You’ve likely heard the old wheeze: To become truly proficient at Skill A you must spend 10,000 hours doing it. Naturally, upon careful examination this theory falls apart entirely. Over the course of my life I’ve spent 11 hours shucking walnuts and yet I’m damned good at it. In fact, among my acquaintances the aptness of my shucking is considered to be without peer.
That said, there are certainly cases where experience counts. Before rummaging around in my workings, for example, I’d prefer to employ a surgeon who has spent a lot of quality time turning other people inside-out. Along these same lines, when plotting a course for your upcoming wedding, you might appreciate the advice of someone who has witnessed well over a hundred of the things. Someone who knows the templates, traps, and turmoil of such events.
Someone like me.
Because, in my capacity as minstrel, I’ve been to them all. Small weddings. Huge weddings. Chandelier-choked hotel weddings. Small inn weddings. Backyard garden weddings. Expansive meadow weddings. Weddings on land. Weddings at sea. And I’ve seen what works. And I’ve seen what doesn’t.
So please allow me, the voice of experience, to be your impromptu wedding planner with these tips.
Don’t sweat the schedule
In my capacity as band leader I’ve been handed multi-page printouts of the day’s events, timed to the minute. When such paper crosses my palm I know that there’s an excellent chance that this event is going to be 14-percent less joyous than it might have been otherwise. And I do because I understand that the wedding’s fate rests with The Organizer. Whether it’s the bride or groom, the parent of same, or an overbearing sibling or second-cousin, someone has invested a lot of themselves in having this thing come off perfectly. And when their schedule inevitably goes to hell, they’ll do everything in their power to put it back on track, even if those attempts suck all the life out of the day.
Take it from someone who knows, weddings very rarely go according to plan. The ceremony will run late because an important person didn’t make it on time. Photographs will take longer than anticipated. It may take an hour to feed people instead of 45 minutes.
Rather than ruin what is supposed to be one of the most pivotal days of a lifetime, go into it allowing some slack. Being off-schedule by half an hour will make very little difference. Roll with the flow and be aware of your hard deadlines. If you’re pungling up for a facility until 10 PM (and paying double for every hour or-portion-thereof afterwards), have someone do a reality check at 8:30 and move ahead. Otherwise, stop watching the clock and enjoy yourself.
Okay, sweat the schedule a little bit
I was ready to wrap that up when I recalled The Wedding Where Everything Went Wrong. And poor planning played a major part in its production. So I amend thusly.
This was a late-morning wedding, followed by an afternoon reception that would wrap up with an early dinner and dancing. Long day for everyone. Three things conspired to ruin the day: A full, open bar; the world’s oldest caterer; and the father of the groom.
Because it was a long day, people figured that by one o’clock they were ready to start drinking. Because it was a full bar and there was enough represented youth, tequila, vodka, gin, and bourbon flowed like wine. Because people were having such a marvelous time, the father of the groom told the caterers to delay feeding the guests. Because the guests weren’t being served food, they kept drinking on empty stomachs. Because they kept drinking, some of them got out of hand. Because they got out of hand, the father of the groom got ugly with the caterers and demanded they start serving right away. Because the caterers were now rushed, they set up the buffet improperly so that they served from a single side of the long stretch of tables instead of both sides. Because they served from a single side, there was but one server to carve the roast beast at the end of the table. Because the one server was well into her 80s and alone in her task, the line was very slow. Because the line was slow, some guests went back to the bar and drank more, waiting for the line to clear. Because these guests were whooping it up in the bar it was difficult to dislodge them, which made the food slog even sloggier. Because of all these delays we, the band, had nearly run through our allotted four hour commitment. Because we had run out of time the groom asked us to play overtime, which we were happy to do. Because we were playing overtime we wanted to get to the first dance and peppier music as soon as possible as overtime is costly. Because the first dance came sooner than the father of the bride was happy with, he decided we were too loud for the room (though the guests were having a wonderful time). Because he decided we were too loud for the room he barged on stage, grabbed me by the shoulders, and shook me while screaming “Turn it down! Turn it down!” And because I will put up with a lot but NOBODY shakes me, I stopped the band, thanked the crowd, explained that THIS MAN WOULD NOT ALLOW US TO CONTINUE, and we trooped off the stage to the drunken and disappointed cries of the crowd.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t sweat it. But not to the point of stupidity.
Identify the problem person
Not every wedding has The Problem Person, but a goodly number of them do. And when I call out TPP, I don’t mean the tipsy uncle who bellows spicy sea chanties, your sorority sister who has a few too many drinks and very publicly hits on the band, or your future brother-in-law who shows up wearing a Metallica t-shirt to a formal wedding and proceeds to clear half the appetizer table. These people are colorful and will prompt those humorous “You won’t believe what Uncle Leo did” stories with which you can bore your future progeny.
No, I’m talking about those individuals who will make the day unpleasant for everyone they come in contact with. Stereotypically the mother-of-the-bride takes the rap but I’ve seen plenty of fathers, brides, and grooms who fit the bill. They’re the ones hounding the catering staff over timing, portions, and the viscosity of the beurre rouge. Who hover over the band with a decibel meter demanding, when things finally start cooking, that they play nothing but waltzes that can’t be heard more than two tables back. Who demand that the facility manager knock off 10-percent because the bathroom guest towels were the wrong color.
You know, in your heart of hearts, who this person is. And you know what they’re capable of. If possible, talk to them and let them know they will be forever damned in your eyes if they muck up your wedding with their interfering. If—due to complex family dynamics or because a drug hasn’t yet been invented to capably deal with their condition—they can’t be talked to, give fair warning to those who will have to deal with them.
In some cases I’ve had brides tell me before the fact that their father is going to be a problem. (And that I should be nice but ignore him.) I’ve always appreciated this as I then know what to expect and understand where I stand with the people who really matter.
Check out the wedding planner
I know I’m acting as your virtual wedding planner, but hell, I’m just a guy on the Internet. Perhaps you’d feel better if you hired one who’d taken the trouble to print this venerable title on a business card and letterhead. Before doing so, ask this person for references and, if possible, attend an event they’re running.
In regard to references, you want them from not only clients, but people who’ve worked with them during an event—caterers, photographers, floral arrangers, and musicians. This is vital because while a wedding planner can be saintly and efficient with a client, they can be a harridan with those they believe they command. They may get things done by cracking the whip, but if they make miserable the lives of those providing you vital services prior-to and during your big day there’s a reasonable chance that it will be a duller (and very tense) affair.
Save some dough
Weddings are designed to create a lasting memory. They are also, in too many cases, instruments of avarice. There are, regrettably, people who will do whatever they can to pluck a few more dollars from your pocket.
In my business this is generally done through the music contractor. This is an agency you contact in order to line up a band or DJ for your event. It’s common for this agency to take half of whatever it is they charge. So if you’re billed $4,000 for an 8-piece band, the band may make $2,000 of that.
In the very worst cases, the band you get is not the band you heard or saw in the agency’s promotional material. Again, worst case, some agencies create generic band names—Ocean Breeze or Swingin’ Sultanas—provide you with a great sounding demo, and you hire them for a small mountain of money. The contractor then calls a series of musicians—drummer, bass player, guitarist, keyboard player, vocalist, sax player—tells them the day and time of the wedding and what name they’ll be playing under. One person is generally designated the leader and carries sheet music that the others will play from. Maybe some of them have played together before, maybe not. Should the hiring body crack wise and wonder where so and so from the picture is, the leader explains that person was sick but they’re using a sub who is just as good or better.
All this said, the musicians in these temporary collectives are usually very capable. They play and read music well and they know how to comport themselves. But they’re not a real band. And that makes the difference between a generic sounding group playing standard wedding fare and one that really clicks.
In almost every case, you’re better off hiring directly. You will pay less and the band will likely make a bit more. Plus you can make special requests of them before the fact. A good band will learn your “first dance” rather than impose one on you.
Talk to friends who’ve hired bands or DJs for their events. Go out to respectable clubs and listen to a few bands or DJs. If you find some you like, ask for their cards and contact them. If you can’t find someone suitable, talk to the people who run the facility where you’re holding the event and ask them for some recommendations. (If they tell you that they’ll take care of hiring a suitable band or DJ, you’re back in contractor territory—you’re being over-charged.)
Treat the help well
Understand that while the people working to make your day the greatest one of your life very much want it to be exactly that, they’ll make an extra effort if you treat them with respect. The catering crew or facility staff will take care of their people, but it’s often up to you to make sure the photographer, videographer, and entertainers are fed and watered (and tipped if you’re particularly happy with their work).
It’s a long day for these people—a four-hour reception often means at least an eight hour commitment—and forcing them to go through it on an empty stomach and in a parched state is inconsiderate. The more fun they have doing their jobs, the better they’ll serve you. This doesn’t mean opening the bar to them or showers of fillet and lobster. A decent meal, something safe to drink, and a little coffee as their energy flags is all that’s required. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost much more and the reward you earn in an enthusiastic crew is priceless.