Wedding musician vendor West Coast Music on stage at wedding reception
The Hunt

How To Find A Great Wedding Musician

The Soundtrack to Your Big Day
BY DONNA KIM / 01 24 22
Photo by Lacie Hansen Photography

As you’re in the thick of planning your wedding and starting to visualize every element and moment of your big day, have you thought about the kind of music or key songs that you want playing in the background, like a soundtrack accompanying your vision? The wedding venue, decorations, fashion, and all the other wedding day elements are so important, but the wedding music that you choose can really set the entire mood for your festivities. There are many things to consider when you think about finding a wedding musician and what you should look out for. “Music is one of the elements of your day that can make or break your guests' experience,” advises wedding planner Diana Chouinard of Jubilee Events. “Music has a significant impact on the ambiance, everyone's mood, and whether or not they remember never sitting down because they were dancing so hard, or sitting down because they just weren't that into it.” 

We always recommend hiring a professional wedding musician, dj or band for the most stress-free, seamless experience on your big day. There can be various types of musicians for specific parts of the wedding day, so it’s important to think about where and when you want to have a wedding musician performing. Coming up with a music strategy for your wedding day can be overwhelming, which is why we’ve outlined exactly how to go about finding a great wedding musician and planning a superb soundtrack for your event. “Band and bar are the two priorities that come up consistently for the majority of our clients,” says planner Virginia Frischkorn of Bluebird Productions. “Selecting entertainment is a key vendor decision—it sets a large part of the tone for the evening and is often one of the more memorable vendors. Most groomsmen may not remember how the napkin was folded but they will remember if your entertainment was good or not!”

Learn more about the wedding musician from Hannah & Tyler's modern wedding
Learn more about the wedding musician from Shelby and Rob's wedding
Learn more about the wedding musician from Brittany and Adrienne's mountain elopement

1. What Is Your Wedding Music Budget?

Before you start debating over string quartets versus a New Orleans brass band, the first step is to revisit your wedding budget and see what you have available to spend on entertainment. It is always helpful to understand what the average cost of a wedding is overall, and how much of that budget couples tend to spend when it comes to their wedding day music. In 2020, the average cost of a wedding was $20,300, and in 2021 the average wedding band cost was between $3,097-$3,617 for a typical 4-hour performance. The prices will definitely be different based on where you are located (cities with higher cost of living will inevitably have higher wedding vendor costs) and whether you decide to go with a single wedding musician like a pianist or a wedding DJ, versus a 12-piece band. “There is a significant expense gap between a band vs. a DJ, which accounts for the number of musicians and instruments of each,” notes Chouinard.

Wedding musicians and entertainers dictate their prices based on a variety of factors. Almost all professional wedding musicians and performers have a standard set number of hours for performing, and an extra fee for any additional hours. Depending on how many people are performing in the group, you may be expected to cover the cost of travel and accommodations for each person, which can drive up your total wedding band cost. Sometimes, wedding bands and DJs have larger teams that include sound technicians, dancers, and assistants whose fees may or may not be included in the base price, so it’s good to clarify up front. Another thing to be mindful of is that your wedding musician will likely have professional sound equipment, such as microphones and speakers (and can also source lavalier microphones for your ceremony), so make sure that they are transparent about any additional music equipment costs and fees.

Learn more about the wedding musician from Janet & Patrick's classic wedding
Learn more about the wedding musician from Alexandra and Bron's outdoor wedding

2. When Should Wedding Musicians Be Playing?

Before you start the search for your dream wedding musician, it’s helpful to have an idea of when music typically plays during a ceremony and reception. We always recommend having music playing when your guests arrive at your venue as they are taking their seats—especially if you are having pre-ceremony cocktails. The best wedding music creates a relaxing yet anticipatory energy for guests who are excited to celebrate you. Here is a timeline of when music typically be plays throughout a wedding:

  • While guests take their seats and are waiting for the ceremony to start
  • As the family and wedding party walk down the aisle
  • The grand entrance of the bride walking down the aisle (this is often a different song than what accompanied the rest of the wedding party)
  • Exit music for the couple as they walk down the aisle together, as well as the wedding party recessing after them
  • Cocktail hour
  • Dinner 
  • Reception dance music, including the couple’s first dance and any father-of or mother-of dances
  • General wedding dance music favorites for all the guests

“It’s important to note that the type of music you select can help to tell the story of your wedding day,” explains wedding planner Leslie Mastin of Leslie Mastin Events. “Starting with ceremony music, it acts as an introduction to the ceremony and can set the tone for the beginning of your special day. Some details to consider with this is if you prefer traditional music, contemporary music, pop music, electric violin, a singing choir, etc. There are multiple different routes you can take when choosing ceremony music, it all depends on what your overall style is. As for reception music, it’s essential to work your way into fun party music. Reception music is important because it can capture the guests attention and turn your night into the party of your dreams!”

Learn more about the wedding musician from Rosy and Mau's modern wedding

3. What Kind of Wedding Music You Want?

After you visited your wedding budget and conversed with your partner about how much you can spend on your wedding musician and any additional entertainment, it’s time to begin the research! There are so many different types of wedding day performers, from string quartets to live bands and wedding DJs. String musicians (violinists, cellists, guitarists, harpists, etc.) most often perform for the ceremony—including the major walking down the aisle moment—plus any pre-ceremony welcome cocktails, as well as cocktail hour (which can depend on whether the ceremony and reception are at the same location). String musicians are always a great idea because the classical tunes playing in the background instantly adds a romantic, relaxing ambience to your wedding day. However, more and more couples are requesting that string musicians play modern day songs for a quirky twist on a classical wedding playlist, so if this is something you’re interested in, be sure to mention it in advance in case the musicians need to learn additional music (and if they’re open to it). “Your pre-ceremony and ceremony music set the tone for your wedding celebration, so think in detail about the vibe you'd like your guests to experience from the moment they enter the wedding,” recommends planning duo Aleah and Nick Valley of Valley & Company Events. “While some couples enjoy traditional string musicians for a ceremony, others may want a guitarist or something pop-centric or contemporary. We love when couples change up the music vibe with each moment, ramping up the fun factor into the reception.” The best wedding music for your ceremony will be something that is both meaningful to you and aligns with the overall tone of your event. 

Many couples then transition to having a live band or DJ play the wedding reception music, which is the best way to bring your wedding party to life on the dance floor. Having a live band perform on your wedding day not only creates an unforgettable energy, but these wedding professionals are experts at guiding—as well as responding to—the vibe of the reception to keep everyone entertained, as well as being a key part of maintaining the event’s timeline.

Wedding musicianThe Knock performing on stage at the wedding reception
Wedding musician: late-night dj playing at after hours party, guests dancing in the dark with glow wands and a disco ball

4. How Do You Find a Great Wedding Musician?

Once you’ve honed in on what style you want for your ceremony and wedding reception music, we recommend beginning the search for your ideal wedding musician by focusing on those who are local or nearby your venue. You can even search our directory of the best wedding musicians around the world and filter by your wedding location, then check out photos of the weddings they’ve played for— including guests on the dance floor having a great time! 

Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to local options if there is a dream wedding musician you’re dying to have play for your big day, even if it means flying them in for the event. “Depending on where you're hosting your big day, it's quite common to have musicians traveling in from a larger city,” adds Chouinard. “While supporting local is always ideal, don't be deterred if you aren't finding a DJ or band within driving distance—many are comfortable and accustomed to traveling some distance to an event.” Just know that when you hire musicians from different states or even countries, the cost will inevitably increase.

For the spreadsheet-loving wedding planning couples (hey, they help!) you may find it helpful to compile a list of your wedding musician options with their fees, locations, hours of service, and any additional notes that may come in handy when it comes to decision-making time. You can also ask your wedding planner or wedding venue if they have a favorite wedding musician they’d recommend from past events. 

Wherever you find them, make sure you listen to their music or watch any available videos on wedding dance music compilations on YouTube before reaching out for a meeting. Most wedding musicians and live bands will have recordings of the best wedding music that you can listen to, as well as a public library of their songs that can be included in your wedding playlist. Wedding DJs may also have a sampling of the songs they like to include in a typical wedding playlist and will often share a Spotify link or videos that you can check out. Pay attention to whether your styles match, and whether their repertoire includes many of your favorite songs, plus find out how flexible they are with taking on additional requests for your wedding dance music. In an ideal scenario, it’s always best if you can try to see them perform live so that you can get a more accurate idea of what they will be like on your wedding day, and see how the audience interacts. But when that’s not possible, videos and recordings can be sufficient!

Once you’ve compiled a list of musicians you'd like to meet with, “prepare a list of general songs/music you like and what you don't [before the meeting] advises Chouinard. “If there are any significant moments or cultural elements of your ceremony and/or reception that require a musical accompaniment, speak to them in more detail about this to ensure you're a great fit for one another!”

Learn more about the wedding musician from Karlina and Sorab's vintage wedding
Learn more about the wedding musician from Claudia and Brian's modern wedding

5. What Else Should You Consider?

Before locking down your wedding musician, we recommend consulting with your wedding planner and venue to gather any details or potential precautions the musician will need to take when setting up that day (are there limited delivery windows, earlier events happening in the space, equipment loading restrictions, etc.). Once you have all this information, confirm with your potential wedding musician that these are things they can accommodate. Ask how much time they will need for set up, performance, and breaks. Also make sure they will give you a heads up of any extra equipment they need to bring so you or your wedding planner can coordinate with the wedding venue directly in case of any issues. 

Most wedding musicians will let you submit 1-2 new special song requests to their existing wedding playlist options, as long as they are given ample time to prepare and learn them. If you have a wedding playlist of favorite songs you’d love for them to perform for your ceremony or as part of your wedding reception music, consult with them in advance to see how open they are to suggestions. 

After you’ve narrowed down your wedding music talent, it’s time to talk to each candidate to determine whether or not they are the right fit for your wedding day and budget. “One of the first things to consider when looking for wedding musicians is noting the band leader,” suggests Mastin. “The band leader represents the entire band, and a great band leader/band is going to amplify the night. Great band leaders have a seamless flow through the night-they know when to get guest dancing, when to get guests back in their seats and how to make the night flow effortlessly.”

Wedding musician Element Music performing on stage at a wedding reception
Learn more about the wedding musician from Charina and Brian's waterfront wedding
Learn more about the wedding musician from Sade and Matthew's classic wedding

6. Time To Book Your Wedding Day Musician

Of course, once you find an amazing wedding musician, there’s always the chance that they could get snapped up during the research process, so be sure to act fast! “In order to make sure you secure the perfect fit, research bands right away and check their availability,” recommends Mastin. ”Once you find the band you like, book them right away!”  

Investing the time researching your wedding reception music will be well worth it in the end: The right musician will make sure your wedding day is a day that everyone will remember. See you on the dance floor!