This is the fourth in a series of articles on planning your own wedding and preventing yourself from falling into the trap of thinking you don’t have the time to do so.
In Part I, I talked about the Venue and in Part II, the Budget; in the first installment of Part III I discussed selecting the photographer. Now I would like to tackle the Band.
Now in this article I will not discuss DJs as I do not understand them and have never worked with any. I believe that a wedding should have a band. The number of band members and types of instruments played depends on the number of wedding participants, wedding style and so on.
The band, that is the music the band creates, is the very backbone of the wedding. After the photographer, they are the most important vender you will deal with. How you handle them, what information you offer them and how much 'artistic freedom' you give them, will determine how 'frelech' - lively – your wedding will be.
Bands that really are not from hell and other stories
Let me start with a story – my daughter got married three years ago. Since high school she knew that she would use a specific band. The members of this band had been the subject of one of her films she made in media class (she majored in media in high school). At that time, they were a young, struggling band just starting out and after seeing the finished film they promised to play at her wedding. By the time she actually needed them for her wedding they were an established band and a "reasonably expensive" band, at that. Remembering their promise, they gave her a 'good price' and they were hired.
Everything was set for my daughter's wedding and then my daughter's almost-mother-in-law (let's call her "O") had an opportunity to hear this band at a wedding she attended about two months prior to our children's planned wedding. "O" hated them and became nearly hysterical when she realized that this band, this 'horrible' band, was set to play at our children's wedding. We all tried to reassure her that the band was wonderful, but she had witnessed the band herself and she was not happy (to say the least!).
Needless to say, we did not cancel the band (we had heard them at other weddings). They played at my daughter's wedding and they were WONDERFUL and "O" loved them!
What happened? We asked the band. They told us that at the wedding in question, they were told to play specific music and songs. They did not have freedom to play more lively music or play according to the mood (or help improve the mood) of the wedding party. When I say "help improve the mood", I mean pick up the beat or get the 'audience' up and dancing when they are not as lively as they 'should be'.
At my daughter's wedding they had freedom to play as they wished. Of course, prior to the wedding, the couple talked to the band and reviewed the 'rules of thumb' of when to play soft music, when to play lively music and everything in between, but nothing more. The band understood the personality of the wedding party and seamlessly answered the needs. Obviously "O" loved them and we all lived happily ever after.
Be nice to your band
Bands are as individual as weddings. Most bands are capable of playing a wide range of songs, in a wide range of languages and styles.
There are quite a number of bands, catering to the religious crowd, that will not play at a wedding that does not have a me'chetza (physical separation between women and men dancing) throughout the wedding.
Once again, determine what is your wedding style and level of religiosity.
As always, ask your friends who have recently married to recommend bands. You can check out the individual music videos found on many band web sites; but seeing the band perform LIVE is believing.
Give the band a list of songs that you are interested in hearing for the reception, bedaken, procession to the chuppah and then for the first dance after the yichud room. If you have special requests of songs in French, Russian, Arabic, etc., make sure your band is capable of delivering what you want. Every band (or nearly every band) will say they can sing in 50 languages and 500 styles – make sure this is true. But allow the band the room and 'artistic freedom' to play according to the audience. Your band should be flexible, happy and really "into" the wedding.
More stories – more lessons
Another story: I recently witnessed a wedding where the band – actually individual band members – nearly missed the bedaken and then in order to get closer to the kallah and chatan during this ceremony, actually pushed people out of the way. They should have been waiting next to the kallah or accompanying the chatan, as soon as the chatan finished with the Rabbi and/or as soon as the chatan began walking towards the kallah. This is not brain surgery. Professionals (bands, photographers, etc) should know how a wedding proceeds and to anticipate the time table involved.
Having said this; make sure your band is aware of your basic scheduling and make sure you tell them what and where you expect them to be at the most important junctures of the wedding.
One more story: I attended a wedding where the band did not play at all from the end of the chuppah/accompanying the couple to the yichud room and until the kallah and chatan came out of the yichud room, which was exactly one hour on the clock. The only sound heard in the hall was the sound of happy people happily eating. There is no excuse for this silence. The band should have played throughout. At the very least there should have been recorded music played at this time.
Throughout the entire four to five hours of a wedding, there should never be 'musical silence'. Firstly because a wedding must have music (unless you ascribe to the custom of playing no music at the chuppah itself, which is another story), secondly because you are paying for their musical entertainment throughout the event and thirdly, well there must be a thirdly, but the first two are really good enough.
What to expect/what to discuss with your perspective bands
Planning from beginning to end:
• The band should arrive about an hour-hour and a half prior to the reception time to set up sound and the like. Keep this in mind when you do your over-all wedding schedule.
• The band should know the basic route of the kallah and chatan from the bedeken and through to the end of yichud.
• Make sure you know how many hours of playing are included in their basic fee.
• Make sure you provide the band with a list of preferred songs for the important moments.
• Make sure the band knows that there must be music throughout the event – I never thought I would have to write this – but there is always a first time for everything and you do not want your wedding to be the 'second time'.
• Find out what is their over-time fee, should you need it.
• Tell them about special events you would like to celebrate along with your celebration. I know this is a wedding, but grandma's 80th birthday should be mentioned.
• Tell them about any planned flash dancing or skits and the like and provide them – in advance – with music files (.wav and the like) should you wish to use them as 'backup' music.
I strongly believe that your band is only as good as you allow them to be. So find a band that 'makes you sing', make sure you cross every T and dot every I and then put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the ride.
This is the third in a series of articles on planning your own wedding and preventing yourself from falling into the trap of thinking you don’t have the time to do so.
In Part I I talked about the Venue and in Part II, the Budget; now I would like to discuss how to intelligently select your vendors. In this case specifically the photographer.
The photographer and the Band
I believe that the two most important wedding-related vendors are the photographer and the band; and in that order! You may shoot me, but all brides are beautiful and all gowns are white (let's not quibble over shades of white, off-white, eggshell, baby white, ecru and –white-white, this is a actual color). The gown will be forgotten in a week (unless some catastrophe occurred to the gown during the ceremony or the dinner); the food will become legend if it was too terrible for words or too good to forget, otherwise it will be forgotten by breakfast the next day.
In this article I will discuss the ins and outs of dealing with the photographer. The band deserves an article all its own.
The photographer will capture moments you were not aware of; people who years from now will only be memories and portray you and your guests in a moment that I once heard described as "you'll never be as young as you are today." Along with the band, the photographer is one of the most important service vendors at your wedding. Take your time to select the right one. Skimp on other items, do not skimp on the photographer. Having said this - this is not an invitation to spend insane amounts of money on the wedding photography without good reason or purpose.
I believe that after the photographer's proven skill, the chemistry (or lack of it) between the couple and the photographer is the second most important factor in selecting one. For all intents and purposes you are marrying the photographer. For the five hours of the wedding and the period of time needed to select the final photography and video and until you receive the finished albums, stills and videos you are attached to the photographer – for better and for worse.
Get names of photographers from friends who have recently married – get references from happy couples and also get the names of photographers from hell (knowing whom you should steer clear of is as important as knowing who is good). Compile your lists (of whom you are interested in hiring and whom you would only hire if all the photographers on earth were wiped out in a flood) and then start letting you fingers do the work.
While you check out photographers' websites, look at friends' albums and videos; think about your own wedding style.
Your wedding style
I've spoken about a wedding style in the earlier blog articles. Is your wedding a formal affair, country/laid back, shanty and anything in between? Your wedding style will influence the photography style, as well of course the final product (albums and video). The level of orthodoxy also enters into this picture, as many photographers will offer a female photographer for the women's side of the dancing and so on.
Then ask yourselves: what types of photographs would you enjoy seeing in your wedding album? Black and white shots, sepia shots, formal portraits, all un-posed, a mixture of all the above? Once again, look at the websites of your candidates and see what appeals to you. Don't ignore wedding photography web sites of photographers not in your geographical area or budget; use the ideas you find there to show your candidate(s) what you are interested in.
You must also find out what is the 'going rate' for photography packages .
Good photographers are expensive, which is why I believe that this is an expense you should not skimp on. Understand the market and find the very best photographer for your budget. Don't be tempted to use the neighbor's son unless he really does have the requisite experience you require. It's nice to give someone a chance to break in to the industry- but I would warmly recommend that you do your 'mitzvahs' on anniversaries and bar mitzvahs and not weddings. New photographers many times work with more experienced photographers on wedding gigs, but in this situation there is backup, supervision and responsibility on the experienced photographer.
Compare, compare, compare prices of photographers and wedding package deals before you hire.
How to interview a photographer
When you call to make an appointment with a photographer, pay attention to how he talks to you on the phone. I believe that someone who is unfriendly or curt on a first phone call will not be the person you want to work with when you are in the midst of the wedding.
In his studio, examine his posed and unposed shots: are they 'alive', do they portray the little moments? – small cousins, nieces and nephews dancing in a corner; a dance with the grandmothers; the gazes of the kallah's friends as she walks toward the chuppah and so on. How are his posed shots? Are the groups well focused and assembled? How are the pictures presented – in both interesting and standard angles (too many tricks and angles is as bad as too few).
Are there shots of dancing? Eating? Flash dancing? Don’t accept the line that these kinds of shots (or any that you are interested in) are missing because "the couple did not order them"; he's the photographer, he can create any album he wants for himself.
Make sure the photographer understands your wedding style and has experience handling your kind wedding. When discussing your wedding style, take into account:
• level of religiosity and how it impacts on the entire wedding
• venue (this is especially important if you plan a wedding ceremony on a beach or a non-traditional area that may have unusual needs)
• special needs guests (handicapped issues)
Make sure the photographer speaks your language, no joke. If you do not speak Hebrew, the photographer must speak English. Arguments after the wedding about why a moment wasn't captured and claims that he didn’t understand you - will not bring back the moment.
Ask questions! Make sure that the photographer you interview is the one who will photograph your wedding. See his reactions and how comfortable or uncomfortable you feel with him.
I have seen photographers yell at guests, push guests out of the way to get a shot, miss shots because he did not understand the wedding schedule (one photographer actually missed the badekin, granted it was in the States and out of the New York area) and another did not know where to look and shoot with circles of non-stop dancing all around him (once again a US-out of New York disaster).
Make sure you LOVE this guy before you sign on the dotted line!
Does the photographer offer video services in his package deal? Is the videographer part of his team or a freelancer? Make sure you understand these points before you hire. You may be able to hire separate venders – I warmly recommend against this as you are then dealing with two entities and you have enough to deal with.
Check out the video examples both in his studio and get a link to view at home. See if you like his work, lighting, settings. Check out some of the videographer's cut and uncut wedding video versions.
What do you want? What is he offering? What is a waste of money?
At his studio have him explain and show – in detail:
1. The type of albums he creates/offers.
2. Prints and parents' albums he provides.
3. The types of videos he provides.
4. Understand the package deal(s) he offers.
Time was when you a photographer talked in terms of hundreds of shots. Today the photographer /videographer will talk in terms of number of hours he provides in his package deal and how much he will charge for 'over time'.
Time was when the photographer provided the couple with their album and the parents' smaller-version albums, as well as all the proofs and the negatives (this was considered a true bonus!). Today the couple should get the wedding album, two smaller albums for the parents (album size from pocket size to near A4 size albums), file of all the shots and two versions of the wedding video, the uncut four to five hour opus and the half-an-hour reception-bedekin-chuppah-dancing version.
Get specific information on:
1. Find out what kind of photography team he suggests for your wedding size: number of camera men, light men and videographers.
2. What time the photographer and team will arrive and leave the venue.
3. Estimated timing for pre-wedding photography of the bride and groom. This session is usually at another venue and travel time to and from the site needs to be included in the scheduling. This is especially important if the bride and groom will not be seeing each other before the wedding, as two separate photography sessions are need to be calculated into the scheduling.
4. Find out:
a. when you will receive a file of all the photographs so you can select shots for your albums.
b. find out delivery date for the finished albums; this should be no longer than a month and half to two months for a digital album.
Get everything in writing.
Now let's discuss what you don't need
Camera on a Crane
You don't need a camera on a crane ("matz'lemah meofefet" in the vernacular). I repeat you do not need a camera on a crane unless you are planning to be married in a sports stadium with thousands of guests. I have been to a wedding with the infamous crane and all it does is make maneuvering the venue a nightmare and create a potential danger zone for small kids, older adults and anyone wanting to move freely around the venue (that about covers everyone). This mechanical marvel is touted as the best way to get the best shots from any angle – nonsense it is unwieldy and unfriendly and expensive.
Enlarged photographs for framing
For some reason photographers are still offering enlarged photographs for framing in their wedding packages. Forget it. Once you have the complete file of wedding pictures, select one you like and then enlarge it and print it as you like (on canvas or any other print option available today).
At the Wedding
Before the wedding, assign someone you trust to liaison with the photographer (and the band for that matter) throughout the wedding. This person will be responsible to ensure that specific people/events are photographed and also be the 'go to' person for any questions. This person will know who Uncle Chaim is and know to look for Cousin Lou smoking outside, when he should be posing for a photo. Give this person a list of the photos you want and let him or her run around.
Make sure the photographer takes a picture of every table. The bride and groom do not have to be present for each of these photos. It would be wonderful if they were, but many a table pictures are missed because of an absent bride and groom and there is no reason for this.
Make sure that there is a band-photographer table for these folks to take a break, drink and perhaps eat something.
It ain't over yet
The wedding maybe over, but you are not finished with the photographer yet. Or should I say he is not finished with you yet. You still need to select the pictures for the album. Be kind to your photographer and select your photos as soon as possible. The sooner you do your job, the sooner your photographer can finish his job and you can get your albums!
By the way, you can create your own wedding album both from online sites and many print shops in your city. I don't really see any advantage in this DIY project, as you may not save any money, will have no one to blame but yourselves when you have not even selected the shots for the album a year after the wedding and the never-ending list of graphic and print possibilities will just confuse you. Don't be tempted to do this yourself.
Just select the best pictures you can, email the photo list to your photographer and get on with your lives. Trust me on this!
Remember just smile pretty for the camera!