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August 14, 2016  TAGS:  MUSIC  RESOURCES

Tips on Booking Musicians: The First Steps toward Fashioning the Ambiance of Your Dreams

Tips for hiring musicians for your wedding ceremony | Vermont Bride Magazine
photo by Eric Foley Photography

Perhaps you can perfectly envision your walk down the aisle - you can hear the exact music you want in your mind and see the whole scene perfectly. Or perhaps you don’t know exactly what you want, but you know the feeling you’d like the music to convey - perhaps slow and dreamy, or meditative, or regal and stately, or with a certain driving pulse underneath – or you just have a gut sense that you can’t find the words to explain. Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between - with some thoughts and feelings about what you’d like, some specific ideas, but haven’t nailed down yet exactly what you’d like.

Once you’ve given a little thought to the music you’d like to have at your ceremony, it’s time to start making contacts with musicians. Here’s a brief overview of the process of booking a musician. First, professionals in the wedding business (particularly Vermont professionals, in my experience!) do understand that most couples haven’t booked a musician for an event before, so are experienced in helping you through the logistics of the process - so just jumping in with the contact is most commonly just fine. But for a little broader understanding of details to keep in mind in consulting with a musician to be sure you end up with the perfect musician for your wedding with confidence in understanding the booking process, read on!

On your first contact, most couples are looking for the following information: 1) Is the musician or ensemble available for your wedding date and time? And 2) What would be the cost? 

In order to get the information you’re looking for and move on with the booking and planning process, with full understanding of the final cost, it can be really helpful to include the following information up front:

  1. The date and time of the ceremony (approximate time is usually  ok on the first contact) and whether you’d like music for the ceremony only (typically 20-30 minutes of prelude as guests are arriving plus processionals, recessionals, possible interlude  - typically 1 hour total, or 1.5 hours for Catholic ceremonies) or ceremony plus cocktail hour/reception, or reception only - and probable number of hours desired, if you know 
  2. The location of the ceremony (and/or cocktail hour/reception if relevant)
  3. Will your event be indoors or out? 
  4. If your wedding will be outdoors, will you be providing shelter for the instruments and musicians? Under what conditions would you move indoors? (Some musicians will not play outdoors; others require negotiations - and potentially extra fees - regarding specific details for protection of instruments and/or performers from sun, wind, extreme temperatures and rain)
  5. Will you require specific musical selections that are not among the typical standard wedding music options, or on the musician’s playlist? (in some cases, there may be additional costs for uncommon requests to cover purchase of new sheet music and/or time spent arranging and practicing; in some cases, your preferred repertoire choice may not be an option with a particular musician, or may require additional fees, and you may wish to know this before making a final decision to book)

Including this information can help you to get the clear answers regarding availability and cost that you’re looking for right up front. In considering musicians’ fees, bear in mind that some musicians have extensive training and experience, and often practice for hours a day, which may lead to higher cost than less experienced or less advanced musicians. Every musician I know has stories of mishaps of their own or their peers from their early days of playing for weddings. Among the stories I’ve heard:  arriving at the wedding site only to find that the instrument was not in the case and therefore being unable to play; hopping on the express train in plenty of time - only to find it was going the wrong direction - and missing the wedding; one group member getting lost and arriving at the wedding after it was finished (stories of younger players arriving late are very common); sheet music blowing off the stand in the middle of the processional because it wasn’t clamped down properly, causing a halt to the processional music (I’ve heard many variations on this story for all portions of the ceremony); music stands blowing over and/or music flying into the bushes and taking a few minutes to reassemble. I could go on - and haven’t begun to address musical expertise - but you get the idea - you often get what you pay for.

An additional note: some musicians are more organized than others. If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours, this could be a source of concern. Your music planning process could be very simple with a musician who’s organized and replies promptly. With wedding vendors who do not reply promptly, your planning process, including repertoire choices and more, could be a nightmare. You deserve prompt communication! If you don’t receive that, it may be a red flag. (Bear in mind that occasionally communication doesn’t go through – I’ve occasionally received inquiries in my spam folder – a second attempt may be helpful in some cases). 

Once you’ve confirmed availability, pricing, potential shelter for instruments, and options for suitable repertoire choices, you should expect to receive a contract. Once the contract is signed by both you and the musician, and your deposit or retainer fee is received by the musicians (this may be 50% of the total fees, though this may vary quite a bit), you can rest assured that you have completed the logistical part of booking a musician, and can now move on to the fun part - refining your repertoire choices! This deposit/retainer fee is normally considered non-refundable, since the musicians will most likely be turning down other paid work for your wedding day between the time of booking and the time of your wedding. 

Starting off on the right foot with a good working relationship with your musicians can be a really helpful beginning to the process of setting the ambiance for your big day.  Vermont musicians will certainly help you to fill in the missing pieces and will generally be very understanding in the process, but conveying your understanding of their needs - in terms of time, protection of priceless instruments, respect for training and expertise, and conveying a bit of your feelings about what repertoire inspires you - can really help get you in a groove with the musicians in a way that drives everyone’s energy toward optimal results!

Lisa Carlson is a freelance flutist, performing for weddings and other occasions throughout Vermont and beyond, with musical offerings ranging from a quartet of flute with violin, viola and cello, to solo flute, to duos and trios of flute with harp, violin, piano, cello, oboe, and more. She also teaches flute in Montpelier, Vermont and online to students worldwide.