can hold 75, but you want that 12-piece band with the horn section, the result could be an overwhelming experience for both the venue and your guests!

An excellent wedding band will have a repertoire list, a band photo that shows their permanent lineup (this is a HUGE deal – you don’t really want the bands that have a leader and an array of session players who are open for your “gig”. Bands like that can never really be tight…), will work only if under a valid contract and will require a deposit of 20-50% to hold your date. If any of these things I describe above are missing, make sure you are very careful in proceeding.

Remember the golden rules of bands:

• A great band is the best – better than any DJ
• Great bands are not cheap.
• A good band may be ok, but not as good as a good DJ (let alone a great one)
• A mediocre band will be more expensive and not as good as a mediocre DJ
• A bad band will be darned-near your worst nightmare. An iPod is a better idea than this.
• And lastly, don’t forget that that band you saw that was great at the pub down the street may be exactly the wrong choice for your wedding.

Good luck, choose well and remember: you only get one shot!


Pt. 4: A professional Disc Jockey can be a great option: there’s a reason they are so popular –

By Adrian Cavlan

I know you saw that key word in the title of this section: professional. It’s a biggie. Over 80% of “working” DJs are part-time hobbyists who do it for fun and some extra pocket money on the weekends. Some, perhaps only a few, of these operators are pretty good, and here and there, you will be able to find a real value where you truly get more than you are paying for, but the truth is that most of the time, you won’t: you’ll only know it when it is too late to do anything about it.

The advent of file sharing, iTunes, the iPod and Craigslist have made it incredibly easy for someone to act on a whim to start a DJ business. There are some aspects to this that are pretty darned cool, actually, but it has caused a lot of confusion in the marketplace.

In Part 2, we talked about the MC side of the typical DJ’s performance, but now let’s talk about Programming and Engineering a.k.a. the Art of DJing.

Remember to revisit the list of what an MC should be first, and then add to that the following:

A professional DJ should –

• Own an enormous variety of legally-obtained music that he/she is expertly versed in.
• Be helpful and willing to guide you in choosing satisfying and appropriate music for all the different parts of your celebration.
• Be approachable and enthusiastic about playing guest requests
• Be able to program sets of music that are logically structured and pleasing to the listeners and dancers.
• Have a good understanding of music theory, song structure and the functionality of his/her equipment be able to seamlessly mix from song to song without stops and jarring transitions that make people stop dancing and leave the dance floor.
• Have a high-quality professional-grade sound system.
• Have backup equipment for all components with him/her on premises.
• Have a second sound system that can be used for a remote area on site like a ceremony or a cocktail hour.
• Have at least one professional-grade wireless hand-held microphone for the reception and at least one professional-grade wireless lavalier microphone for the officiant’s use in the ceremony (if applicable).
• Have a clean and professional equipment setup, including a front façade to hide all cables and connections.
• Be experienced and able provide references if asked
• Carry liability insurance (which may well be required by your event facility – don’t forget to ask first!)

If you choose to hire your MC/DJ from a “multi-op” DJ company or a talent agency, you should insist on meeting the actual person whom you are considering hiring, not just a salesperson or agent. Sometimes hiring from a company can provide many securities and additional benefits, but it is important that they operate in an above-board manner.

Remember: when you buy a $500 wedding DJ, you have bought a $500 wedding DJ, and you will almost undoubtedly get a $500 wedding DJ. That’s reality. The question is can you live with it? If you think so, that’s ok, but just be sure to first look at those statistics in Part 1 one more time. Great DJs, like great bands, are not cheap. Be smart and don’t ruin a great wedding with a bad DJ.


Pt. 5: All About Ceremony Musicians –

By Adrian Cavlan

Live ceremony music can be incredibly beautiful and really set the mood, and luckily, most of the time this is indeed the case. Consider that just in the simple act of showing up, an adult who arrives at a wedding ceremony with a violin immediately implies a certain level of competence and confidence that is usually verified as soon as they start playing. But, let it be said that there is no more microscopically-visible time in your whole celebration to have a hack musician inspire gasps, guffaws and looks of discomfort than bad intonation and a series of flubs as the bride walks down the aisle. Think it can’t happen? I have seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears: a $100,000-plus celebration being desecrated right at the start by a carelessly hired string trio. Silence would have been far preferable.

But, as I have said, this is comparatively very rare. Just hire that string quartet, string trio, harpist, classical guitarist or solo vocalist carefully.

A few things:

• Review the demo tape and make sure the players you hear on the tape will be the same as those who show up at your wedding.
• Talk to them about their willingness to learn new repertoire if you have pieces you want that they don’t already play.
• Ask what they will wear
• Ask what time they will show up on the day of the event
• Will all arrangements be made via written agreement?
• Will you want them to stay and play for the cocktail hour, and if so, are they willing to move to do so?
• What is the rate for the second hour and beyond?

Lastly, if you have any desire for people to dance at the reception, don’t think that they’ll do so to the string quartet playing their interpretations of Lady Gaga songs. Leave the dance music to a band or DJ and have them play the pre-ceremony, ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner hours if you just can’t get enough Baroque music. But, again, be careful, as it may not be the best strategy to have three-plus hours of your celebration have only one flavor of music or entertainment.

A couple of more things:

• In many DJ/MC packages, pre-recorded ceremony music is either included or at least an option. It may be a win for you based on financial and logistical considerations, as well as the fact that the choice of repertoire and orchestration is unlimited.
• Don’t forget ceremony audio! You invited 100 people, so why would you only want 25 of them to really hear the ceremony? This is the number one complaint of wedding attendees. Even if you are having live ceremony musicians, make sure your audio needs are addressed with at least one lavalier microphone for the officiant. To be effective, this must be done by an experienced professional. If you don’t go that route, you might soon experience the dulcet tones of a 110 decibel feedback squeal in the middle of your vows!

The ceremony is the most important part of the day when you really think about it, so take the time to consider your options and make it something you’ll always cherish.


Pt. 6: How To Wow Your Guests!

By Adrian Cavlan

Variety is the spice of life, so if you can do it, live a little and provide an unforgettable evening to your guests.

Here’s a recipe:

• Pre-ceremony: Harpist
• Ceremony: Harpist with solo vocalist; DJ/MC providing sound system for musicians, officiant and any readers.
• Cocktail hour: Small live jazz combo
• Dinner hour: DJ/MC & Band share sound system; DJ/MC handles all introductions and speaking duties; DJ/MC plays initial 30 minute dinner music set, then band comes on and plays 45 minutes of dinner music
• Dance sets: DJ or Band plays formal dances, depending on the songs; Band plays 45 min dance set, cake is cut, then DJ plays 30 min dance set; Band then plays another 45 min dance set; DJ then closes out night.

Here’s another:

• Pre-ceremony: String Quartet
• Ceremony: String Quartet; DJ/MC providing sound system for musicians, officiant and any readers.
• Cocktail hour: Live Mariachis
• Dinner hour: DJ/MC handles all introductions and speaking duties; Mariachis play for grand entrance and then perhaps a few strolling songs; DJ/MC then plays dinner music
• Dance sets: DJ plays all!

Other possible cocktail/dinner entertainers:

• Pianist
• Singer/Guitarist
• Accordionist
• Bagpiper (great for ceremony and grand entrance too!)

Lastly, if you are on a budget, remember that a professional DJ should be able to create all of these musical dimensions for you via pre-recorded music.

Good luck out there, and have a wonderful wedding!


© 2010 Adrian Cavlan. All rights reserved.

Adrian Cavlan is a DJ, MC and musician who has been performing professionally for almost 30 years and has performed at well over 1200 weddings. His music business career began as a booking agent for wedding bands and ceremony musicians and he has owned and operated Sound In Motion DJs & Video (simdjs.com) in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas with his business partner King Raffi since 1999. Contact him at adrian@simdjs.com

5 responses to “How To Hire Entertainment For Your Wedding

  1. Yo

    Your answer is matchless… 🙂

    DJs, Winnipeg Event Planners and Party Planning

  2. Pingback: Sound In Motion - 10 Things To Think About When Hiring Wedding Entertainment

  3. Hi i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this article i thought i could
    also create comment due to this brilliant
    post.

  4. Pingback: How To Hire Entertainment For Your Wedding – Music4Life DJs

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