While string quartet is arguably the most popular ensemble to perform at weddings, not all brides have the budget to spend $600+ for four people. Sometimes the bride just wants one player, and if she can choose only one, it’s almost always violin (shouldn’t it be?). Solo violin at weddings really classes up the proceedings and can be an important addition to an already beautiful event.
Most freelance musicians also play at weddings, and make pretty good money doing it. Below are some tips to help you get a piece of that pie and also make you better prepared to play that wedding ceremony on your own.
You Got the Gig!
You got the hardest part out of the way. You’ve been hired to play violin at a wedding, and solo violin at that. Through your discussions with the bride (or planner), you’ve probably already described yourself and your talent. Now comes the planning part. You need to be very specific with whomever you deal with when it comes to the details. Get everything in writing. If you talk about it on the phone, send a follow up email confirming what you talked about. That way, you’re covered in a case of “you never said that.”
Once you have agreed on the schedule, you need to put together your contract and get it signed. You don’t have to have exact details like where you’re going to stand or how many bridesmaids there are at this point. All you need is the main schedule; what time the wedding starts, and an estimate of the length of the ceremony. You probably already have that information, but always confirm.
You need to be very specific in your contract about the start time and the end time. Normally, a wedding musician will be there for one hour from the time he starts playing until he packs up to leave. That means, if the wedding starts at 5, you’ll start playing at 430-445, and stay until 530. After 530 is overtime. You should have a very specific (I keep using those words for a reason) overtime policy. Weddings rarely start on time, but it’s also rare that one would go on past your contracted time. It’s only happened to me a handful of time in 25 years. That said, you deserve to get paid for your time so make sure there is a provision for extra time.
There are three main sections of the wedding you need to discuss; the processional, the ceremony itself, and the recessional. The processional is the part where important people come in, and sometimes different music is played for each group. Normally music will be played for special family members (mothers usually), the wedding party, then the bride. Be prepared for lots of discussion about this and be flexible. This music normally changes several times up to and including the day of the wedding.
Once you have decided on music for the important parts, you’ll need to ask about music per-ceremony. Usually, I try to get a style that is acceptable and choose my own music. Sometimes brides want a particular song to be played so always accommodate (unless you can’t find sheet music). I’ll usually set the style as classical, jazz/standards, or pop/rock. Then I’ll play my usual playlist at the ceremony.
When it comes to choosing music, make it easy. I have a YouTube playlist of popular wedding music that brides can listen to before deciding. It is a good idea to have some sort of playlist you can send a client to help with the planning. For me, I have a separate binder with my music for solo violin at weddings. I use it only for solo. I use my regular quartet book for everything else.
Other Contract Stuff
Playing solo violin at weddings is usually fun and a great way to meet prospective clients as well. That said, there are some issues to iron out before the big day. Always include any possible deviation of plans (like weather) in your contract so there are no misunderstandings.
String players don’t play outside when it’s raining. Period. Water and violins don’t mix. Make sure your client knows that if there’s more than one drop of rain, you’re outta there. Some violinists insist on cover no matter what (tent or canopy). I wouldn’t be that demanding, but it’s something to think about. Especially when it comes to the sun. I recently performed at an outdoor wedding and came out looking like a lobster. No shade anywhere to be seen. My fault for not wearing sunscreen. Of course, you could put in your contract that you must be in the shade. It’s up to you.
Amplification can be a sticking point as well. One solo violin at weddings usually cannot be heard over guests, especially outside. Unless you have your own amp and pickup, make sure to say that the wedding party is responsible for microphones etc. If you do have your own equipment, you should charge a little extra for cartage. That’s something to hash out when quoting the job.
Make sure you put in your contract any payment terms you have. Always get paid before you play a note. Paypal or any other payment gateway is great, or just take a check before the ceremony. Any good planner will have your money for you before you start, but make sure you don’t have to chase down a bride after she just got married. It’s bad for everyone involved.
The Wedding Day
The big day is here! Be on time. Nothing else really matters. Show up on time. Period. Meet with the planner (or bride) as soon as you get there. Confirm all the details about what you are playing and when you are playing it. Find out where you are standing (you will be standing if you are playing anything besides cello), and make sure you have good line-of-sight with either the planner or whomever is going to cue you. Make sure you arrange for a good cue to start the ceremony music.
After you get your money, get set up, and start playing at the arranged time. Make sure your case and bags are hidden away. You don’t want to photo-bomb any wedding pictures with your stuff. If you are outside, make sure you have water – either a regular plastic bottle or one from home that doesn’t look tacky. Also, make sure you have clips if you are playing outside. You want nothing to go wrong. Obviously, if there are no guests seated at all, you don’t have to play. There’s no use playing for nobody. Once you start seeing guests, it’s time to get your gig on.
When playing solo violin at weddings, you need to play out. Dynamics generally go out the window here. The exception is if you’re playing while mic’d. In that case, play as expressively as you like. Also, play slower than you think. No need to rush through the music, especially if the wedding starts late. You might run out of music which is bad since you don’t want guests to hear the same thing over and over.
When the time comes, make sure you have all the ceremony music queued up and ready (or use an iPad with ForScore). Don’t fumble for the Canon or the Wedding March when it’s time to be playing. And, make sure you add the little fanfare before the Bridal Chorus so everyone knows it’s time to stand up.
Make every attempt to play seamlessly. That means you find a good cadence (or ending point) for each piece. That’s why the Pachelbel Canon is such a good wedding piece. You can end it at any time. When the wedding is over, you should always play one more tune so that you’re not packing up your stuff when the guests are still seated in the church. That is tacky. The entire wedding party should be gone and the guests should be starting to file out before you pack up.
Solo Violin at Weddings – Some Final Tips
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. Be professional. Don’t just show up and leave without talking to anyone. You should bring business cards and give one to the planner and the officiant (if he’s been hired and not a relative or something). Don’t pass them out to guests unless requested. Also, don’t try to drum up business with the guests. Again – tacky. Do try and network with the planner, the DJ or sound guy, and any other vendors you feel can help you.
Playing solo violin at weddings can be a very lucrative endeavor for you if you play your cards right. With hard work, you can make some serious money. Just be sure to always be professional no matter who you deal with. A wedding planner can be a great contact for you. You want to be the musician planners call for solo weddings.