Wedding venues: what you need to know
Our advice: a series of regularly updated articles written by band leader Mike Paul-Smith, detailing everything you need to know before booking live music for your event.
One of the most important decisions when planning a wedding reception (or indeed any other type of event) is choosing your venue. The wedding industry is booming in both the UK and abroad, with more and more venues offering unique, luxury wedding experiences.
Down for the Count performing at Notley Abbey, Buckinghamshire (part of the Bijou Weddings group). A fantastic, flexible venue with good access for the band, no sound limiter and no restrictions on band size. Highly recommended!
Down for the Count have performed at well over 600 weddings in the UK and internationally, and we have performed at a huge range of venues. Whilst the vast majority of venues are well suited to live music, we occassionally come across one that isn't.
If it's important for you to have live music at your wedding reception, we'd suggest you go through this checklist with your venue before you sign on the dotted line.
And just to be clear - all the images in this article are of venues we love, and can highly recommend as being great for live music.
1. Are there any restrictions on live music?
Although it’s not very common, we’re finding that some venues restrict live music – for example, only allowing unamplified music. It’s vital that you check this before booking your venue, because most party bands simply cannot perform acoustically.
If your dream venue doesn't allow amplified music, don't despair - you can still have acoustic music for your wedding reception, such as our quirky trio Alexander's Ragtime Band. Alternatively, you could hire a piano and book a piano-vocal duo, which would be able to perform acoustically (albeit at a very low volume). However, generally speaking we wouldn't suggest booking an acoustic band for the 'party' section of your day.
There may also be restrictions on having live music outside, which you should check if you wanted to include this as part of your wedding.
2. Are there any restrictions on the band size?
A few venues restrict the size of band that can perform. Personally, we don’t feel this is fair: a 4- or 5-piece rock and pop band takes up far more space and is much louder than our 9-piece swing band line-ups; and swing, soul and Motown music doesn't quite sound 'right' with fewer than 6 musicians.
If your venue does have a restriction on the band size, ask them to give us a ring – we’ve been able to persuade several venues to relax the rules in the past.
The Conservatory at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Oxfordshire. Space for no more than six musicians but nevertheless one of our very favourite venues.
3. Is there a noise limiter at the venue?
Sadly noise limiters are becoming more and more common. If you don’t know much about these devices, you can read everything you need to know about them here.
A noise limiter does not necessarily prevent a band from being able to perform at the venue; however, it is vital that we know at the time of booking so that we can plan accordingly.
We’ve heard several stories about venues only telling wedding couples about their noise limiter after they have booked – so for peace of mind, make sure you check before you sign!
Dartmouth House, Mayfair, London. This venue has a noise limiter - but it is correctly installed and set to a sensible level, meaning we can perform with no problems. This isn't always the case and we urge you to check whether or not your venue has a noise limiter before you sign.
4. Is there a live music curfew?
At a recent wedding the bride and groom were surprised and disappointed to be told by their venue – on their wedding day – that live music had to finish by 10pm. It is essential that you check what time the live music curfew is at your venue, especially if you want a party band.
5. Are there suitable changing facilities?
When you book a venue, it is also useful to think about the logistics of having a band there. Part of our performance is the way we look, and we therefore need a suitable space to get changed and get ready for the performance; it’s also useful for us to have somewhere to relax between sets. Like most bands we do expect to be fed, so it’s worth making sure that the venue can cater for this.
Performing at London's Science Museum - a unique venue, with good access and plenty of space for musicians.
Some frequently asked questions
There are some questions we are often asked by clients before booking:
Access: my venue is up five flights of stairs/a marquee in a field/at the end of a narrow driveway - can you still perform?
If you think access to your venue will be a problem, get in touch and we'll talk it through with you. When performing as the Swing & Soul Band or Soul Collective, we arrive in a van with the equipment in three wheeled flightcases - and the dream venue is one where we can pull the van up outside the reception room, and wheel the cases in without negotiating steps or gravel. However there are usually workarounds if this is not possible - for example, performing with less equipment.
Get in touch if you have any concerns and we can discuss things in more detail or arrange a site visit.
The band performing in the beautiful and spacious marquee at Creslow Manor, Buckinghamshire.
Acoustics: My venue is a very large room/has high ceilings/lots of reflective surfaces - will the acoustics ruin your performance?
Usually we're able to give a quite simple "no" in answer to this question. We perform in a huge variety of venues with different, often challenging acoustics. There is almost always a workaround to tricky acoustics - changing the positioning of the band and/or speakers, using fewer (or occasionally more) microphones and so on. Get in touch if you're concerned and we can discuss this with you further.
Performing in the huge aircraft hangar at Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire. With careful speaker positioning we were able to adjust to the unusual acoustics of the space with no problems.
If you have any questions, please get in touch. You can call us on 07855 488 462 or drop us an email.
We'd love to hear from you if...
- you have any concerns about your choice of venue and need some reassurance - chances are we've performed there before, or know someone who has;
- you have previously held an event and have experiences to share, or things you wished you had known in advance.
We look forward to hearing from you!