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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone! My friend recently came to me with the idea of starting a wedding band. We live in Billings, Montana, so our dream of being a jazz/funk band will need to be slightly modified to being a jazz/country/pop/funk band. That doesn't bother me (as the bass sax I am privileged enough to be able to borrow from the local Shrine Band loans itself to country quite well). My friend liked the idea of a 12 to 13 piece band, all well-dressed and professional-sounding. My hesitations with that idea are many: it would be hard to pay them, find space to set up such a big band, and coordinate their schedules. I have talked to several musicians, of various ages and specialties, but before I start the band, I would like to ask all of you for your ideas. What instruments are necessary? I could have a few guitars, a few bass players, a few trombonists, and several singers at my disposal, but that wouldn't necessarily blend well. I have some doublers (trombone/guitar/bass, bass/violin, trumpet/guitar, and percussion/guitar) who might want to play with us. I also have a few cats who focus on one instrument (sax, trombone, vocals, keys, guitar). Of all of those, who should do what, and what other instruments do I need to find? As a side question, I play alto, tenor and bass sax, but I own a flute and a piano. Should I start honing my flute, keyboard, and vocal chops, or should I focus on sax? I don't necessarily have another full-time sax player yet.

Also, what books should we get? We want to find someone with an existing book of charts to use, but if we have to buy Real Books, is that a good idea? We don't want to be constrained by set arrangements (like big bands often play), so Real Books are ideal for customized sets, but they are limited to jazz standards. We will need to do some pop, funk (as in "Uptown Funk") and country (this is Montana, after all!). I would love to do "head charts" like Count Basie's band, where we play by ear and memory, but I am not sure we can all pull it off.

And then comes the question of pay and attire. What might be fair to charge for a group of this size and style? and how should we divide our earnings? All of us are fairly talented, and we will rehearse a lot before we start doing gigs. Also, we can't all necessarily afford suits (and it gets up to 100 degrees here in the summer, which is a little warm for a wool suit), but we still want to look classy. I really don't want to wind up doing gigs with some of us in black tennis shoes and ill-fitting pants, like a middle-school band.

Lastly, what do you think about equipment? How many mics, monitors, and pieces of sound gear should we buy or borrow for this kind of band? We may be able to borrow a lot of stuff from others, but we need to know what to get. Should we ask the venue to supply the equipment?

Thank you all in advance for your advice and willingness to share your experience with me!
 

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The smaller the group, the easier it is to manage, logistically and otherwise. Also, as you point out....the smaller the group, the more lucrative the pay for each member.

You get into Big Band numbers...things get way more complicated.

I have no idea what to answer regarding pay scale because I dunno what the scale is in MT. here, in Portland....$50/person is the 'grumble-grumble-OK-I'll-do-it" minimum per person for a club gig, 3 sets of music, a 3-4 hour night.

A private event ? Here, folks wanna pocket a good $80-125 absolute minimum, as well as get fed and watered. It may be different where you are.

I think you need to focus your genre(s). You talk about Big Band and Basie, then you talk about Funk and Country. A Big Band is minimum 16 people (assuming a singer). A horn-sectioned Funk band is maybe 7 or 8...Country maybe just 5.....

You can pull of Big Band sorta classic charts with around a 6-person horn section (3 saxes, 2 trumpets, one 'Bone) and a 3-person rhythm section, and have it sound nice. But you'd need a decent arranger in your midst.

Are there any arrangers out in your area ? This guy in our area has been posting on C'list for years. Recently the Tenor player in my band actually pulled out some charts he had purchased from this guy, they were good charts:

http://corvallis.craigslist.org/muc/5450068560.html

Maybe there's someone like this in your area ? Or I am sure this guy is worth communicating with, I am sure he can send the charts in a file or via snail-mail.

Good luck. I say...keep it simple, keep it small (oh, and by ALL means..do NOT...do NOT...utilize 2 rhythm players on the same instrument - 2 guitarists, 2 bassists, 2 keys, etc...unless you wanna find yourself in the middle of the next installment of Drama Mamas....).
 

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+1 to everything Jaye said, above. However, after reading the OP, the best I can do is good luck, you'll need it. I hate to put it this way, but it sounds like a total nightmare scenario to me...
 

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Forget real books and charts. You have to learn pop tunes... a lot of them... and that's going to start with a rock combo set up with players that know them. They have to perform at a level where a list of songs is sent to you by the bride, you find them on youtube and then you learn them by ear. You just don't throw something like this together with a dream. You need experienced musicians who know what young couples want to hear and have the ability to cover tunes as near accurate as possible.
 

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Wedding band = dance/pop/country band = cover band. If you've not been in a cover band before, you'll want to seek one out, and try out. Finding a cover band in need of a sax shouldn't be a problem. They'll have a playlist you will learn. It helps a lot to play another instrument like keys, even more if you sing. Same suggestion for your buddy. Money available, floor space, and sound systems pretty much only support the minimal unit band: drums, bass, keys or guitar, a second guitar or multi-instrumentalist, and sometimes a 5th soloist on specialty instruments. Two minimum must sing. Your first band will likely play more bar gigs. It probably won't grow into better gigs, so you'll want to aspire to better bands that do more weddings, as an opening comes available. Observe what the band leaders do to be successful. He or she is herding cats, hustling dollars, moving equipment and getting paid less. After you have some experience, you *could* then think about starting a new band. There is a band format that's a cover band plus a 3 or 4 piece horn section, that could rip on funk and jazz. I think a successful wedding band has a great front person(s), members enjoying each others' music, humility enough to play ketchup covers, and service minded to the customer. But first, join a band, even if its playing free gigs, and work your way up.
 

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As much as it pains me to say this (since I prefer instrumental forms), you have to have a decent singer. If you don't, you will (1) have a hard time convincing people to hire you, and you will (2) have people saying "Play something with words so we can dance to it." Also, I have played in groups ranging from duets to big bands. As others have mentioned, it is difficult to get folks to pay enough for a big band to get more than gas money for everybody in the band. (This may be a regional thing [I'm in Northern California].) And the more folks you have in the band, the harder it is to find a time to rehearse and have everyone available for a gig. Don't forget you'll need publicity materials (photo, demo), and you need someone who is a good salesperson to hustle gigs.
 

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I have a wedding band. Going on 20 years now.

At the moment it's on my left ring finger, but if you want it I'll sell it to you fairly cheap. My wife won't notice and even if she did, I'll play dumb and say my tenor must have swallowed it .:mrgreen:
 

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A wedding band of the size you contemplate will have very little marketability and the pain of organisation will be just too great. A four piece outfit with a good singer who doubles on keys or guitar and could cover all the usual cr** would work immediately. My advice though? Don't do it unless you're also wanting to play in a style-less, boring way. Instead, I would advise being committed to a style that gives you satisfaction to play (jazz, funk, pop, R&B, country -whatever) and then looking for wedding work in addition to clubs, pubs, private parties, bar mitzvahs, dances or whatever. Believe me, you'll get your share of weddings and the few you do will make you glad you don't specialise in them! In fact, I'll go as far as to say that folks who hire you for weddings because they like your style and want something memorable for their function will be a lot easier to work for than those who go for a typical "wedding band" and then want you to cover every song that they've ever liked or heard.
 

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Weddings are just half the story since 50% of marriages end in divorce. This makes it clear that there is a large untapped market for Divorce Parties and thus for divorce band gigs. IMO they would be a lot more fun or at the very least more interesting and unusual. And the song list would be a whole lot less cliched and boring mushy wedding pap too. Lots of blues and Rock and no whiny Adele stuff. For example, if the party is for a woman, make sure to learn "These Boots Were Made For Walking", "I Will Survive", Someone that I Used To Know, etc.

Just make sure not to try this business model in a state that permits the carrying of firearms, whether concealed or open-carry, in case the bitter divorced ex decides to crash the party to get revenge.
 

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A wedding band of the size you contemplate will have very little marketability and the pain of organisation will be just too great. A four piece outfit with a good singer who doubles on keys or guitar and could cover all the usual cr** would work immediately. My advice though? Don't do it unless you're also wanting to play in a style-less, boring way. Instead, I would advise being committed to a style that gives you satisfaction to play (jazz, funk, pop, R&B, country -whatever) and then looking for wedding work in addition to clubs, pubs, private parties, bar mitzvahs, dances or whatever. Believe me, you'll get your share of weddings and the few you do will make you glad you don't specialise in them! In fact, I'll go as far as to say that folks who hire you for weddings because they like your style and want something memorable for their function will be a lot easier to work for than those who go for a typical "wedding band" and then want you to cover every song that they've ever liked or heard.
+1000! This is the Truth, with a capital "T."

p.s. I wonder if we lost the OP early on, since his post was kind of difficult to process and respond to...(at least for me).
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
You didn't lose me. I have just been reading all of your responses. Thank you all for responding to my post. I am sorry it was difficult to process. I had, and still have, many questions. It looks like right now, the hardest thing is scheduling rehearsals. I am running into the problem with some of my musicians that they don't want to practice until we have a lot of material lined up to practice, but I feel like we should get better at playing as a group so we can learn tunes by ear, as some of you said. At this point, it seems to be a matter of finding dedicated musicians and working with them so we can sound like a band, not a collection of individuals.
I look forward to hearing more of your advice!
Thanks again!
 

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You need to check out some actual working wedding bands and what they do in the course of the event. Weddings have a very traditional plan, and you will follow it or you will not get gigs. You need to watch very closely what the bandleader does and when he does it, and you need to watch very closely the repertoire played by the band.

I played for several years in a society band that got quite a few wedding jobs. This was a near-full-size big band, playing primarily big band standards, plus any repertoire that was specifically requested by the clients. It is possible for such a band to work and play weddings - BUT! Here are the special circumstances and it doesn't really sound like you have these.

1) The band leader was highly experienced (50 years in the business, all types of bands) and VERY well connected in the society band scene
2) The musicians were top notch
3) The leader offered the band in a range of sizes and formats (the 13 piece orchestra; the 7 piece; the quintet; the trio; the Greek band; the pop-rock-jazzish band; the Jewish band).
4) The leader had an ENORMOUS book of both stock and custom arrangements, plus the band could play a ton of songs by ear upon request;
5) we were working in a metro area of 5 million people, so there was actually a niche of people who would pay for this kind of band, such niche being big enough to actually keep us working;
6) The leader had a bench of subs a mile deep, so if any one person couldn't make a job, he could be subbed at a moment's notice by someone equally (or more) qualified.

I think your questions about equipment and whether to buy Real Books are premature.

Oh, one more thing. There is one attire. Black tuxedo, complete (not with tennis shoes).
 

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I am sorry it was difficult to process.
I understood what you wrote; I found it hard to process because almost everything you said raised so many red flags that it was difficult to respond in any sort of positive way. And given the questions you ask, it doesn't sound like you have much experience running or working with a band. It sounds like you're jumping into the deep end before you can swim. Your post raises so many questions that it's hard to know where to start. Here are a few I would have:

How much experience do you have and how well can you play? (be honest with yourself)

Same question for all the dozens of musicians you are looking to hire or work with.

What kind of music do you enjoy playing, have been playing, and know how to play (3 questions in 1)?

Have you played in a band or run a band before?

Why a wedding band?

I've been playing in bands for many years, have had my own 4-piece band (playing music all of us in the band enjoy) for over a decade, and I wouldn't even begin to think of starting a project such as you describe. Now that's just me, and as I said such a project would be a nightmare to me, but maybe not to others. So take what I say on that with a grain of salt.

But for sure, I'd suggest starting with a much smaller band, playing music you like (you said the original dream was to start a jazz/funk band) with like-minded musicians, and go from there.
 

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Yes, a very ambitious project. In addition to musical skills you will need management skills. You should try and play in a wedding band in your area for a while to see what it's all about. If you decide to do your own be prepared to do a lot of work for free. Do your research and good luck with it all!
 

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How much experience do you have and how well can you play? (be honest with yourself)

Same question for all the dozens of musicians you are looking to hire or work with.

What kind of music do you enjoy playing, have been playing, and know how to play (3 questions in 1)?

Have you played in a band or run a band before?

Why a wedding band?

I've been playing in bands for many years, have had my own 4-piece band (playing music all of us in the band enjoy) for over a decade, and I wouldn't even begin to think of starting a project such as you describe. Now that's just me, and as I said such a project would be a nightmare to me, but maybe not to others. So take what I say on that with a grain of salt.

But for sure, I'd suggest starting with a much smaller band, playing music you like (you said the original dream was to start a jazz/funk band) with like-minded musicians, and go from there.
Yes, it's hard to figure out, as the conversation proceeds...exactly whether this thread is specifically about how to run a Wedding Band (although honesly, I like the idea of a Divorce Band much better...I'd imagine the band pay would be stipulated as part of the settlement)....

..or whether the crux of your questions are: how do I run a band ? (period).

If you haven't done much of that, I would not suggest jumping in with a 12-piece band, first of all.

I like the idea above: start with a group of like-minded musicians, keep it small, and play the repertoire you wanna play (you can keep the genres somewhat flexible...you need not strictly play funk, blues, swing, or country...you can mix it up to a degree, but try to keep a continuous stylistic thread which connects the tunes).
Ooooh, that gives me a great idea for another Forum thread, actually...

Then ....you have a band.

Play some gigs. Then you can see if anyone wants to hire your band for their wedding. NOT your Wedding Band. Your Band.....for their wedding. If you get my gist.
 

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...I couldn't make it thru 60 seconds of that......

:fftheai:
But you missed the tenor's head bob, and the trombonist swaying and swooning! :love2:

Excellent sounding group, well dressed, look good, and not another geezer band - DON'T get offended, I'm a geezer myself. It is definitely a wedding band, playing wedding material at someone's request for their wedding. Just what they ordered.
 

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I've put thought into this myself. Unfortunately it is very difficult to compete with the DJ's. And if you did get something off the ground you would be playing pop tunes and no standards. Plus with that many members you wouldn't make enough money to make it worth it. I would say possible a trio or quartet and aim for dinner hour/coctail hour. For someone who wants the live feel and a classy event this may work, just my 2 cents.
 
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