The humble wedding gig. It is looked upon by different people in different ways. Some drummers loathe it and some drummers love it. A lot of people see it as uncreative and unsatisfying and some people see it as a great challenge. Where else would you get to emulate so many classic drummers, play classic drum grooves AND get paid for it?!
Personally I enjoy wedding gigs. Firstly, two people are having what is meant to be one of the happiest days of their lives and have asked you to be part of it and entertain their guests for a few hours.
Secondly, it’s usually a great hang out with good friends eating buffet food and cake. Thirdly and most importantly, for me, you get to play a bunch of drums.
Now I’m weird. I like playing for a long time. I relish the challenges. Ever played Led Zeppelin’s ìRock n Roll” after two and a bit hours of playing relentlessly? It’s a tough ask, especially as the groove, if played properly, is a roast! But I like that. I like having to de-tune my snare in between tunes to get a compressed, drum machine sound to play some of the modern pop tunes. It’s all good.
But these things aren’t the only part of the job. So I asked 10 or so of Glasgow’s busiest wedding band players for their input and advice on what they consider some of the most important aspects of playing these gigs, and what to know if you want to get started. I’ve split these into 6 sections, that whilst not definitive by any means, are a great starting point.
Grooving is important in every aspect of drumming with these gigs being no exception.
ìThink about the job you’ve been given. It’s to make people dance. This means that you’re going to do well if you can find an enjoyment in the disco beat and the pop/rock grooves. Neither your wedding guests or your fellow band mates really care about your chops.” (Martyn Hodge, Aurora).
As with any original band you might find yourself working with, the relationship with the bassist is paramount.
And spending some time in rehearsal building a solid foundation is worthwhile: ìKeep it solid with your bass player, work on phrasing with each other and get that rhythm section as tight as possible.” (Ross Findlay, Waterfront)
Part of the package of a good player, especially those who focus on groove, is the attention to detail and playing weddings can mean having to cover a base of different styles, attitudes and players. This attention to detail is an important aspect.
ìThe difference between Steve Gadd and Ringo playing a shuffle is massive. The difference between Ronnie Vannucci playing a rock beat and Charlie Watts playing the same rock beat is worlds apart and shouldn’t be approached the same on a gig.
ìOverlooking this aspect of the song will result in the ìfeel” of the song being wrong. At this point, it’s game over. If that’s not there then nothing else can be achieved.
ìGetting into as many players in the ìtop 40″ world and listening to what they do within that framework, understanding their ìvibe” and imitating them will give you a better idea of how certain songs should feel, how you should play them and ultimately will make the band sound and feel better.”
(Jamie McGrory, Replay)
Some people may not consider this as an important aspect, however I have had beginning students come to their first lesson and suggest that they were going to buy a £250 kit and start playing weddings. Suffice to say the student never returned for a second lesson.
Doing the job on tools that don’t stand up to being hit for 4 hours a night, 2-3 nights a week, 4 weeks a month is simply not professional. One doesn’t have to spend a lot of money (I WOULD suggest spending more than £250 though).
ìThere are so many wedding bands out there and it’s tough to make a mark in the wedding scene, so set yourself apart from others, pride yourself in having good gear, you don’t need to spend thousands on a kit to have a decent one.
ìI recently bought a Mapex Armory Series kit for less than £600.” (Ross Findlay, Waterfront).
The venue can dictate the amount of gear that you take too, as some of the spaces are small with the band having to put PA, bass and guitar amps in.
ìTake minimal gear. Ideally, a four piece set up with a few cymbals is more than enough, plus it doesn’t piss everyone else when trying to squeeze into small spaces!”
(David Calder, The Riffreshers)
ìAdvice that Jim Drummond gave me was: if you get booked to fill in with a band, bring sensible gear and make minimal fuss with it. No double pedals, no china cymbals, no drum racks.”
(Ewan Laing, Cruise).
With all the guys I spoke to, gear was a big factor. It shows a sense of professionalism is necessary in this regard. Joiners buy the best tools, Driving Instructors have decent, well looked after cars to teach in. For the most part, you’re a tradesperson so have good gear to work you trade on.
This is a big deal when dealing with music in general. No one wants to play with or be in a van driving for hours with someone who’s negative or a pain in the ass or any of these things. I certainly don’t with other instrumentalists/singers.
This idea isn’t just related to your attitude to playing the music, but also just in general.
ìBe punctual and help with lifting gear (especially when depping). You would be surprised the amount of musicians who don’t get a second gig because of lateness and laziness.”
(David Calder, The Riffreshers)
Just how you conduct yourself as a person can be tantamount to how much you work.
ìGo into it with a good attitude, don’t just think ëit’s only a wedding band’. Make it one of the best wedding bands! Work hard at it and constantly work with your band mates to get your set as solid as possible.”
(Ross Findlay, Waterfront).
Ross’ advice serves as a reminder to me anyway of how hard you have to work sometimes. It’s not always just sitting down at the drums and playing. It’s making rehearsals count, learning the music beforehand so that the rehearsal is just plying through them and tightening them up. This makes everything more productive.
We play probably the loudest acoustic instrument around and can pretty much drown out everything that is not amplified. But that doesn’t mean we should.
Some gigs have limiters. Which means that above a certain volume, the power cuts out and everything goes off – so all guitar amps and PA. Which is a horrendous pain in the backside.
So how do we deal with it?
ìBe willing to play at any volume – don’t play LOUD all the time! I usually keep a few different weights of sticks in my bag to facilitate this.”
(Douglas MacFarlane, Ernest)
The singer of the band usually has the hardest time with volume. Firstly they need monitoring to hear themselves as their voice is going out the front, and the PA speakers can’t be put behind the band due to feedback issues from microphones.
So in order for the singer to pitch correctly they need to hear themselves with monitors. We don’t. We can pretty much hear ourselves acoustically. So we have to try and be responsible and be sensitive to the singer’s needs.
I can’t imagine it’s a nice experience to wake up after a gig and have problems speaking but you had to push your voice over a drum kit and guitar stack.
ìAlways accompany the vocalist/singer. If you can hear them, you’re playing at the right level. If you can’t – sit back till you can!”
(Gordy Turner, Daytura)
All singers will have a different threshold for volume so it’s probably sensible to ask on the gig.
A couple of the guys suggested using charts for a variety of reasons and I agree that they can be very useful.
ìFor guys starting out – get your reading on. It saves the pain of memorizing/learning an enormous amount of music. Even if it’s just the geography of the tune and especially the first dance, it can really help. This applies if you’re depping a lot too.
ìYou may get the set on the day of the gig if it’s an emergency so being able to throw a quick chart together can make all the difference!”
(Ian Hendry, Dawn Patrol)
A lot of bands will do different version of tunes so quick cheat sheet can help you. Plus you never know when it’ll come in handy elsewhere.
ìCharts can be useful when depping, but maybe just some short hand notes:
ìVerse – 8 bar funk
Chorus – disco groove – 16
Bridge – out
Chorus – in as above.”
(David Calder, The Riffreshers).
This is probably the most obvious yet sometimes the most overlooked part of the gig. The amount of instrumentalist deps that I’ve worked with that haven’t learned the music or hearing reports of people who have covered me that haven’t learned the songs is crazy.
ìLearn all the classics. Get your hands on a few set lists from established guys on the scene and learn the tunes inside out.”
(Allan James, Real Easy)
Usually set lists will contain the classics and some more modern tunes but if they don’t and you don’t know who is around on the scene, or where to meet them – use a wedding band agency.
These usually house plenty of media of bands playing and more importantly, their sets. There will be literally hundreds of songs on there so you’ll get an understanding of the popular repertoire.
Having a strong knowledge of repertoire is really important – you have no idea who is going to be in the room and what they want to dance to.
You might find that all your old classics are working and that’s what is getting people up, but you only know 6.
ëTailor your set to suit the crowd if need be.”
(Douglas MacFarlane, Ernest)
You could be depping and you don’t wanna be the guy who doesn’t know the tune if it gets called (trust me – I’ve been that guy!).
What have we learned?
So from these few things you can see there is a lot to think about. There was a lot of crossover from the drummers on a lot of the topics.
The big crossover points were:
- Don’t overplay and play what the song needs.
- Have decent gear.
- Don’t be an arse.
There is a decent living to be made playing weddings and it’s a great job. For the most part you’re in charge of yourself, you’re playing music and not serving someone’s dinner or pulling pints or anything else you may not want to do.
Approach it with a positive attitude, work hard on your set so you know the music, work hard on your craft so that you play it well and you’ll have lots of fun.