Tips and tricks to making your event musically magical...
These helpful tidbits are catered more toward wedding clients, however, there are some wonderful nuggets of wisdom for all events. Let's create an enjoyable experience for your event guests.
Remember to plan ahead with clear, realistic, and achievable expectations for your vendors.
1. Music Planning & Budget
First and foremost, plan ahead, know your budget and be realistic with expectations. It is never too early to start planning. Based on a formal industry study of 2017 weddings, wedding couples underestimate how much they will spend on their wedding event by 40%. Wedding couples spend an average of $600 on wedding musicians. Just a couple years later, Denver weddings cost an average of $25,147 in 2019.
On the topic of budget, be open and clear with your wedding vendors. If you do not feel comfortable talking directly about your budget, give your wedding or event vendor a price range. Booking vendors and discussing budget and rates should not be a sneaky game of "ha! I gotcha!" Truly professional vendors will work with you. But again, be realistic. If you do not know what your budget is, just say so but plan on doing your own research as well. Remember, every vendor sets their own rates.
It is a good idea for wedding couples to start thinking about music that reflects where you and your fiance have been since you've been together whether it's an emotional journey or a road trip. Write it down. A couple's musical tastes can change over time. Be thoughtful in selecting your music. Give your pianist ample time to learn new music, if necessary.
Occasionally, my clients are not particular to certain songs for their wedding ceremony. I am more than happy to offer suggestions based on what you like. Give your pianist ample time to rehearse and polish the musical repertoire. Last-minute song changes to your wedding ceremony are extremely stressful to the musician who has been hired (by you) to be a part of your wedding and deliver the best music on earth for a day you'll always remember.
I would advise all wedding ceremony songs to be selected, agreed upon, and in stone at least and no later than 30 days prior to the wedding.
2. Gratuity (awkward, I know...)
There's a lot of conflicting information out there about how wedding vendors should be tipped and which ones should receive a tip, at all. Don't let other businesses tell you the dollar amount you should tip your wedding vendors. If you feel your vendor has gone the extra mile, offer gratuity. With implied humor, if you plan on being difficult to work with, plan on offering a generous gratuity. Ha! Not only is it proper etiquette to offer gratuity (especially for smaller vendors) but many vendors have actually spent years perfecting their art. Some will have gratuity "built-in" to their contracts with you. I work frequently for high-end, "couture" weddings and events wherein the catering company, flowers, photography, and other vendors are amazing and talented yet smaller companies.
3. Prompt final payment
Any amount due must be paid at the end of my musical performance. Please be ready to complete your agreement by immediately posting payment as previously arranged. Some wedding vendors require 100% payment upfront.
Some of my wedding couples select a parent, other family members, Maid of Honor, or Best Man to actually pass over the balance due at the end of my time at the event and this works out very well. Although your vendor will be patient and understanding if they have to wait a brief time for payment, it is always appropriate to step aside and complete business discretely and in a timely manner. Offering swift payment enables you to get back to your guests and the event and enables your vendor to close out their portion of the event participation. Be courteous.
4. Walking down the aisle
Wedding couples: take... your...time...walking...down...the...aisle.
Typically, wedding couples will want me to perform very specific and meaningful songs on piano for them to walk down the aisle. In most cases, the bride has selected her entrance song with time, care, and possibly a few tears in the process. Think of it as your final walk as a "single" or unwed person. Slow it down...make it last...make 'em cry and enjoy the beauty of this event.
Recalling a wedding years ago, the bride placed an obsessive amount of emphasis on the "aisle walk music". Yet when the time actually came and despite all that stressful and obsessive emphasis, the bride literally speed-walked down the aisle and I hardly had a chance to play the song that she desperately wanted me to play for her "big walk". I felt awful because there was nothing I could do. So, slow it down. It might sound silly, but...practice your walk at home or with your bridesmaids. They'll love it. Have fun with it but also take a moment to be serious about your timing.
5. On-site, Day-Of, Pre-Ceremony/Pre-Event
Dependent upon how formal the wedding or event is, the wedding couple or host may assign a family member or another trusted guest who is not actively participating in the actual event to be a liaison to the pianist. It is always a good idea to clearly identify a "go-to" person since the wedding couple or host will be focused elsewhere. Remember, I probably do not have any idea who your "Aunt Susan" or coworker Doug is, whom you've appointed to be the go-to point of contact.
6. Musical timing for Wedding Ceremony
Timing is very important for any wedding ceremony. It is very important for the continuity of the wedding ceremony to make sure the pianist has either a clear line of sight of the entire ceremony and the entrance of the wedding aisle or identify a friend/family member who can cue the pianist during the ceremony. Without a cue or clear line of sight, the musical timing aspect of the wedding ceremony is uncertain. Please make sure the pianist has a clear line of sight to the wedding ceremony and aisle or has someone to cue him. I cannot stress this enough. Otherwise, the wedding couple will be cued by the pianist.
7. Offering refreshments to your wedding or event pianist
When I am required to be on-site for three (3) plus hours, there may be "downtime" otherwise known as dead time. It is always a kind gesture for my clients to invite me to have some type of refreshment if any is offered to guests. This invitation to dine (typically out of the way of guests) ought to be discussed prior to the actual event. It is simply appropriate. A vendor meal is often written into my contracts for events where I am onsite for more than three (3) hours.
8. Bridezillas, Groomzillas, etc.
Basically, don't be one. Enough said.
9. Wedding rehearsal attendance
Attending the wedding rehearsal can often be vitally important for your wedding pianist. It is a very appropriate time to have last-minute face time with your pianist, work out any final issues, and get a very good feel for the actual ceremony and space of the performance. It is left to you and your pianist to discuss whether or not the pianist's attendance at your rehearsal is necessary. Based on availability, location, and timing, the pianist's attendance may or may not be possible or even needed.
10. Staying within your budget
Coinciding with #1 which was to plan in advance and be forthright in discussing the budget for your live musicians:
Some wedding couples, event coordinators, and other clients book a pianist as an afterthought. Unfortunately, making the pianist an afterthought too often means the pianist gets whatever is left over from your event budget. Most people have never booked a pianist before and therefore are not aware of what a reliable and talented musician would cost. Thus, these wedding couples experience sticker shock when the rates and services are revealed in a quote.
If you want a pianist for your wedding ceremony or event, work it into your budget from the beginning so your pianist has something to work with. In brief, be honest and realistic. I cannot stay within a budget if I have no idea what your budget is. With some limitations, it is possible for me to hand-tailor my performance and my rates to fit your budget.
11. Stay in contact with your pianist
It is common for pianists to be booked for weddings and events up to a year in advance. When I am booked that far in advance, it's always great to have contact with my clients through email or on the phone every few months just to check in and discuss any changes. My clients are always very busy yet it is highly beneficial to stay in touch. Doing so will eliminate any last-minute surprises.
The last thing anyone wants is to be running around trying to figure out what songs will be played at the wedding with the event only a few weeks away. Avoid that stress by staying in touch. Remember your pianist has many other clients as well. Contact your pianist as often as you need. Use phone conversations and emails to be direct, to the point, friendly and effective usage of time.
Be respectful of the pianist's time too. I once had a client who emailed, text, called, and then left voicemails multiple times a day at literally all times of the day AND night. This client expected me to immediately respond so we could review the minutia of their event, details had already been discussed ad nauseum. I am more than available to discuss and resolve concerns, but I have a work-life balance as well. Clients typically do not have my 24hr concierge services available in their budgets... hint-hint.