Tips for booking a live band for your reception

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.

Before he married Kara McElroy in September 2017, Alex Grant had made up his mind that he wanted to include live music on his wedding day. He even was certain of what kind of music he did—or did not—want his guests to hear.

“We wanted to be able to hit a few different genres,” Grant says. “We didn’t want it to just be rock ’n’ roll or new-school stuff.”

The couple was less sure of who to hire to play the tunes. “I was scouring the internet trying to find bands,” Grant says. “I came across a lot of stuff [that made me think] … ‘Oh, this could be good.’ They weren’t that good.”

In the end, Alex and Kara turned to Class Acts Entertainment, a booking agency that offers assistance in the selection and hiring of bands for wedding ceremonies and receptions.

“They guided us in the right direction,” Grant says. “We went out and watched the band that we ended up choosing. We watched them play three times.”

When the big day rolled around, the couple’s choice, Paradise Island, hit all the right notes. “They basically had three lead singers, and all kinds of totally different vibes,” Grant says. “You got a good spectrum of music, which, when you’re at a wedding, you’ve got the young people, the old people. Paradise Island made everybody happy.”

Such results are the goal of booking agencies, which function as matchmakers between those hiring entertainers and the entertainers themselves, says Ailsa Prohn, a booking agent at Class Acts.

“Especially for a wedding, people who are booking a band have never booked a band before,” Prohn says. “We really help them with the ins and outs, as well as recommending a group that would work for them.”

In consulting with Class Acts, couples who haven’t zeroed in on a particular act can inform the agency of their budget and the sort of music they prefer; with those parameters in place, Prohn returns with a list of potential bands.

“I would go through and pick the ones that I think would fit the best, and then check their schedule, see if they’re open, and come back and let the bride or groom know,” Prohn says. “More often than not, people are not sure of what’s out there.”

As couples winnow down their choices, Prohn says they should feel comfortable with a band’s emcee. “That’s the person who’s going to be on the mic the whole night,” Prohn says. “You want to make sure that you like that person and that you think that they’re going to facilitate a really great evening for you.”

Prohn also advises checking out a band in person—as Jenni and Nick Fisher, who were married in July 2017, did before they settled on Fusion Band.

Jenni stumbled across the band by accident at a bridal show; Nick saw them at a subsequent performance at Easton Town Center.

“It’s hard to really get a sense of what they sound like unless you are there live,” Jenni says. “What sold us is that it wasn’t an all-male or all-female band. They have about six people, but there is a male and a female lead vocalist. … They have such a wide range of songs, then, that they could do.”

John Pollock, the frontman of Street Players, says that seeing an act in person, including in bars or lounges, can reveal more than just musical style.

“If a bride is interested in seeing us … we can send them a CD, they can look at some videos, but they really have to come out and see firsthand how it is that we interface with the wedding audience or with an audience in general,” Pollock says. “We are very interactive. … There is a dialogue that goes back and forth between the audience in between songs.”

Once a band has been picked, Prohn says that couples shouldn’t be reluctant to request a song or two, as long as it’s compatible with the style of the group. “I would not encourage people to ask a funk band to play a metal song,” she says. “Most of the time, it’ll be like, ‘If we can’t play this song, we’ll put it on the break playlist that we DJ for you so that you can still hear it.’”

Musicians should take the lead in selecting the bulk of the program and picking its order. For example, Jenni and Nick Fisher received a list of songs in Fusion’s repertoire and crossed off those they were certain they did not want included. “Just kind of trust that they’re going to transition it really well,” Jenni says. “Ultimately, that was like a sense of freedom.”

Street Players, for example, often work through an event in chronological musical order, first emphasizing music of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s; the thinking is that younger guests will stay longer, so some contemporary tunes can be saved for later. “By the time we get to that 11 or 12 o’clock point in the party, the median age of the group, the people that are remaining, is much younger,” Pollock says. “[Playing] a higher percentage of current music toward the end of the evening is certainly a better fit.”

Even the way a space is organized can make an impact on a band’s performance. Pollock cautions against situating a band at one end of a rectangular room, for example. “From midway through the ballroom to the far end, those people might as well be in a different room,” he says. “If at all possible, I ask [couples to] … place us in the center of one of the longest walls, have the dance floor in front of us and have the tables kind of in a horseshoe around the dance floor.”

Such suggestions are made with the aim of making the music heard as memorable as the vows exchanged.

“This will be the largest party that most people plan in their lifetime,” Pollock says. “They want it to be a success—a success measured by: ‘Did everybody that was there have a great time?’”