The High Stakes and Hard Work of Being a Wedding Singer

In Depth

Rarely does an audience have such intense emotional expectations for a live performance as they do for a wedding band. The music can be the deciding factor as to whether a wedding reception is tolerable, fun, or fucking amazing, and the people on stage have an inordinate amount of influence over the vibe.

Wedding bands know this—it doesn’t take too many bad gigs and unhappy reviews to solidify a sub-par reputation before a band is out of business—and those that succeed work very hard to do so. Over at The Billfold, Baltimore wedding singer Rachel Anne Warren gets into the financial nitty gritty: fees, tips, costs incurred, even minimal wardrobe expenses, and as is the case with most creative-based professions, she’s definitely not in it for the abundance of riches. But Warren loves her work and manages to make half her living from performing at weddings, and that’s no small feat. A lot goes into being in an in-demand wedding singer, more than just knowing how to gently take the mic away from drunk cousin Jerry without causing a total meltdown. Warren elaborates:

A new singer has to invest a lot of time leading up to [their first wedding gig] by learning a ton of material. You may think you already know the 20-30 sort of suggested standard tunes, and you probably do because they are standards for a reason—everybody loves them. […] But do you know what key you sing each song in? I didn’t and sometimes still don’t. Do you know how long that bridge is and when to come back in? Can you lead the band to finish a song early if it’s just not quite working for the crowd? What do you do when something goes wrong—you forget a lyric, you forget an entire verse—everyone is looking at you to take them to the chorus. […]
The second crucial talent is both learned and genetically-gifted, and that is the ability to sing for three hours. Of course, you’ll switch off every other tune with the male singer (or vice versa), but can you handle up to 25 or 30 songs belting your ass off, or is your voice going to give out a couple tunes in? You have to build stamina. These are muscles and you’re asking for a marathon when you’ve maybe put in a couple 5ks. Can you sing without being able to hear yourself? Even if there are monitors, you might not be able to rely on them.
Songs and stamina are the two things that snagged my nylons early on. I used to play a 45-minute set with my rock band and be totally, vocally wiped out. Now, I sing for three hours, get in my car, throw on some Aretha and sing along all the way home.

I can barely handle five karaoke songs in a given night; just thinking about singing for three hours makes my throat hurt.

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Image via New Line Cinema.

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