7 tips for live wedding music on Holly’s hot wedding tips

7 tips for live wedding music on Holly’s hot wedding tips

wedding music angel

wedding music angel

Music can make your party. And picking the perfect music for your event can really express your personality. So I met with Suzanne Barlow from Masterful Musicians to get her advice on getting the best music for your wedding.

Tips for Booking live music

  1. Volume— you may not need as many musicians as you think, your guests want to socialize, so keeping your volume to a level where your guests can talk over aids in the flow of your event.
  2. You are the star. -Your music is there to support your event, not to be the center of your event. Pick musical groups that will not upstage the bride and groom.
  3. What music and instruments make you happy? Make a list. Choose what makes you feel special.
  4. Specific Song Selections – for music outside of a musician’s repertoire, make requests 3 months in advance to allow the music to be transcribed and the group to have the opportunity to rehearse your song. Some songs do not work for certain instruments. For instance, bagpipes have a limited range, and do not do rock and roll well. Work with your music coordinator to be sure your request will sound good with your chosen instruments.
  5. Size of your Ceremony location– the length of the isle will determine how long your musicians need to play for each member of your wedding party to make it to the end. Also some family members could take longer, like grandma in a walker, or if your flower girl melts down. These are things to consider when planning how much time you will need your musicians.
  6. The appropriate amount of Ceremony music.-Plan on 30 min of prelude while your guests are arriving, then another 20 min of ceremony and postlude music
  7. Invite departed guests through a special song. Pieces of music that remind you of departed family can bring their memory to your event.

Reception music tips

  1. Keep the volume and size of your group down. If your band is playing at the volume you would hear in a night club, it will drive some of your guest’s home early.
  2. Pick music that will compliment many generations. All your guests want to celebrate with you. So having music that you enjoy intermixed with favorites for previous ages allows everyone to enjoy the party.

Thank you Suzanne Barlow for sharing your expertise. You can contact Suzanne Barlow with Masterful Musicians at 303-670-6756, 720-272-5742, suzanne@masterfulmusicians.com, http://www.masterfulmusicians.com . You can read the complete transcript below.


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Holly Collins
WEDDING DANCE instruction
author of
Holly’s hot wedding tips, 
Historically Accurate Princess Dances,
Winner of the Knot best wedding dance,
Champion Ballroom Dancer & Coach
owner of
Adventures in Dance



(Holly à) Good morning Suzanne! (Suzanne à) Good morning Holly. (Hollyà) It’s so good to have you here from Masterful Musicians. How long have you been booking? (Suzanne à) Booking? Six years. (Holly à) Amazing! What got you into this? (Suzanne à) Well our youngest son is a master classical guitarist and he kept wanting help with gigs and I kept saying no. Because, I’d managed his life for 20 years and didn’t want to do it anymore and then we met so many musicians and the professors at DU that were all saying the same thing. That they needed help tracking, contracting, protecting themselves, and making sure the client got what they needed. (Holly à) Wow that’s interesting through DU what a fun group. (Suzanne à) Well they have an entrepreneurial office there and they really encouraged me to give this a try. (Holly à) Good how exciting! So you work with a lot of brides and grooms booking live music. What common mistakes do you see them making when trying to book live musicians for the event? (Suzanne à) They often think that they need to have far more music and musicians then they do. They’re not aware of the room size or the dynamics or the fact that grandma really wants to speak to her niece that she hasn’t seen. And that having overly loud music or too many instruments is going to keep the flow of the event and cause people to raise their voices rather than just enjoying the music and being part of the event. And bands are not usually for ceremony or cocktail they are but it’s not a show it’s their event and we’re there to support it. (Hollyà) So you’re supporting the bride and groom looking wonderful but you’re not taking over the show (Suzanne à) Never (Holly à) So you don’t want a group that dominates that is so great that it upstages the bride and groom. You want something that compliments them. (Suzanne à) and actually fulfills the vision that they would like but they’ve never done this before and they want it to be so magnificent that they can over magnify (Hollyà) What is the best tip you have for a couple planning a wedding? (Suzanne à) Sit down and really think about what kind of music and what kind of instruments makes their hearts happy. This is their coming together and they should choose anything from steel drums to oboe. But it should be something that makes them feel special (Holly à) What don’t couples know about what it takes or how far in advance they need to book loud musicians or special songs. (Suzanne à) Special songs, we often get, often, almost everybody has a special request and for instruments like guitars it’s not as much of an issue if it’s a pop song. But transcribing a fully orchestrated country western song into a string trio takes about 12 to 15 hours of actual work. They have to break that song apart into melody tunes, harmony, and rhythm and make it work for three instruments rather than maybe 4 dominant instruments and eleven that you don’t really hear behind them behind the scenes. And it’s my job to listen to what the client wants and literally tell them, “I’m sorry that song is going to suck as a string trio. May I suggest an alternate set of instruments?” or an alternate song. But it usually takes 2 to 3 months to get a song transcribed by a professional and get it to musicians in time for them to rehearse it. (Holly à) How much time before for them to rehearse it? (Suzanne à) Usually it’s literally about 2 weeks ahead of time. Our musicians are working full time as musicians, they can read music quickly they get together usually once before a wedding and run through all the songs, how many people are walking? How long is the isle? Describe is grandma on a walker is she gonna take longer? What about your little ring bearers and flower girls? Are they gonna bail and melt down on the isle and do we need to keep playing until everyone get’s where they need to be? (Holly à) Right, those are good questions. I had not thought of that. (Suzanne à) Right, so there’s all these little things that we want to be prepared for so that the performance is seamless. (Holly à) Awesome. What questions should couples be asking that they don’t know to ask? (Suzanne à) They need to ask “Is this an appropriate amount of music?” I often get requests for 20 minutes of music because they don’t realize that it’s not just the five songs they’re gonna play during the ceremony. Our musicians are gonna play 30 mins beforehand while the guests are being seated, all of their special songs. Family songs, family favorites, the parents love song all these things that they can build into a ceremony and they have no idea that we can make it that personalized. And then another 10 or 15 minutes then our musicians have to get up and move to the cocktail parlor, not always, but most of the time and that is going to take a couple of minutes and so our clients have no idea on the timeline how long it takes our people to get to the top of the mountain. With all their gear, their sheet music, their music stands, their actual instruments, lighting sometimes, get set up be prepare for the guests as they arrive and then make it follow through right into the reception. And so those are questions that I wish our clients knew to ask but they never do. (Holly à) Well if it’s your first time planning events you don’t understand timelines. (Suzanne à)And so they don’t understand how the pricing is structured and so it is my job to try and explain why all these things cost what they do. (Hollyà) Right that makes perfect sense and then what about for the reception music? (Suzanne à) We do a lot of reception music but we also work along with DJ’s. And so it depends on the size of the wedding party and how many guests, I will often recommend a DJ if they love a variety of music that a string Quartet or quintet is not gonna be able cover in a beautiful way. My goal is for the client to get the wedding that they really want and not what someone else puts in their mind. (Hollyà) So you’re more classical musicians and less rock bands. (Suzanne à) Less rock bands, although we have several, we do blue grass, we do steel drum, we do violin music. But less of the large reception band and unless our client is gonna have anywhere from two to three hundred guests, chances are both their budget and the space they’re using a huge band for a reception all you’re gonna hear is the band. (Holly à)Right and you were mentioning earlier even during the reception you wanted people to be able to have conversations. (Suzanne à) Exactly and we do a lot of weddings and dinner music that maybe for 60 guests and under and our musicians will switch instruments because I guess these people play more than one, they all have their master’s degree, they will switch instruments from a jazz guitar to jazz guitar and upright bass and a saxophone and a keyboard. And have a small combo that still encourages people to celebrate as well as dance but we are not trying to recreate a club scene. Many clients don’t realize how many generations are going to be represented at their celebration and they’re only thinking of their friends and their peer group instead of the entire picture. (Holly à) Interesting so you need music that compliments multiple age groups not just your peer group. (Suzanne à) Exactly, we had one beautiful bride she wanted all raygay music all the time and I love raygay music and we can provide raygay music but you really want to put in a couple of jazz standards something from the 80’s something from the 90’s. people that something your little sister and your grandma can both enjoy at some point during the evening because you’re gifting a lot of this to your guests. (Hollyà) Right, that’s fabulous! What’s the most unusual wedding you’ve ever done? (Suzanne à) We’ve done a lot of unusual weddings. We’ve done an all beetles all the time wedding that was supported by a very large production company, it was called star keep productions at the time and they brought us in with basically a miniature orchestra with vocals and they had about 16 brides maids and grooms men actually stand on risers in the grand ballroom. They also had magnificent cover band which was not from us but they were magnificent, and they had like a hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of flowers hanging from the ceiling. And we came in with this little tiny part and I actually got to go to the rehearsal because most of the musicians that we have playing were playing in the symphony that night. So for the rehearsal I actually had to go and time how many sets it would take the grooms men and bride’s maids would take coming down a really long isle. We had violins at the bottom and top of the stair way greeting people and walking them in. and the family was hilarious they were so much fun and I’m literally standing there with a stop watch counting, “one, two, three…” and writing out this down so that the musicians knew how to loop the music and finish it out within a few seconds of each other. So that was an unusual one, and we’ve also done the steel drum and acoustic guitar recently for Wendy Bass at the Westin Westminster and people think, “Oh that’s all island music.” But it wasn’t they played jazz they played contemporary music and it was just two musicians but it was just right for what was happening during that event. So we do all kinds of fun weird things. (Hollyà) Was there one that was more memorable than the other? Or one where the memory just stands out? (Suzanne à) Well since I don’t go to the actual events our musicians would be better to answer that, but for me I remember there was two. One that the bride switched up her bridal processional from cannon in D to Puff the Magic Dragon on top of Veil Mountain with two classical guitars and that one made me cry because Puff the Magic Dragon was a special song to my children. And she said, “My daddy sang this to me before I went to bed for years and years.” And she wanted to surprise him and I said, “You do realize you’re going to be crying before you get to the end of the isle.” And she goes, “Yeah.” And I went, “Done.” So our musicians prepared this secretly came in and played and I guess it was absolutely lovely. So that’s one and then we had another wedding where there were the groom brought in a harp just for the prelude and just for his mother and he played a song that was played at his father’s memorial who had died something like 25 years before. And I was on the phone with this young man going, “Are you gonna make your momma cry?” and he goes, “Yes and no. But this brings my father with me to my wedding.” And so we had this other string trio that brought in the harp just for this one song which took about 15 minutes to play and it was just such a sweetness to include a member of the family that was not with us physically but could be brought in through the memories. (Hollyà) Aw how beautiful that’s amazing. (Suzanneà) So we do something like 120 wedding a year so you ask what are memorable ones and I’m like well I’m never on site but there are a few. (Hollyà) They are beautiful because as you were booking them you know this is a really touching emotional meaningful song. (Suzanne à) Yes, and all I did was email and talk on the phone. But I love being able to help someone that way. (Hollyà) Well thank you so much this was truly fabulous Suzanne. I look forward to hearing from you again later.