We've all heard it... "Your day, Your way."
But how much influence do you actually have when it comes to your wedding band's set list? Are you supposed to choose every song? Can you request to see the exact set list? If you have a few minutes to spare, I'll help you see things from a musicians perspective, guide you clear of any awkward conversations with your band representative and avoid the dreaded 'Bridezilla' tag.
Understanding the Band’s Repertoire
The ceremony is complete, speeches are over and everyone is ready for a scrum down on the dance floor to some slamming tunes. A wedding band is hired to entertain you and your guests into the night to get the party started and your wedding band setlist will keep it going until 'last orders'.
There is an industry standard for what your wedding band should provide.
Set time: Two sets of 45 - 60 minutes each. Given the average song duration, this adds up to around 15 songs per set. Sometimes the time is split up into smaller sets or one big set depending on the schedule but ultimately this adds up to around 30 songs.
First Dance: Your first dance is of the utmost importance to your band. It's a song that is specifically chosen by you and it has a lot of romantic meaning to you both as a couple. All guests are watching as you both celebrate your love and it is very often documented on film. This adds an element of pressure to the musician's performance.
Extras: The following services aren't always included in your band's service agreement but are often included with professional wedding and function bands.
Encore - If the dance floor is full as they finish the last song and people really don't want the fun to stop, your band may have 1 or 2 extra 'unscheduled' songs that they can play to finish on a high note (pun intended).
DJ service - Sometimes manned or unmanned, this can often fill the empty space between sets and also give a nice outro to the evening after the final song has finished and your shirtless cousin hasn't quite sweat enough yet.
Father/Daughter dance - Not every wedding requires this. It feels more of a tradition these days than a necessity but by no means would be out of place to enquire with your band.
Understand Your Wedding Band's Style
When I say 'style' of your chosen wedding band, I don't mean whether they wear cowboy hats or feathered shoulder pads. I'm talking musical genre.
There are funk bands, acoustic boho bands, rock, pop, soul, jazz...
If your band has a particular genre, they will most likely want to fill the majority of their set list with with songs of that genre and their comfortable style. Keep that in mind when asking an acoustic trio to scream out an Iron Maiden song or a heavy Nu metal band to busk through Cotton Eyed Joe.
Each band also has particular strengths in terms of musicianship and chemistry. A band who enjoys the songs they play is an absolute spectacle for the audience.
Personalizing The Wedding Band Setlist
When asking your band about personalising their set list beyond the First Dance / Father Daughter dance requests, be clear that the songs you're suggesting have a strong meaning to the people present. Whether that's you as a couple or a member of the family. It gives the band leader more material to work with and they then have the option to connect even more to the audience so don't be afraid to give a little back story. Your band will appreciate it -
"This one is going out to Great Auntie Ruth. I hope you haven't left your leg in the cloak room again..."
Balancing Requests with Professional Expertise
Although you have every right to have your say when it comes to your band's set list. They are professionals who do this multiple times a week, they know what works and what doesn't.
Their regular set list has also been honed over years of regular gigs:
Songs are dropped because they don't work
Songs are added in because it keeps people dancing
Songs are constantly shuffled around on the fly because they are reading the room and modifying accordingly.
If your band is happy to take on board your song requests, you need to trust them to make it work. Their way.
You may think it's a great idea to go into Fix You by Cold Play straight after the first dance but they know it could sap the energy out of the room and it may be better to use at a different point.
Practical Limitations When Choosing Wedding Music
The biggest reason a band may not take more requests than some people would like is, time.
As I mentioned earlier, a band will put a lot of effort into learning a first dance. Each member has to learn their part, then they rehearse as a group over and over until it's polished. Although it's just one song, this takes time and a rented rehearsal space, which is typically factored into the overall cost of the band. When there are multiple songs, it does add to the workload of the musicians and therefore the over all cost.
(Not all bands put this effort in. I'll tell you story about a band that didn't take the time to rehearse a first dance at the end of this article)
That's not to say that bands won't play any request but there may be a limit to how many they can work with. It may be two, or ten but be prepared for an increase in cost if it requires multiple rehearsals.
Why Rehearsing is Important for a Wedding Band
Rehearsal time is how every band 'tightens up'. With a regular set list, every performance becomes a rehearsal. Butt you can't just play a new song live to an audience for the first time.
Sometimes a band will spend time rehearsing a song only to find that the vocals are out of range or the guitars need to be in an alternate tuning, and some fine tuning needs to be done to make it work.
There may be limitations with the venue which restricts certain instrumentation due to volume control.
There is also a very precise order when structuring a set list. Your band will be aware of tempo changes, how key changing can affect the audience, natural crescendo and building a raport with the audience.
Your evening schedule will also have an affect on the setlist. A wedding will rarely run on time which sometimes means last minute changes of plan in terms of breaks and running order.
Communicating with Your Band
Don't be afraid to ask about your band's regular set list but understand that it will change all the time. Be open about how important certain songs are to you in creating the wedding of your dreams.
The most effective way to convey your music choices to your band is to give a list of songs you like and let them include as many as they can, however they see fit.
Avoid specific set list 'demands'. Unless you like disappointment. Weirdo.
You have chosen a band that you like. If they are professionals, then trust them. If you feel that specific song requests would make everyone enjoy the wedding more (including the band), then be open and tell them the reasons why and let them do the rest.
Communication and collaboration is key to creating a memorable experience for everyone involved.
Feel free to reach out to me for advice on communicating with your wedding band and getting the most out of your entertainment choices.
True Story: The Wedding Band Who Didn't Care
I spent some years working as a depping guitarist. That means if a guitarist couldn't play with their band, I would 'stand in'. I had a call from one of the most popular wedding and function bands at the time to play at one of the most popular wedding venues in South Wales. During the break, we were chatting about rough gigs and they told me about the time they played a first dance song without rehearsing it.
They arrived early to set up, they announced the cutting of the cake, the photographer was on standby, the Bride and Groom were lovingly gazing into each other's eyes and the videographer was limbering up to document their first dance as Husband and Wife before the eyes of their friends and family.
The song starts...
For context. Some bands prefer to use backing tracks to fill out the sound. It keeps the cost lower as you don't have to pay for a horn section or extra keyboard player and also makes rehearsing a lot easier. It requires the band to wear in-ear monitors to hear everything clearly.
As the intro plays out and the band comes in, they realise something's wrong. Everyone in the room realises that something is wrong.
The band were so conditioned to playing with the same backing tracks that they all just assumed that it would be the same as the original song. It wasn't.
The structure was different but more importantly, the key was different and no one took the time to listen to it before hand.
They started playing in the wrong key to the track and each member was frantically trying to find the right key. To no avail.
Now, they knew how important this was and they were faced with a choice:
Stop the song and take a few minutes (with everyone watching) to learn it.
keep playing, pretend everything is fine and blame the equipment afterwards.
They decided the latter. The bride and groom were instructed by the videographer to keep going and "smile" while their one and only first dance as a married couple gets butchered.
I wasn't there (let me make that very clear) but apparently it sounded like an old confused man wrapped in foil falling down a flight of stairs.
Afterwards, the bride in tears, demanded a full refund as her night was ruined. They settled on the band re-recording the track to accompany the wedding video.
I'm sure they laugh about it now...