What to look for in a band

This is a section from a book I was asked to contribute to, I think it addresses a lot of the questions and fears that potential bookers have.

What should a couple consider when choosing between a live band and a DJ?

A live band and a DJ are very different (although both play music)
With a band you get a much higher energy experience with a better interaction between the audience and the entertainer and a very personal performance. With a DJ you often get a much wider choice of music. Some bands will be able to provide you with both services that gives you the best of both worlds and the opportunity to make the night your own.

With live bands, does a couple have the ability to request specific songs?  If so, how far in advance should the couple notify the band of specific song requests?

Most bands will learn your first dance for you, and if they are not too busy maybe a couple of others. You have to bear in mind a top function band will be doing 100 plus events a year. That’s a lot of first dances to learn let alone other songs! It’s advisable to give your band at least six weeks notice to learn new material, this affords them enough time to arrange a practice if they need one.

Do live bands generally take breaks throughout the event?  If so, how many breaks are customary and how long do the breaks typically last?

Most bands will take a break or 2 depending on how many sets they are playing for you. The timing of the breaks can be fitted around the evening buffet, fireworks etc’. All reputable bands will be able to provide some form of recorded music in the breaks or if preferred allow you to plug in your MP3 player to their sound system or play CD’s you have made.

What is the typical price range for a live band?

As with anything, to an extent you get what you pay for! I have seen bands play weddings for £200 and I’ve seen them for £5000 plus!! The industry average for a good 4-5 piece band is between £900 and £1500.

What are some factors that generally determine the cost of hiring a live band?

Lots of things can affect the price of a band, from the distance they have to travel, how many members or whether they are a professional band or weekend warriors (play in a band as a hobby).
Then there are all the running costs such as public liability insurance, cost of high quality reliable equipment and running a reliable van. All these things will ensure that your band arrives and will be able to perform without a hitch. You may agree this is worth paying a little more for.

What are some things that a couple should consider when deciding which band to hire?

A lot of it is down to personal taste, but it’s a good idea to find a band who has a varied song list covering music from the 60’s onwards, thus making sure there will be something for everyone to dance to. Even if the couple have very specific tastes, getting a single genre band can leave a lot of the guests feeling a little out of it. If you want to have a party that everyone remembers as a great night, you need to include everybody.
Also check that your band have all the required insurance, electrical safety certificate (P.A.T Certificate) that your venue requires as it could ruin your big day if the venue will not let them play. It’s also worth checking if the band has a contingency plan in place if one of the members is unavailable or if the band can’t make it.

How far in advance should a couple book a specific date with a live band?

In general the earlier the better, we have taken bookings two and three years in advance from very organised brides. As a rule of thumb, to ensure you get your chosen band, try to book a year in advance. That’s not to say that you won’t get lucky booking at any time and sometimes bands will offer discounts for short notice bookings. It all depends on how important your specific band is to you.

What is the customary deposit that a couple normally places with the band?

The industry norm is 20% payable at the time of booking. Be wary of any bands that do not want a deposit, as it is protection for you as well as the band because it ensures that they are committed to your event and are far less likely to cancel. It is always best to make a traceable payment, either online, cheque, debit/credit card or PayPal. Never cash and always ask for some kind of receipt.

If an event needs to be re-scheduled or is cancelled, what is the latest that a couple should notify the band, in order to get their deposit back?

Most deposits are non refundable and if the cancellation is within 6 weeks of the event the remainder of the fee may be also payable.
If the wedding is to be re-scheduled a professional band will carry the deposit over if they are free on the new date.

Are there ways to see or hear a band's music before making a decision?  If so, what are some ways for a couple to check out a band prior to making a decision to hire them?

Nearly all band have websites, Facebook pages, YouTube etc’ and most will have demos, videos of them. Be wary of the studio recorded demos as they will have been heavily produced and not recorded live and they may even contain more instruments than the band have. For instance if you are looking at a 4 piece band and they seem to have orchestras and multiple guitars and percussion you can assume they will not sound like that live. If a band has good live recordings you can be more confident in their ability to do the job.  Some function bands also play public gigs you can attend, these are usually in pubs and clubs and they will have these listed on their website.
If a band has no live recordings or no public gigs you can never be sure what they will sound like.

Can a couple usually decide how large the band will be?

Most bands are a fixed size, some will offer different configurations depending budget and size of the venue etc’. Options may include adding a percussionist, brass or string section, keyboard player or extra singers. Alternatively you may be able to have the band as an acoustic duo or just the singer with backing tracks. It’s always worth considering that if the players are not full time members of the band they may not be as au fait with the songs or arrangements.

What are some other factors that should go into a couple's decision about hiring a band?

It’s always important that you feel confident in your bandleader and feel that he/she knows what they are doing and will always try to help and not hinder. It’s always worth checking what else they can bring. Do they have stage lighting? Dance floor lighting? Lasers and effects? All these things can make a huge difference to the look and atmosphere of a party.
Does your venue have a sound limiter? A lot of bands can’t cope with the reduced volume levels some venues require, this is something you need to check with your band before booking as it will be very disappointing and frustrating for you and your party goers if the music keeps cutting out.
Finally don’t forget this is your big day and the band is working for you, not the other way round! So within reason any band worth it’s salt will try to accommodate your wishes and not stand in the way or make things any more difficult than they need to be.
If you think your band did a fantastic job, tell them! Write a review for their website, send them some pictures of your day, find shots of people dancing and enjoying themselves with the band and most importantly tell everyone you know!! Word of mouth and recommendations are the best promotion a band can get and is worth far more than a full-page colour ad in Brides Monthly. So when you get back from your honeymoon and the dust has settled, let them know - to the band it’s worth more than gold!