I don’t even know you, but I want you to have the best wedding reception ever. For some folks, that involves considering a band. It may even require a band - end of story. If that’s the case, I want you to have the best shot at having an incredible reception that will be the envy of all of your friends on social media. To speak from my own experience leading The Shakedown, we’ve performed at over 100 weddings and countless other events since 2009. I’ve seen the spectrum of good, bad and ugly so I thought I’d share what to avoid when incorporating a band into your wedding reception. These are from my professional experience helping throw dance parties over the years while playing in a high energy, electrified band. If you can avoid these mistakes, you’ve got the makings of a great reception dance party.
Do your guests even care about live music? Are your guests a dancing crowd, or would they prefer to skip the dance floor? Know your crowd. You may be a dancing machine, but if your audience would prefer just about any other activity besides dancing, you may want to go with a DJ or some other form of entertainment. You may have an older audience that might split after you cut the cake, leaving just a skeleton dancing crew to close out the night. There is no rule that says you have to get a band. Most wedding bands are great at getting people on the dance floor, but sometimes you can’t raise the dead even with a great band. Save the considerable money it takes to hire a solid band and spend that savings on food, booze, honeymoon, bouncy castle, etc…..
Avoid starting the band while your guests eat. I get it. You’ve paid for a band to play a 3 hour set and you’ve only got 5 hours at the venue so when you factor in cocktail hour, introductions, first dances, toasts, cake cutting, that window of time starts to shrink. Give your guests the chance to get through dinner without trying to figure out if they should dance or finish the main course. It sends a mixed signal if you spark up the band while folks eat. Dance parties are about quality of dancing, not necessarily duration of time on the floor. You want people to be itching to hit the dance floor, not trying to wolf down that prime rib to make it in time for the band’s first set. Throw on some background music and save the live music for after the meal.
Does your venue present logistical challenges that will make it hard for the band to put on a great show? Venue logistical challenges are a broad category so I picked one from our recent experience as an example. Some venues enforce strict noise ordinances on entertainment, which depending on the type of band can be crippling to their ability to play. If there’s a decibel limit for a venue due to being located in a residential district, you need to know this. It may be a better idea to get a DJ which can easily control volumes, or an acoustic act that isn’t dependent on a certain volume level to put on a show. While a good wedding band knows that you can’t melt faces at a reception like at a rock club, it still takes a certain level of volume to put on a high energy show. Here’s a decibel range link that’s useful to take into account if your venue has a decibel limit.
Venue Size. Is your venue too small to have a band? While The Shakedown typically performs with 7+ musicians (and we pride ourselves on squeezing into makeshift dance party locations) sometimes a venue is just too small for a band. Ask your venue contact if they regularly have bands. On the flip side, is your venue massive? We’ve played in venues that are simply cavernous. There’s no surefire formula for the best room size, but sometimes having a venue that’s way too big can suck the energy out of a reception dance party more quickly than a cramped one.
No booze. We respect folks’ decisions (religious/cultural, budgetary, ethical) to avoid alcohol. If you want the dance floor to pack out, you need to help your guests loosen up. If including alcohol at your event is out of the question, you may want to go with another route than hiring a dance band. That's speaking from our experience helping adults get on the dance floor. Kids generally have zero problems wilin' out sober and some of our most committed dance audiences have been at high school/kid-centric events that were totally dry.
Too much booze/no one tending bar. Having totally wasted guests (or being wasted at your own reception) isn’t a good look either. Trust me, I’ve been to two receptions where the groom blacked out and didn’t make it to the end of the night. Not pretty. You obviously want your guests to have a great time, and part of that may involve knocking back a few drinks, but you want bartenders there to make sure people don’t go overboard at the reception. I’ve found this is typically more of a problem when guests have unfettered access to knock back straight liquor until the end of a reception. It’s generally not so much of an issue with just wine and beer after cocktail hour. Some people wouldn’t imagine of just wine and beer after cocktail hour so that’s a personal decision but keep in mind it’s one that can save you a ton of money on the bar tab given that liquor is generally more expensive. It’s a delicate balance that admittedly leans on the indulgent side, because it’s still a party, after all.
Put the bar close to the dance floor! Once it’s dance party time you want to make it easy for people to grab drinks and then get back on that floor! If the bar is on the other side of the venue or in a different room, people shuttling back and forth from the bar may suck energy from the dance party. Put at least one bar within 10-20 yards from the dance floor and you’ll be golden.
Temperature control. We’re a Southern dance band that often plays when outside temperatures are well above 85 degrees. I pride myself on the amount of sweat that pours out of my body when I play for my clients, but there are limits. You may need to think about fans or plenty of ice water for dancers because it’s gonna get hot in the middle of summer. Heat stroke is no fun. On the flipside, you may need to think through renting heat sources if you think the temperature is going to drop during your fall or winter reception.
Access to electricity. With any electrified music it’s no power, no show. If you’re having your dance party in a remote, outdoor area, make sure you’ve thought through renting a generator or two and buying plenty of extra fuel. If you’re in a more conventional venue, you’ll still want to make sure your band can access power from at least two separate sources to avoid a power surge.
Forgetting to get out on the dance floor! Between greeting your guests, taking pictures, being present for toasts and all the other wedding activities, your reception is going to go by in a flash. You’ve got to make a conscious effort to spend at least a little time on the dance floor! Because you’re kinda the main event at the reception, folks will unconsciously follow you over the course of the event. You want to set the tone for the dance party portion of the reception by spending at least a little time out there with your new spouse. You’ve paid for the band, after all!
I hope these tips on what to avoid are helpful for incorporating a band into your wedding reception. As I said, there may be caveats to many of these points but taking all of these into consideration should go a long way towards helping you throw a smashing reception dance party. See you on the dance floor!