Hitting the high notes: how to pick wedding entertainment you guests will love

Make sure you lay on entertainment that strikes the right chord with your guests

Words by Claire Moulds

While the headline act of your big day is the ceremony itself, the support acts of a beautiful location, delicious food and memorable entertainment all contribute to the delivery of a wonderful experience for your guests. Just think how often you’ve heard someone say, “It was a brilliant wedding – we didn’t leave the dancefloor all night.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Chloe Mullen, head of client liaison at Freak Music: “Music is crucial as it’s usually the part most people take away with them. Having a great band that leaves people on a high at the end of the night counts for a lot.” So, how do you go about delivering the fizz factor?

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Consider your audience

If you’re aiming to appeal to a wide audience, offering ‘something for everyone’ for the main part of the festivities will ensure that all your guests can take part and feel involved. “It’s important not to be too selfish with your music selection,” says Chloe. “We recommend choosing a band who can cover a selection of music that appeals across all age groups. That’s not to suggest you go for a clichéd ‘cheesy’ wedding band, but rather one that can play a good selection of tunes in their own style.”
Alternatively, if you know that a large proportion of your audience would appreciate a particular style of music – for example, jazz or swing – you can be far more tailored in your approach.

Tell your story

A wedding generates a range of emotions and music can help to set the scene, whether it’s providing a warm welcome at the start of the festivities, echoing the solemnity of the vows or joining in the joyful celebrations as you re-enter the world as Mr and Mrs.
As well as keeping the energy and the momentum of the day going, the music you choose should be a reflection of the pair of you. Don’t feel compelled to go down a particular route just because you think it’s what’s expected. That’s something Claire Weir of Reel Time Events feels strongly about: “Music helps to give a wedding its identity by injecting the couple’s own personal taste into their special day.”

Break the ice

The bride and groom are the common thread that binds all the guests at a wedding. However, you can’t possibly oversee every introduction and facilitate every conversation, so it’s important to have other catalysts to bring people together and put them at ease. While music provides an obvious talking point, consider other forms of entertainment to get the party started.
“Magic is a wonderful way to entertain people,” says magician Billy Reid. “The most popular option is to have someone performing while the professional photographs are being taken, so there’s no lull in proceedings. And it can also be used to great effect between courses.
“I specialise in close-up magic, so I don’t need a stage, lights or a sound system as I carry the show on me in the form of everyday items – such as a pack of cards, coins and even pieces of fruit – so it’s easy for me to move between groups to keep the energy levels high.”

Something old…

Taking a traditional approach to entertainment always works at a wedding, regardless of whether you’re keen to celebrate your Scottish heritage or are getting married in a venue that is steeped in history. “The popularity of a piper is something that continues to grow year on year – some of the most recognised Scottish tunes are defined by bagpipes. Even the traditional attire adds character to a wedding,” says Claire. “And, for me, a ceilidh band is an absolute must.”
But, she adds, it’s essential to encourage guests to immerse themselves in the experience and take part, rather than purely be spectators. “There is no better way than a ceilidh to get your guests mixing with one another, and it allows even the worst dancers to throw some interesting shapes on the dancefloor.”

Something new…Putting a twist on a traditional aspect of the day will not only provide little pockets of excitement but will also ensure that your guests, and your photographer, have something different to capture in their photos. After all, which bride doesn’t want to hear “I’ve never seen that before”?
Chrissie MacLennan from the wedding team at 21CC Group agrees: “Many couples want special effects to dress their venue. For example, our pyrotechnic fountain units can be used to illuminate your journey down the driveway to your reception or as a backdrop to the cutting of the cake. Meanwhile, a confetti cannon can shower the air with sparkles to announce your first kiss, the start of the wedding breakfast or your first dance.”

wedding entertainment
Left: 21CC Group Right: Photo by gavinhill.co.uk

And something unexpected!

To really make your wedding stand out in the memory, try to take your guests by surprise. From singing waiters and chefs (who launch into song having served you your meal) to tribute acts and professional dancers, think outside the box to find something that will delight and entertain.
“Karaoke is a chance for both the couple and their guests to perform a few of their favourite hits,” suggests Claire. “It’s also not unusual for a guest to sing with the backing of the wedding band, which creates a very intimate moment.”

Go out with a bang

When it comes to ending on a high note, a fireworks display remains the ultimate way to round off the celebrations. “There is something truly captivating about fireworks,” says Chrissie. And you don’t have to go overboard: “We find shorter displays (four or five minutes) are more dynamic as they incorporate a large finale, which will be a talking point for years to come. We can also choreograph displays to music and are happy to advise a couple on whether a particular track would work.”
If you’re considering fireworks, ask your venue as early as possible if there are any restrictions on what is allowed.

Where to start?

Whether you want to walk down the aisle to a harpist or a piper, whether you want a string quartet or a pianist playing during the drinks reception, and whether you want a DJ and a disco in the evening or a live band, the approach to finding the right performer remains the same.
Ask family, friends and colleagues for recommendations and do plenty of research on the internet where, in most instances, you will be able to view previous performances by acts on your shortlist, see pictures and read reviews. Pay attention to how potential performers interact with their audience; in an intimate setting, like a wedding, people want to see an act enjoying the celebrations as much as they are.
“Entertainment agencies provide a great choice and can advise on popular acts and what fits within your particular budget,” says Chloe. “For example, there’s a trend at the moment for cover bands who perform a range of pop music in a country and folk style, and vintage cover acts are also going down well.
“It costs nothing extra to use an agency, so put them to good use and take advantage of the protection they provide.”

Other considerations

If your venue doesn’t have a stage, talk to your contact there about where the band will play, and also about what size of band can be accommodated. Check if there are any noise restrictions.
“A stage is not always essential, but you do need to consider the number of guests that may be on the dancefloor to avoid any risk of accidents with equipment,” advises Claire.
It’s also worth asking an act if they have ever performed in your chosen venue before – hands-on experience counts for a lot.
Finally, make sure to allow for set-up time – and work out how to conceal any forthcoming surprises from your guests. Adds Chloe: “It’s surprising how quickly and discreetly bands can set up. Often they will turn up an hour before they are supposed to start, with soundchecks performed using headphones to avoid disruption.”

Money, money, money

As well as drawing up your wish list of acts, consider how much of your overall budget you intend to spend on entertainment.
“Prices can range from £300 for a solo performer through to several thousand for large showbands. The average price of a wedding covers band in Scotland would be around £1250,” says Chloe. “Typically, you would pay an initial deposit to confirm the booking and pay the balance closer to the day. By using an agency such as Freak Music, your payments are kept safe and are not handed over to the act until they have performed.”

And if you’re on a tight budget?

“Consider cutting down on live entertainment by compiling a good iPod playlist for use at points during the ceremony, as background music during the reception and even as a DJ substitute,” suggests Chloe.
But it’s important to prioritise your entertainment too – it’s better to have a whole evening of the band you love, even if it means losing another act earlier on in the day, rather than trying to spread your budget too thinly.
“Our professional displays start at just £750, with the majority of our bookings being between £1000 and £1500,” says Chrissie.
“I’d say that, typically, you’d pay £300 to £400 for a top-class magician for two hours,” adds Billy. “Some will charge less and some will charge more, but this is a good benchmark.”

Timing is crucial

To ensure the best choice of acts, you should ideally have made your booking 12 months in advance. “I have bookings right through to 2017, so it’s never too early,” says Billy. “And because most people want to get married during the summer, months such as June and July always fill up fast.”
Don’t worry if your big day is already looming on the horizon and you haven’t got your entertainment sorted yet. “While we’re finding that most people book our acts well over a year in advance, we also regularly take bookings with less than a month to go!” says Chloe reassuringly.

When it’s not all right on the night

Always check in with your performer as the date approaches – we’d recommend both the week before the wedding and the day before the big event itself – to ensure that everything is on track and to talk through any potential problems.
“A professional act will usually have a contingency plan for illness and deputy musicians who can be called upon to fill most gaps,” says Chloe. “It’s another good reason to book through an agency – we can provide emergency help if there are any last-minute hitches.”
“We would always expect advance warning if one of the performers was taken ill. It would then be a case of either replacing that band member or bringing in another instrument which brings the same vibrancy to the band,” Claire adds.
And, sometimes, the very thing you’re worrying about isn’t even an issue, as Chrissie explains: “We waterproof all our fireworks so that they are not affected by bad weather and can still be seen beautifully through the rain.”
One last word of advice: never lose sight of the fact that your friends and family will get the most pleasure out of seeing the pair of you enjoying yourselves, so choose the entertainment you love and the music that makes your feet tap and raise a glass to a wonderful day!