Making the transition from bar band to wedding band comes with some pros and cons. Weddings, like corporate events, generally pay way more, often for a much earlier evening. But there’s a ton you need to know and understand about weddings to do it well.
Understand your wedding band target audience
To really get the concept “target audience”, think of an archery target. There’s a bulls-eye, and then there are rings. The whole thing is the target, but the closer to the middle you get, the more valuable it is when you hit it. Similarly, your target audience has a bulls-eye, and then rings of less valuable (but still targeted) audience members.
For a wedding band, the bride is your bulls-eye; please her at all costs. The first ring out is the female friends of the bride, including particularly the women in the wedding party. Not only is their enthusiastic enjoyment of your show crucial to the party going well, they’re a valuable source of referral business. The second ring out is the guys–the groom, groomsmen, and the husbands/dates of the women in the first ring. As you probably know from bar gigs, guys are a different and sometimes tougher audience to reach, and the best way to get them is through the women in the room. The fourth ring out is the parents, extended families, and more distant friends. The fifth and final ring is a group we often don’t think about as part of the audience: venue and catering staff, the wedding planner, and other vendors involved in the event
By the way, we know how heteronormative the above paragraph is. So far, all the weddings we’ve worked have been boy-girl kinda deals, and we just don’t have experience with how this dynamic plays out in same-sex weddings. We’d be willing to bet it’s not dissimilar, though. And the concept of rings of targeted audience groups holds no matter what business you’re in or what the target market is.
Make your show decisions from there
Build your set-list based on a deep understanding of your target audience. All eyes should be on the bride. It’s fundamentally about her. Play the dance music that she’s going to get up and dancing to, surrounded by her friends, with their husbands and dates nearby on the floor. Meanwhile you want the parents at least bobbing their heads, and you want the caterers quietly enjoying you while they work.
This might be the same material you do in a bar, but with more love songs and no breakup/cheating songs. Leave “Love Hurts” and “Go Your Own Way” at home (although, curiously, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” totally slays at wedding receptions). Here’s a great list of the top wedding songs of 2017. You will be playing some Ed Sheeran, just start accepting that now.
Understanding the flow of a wedding reception
A reception has several very specific moments in it you’ll help coordinate. There will be a First Dance, where the couple will take the dance floor alone. The couple is likely to have a specific song request for that one, and you’ll want to recreate the recording as faithfully as you can. There’s the Father-Daughter Dance, and sometimes the Mother-Son Dance, which will probably have special requests as well.
Often the wedding party will enter the reception room in a sort of processional, and your job will be to introduce them to the room. The format for that typically is “Introducing (bridesmaid), being escorted by (groomsman)! Give them a nice round of applause! And now we have (bridesmaid), escorted by (groomsman)! Let’s hear it for them!”. Move at the right pace to give each pair a nice moment, without it getting draggy and boring. The introductions culminate in the huge reveal, “And, ladies and gentlemen, introducing for the first time, MR. AND MRS. WHATEVER AND WHATEVER WHOEVER!” Obviously you’re going to want the names written down for this, possibly with pronunciation help, and make sure you know how the bride and groom want to be introduced. Don’t worry about working from notes; nobody’s going to be looking at you.
At some point, the music will come to a halt to cut and serve cake, to do the bouquet catch and possibly garter catch. Sometimes there are toasts. At Jewish weddings, they may want to do a traditional dance called a hora, in which the couple is lifted up on chairs, traditionally to the song “Hava Nagilah“. You should be prepared with specific songs rehearsed and ready, or with recorded music queued up.
All these beats are worked out in advance between the wedding band and the planner or the bride. Take good notes and have these moments built into your evening. It’s likely the wedding planner or whoever is directing the evening will play it by ear on the exact timing of these things. So be professional and gracious when they stop you right in the middle of your big dance medley to cut cake!
As the one with the PA, you’re the designated announcer as these things take place. Here’s a page on a DJ website with great ideas for what to say at all these moments.
Know who’s who at the wedding
You’ve probably had plenty of contact with the bride prior to the wedding, and possibly her mother, a wedding planner, or someone else who was part of organizing the party. Knowing who to go to with venue issues and timing questions during the reception is critical (hint: NOT the bride).
Beyond that, put your “knowing the bartender’s name” skills to the test by learning the names of the parents, grandparents, and kids. Name-checking them personally as they show off on the dance floor is a great personal touch. Names are important, and training yourself to remember them is a skill that will serve you well in many endeavors.
All that said, a lot is the same as other types of gig
You still have to perform. Your setlist shape should be similar, even though it needs to be more tolerant of interruptions. Your look is still important, probably even more so. In short, you’ve been preparing for this for your whole gigging career.
Ultimately, the fun and energy that a wedding band brings to a party works the same as in any other environment. If you’re having a blast, your audience will have a blast. So go out there and kill it!