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Planning Wedding Music

Paul Scheffer, San Francisco Event Music 

I started to jot some ideas around this topic then happened to read Robbie Schlosser’s blog on BAWN from 4/25/15.  Robbie touched on the main points about how to successfully use music for all types of events including weddings. What I took away from his experience is that asking the right questions on both sides is essential to creating seamless events.

Thanks Robbie for taking on the heavy lifting.  I’ll focus on a couple of finer details within the wedding music planning process.  What is it about music that makes it essential for a fun and successful wedding?  Everyone loves music yet everyone has different tastes.  Finding the right blend and balance for weddings is a part of the planning process that merits time and consideration.

I’ve been involved in hundreds of weddings that seamlessly flow due to working with top professionals on both sides of the equation.  Musicians spend years developing their talents and each one has certain areas that they excel in.  Placing the right musician in the right setting and allowing them to do what they do best ensures quality results. Clear communication and realistic expectations along with their talent and expertise creates the magic we can expect from live music. Those songs from a wedding scene in a movie are wonderful, and recreating what is done in Hollywood is not always easy but with the right musicians and a bit of effort it can be done.

I encourage couples to investigate the ceremony music by listening to pieces from the musicians list until they hear ones that are appealing and appropriate. There are endless variations online.  If I’m doing someone’s wedding I will play for them my renditions live so they know exactly what to expect. Creating understated elegance is my goal when working with couples in planning music for their weddings. The majority of the weddings I do are small to medium in size and venues – short walkways. We select songs that immediately establish a melody and are easy to end without awkwardness.  Sometimes it might make sense to include the seating of parents and entry of bridesmaids in one song if the venue is small rather than play two incomplete snippets of a song.  This information is obvious to seasoned planners and musicians but shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing with clients.  I always want them to be involved in the decision making so there are no surprises.

Occasionally a client will have a family member or friend who they would like to sing at their wedding.  It’s fun to work with others and it can be a very rewarding experience to fulfil the request. Before agreeing to the request I ask to be put in touch with the singer so that we can talk in person and I can give the client an accurate quote if more time will be needed. Sometimes the singer is a professional and we are able to determine the song and its key etc. with one conversation.  Sometimes the singer is not a professional so more time and possibly rehearsal time is necessary. If this is the case the client needs to be brought into the conversation. I would never discourage a client’s friend or family member from singing even in the most challenging situations.  It’s a personal request from the client that needs to be satisfied, but again; clear communication and realistic expectations with the client so that there are no surprises.  We all like surprises…but not at weddings!

At this time I won’t spend time on what types of music instrumentation to use for a wedding ceremony.  Practically any instrument or combination of can be and has been used in ceremonies.  No matter what the client wants, the same details about planning and communication previously discussed come in to play to ensure…no surprises.

Music for the reception, dinner and then dancing can be as simple as using the same solo musician for all segments.  This is the most affordable option and for a small intimate wedding it’s all that is needed.  If there is a larger budget I like to suggest starting with a solo instrument for the ceremony then adding more musicians for each segment.  Then add a duo or trio for the reception and a trio or quartet for the dinner.  I’m generally thinking of a jazz combo in these situations but I’ve worked with several great classical string groups that offer a nice variety of music as well.  The same can work with many types of ethnic/world music combinations.   Where I’m going with this is to build the musical texture while increasing the guests experience as the event goes on.  This is especially effective when the segments occur in different rooms.  Details to be considered if some of the same musicians will be performing in different segments are getting from one location to the other invisibly, location of setups and giving the musicians adequate break time.

As mentioned before if dancing is not the main focus danceable music can be supplied a solo musician, duo, trio or quartet.  A dance band or DJ is of course the best choice for dancing into the night.  That subject needs its own blog and I’ll not go into that in the short space I have left.  DJ music for weddings needs the same thought process as live music along with consideration for volume levels.  Not all DJ’s are the same and I prefer working with those who share my interest in understated elegance in all details.

I would like to thank Gwen for asking me to impart my thoughts.  I’d be happy to receive any feedback or comments at paul@sfeventmusic.com.

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