How to hire a band for your wedding or event.

September 15, 2009

How to Hire a Band

Some things you should know before booking live entertainment

Booking a live band for your special event is

always a solidly great choice. Live music

adds atmosphere to any gathering, and is

capable of turning any party into an event that

will be remembered for a long time. Try this

test: Ask yourself how many office parties

you’ve been to where there was nothing special

going on other than the same people you see

every day at work: everyone puts in an

appearance, socializes for a while, then goes

home. Now ask yourself how many live

concerts or shows you’ve been to? Think about

the excitement in the air at a concert. Think

about the audience: everyone cheering, dancing,

and having a great time. It’s a good bet that

some of these concertgoers even save their ticket

stubs to put in a scrapbook when they get home.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a similar level of

excitement at your event? A live band can help

you give your guests an evening to remember!

However, hiring a band for a special event is

sometimes intimidating for those who have never

done so before, and it does involve additional

planning and expense that should be taken into

consideration well in advance in order to

minimize any last-minute “surprises” that

otherwise might come up. It helps to be as

informed as possible when negotiating a price

with the agent or bandleader, and it is especially

important to communicate your expectations to

the bandleader so that the musical portion of

your event goes off without a hitch. Bandleaders

may also have some expectations of their own; it

is a two-way street, and like any business

transaction the objective is to create a win-win

scenario whereby you, the band, and your guests

can all call the evening a success.

This article will focus on how best to achieve

that win-win scenario, so as to make your event a

memorable one that will achieve its desired

goals. The first section will provide some ways

to help you plan your event to include live music

as a centerpiece, the second section will provide

some information that everyone should know

before starting to negotiate a fee with the

bandleader, and the third will focus on the actual

day of the event. The information in this article

will help make your event a Dream Come True

and not a Nightmare!

The Planning Process:

Plan your event: The first thing on anyone’s todo

list should be to come up with an overall plan

for how you want your event to flow, and where

you want the band to fit in to this equation. Will

there be dancing? Will there be quiet dinner

with background music? Will there be a cocktail

hour? The answers to these questions will

determine what type and size of band will suit

your needs. (fig.1) Having a 17-piece Big Band

for your dinner hour would be too loud for your

guests to hold a conversation, but having an

acoustic jazz trio for a crowd of dancers is also a

mismatch. Assess your needs realistically, and

hire a band that meets those needs. Be sure to

communicate those needs to the bandleader too;

he/she needs to know what you’re expecting.


Fig. 1: Some successful musical matches:

Cocktail/Dinner music: ……………………….………Small, acoustic Jazz trio or quartet

Wedding Ceremony: ……………….Pianist, organist, Classical Duo/Trio, Brass Quintet

Swing Dancing:…………………..……..…Large band with a drummer and lots of horns

Disco Dancing:……………………….………….……………Variety band with a vocalist

Many bandleaders will be able to work with you to accomplish all of your goals. For

example: it’s not uncommon for a large swing band to divide up into a smaller jazz unit to

play during dinner and then have the full band assemble in force for dancing after dinner.

Consider the logistics of your venue: Along

these same lines, it’s important to make sure that

your location fits your needs. If you’re hiring a

large band, make sure the stage area is large

enough to hold them all comfortably. (it doesn’t

even need to be an elevated stage, just an area

where the band can set up and hold court). If the

event is to be held outdoors, the stage area

should be covered in case of inclement weather,

as should the sound system. If it’s going to be an

evening event or after dark, make sure there is

adequate power for lighting on stage. It is

helpful to provide as much of this information to

the bandleader beforehand as possible too.

Consider the visual impact of your event, and

choose music that’s right for that theme. A good

band will always entertain your guests, but a

good band in a well-decorated room will

transform your guests and bring them into an

entirely new world for a night.

Hire Professionals: Sure, you might be able to

save some money by getting so-and-so’s brotherin-

law who played in a band in college to come

jam with his friends at your party, but ask

yourself: isn’t your event important enough to

give your guests the best? Professional

musicians do this for a living! They will take

your event seriously, work hard to entertain your

guests, and will work with you to suit your

event’s needs instead of just hanging around

playing their instruments for their own


Budget Accordingly: Remember that most

professional musicians have a great deal of time

and money invested in their abilities and their

equipment. A Journeyman-level musician

typically has had as many years of schooling and

practice on their instrument as a doctor, lawyer,

or dentist. Many professional musicians have

degrees in music, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and

sometimes even Doctorate degrees in the

Musical Arts. Many are also music educators in

public schools or privately. Musicians who

teach privately usually earn anywhere from

between $30 to $80 per hour teaching, and often

they are giving up some or part of that income to

work in bands. Musicians usually work as

independent contractors, which means they’re

responsible for their own health insurance, selfemployment

taxes, retirement plans, and other

expenses that the rest of the working world gets

through their employer.

What’s more, the physical effort of playing an

instrument is very demanding. Medical studies

have shown that a concert violinist burns as

many calories during a typical day of practice (4

to 6 hours) as an athlete training to run a

marathon. Most working musicians carry their

own gear to and from the job site, ranging from

at least two or three brass instruments to a full

set of drums. Musicians are prone to RSI’s

(Repetitive Stress Injuries) and other job-related

maladies. All of this contributes to added

medical costs and higher insurance premiums for

which the musician must bear the cost.

And let’s not overlook transportation costs!

These days, fuel expenses are significant,

especially for the larger-sized vehicles most

musicians must drive in order to transport their


All of the above factors contribute to the band’s

Cost of Doing Business. (fig.2) You should

expect to pay these musicians fairly for their

time while they’re performing at your event.

That being said, you don’t have to break the

bank to get the band you want. Come up with a

realistic budget for live music based on the size

of the band you want (number of musicians) and

the appropriate costs involved for each musician.

total musician wages)

Agent Fee Additional percentage taken by booking agents for the work they do in booking the

band. (typically add 15% to total musician wages)


Cartage: Bonus paid to musicians who carry large instruments or equipment, such as drum

sets, keyboards, amplifiers, etc., to and from the job site. ($45 per large instrument)

Doubling: Bonus paid to musicians who must learn and maintain skills on more than one

instrument in order to perform an engagement with the band ($25 per add’l


Mileage: Bonus paid to musicians to cover fuel costs to travel to and from the job site (45

cents per mile for engagements outside Metro area)

Travel Time Premium: Bonus paid to musicians who are required to travel more than 30

miles to perform an engagement. (usually $12.50 for each 50 mile increment)

Sound System: Covers the cost of professional sound reinforcement, including the use,

cartage, and maintenance of sound equipment and a professional sound engineer to

operate it. ($200 to $800 depending on needs and size of room)

Stage Lighting: Covers the cost of use, operation, and maintenance of professional stage

lighting. ($50 to $150 depending on stage needs)

Payroll/Employment Tax: Covers all Federal, State, County, and Municipal taxes and fees

associated with Contractor wages as reported on IRS Form 1099-MISC (add 20% to

musician wages)

Insurance: Covers musical instruments and equipment against loss, damage, theft, or other

unforeseen circumstances (cost varies depending on individual rates and policies)

The bandleader will have considered his/her cost of doing business when providing a price quote. If they

haven’t, they either don’t care whether or not their business loses money, or they are too inexperienced to

consider all of the factors involved and will be looking for ways to earn additional money later on. Either

way, you should expect to budget accordingly for the band you plan to hire. The table above will give you

a ballpark idea of the costs involved when budgeting for a band.

The Booking/Negotiation Process

You’re now ready to begin negotiating. Having

planned your event’s overall flow, being

informed about what the bandleader is likely to

charge, and having budgeted and planned

accordingly, you’re now ready to bring the band

into the equation. Arrange a meeting with the

bandleader or agent. Meeting in person is best,

but taking care of business over email is

acceptable too. Email is often better because it

leaves a written record of all of your

correspondence, which makes it easier to look

back and find out what’s already been discussed.

Watch out for extra fees: An ethical bandleader

will not try to add in additional costs, but once in

a while you’ll get a leader who tries to charge a

more than realistic amount. Although some

leaders may not be willing to share information

on how they pay their musicians, fortunately you

can use the above table to figure out if you think

they’re charging an unreasonable amount for

their services. As always, though, the

cornerstone in this business is communication: If

you feel you’re being charged an unreasonable

amount, you can always ask the bandleader to

explain why he is charging so much. If he gives

you a reasonable explanation for his fee, then it’s

probably legitimate.

Get a contract. A written contract is more than

just your assurance that the band will perform

their duties in a professional and timely manner.

It is also the band’s assurance that they will be

paid at the end of the night. Having a legally

binding document outlining terms of service is a

sensible and recommended part of any business

dealing, and dealing with a band is no exception.

The contract can contain anything you both agree

to, but it does need to have a few key items: at

minimum, your contract should contain: Your

name and address; the name and address of the

signatory musician; the location and time of the

performance, and the amount of compensation

agreed to. Beyond that, there are some terms the

bandleader will probably insist on, such as the

fact that no commercial recordings will be made

of the performance without written release, etc.

There are usually also some legitimate concerns

bandleaders have about the band’s working

conditions while onstage. (fig. 3)

The bandleader most likely already has a

standard contract boilerplate that he/she usually

uses; this is normally very straightforward and

shouldn’t pose any problems. Any aspect of the

contract can be discussed and worked out to your

mutual satisfaction; it’s just a matter of sitting

down and talking about it.

Communicate your needs to the Bandleader, up

front. If you’re going to need the band to play

Calypso music for half of the night and then

Polka music for the other half, communicate that

at the time of negotiation, not later on. If you

have a favorite song for the Bride/Groom dance

and would like the band to play it, the bandleader

needs to know early on so he/she can prepare and

arrange the music, and rehearse it if it’s not

already in the band’s repertoire.

Allow the Bandleader to communicate his/her

needs to you. Remember that these musicians

are accustomed to being treated professionally

while on the job. This doesn’t necessarily mean

you need to lay rose petals at their feet or

separate all of the green M&M’s out of the bowl

in their dressing room, but you should treat them

like respected business colleagues. As with any

business negotiation, it is a two-way process.

Remember that the musicians are performing

their job in a different location each time they

perform, and as such they will be very conscious

of their work environment and working

conditions being up to certain standards.

Fig. 3: Working Conditions for Working

Bands: Here are some of the things that a

bandleader may ask for as part of the band’s

jobsite or working conditions:

• Safety: Make sure the area where your

engagement is to take place conforms to

building codes and is safe for occupancy.

• Breaks – the band will not be able to

maintain their energy level if they are

required to play solidly for 3 hours straight.

Most bands divide the time up in 1-hour sets

with 15 minutes of break-time in between,

although this is usually flexible based on

your event’s needs.

• Setup: the band will need some time, ahead

of time, to set up their equipment on stage.

It is best to allow at least 3 hours prior to the

arrival of guests, so that the heavy

equipment can be loaded in without being in

anybody’s way,

• Refreshments: The bandleader may request

that water pitchers or bottles be available to

musicians while onstage. Even if they don’t

specifically request this, it’s a good idea to

offer it.

• Food: The band usually needs to eat

something – and it’s usually quite disruptive

if they have to send out for pizza during

their break – so it’s common practice to

provide meals for them. They don’t have to

eat at the same time as your guests,

especially if they’re contracted to play

during dinner, but they do need to eat

sometime during the evening.

• Sound System: if the band’s price includes

the sound system, make sure the bandleader

and/or his sound engineer has a chance

ahead of time to get to know the acoustic

properties of the room. If the sound system

is being contracted separately from the band,

make sure the sound company has a chance

to check out the room ahead of time. This

small amount of preparation will make all

the difference in the world.

Whenever possible, make sure working

conditions are discussed and put in writing in the

contract. This will protect you from potential

liability later on if any accidents happen.

Deposits: A bandleader will usually ask for a

deposit to reserve the date. The amount varies

from one individual to another, and will usually

range from as small as $100 to as large as 50%

of the total engagement fee. The bandleader

usually holds the deposit in a special bank

account until the date of the engagement.

On The Day of the Event:

You’ve planned the event. You’ve hired the

band, paid the deposit and signed the contract.

Here are some things to keep in mind on the day

of the event:

Have the business items prepared in advance.

Make the check out ahead of time so you can

hand it to the bandleader smoothly. If you’re

planning on reporting the event as a business

expense, make sure you have the bandleader’s

social security number or Tax ID number for

your 1099-MISC,

Have a liaison or contact-person available at

the venue location early enough to let the band in

so they can start setting up. Allow the musicians

plenty of time to get the heavy lifting out of the

way so they can take a few moments to relax

before having to be at the top of their game when

the music starts.

Give your bandleader the cell phone number and

contact information for your contact-person so

they can call if they have any questions or

problems. Having the means available to solve

minor issues before they turn into major ones

will make all the difference!

Don’t micromanage: Chances are, you’ve got

enough to worry about the day of the event

without worrying about the band. Fortunately,

you’ve hired professionals! Let the bandleader

do the job you’re paying him to do. He will

make sure the musicians under his employ will

conform to whatever conditions you have

discussed with him ahead of time. If you have a

favorite song, it’s acceptable to make a request,

but there’s no need to dictate the band’s entire

song list to them – let them do their job!

Expect the Unexpected. Live music is unique in

that it takes place in the moment. No two live

performances are ever exactly alike. Each

musician is constantly striving to make every

performance unique and wonderful. Don’t

expect your band to sound exactly like the

recording – expect them to sound better! Expect

them to interact with the audience a little bit, let

them “work the room” and personalize their

show for you.

Enjoy the music! Remember that live music is

the best way to turn an ordinary party into an

Event (with a capital E).

CK Band

CK Band


2 Responses to “How to hire a band for your wedding or event.”

  1. Catherine Leisek said


  2. Well stated! This is from one band guy to another!

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