1. Book a band well ahead of your preferred or chosen date
Booking a band is a bit like booking a plane flight. If you book your plane well in advance, you stand to make significant savings – whereas if you are running closer to the date of the flight, it’s likely to cost quite a bit more. It's fairly similar when you book a live ceilidh band or barn dance band. However, it’s generally for different reasons.
We’re not quite like the airlines – we don’t ramp up the charges for bookings at shorter notice. However, if you get your booking in well in advance, say six months or a year before your big occasion, there’s a greater possibility that more bands will be available, so you can usually find what you’re looking for somewhere fairly near to your Gloucestershire , Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Wiltshire or Worcestershire wedding venue If the band doesn’t have to travel as far, then their travel costs will be less, and the saving will be passed on to you by way of a smaller fee.
If you book a singer, barn dance band, harpist or any other musical entertainment not too long before your wedding, you’re probably going to discover that lots of providers are already booked, which will mean that you won’t have the same amount of choice and you might have to pay more for a band who are further away and therefore cost you more.
We will always try to offer you the best choices we can, bearing in mind the type of event, the type of dancing and the sort of music you want, where your event is going to be, how long you want the band to play for, and the date you’re looking for. If we can give you some choices, we will – for example, you might want to think about a smaller band (often we play as a three-piece which includes a caller) or a larger one (we can also offer 4-piece and 5-piece bands).
Whatever sort of band you’re looking for, they are often busy at particular times of year – we often find the spring is very popular, and also the autumn and running up to Christmas & New Year events. So if you book your band later, with less notice, you’re more likely to get a smaller choice of bands, which could mean you have to pay a higher price.
It would be easy to assume that if you book your band at what appears to be a quiet time, during the winter, it won’t be so much of a problem. However, watch out because barn dance bands and ceilidh bands are often surprisingly busy in the early part of the year. Scottish bands like Ceilidh Idealach are in great demand for Burns Night events around the 25th of January – and Irish bands like Coulan Sona, similarly, are popular for events around St Patrick’s Day in mid-March.
You might also assume that the autumn months of September and October would be quiet for bands because most weddings will have happened in the summer – but you might be surprised. The changing climate has affected likely weather conditions in the autumn and sometimes the weather can be as warm in September and October as it was in July and August and often, people delay their wedding until later in the year – especially if they are booking relatively late and find that all of the wedding venues in their area are booked up in the summer months.
Sometimes people, again thinking perhaps of airlines, hope that they might be able to get special deals on band bookings during the less busy months, or if they make their booking at the last minute. However, they’re probably going to be disappointed. Good bands will have many bookings throughout the year, and there is a distinct possibility that if they are fortunate enough to have a bit of a “quiet” two or three weeks, band members will probably be glad to get a couple of weekends off to take a well-deserved holiday.
So, our advice would be not to treat band booking like airline travel, or negotiating second-hand car prices. It doesn’t work like that, and you will be well advised to seek savings (and give yourself more choice) by booking well in advance if you possibly can.
And there’s another thing about booking well in advance. Band members, contrary to what some people might believe, are human beings (well, usually!) with jobs, families, commitments and real lives. They don’t just sit on shop shelves, or in some online warehouse, waiting to be bought at a moment’s notice. Each band, and each band member, is a one-off, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. What we’re saying is that there is only limited availability for each band, and the further in advance you’re able to book, the more chance you stand of being able to get exactly what you want, when you want it, in the right location, and at a cost you’re happy with.
So, the advice is that if you book well ahead of your event date, you are much more likely to get the best deal going. It’s not unheard of for people to book two years ahead, although it’s rare, but we do take lots of bookings around a six months to a year in advance. Normally nine months is enough to give you the best options, although of course we can’t guarantee availability even that far in advance – but if you are booking at shorter notice, we will still do our very best to find you the best options we can, and even at very short notice, say a month or two, you may still be fortunate to be able to book if we are able to get all the band members available on your chosen date. It’s a question of probability – who knows, a band that suits you perfectly in terms of style, location and cost may well be available (with perhaps just a tiny bit of arm-twisting persuasion on our part!) and will be delighted to play for you. It’s not unknown for us to be able to sort out a band for customers who enquire just two or three weeks in advance. They still get exactly the same high quality of bands and will be very happy with what they get.
2. Think about using one band instead of two
If you book one band and ask them to play for a long period of time, it will inevitably cost less than if you book two different bands to cover the same period. There would only be one lot of travel costs for the band, and potentially other savings, so naturally the price can be lower. Also, inevitably there will be a fixed cost to book the band, deal with contracts, organise band members, and so on, and there will be a fixed time for setting up, whether the band plays for one hour or three. The more hours you book, the lower the hourly cost.
So it’s worth thinking about what best to do.
Let’s imagine, first of all, that you want a string quartet to play for a wedding ceremony and/or a formal reception afterwards, and then you want a pop band to entertain guests in a noisy and lively evening event, then naturally you have no choice. The two styles of music are so different that it would be impossible for the same groups of musicians to do both.
Sometimes, people want to have an evening of ceilidh dancing and follow it with a disco, and again, obviously you would need two different types of provider for this. (Follow this link to ceilidhs & barn dances and discos for advice on using ceilidh bands and discos – in our experience it is always best to put the disco at the end of the evening.)
However, if, for example, you wanted some ceilidh dancing for part of the evening, but some quieter music during the reception or while guests have a meal, then it may be possible for the same band easily to perform both functions.
But different situations need different solutions. Many barn dance bands will offer a maximum time of three hours or so, which might be two sets of an hour and a quarter with a half hour break in the middle. It’s not just a question of how much energy the band has got! Experience shows that if ceilidh dancing goes on for much longer than this, audiences and dancers get too tired, which may mean that enthusiasm and enjoyment drop off towards the end of a long evening, or what in the case of weddings may have been a long and tiring day.
So you might ask, why won't they give a lower price for a shorter barn dance? Well to some extent, that may be possible. But as we said above, a lot of the cost of a performance is fixed, irrespective of the length of the event. So it is unlikely that they will want to charge very much less for what amounts to almost the same quantity of work. You have to bear in mind also that a Saturday evening (our events are usually Saturdays – although by no means always!) is a “slot” in people’s lives. Musicians will reasonably want to charge a certain amount for being away from home and providing something in that slot, and it doesn’t significantly alter that if it’s a one-hour event or three hours.
(A few groups known to us, such as string quartets, might play up to a given time at an hourly rate that is more per hour for a shorter time and less per hour for a longer time - but then charge a lot more above a given time limit. If you see this, you can safely conclude that they really would prefer not to do that extra hour. Playing can be pretty hard work, not only physically, but also mentally – musicians have to make sure that all the music is in place at the right time (you don’t want to get it wrong for the entrance of the bride!), keeping up with the registrar to get the timing of everything right, giving the photographer all the time they need, and carry on with the wedding ceremony. It is not at all uncommon for the quartet to be placed in such a way that they can’t see very well what is going on at the front of the room where the ceremony is being held (very occasionally, they’re not even in the same room, or with any line of sight!), and they certainly don’t want to be in the position where the person conducting the ceremony has to talk over their playing. Nor, of course, do they want to be the cause of an awkward silence because there’s some confusion as to what’s going on. Things aren’t always easy!)
But bearing all this in mind, depending on what sort of event you are envisaging and what style of music you want, do have a think about whether it could be possible to have one music group to operate in two different ways, which might be an opportunity to save some money.
3. Avoid needing an early set up
Sometimes, venues will advise you that it would be better to ask the musicians to so that they can set up their equipment and perform a sound check, and be out of the way by the time your event is getting into full swing and your guests are arriving. On the face of it, this might sounds like a great idea. But to be honest, in our experience it really isn’t necessary, and because you’d need the band to be available for much longer, it would cost you a lot more without you getting any significant benefit.
Some different types of band to ours – say, party or “covers” bands, who may have a large number of musicians and/or a huge PA and lighting system – may need to turn up well in advance with a massive lorryload of equipment designed to shake the foundations of the building and endanger the wellbeing of your more elderly or fragile guests. This is likely to take a long time to set up and will inevitably cause very significant disruption, so of course it has to be done before the event begins, or at least before guests (and possibly staff at the venue) are in the room. But bands like that will always factor the additional hours into the calculation of their price, which will be two or three times the cost of a ceilidh or barn dance band.
But for smaller bands, like ours and virtually all barn dance bands, the equipment they need is much smaller and lighter, and we find that it’s quick and easy to set up quietly, unobtrusively and without making any fuss before our part of the event starts. We often arrive at events and our hirers are very welcoming and keen to say, “what do you need?”, to which the answer is usually, nothing much really, just the space to set up, a table, and a power supply not too far away. (Oh, and some drinks for the band would be much appreciated!) We can set up fairly quickly and without needing any disruption to the event, or any significant input from the hirer or venue staff.
Don’t forget, though, that because the band will have PA or other amplification, they will need to carry out a sound check before the performance begins. This usually only takes five minutes or so, but inevitably it does involve making a certain amount of noise (we hope not too unpleasant!), so it is worth allowing for this in your schedule. Sometimes people make arrangements for wedding guests be at the bar or having a break (outside if the weather is good in the summer!) whilst the sound check is happening.
If, despite all of this, you can’t avoid having an earlier set up you should always say this clearly when you book so that the additional time can be incorporated into the contract. You need to expect that the band will, if they are willing and able to set up early, charge you more for doing so, in addition to the price that you were quoted. Sometimes you may find that bands will not be able or willing to set up early, whatever price you pay – often because they may be performing elsewhere or have other commitments earlier in the day.
You must declare any requirement for early set-up at the outset, before the contract is
finalised. If you ask for early set-up at a later stage, unfortunately it’s unlikely that it will be possible.