Hiring Wedding Musicians: Advice from a Professional Wedding Guitarist

If you want to add a special touch of class to your wedding day, I would strongly recommend you hire a live musician.

No, I’m not just saying that because I’m a wedding musician. It may sound like I’m biased, since that is my chosen profession, but let me explain why a live musician is better than playing recorded music.

Matthew Lister Wedding Guitarist

Why hire a live musician?

Let’s say you get a DJ and you just have him play some mp3s as the bridal party and the bride walk down the aisle. What happens when the bridal party is done walking? Cut the song short and start playing the next song.

When the bride finishes her walk down the aisle, then what? Hit the stop button. Abruptly. It’s all very awkward and choppy. Here’s why I think I, and live musicians in general, are better. I have endings already planned out.

That’s right—when I see the bride, the last bridesmaid or the flower girl coming down the aisle, I already have a transition written to smoothly segue into the next song.

Hiring Wedding Musicians: Advice from a Professional GuitaristI can fade out on a gentle cadence as the bride finally reaches the end of the isle. I can build in volume as everyone rises and you take your triumphant steps to the end of the aisle.

When something goes wrong during the ceremony, which it sometimes does, a live musician can help. Sure, everything went great in rehearsal, but now your 5-year-old flower girl is starting to get freaked out at all the people.

A live musician can improvise, keep the music going, make it long or short. What’s a DJ going to do? Loop the same music while the flower girl is slowly being talked down?

A live musician has got it covered and can make the music not sound like an mp3 on a continuous loop. You’re hiring a more human element with a live musician, and thus your ceremony will sound more organic.

In addition to that, your wedding musician can also give you advice on choosing songs for your wedding ceremony.

How much does a wedding musician cost?

You don’t have to break the bank to hire a live musician. With DJ’s and catering costing thousands of dollars, a solo wedding musician such as myself will typically cost around $300.00 for the ceremony and an additional $100.00 for the cocktail hour.

Some professional musicians I know will do a ceremony for even less but please do not go too cheap for any musician you hire.

My email inbox is flooded with pleas from inexperienced musicians begging for my wedding song arrangements because they saw them on Youtube and are incapable of arranging it for solo guitar themselves.

I’ve even gotten these emails from people the day before they have to play a wedding ceremony. How unprofessional is that? Chances are they were some relative of the bride or groom who was like, “Trust me, I got this” then panicked thinking I could help them by giving away my arrangement to them the day before they had to play it.

Unless your relative or friend is exceptionally good and they either do this for a living or you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can play your ceremony, then don’t go with them. Believe me, there is no shortage of capable musicians that can make your wedding ceremony something truly sublime.

Hiring Wedding Musicians: advice from a professional wedding guitaristAs for musicians you want to hire, that’s up to you. Soloists are always more budget-friendly than, say, a string ensemble, which can cost upwards of $1600.

Genre is also a consideration: Jazz, classical, pop, rock… Whatever you feel is appropriate.

Always listen to the musician you are going to hire beforehand, of course. If they don’t have recordings or YouTube videos of their work, then don’t take their word for it.

I have songs on iTunes, Bandcamp, YouTube, Spotify, and a ton of wedding repertoire that I keep in a Dropbox folder to send out to prospective clients. In the digital age there is no excuse for a wedding musician to not have representative samples of his or her work.

Where can I find reputable wedding musicians?

Where do you find musicians for your ceremony? Trust me, they’re out there. Put an ad on Craigslist and you’ll have to shake them away with a stick, but be forewarned: Craigslist is full of scam artists and amateurs looking to make a quick buck.

Put out a request to a local conservatory and you’ll get people who are passionate about music, but may lack the experience of playing a wedding ceremony.

One way to find wedding musicians is to ask friends who have recently gotten married who they used for their wedding ceremony. You can also do a Google search for “wedding musicians [your city or state]” and see who comes up.

An even better idea is to talk to your wedding officiant or the staff at your wedding venue/reception hall and ask who they recommend for a wedding musician. Since they work in the industry, they have a wide network of contacts and will be more than happy to help.

As for me, I work for an entertainment company, Cuzin Richard Associates. Entertainment companies often host a variety of artists that can fit any taste and budget, so going with one that’s been around for a long time and has musicians that they have vetted through the decades is always a safe bet.

Do I have to sign a contract?

Never hire a wedding musician who doesn’t ask you to sign a contract. You can’t just take a musician’s word for it that they’ll do what you agreed upon.

You need to have something legally binding to protect both yourself and the musician. Sort out the contract with the wedding musician or entertainment company several months in advance.

Typically, a contract will provide a list of the musician’s dos and don’ts, which may vary. For me, I always request that I not be put in direct sunlight. Nothing beats baking in a wool suit on a 90 degree day, meanwhile the metal strings on my guitar are heating up so bad that they’re singeing my fingers. I played one gig like that in my early days and that was the end of it. For more information on contracts, check out my article: Wedding Music Contracts.

Do I have to pay a deposit?

Most contracts ask for a deposit prior to the wedding to secure the booking. Usually that means half of the full amount is paid up front in order to secure the musician for that date.

That deposit should be refundable if something falls through, but always check. I know that my contracts always have that caveat, but I can’t speak for everybody.

The rest of the balance is usually due on or before the wedding. All I can say about that is sort it out before the day of your wedding. I know, you have a million things going on, but you should get it taken care of so that it is one less thing to worry about on your wedding day, which should be fun and relatively errand-free.

Do I tip the wedding musician?

As for tipping, it’s not expected, but if I spent a lot of time arranging music for your ceremony, boy do I appreciate it!

You might say that I’m biased, but then again you might say that I strongly recommend that you tip! The amount you tip doesn’t really matter. Just tip whatever amount you feel comfortable with.

One more thing I would like to add regarding hiring a musician: Please check with the musician if the songs you are requesting are in their repertoire. That is, do they already know the songs your want for your ceremony?

If not that means the musician(s) have to learn the song or songs in question. This can take time. For instrumentalists it takes even more time, especially if it is a vocal piece being translated into an instrumental piece, because that means the musicians have to take time arranging the music for their instrument or ensemble. For me, as a classical guitarist, this can often be no easy task.

What this all boils down to is, talk to your wedding musician well in advance about what songs you want played during the ceremony.

For me, as a classical guitarist, I often spend upwards of 5+ hours arranging a piece for my instrument. It’s not easy. Often times I am trying to incorporate a melody, harmony, and bass line all on an instrument with just six strings.

For that reason I always contact all of my clients and let them know that, if the music they requested is not in my repertoire list, then I’ll have to arrange it. I usually need at least a couple of weeks (preferably more) to arrange and then rehearse their musical selections.

As mentioned above, listen to the recorded work of the prospective musician you wish to hire beforehand. Chances are they have samples of songs they have arranged or covered. Do you like what you hear? Then you’re all set. And trust me, you won’t regret it on the day of your wedding when you have the gift of music for the most important of occasions.

Once you have found the perfect wedding musician, now it’s time to get started choosing the perfect wedding ceremony songs!

About Matthew Lister

Matthew Lister is a classical guitarist from New Hampshire with over a decade of experience arranging and performing songs for weddings. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in Musical Performance in 2001. Visit Matthew’s website at www.matthewlister.com

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