Live music on the big day – Q&A with The White Tree

Be it a one-man-band or 8-piece party machine, live music can come to life in many forms at your wedding. Luckily for us, James Tudball from The White Tree has shared his music wisdom for all engaged guys and gals.

Music can be one of the most important ways to set the tone of an event, what advice would you give a couple for choosing their set-lists?

A good live band should be flexible stylistically and have a broad repertoire so they can adapt to suit the various stages of any wedding or event. The band also need to know how to play at an appropriate volume early on (i.e. not too loud so Granny Mavis can still chat to Aunty Betty) and then crank the energy levels up once the dance sets kick in.

SixtySecrets_TheWhiteTree1In terms of the actual set-list generation and the process … that’s a tricky one! It does depend on the band at hand. With The White Tree, we don’t always write set lists because part of the skill of a good live band is that they can read the crowd and the guests and then pick appropriate songs on the fly. Obviously the band has ‘go to songs’ that are guaranteed to get just about any dance floor happening – e.g. Uptown Funk, Get Lucky, Superstition, Crazy In Love etc – but a lot of the time it really is about careful monitoring of the demographic at hand.

Of course we do still invite prior briefing from our couples, via our online portal. Couples can select songs and genres that they like (and even songs that they dislike!) and this then acts as a ‘brief’ for us. I guess our process is a compromise between the bride and groom’s briefing and then the band’s experience and ability to construct sets on the night. It’s important that a band still has some freedom to move with what the dance floor demands.

How far in advance should a couple start thinking about their wedding music?

It really just depends on the given couple. If they’ve done thorough research prior to booking and therefore trust the band they’ve chosen … then very little thought should be required! Pick your bridal dance song and entry music (if applicable), along with some tunes you like and dislike. Then Bob’s your uncle.

However we realise some couples start thinking about it months and months from the date. That’s why we have an online portal, so our couples can log in and update songs, requests, ideas etc. each time they think of something new. This portal then acts as the brief for our musicians.

What’s the typical process when a couple come and see The White Tree?

People are pretty time poor these days, so we put a lot of effort into building comprehensive live film content for our bands and different singers. That way couples can hear and see the different options from their computers at home.

But I’d say the best process is to come down and check out one of our live showcases, where you can hear the different singers and band configurations on offer. At these gigs we play two sets, performing everything from 60s rock to Top 40 and Triple J type stuff.

Once couples have worked out what they want, there’s a bit of back and forth with our booking manager to go over any questions. We obviously understand that booking a live band for a gig is something that most people have never done before, so no questions are stupid questions!

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What kind of tech and space requirements are needed for a live wedding band?

It depends on the band size. A standard 5 piece band (male vocals/guitar, female vocals, keyboard, bass and drums) takes approximately 4m wide x 3.5m deep.

Two things to think about here:

  • A smaller or larger band size won’t really change the dimensions too much, because the bulkiest bits of equipment are prevalent in every line up; the PA system and the drum kit.
  • Bands are more than happy to squish in a small space, as it promotes good energy and communication amongst the band.

In regards to lighting, most bands will bring some basic lighting and most wedding venues are lit pretty well these days anyway.

SixtySecrets_TheWhiteTree3With staging, if your venue is large and you think the band needs to be elevated then go for it, but it really isn’t imperative. 95% of the weddings we do see the band on the dance floor level which is perfectly fine.

The PA system is a vital component of a band’s equipment. Most bands will include this in their set price. Our White Tree prices include full PA system (which is the speakers, mixing desk, microphones etc.) and background music via iPod is then controlled by us during any set breaks. If our PA and microphone needs to be used for speeches that’s perfectly fine.

As for live music during the ceremony, what sorts of songs work well during the more earnest and emotional part of a big day?

I think it’s nice if the couple pick songs that are special to them. Aside from that, I like hearing a mix of great classics (The Beatles, Crowded House, Peter Gabriel etc.) and some more quaint/delicate new indie folk (Lior, The Lumineers, Husky, Laura Marling etc.).

Tell us some mistakes couples have made when choosing their wedding songs.

Definitely picking music that they like, without thinking about their guests’ taste in music.

For example, you can’t just pick ALL new music, because (most) weddings will have various demographics and people from all walks of life. In my opinion, the most fun and cranking dance floors are when you have guests in their 20s/30s, 50s/60s and 70s/80s all up there enthusiastically pulling shapes to the band’s music. This is achieved by the band playing a huge mix of styles, tempos and eras, rather than sticking to one genre.  That way everyone has an awesome time.

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Any tips for working with a tight budget?

Book a small 3 piece band. Or, if you’re wanting to have some live music but can’t afford it for the whole day and night, perhaps get some live music for just one part of the wedding – the ceremony, canapes, early stages of the reception or the dance sets of the reception.

How does it work if you have a couple with very different tastes in music, say the bride is a Slayer fan but the groom just MUST have some Celine Dion?

We can always learn ‘a few’ songs not on our current song list. For instance … Slayer and Celine Dion are not on our current song list, lol. In terms of how to manage the issue of a bride and groom having very different tastes in music, it simply comes back to my earlier points … compromise and a mix of styles are key.

SixtySecrets_TheWhiteTree5And, if you are fans of inappropriate wedding music such as Slayer and Celine Dion (sorry … great band/artist but pretty strange/cheesy choices for a wedding!) then just return to that consideration of you AND your guests. Don’t force songs upon the band and your guests just because it’s your wedding. If it’s going to clear dance floors or be ear bleedingly inappropriate, then just wait until you’re back in your love shack once the wedding is over, and you can then crank ‘The Power of Love’ or ‘Angel Of Death’ as you consummate the marriage.

Are there any trends emerging for the year ahead?

With live music, more and more couples want the band to keep things rolling during the dance sets (and rightly so). This means no silence between songs. Younger people are used to dancing to DJs, so awkward gaps between songs is a no-no.  The band should segue into all songs during the dance sets.

Also our music listening habits are pretty schizophrenic these days (the whole iPod/no full albums generation) so people seem to respond well to the odd mash up and medley of tunes too.

What song would you choose (or did you choose) to walk down the aisle to?

Well I’m a male. But I’m also not one for conservative traditions, so let’s say roles were reversed and I walked down the aisle and the bride was waiting at the altar, I’d say something by The Beatles (I am a Beatles nut).  John Lennon’s song “Real Love” (covered by Regina Spektor) would be pretty awesome.

And lastly, what would you say is the most important secret for a happy bride?

SixtySecrets_TheWhiteTree2Get up onto the dance floor yourself.  You have to lead the way sometimes! I know this sounds elementary, but if the bride gets up onto the dance floor and is having a great time, everyone will follow. That will lead to critical mass on the dance floor, and that will lead to an awesome and memorable night for all.

More on The White Tree

The White Tree is a select creative team featuring the country’s top artistic talent in music, photography and film for modern weddings, festivals and corporate events. Having worked with these legends as my own wedding photographer, and having attended plenty of weddings where their great bands have played, we can certainly vouch for The White Tree. You can have complete confidence with them on the night, and just as importantly, they make the planning process super easy and good fun.

You can check them out at their website, or on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Vimeo. They perform, entertain, shoot, produce and edit all around Australia and the world, and their HQ are in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.