Music Restrictions You Might Not Expect

Potential venue pitfalls for music and dancing.

Music Restrictions You Might Not Expect

Photo: Angela R. Talley

The first question I ask clients who are shopping for live dance music and entertainment is: “What is your location for the reception?” The second question: “How important is dancing for your guests?”

Too many times, clients tell me they want a fun, dynamic event, only to later discover that the location they have booked has restrictions that will severely compromise the potential for a party with powerful music. It’s so important to read the music/entertainment clause in the venue contract line by line with the venue’s representative so that you fully understand what is allowed and what is prohibited at the location.

You may even want to consult with a music broker who has experience booking music at that venue. If you’re concerned, ask for names of the last two clients who used live music at that location. Call them to discuss their experiences; past customers are usually delighted to pass on information about their wedding day.

If your salesperson agrees to adjust some of the restrictions in your contract to accommodate live entertainment, make sure that these allowances are in writing. There is a fair amount of turnover in hotel catering and sales departments from year to year, and since many weddings are booked six to eighteen months in advance, there is always a chance you will be dealing with a new contact by the time your wedding day arrives. Putting contract adjustments in writing will avoid confusion if the former venue representative neglected to pass along the added information.

To avoid the need for negotiating special allowances into your venue contract at all, consider these factors when shopping for a wedding location:

Acoustic vs. Amplified Music
If your location only allows acoustic music, it severely limits the types of songs a dance band is able to play authentically. Acoustic music uses instruments that do not require amplifiers, speakers, wires, or electricity. The foundational instruments found in music from 1960 to the present are electric keyboards, electric guitars, and electric bass guitars, as well as sound systems with microphones so that the vocalists can amplify their voices above the instruments.

An acoustic-only location would make it mandatory for musicians to use acoustic versions of these instruments; for instance, a baby grand piano, an upright string bass, and an acoustic guitar (think James Taylor or Jack Johnson). Horns could also be used. A sound system, however, would not be allowed, therefore making it impossible to use a vocalist. Most vocalists would damage their voices without amplification. Big Band music from the ‘30s and ‘40s (Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington) could be played without vocal accompaniment, since bands of those eras often played without amplification. But authentically performing rock and roll, classic soul, funk, or contemporary R&B would be impossible without the use of electric instruments and a sound system for the vocalists.

Hours of Use
Always ask about time restrictions for the use of live, amplified music. Does the location have a curfew on live music? Because Lisa and David’s venue was located in a residential area, they were forced to end their reception earlier than they had hoped. Many couples getting married in the warmer months may choose to have their wedding ceremonies at sundown, which – depending on the month – would require the ceremonies to begin between 6:00 and 8:30 in the evening. If your venue has an 11:00 pm curfew for live music, your party may end prematurely if your ceremony begins after 7:00 o’clock.

Venue Acoustics

Beware of ballrooms with lots of stone, glass, wood, or other hard surfaces that do not have carpeting or draping to balance the noise. These reflective surfaces often cause an echoing effect that dramatically reduces the sound quality of any great dance band. Live music can become quite muffled and may lose its clarity and crispness. A room made completely of hard surfaces can also raise the general level of noise.

Room Temperature
Regardless of how beautiful the flowers at your reception are, how delicious the food, or even how great the band, guests will avoid the dance floor if they are too cold or too hot. I’ve seen many weddings suffer because the reception room was too uncomfortable. Ask the event manager at your potential venue if the temperature can be easily adjusted on the day of your wedding.

Before committing to a wedding venue and finding yourself in a situation similar to Lisa and David’s, discuss the kind of celebration you want to have with one another as well as with the venue’s representative. If an energizing dance band is what you have in mind for your entertainment, select a location that has fewer restrictions, experience with accommodating live performers, and a big enough dance floor to handle the action.