Before you make any decisions find out your venues' policies about musicians and other entertainers. They might have time, volume, or space constraints and, if your ceremony is at a church, restrictions on secular music. Churches often have a regular organist or music co-ordinator to help you with your selections.
- Prelude: music for around 30 minutes before the ceremony. This music sets the mood so do talk to the organist/musicians about your preferences - even if you don't have particular pieces in mind you can ask for upbeat or quieter music.
- Processional: announces the arrival of the bridesmaids and the bride. Generally slow-paced pieces are chosen.
- During the ceremony: often soloists or a choir are used during the ceremony, especially during the signing of the register, they can also lead your guests if you're having songs or hymns.
- Recessional: the music everyone walks out to - usually quicker-paced than the processional music.
Bear in mind the time of day - background music might be a better choice for daytime or during a meal with dance music later at night. Think also about the ages of your guests - you might like a range of music to appeal to all tastes.
If you want dancing make sure there's a suitable area. Ask too about their procedure - sometimes the dance floor is also the dining area and moving the tables after dinner can be quite an upheaval. The ideal is to have a separate adjacent dancing area - this will give your guests a quiet place to chat and relax between dances.
As soon as you've organised the ceremony and reception venues you should start looking for your entertainers - the good ones are often booked up months in advance.
Once you've booked, find out how much time they'll need to prepare special requests - start thinking about what you'd like but leave the final decision until closer to the date. "Pop songs age very quickly - what was top of the charts and your favourite romantic song in June may be old-hat by March the following year" explains Pauline Berry from The Mermaids.
Music gives lots of opportunities to personalise your wedding. Think about using it to enhance your theme - for a Celtic wedding you might choose a piper for the ceremony or an Irish band for dancing at the reception.
"However, you cannot expect a Celtic piper to play "Disco Inferno". This is often the dilemma of jazz trios who are hired for their cool ambience but are being hassled to play rock 'n roll at 10pm when everyone is in party mode" cautions Pauline Berry.
You might like to include songs that have special meaning to you both, or songs celebrating your cultural heritage.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, think about using different musical instruments at your ceremony. Instead of an organ you might have harps, classical guitar, flutes, violins, even solo trumpet - there are lots of options.
Whether it's soft background listening or loud dance music you can choose between live musicians or a DJ.
The number one decider could be cost - djs are usually cheaper than live bands simply because you only need one person. It's also easier for them to play a variety of styles well, and most of them take their breaks during a song so they keep the music coming all night long.
On the other hand musicians bring an energy and visual interest that DJs just can't match.
Ask the entertainers
- Who will be performing at my wedding? Be careful here - you don't want to hire one set of entertainers and find that another shows up on the day.
- How do we choose the music? Can you choose what you want? Can you provide a song/artist list? or do they play a standard set. Give them a profile of what you like and talk about special requests, but don't try to specify every song. Good and experienced entertainers will be in tune with the audience and choosing numbers to suit.
- Can we see you perform at a wedding? Seeing them in action is the best way to decide if they are right for you. Try to visit about half-way through the evening when they're in full swing. You'll be able to check out their ability to read the crowd, whether they play a range of music for all the generations, whether they vary the tempo with fast and slow selections, if you like the leader's announcing style and chat, if they're dressed professionally, and if the volume is at a good level. Hearing a demo cd or tape recorded in a studio is not as good as seeing them perform.
- How many breaks will be you take and how long will they be? What will happen during breaks - will there be silence or a tape playing to keep everyone moving?
- Do you have backup equipment in case something breaks on the day?
- What happens if any or all of you are unable to perform on the day?
Once you've decided get a written contract including the date, times, place, musicians and instruments, selection of music - particularly for special songs like your first dance, total price, deposit and payment details. If necessary you might need to visit the venue together to sort out logistics and gauge any needs or problems. Discuss food arrangements - will you need to provide a meal or snacks for them during the session.
Contact them a couple of weeks before the wedding to finalise the timetable and any last minute details and then relax and enjoy!