Hiring professional musicians is not an everyday occurrence for most brides and grooms. And yet, music can make or break a great party -- it’s an important decision. If you’re overwhelmed with the task of hiring entertainment for your reception, you’re not alone. Most couples aren’t sure where to start or what questions to ask. Here are the basics you need to make an informed decision.


1. Get Referrals.

Don’t be afraid to ask the band leader, booking agency or DJ for a list of references. Look for entertainment choices with good referrals. Ask friends and people in the industry for tips. Once you get a referral, meet with the actual DJ or band that will be performing at your event to ensure that you’re comfortable with them. If you don’t have a referral, call different bands and DJs and meet with them in person for an interview. A booking agency or production company is a good source for your entertainment needs because they have access to numerous bands and DJs -- you’re sure to find one that’s a good fit.


2. Experience counts.

When interviewing potential DJs or bands, find out how much experience they have. The more experience, the better. Be sure to hire an entertainer or agency that you trust. If you can’t trust them to show up on time, play the appropriate music and say the appropriate things, then you shouldn’t hire them at all. Your entertainments’ experience is very important since they are one of the few vendors who will be interacting with all your guests. Experts agree it’s wise to hire professionals who have been in the business a while and who have a good reputation.


3. See the band or DJ in action.

No doubt the best way to make a selection for entertainment is by watching them in action, seeing how they interact with the crowd. Ask if you can catch a performance or attend a wedding where the group is playing or the DJ is mixing music. If you’re not able to see their work in person, most bands, DJs and booking agencies have sample tapes or DVDs for you to view. It’s a good idea to see your entertainment perform at a function ahead of time if possible, so you know what to expect.


4. Map out the music.

You and your fiancé should decide what type of music you want and ask the band or DJ about their style. Do you want a more subdued atmosphere or is an energetic, dance-oriented reception more your style? Talk about every aspect of the day’s itinerary by reviewing music for the entire reception -- from the introductions, to the first dance, to the last song as guests go home. A good DJ or band will pace your event so the reception will have a good flow to it.  If the itinerary is flawed, guests may get bored and leave early.


5. What’s the price?

It’s natural for you to ask “how much is this going to cost?” By some accounts, brides and grooms spend half of their wedding budget on their reception. Aside from food and drink, one of the biggest reception costs is entertainment. Prices vary depending on how long your reception lasts, if your vendor is providing lighting as well as sound or if you’re planning a wedding on an off-day, like a Sunday or a weekday. Shop around for a good value but don’t sacrifice experience and talent for price.


6. Ask about insurance.

Do they carry liability insurance in case of an accident? Experts agree that most reputable DJs and bands will have insurance as well as a business license. Being licensed and insured is a sign of a professional. Theft insurance only protects the DJs’ or bands’ interests; liability insurance covers accidents and protects guests and the venue. If a guest at the reception gets rambunctious and breaks a speaker it should be covered under their liability policy.


7. Find out if you can pick your play list.

Some couples have certain tunes in mind that they want played at their reception. Other couples prefer to let the professionals take care of the music. The musical determination depends on your preference since it’s your day. Ask ahead of time how they prefer to run a reception and give them your thoughts on which songs are off limits -- maybe you absolutely don’t want the Chicken Dance or the Electric Slide at your reception. Ask if they’ll honor guests’ requests and how they will handle a guest requesting one of your do-not-play songs. 


8. Ask about a backup plan.

In case of an emergency or a mix-up, what provisions does the vendor have? Things can go wrong like equipment malfunctions or a singer getting sick. Find out what the booking agency, band leader or the DJ will do in the event of any of these mishaps.


9. Book in advance.

Like all other elements of wedding planning, it’s not a good idea to wait until the last minute to book the entertainment for your reception. Bands and DJs are in hot demand most weekends so the sooner you lock in a vendor the better. A good time to book your entertainment is six to nine months before the big day.


10. Get a contract.

Experts agree that it’s essential to have a contract to protect yourself. The contract serves as a mutual agreement between the couple and the booking agency, band or DJ and it outlines each party’s expectations of what will happen.


Whether you hire a DJ or a band, whether you book direct or through an agency, be sure to review your vendor’s credentials. Make sure they share your vision for the reception, work out the details, get it in writing, and once the wedding day arrives, kick back and enjoy the music. As you dance, you’ll feel satisfied knowing that you chose the right entertainment for your special day.

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