What is the difference between a Professional Musician and an Amateur or Student?

This blog is based upon a recent conversation I had with a friend of a friend at a party, where they are about to get married, and they have booked a fabulous celebrant, a videographer (whose work is of international quality) a picturesque venue and they have called the local high school for a String Quartet……..

While there are many amateurs and students who are going to one day be fabulous professional musicians – do you want your wedding as their training ground?

Having been in the industry since 2000, I have unfortunately heard some horror stories of groups who then help give the professionals a bad name. Here are some of the very common differences between a professional ensemble and a student/amateur group:

Security that the musicians will turn up on the day.

Professional musicians show up – they also all have the attitude of “first in first served” they will not ‘drop you’ if a better opportunity comes up. I have unfortunately had too many brides phone me in a very highly stressed state on the day of the wedding hoping to get some music because the other group pulled out last minute.


The right instruments for the location.

A Violin is a Violin is a Violin. Right?……. Not quite……Professional musicians often have multiple instruments to suit different occasions, whereas students/amateurs have their one prized instrument. Where this has most effect is on outdoor weddings – direct sunlight, exposure to the elements can cause some instruments irreparable damage – and as a result the owner of the instrument is (understandably) very cautious with the instrument. This can lead to groups playing so far away from the ceremony that you can barely hear them (because that is the only protected space) or in some dire circumstances – where the group refuses to play on the day!

A professional musician knows the job, and brings instruments which are suitable for the location -meaning that there is no cause for the music to not go according to plan.

Working with the venue / location.

Many venues and gardens have a series of regulations and requirements which are not always made clear to the bridal party, and are assumed knowledge of the musicians. For example many gardens don’t want chairs at a wedding which dig their legs into the lawn causing holes. Bridal supply people know this, and bring appropriate seating – musicians are often required to bring their own seats. If these seats don’t meet the guidelines, it has been known for the group to be asked to stop playing and make changes – some instruments can stand (eliminating this straight away) but some performers (eg Cellists) cannot do this so easily.

A Professional group already knows these requirements, and has packed all the right equipment. In fact the professional will also be able to warn the bridal party of restrictions – for example if some venues don’t like any amplification – which then leads you to a different acoustic instrument selection.

Public Liability.

This is an extension of the above point – but some venues will refuse entry to musicians who do not have public liability insurance.

Professionals know this and often have insurance for up to $20,000,000.00 – amateurs and students very rarely have this.

All the above affects the musicians before they start to play a note – and is all to do with experience (or lack thereof) from a business perspective. Now we come to what is the difference in presentation on the day….

How players are selected.

There is one prestigious music school in Sydney that fields many student string quartets for weddings. The way players are selected is that a notice is put up on the board with a date/time/fee/instruments needed and the positions are filled by a first in first served basis. What this means is that players aren’t selected by an administrator or a teacher because they work well together, or because they all have the required skill level, only upon availability.

A professional ensemble is comprised of musicians who have worked together on numerous occasions, and where your main point of contact has selected the right musicians to suit your wedding.

Music that is performed.

Students and Amateurs have a understandably limited program. This can have the unusual result of hearing a 40 minute selection of music repeated 4 times in a 3 hour period.

Professional musicians will arrive with more music than is necessary – my personal rule is that for every one hour of music i am booked for, I have 3 hours of music ready to go – this is to enable me freedom to change music selection to suit the guests at hand and allow for unexpected changes.

Attitude of the Performer and Quality of Performance.

This is the BIG one! Performing at a Wedding is VERY different to performing at a concert – and it is not (at the other extreme) just about playing a few tunes in the corner that no one really pays attention to. Although people who don’t have Wedding experience can treat your wedding as just that – either as a concert or with disdain and resentfulness of “why is no one listening to me”.

A professional wedding musician knows a wedding day is not about the music, but the music is there to enhance the day and be reflective of the couple getting married.

Wedding music is about being loud enough to be heard to create the atmosphere, but not too loud to overpower conversation.

Wedding musicians ‘read the room’ for what is needed to continually enhance and look after the event – whilst still not making it about the music.

I know there are some who will read this and be saying “everybody needs to start somewhere” – in my mind, I go back to my original question – do you want your wedding day to be the training ground?

Some will then also ask, so how do Wedding musicians ‘earn their stripes’ to become professional? Every professional ensemble has a slightly different approach to this – my approach has been that when someone has asked for help in the industry, I have auditioned them, and then put them on as an added bonus to my ensembles (eg if you book a quartet you may have a quintet arrive at no extra cost) – thereby allowing them a chance to sit in, but not in any way compromise the quality of the presentation – and then the journey continues…….

On the flip side of all the above, there are undoubtedly some really good Amateur and Student groups who will do a fabulous job for your day, and if this is the path you choose for your wedding music, I hope that the above gives some guidelines for what to ask for and be careful of in the booking process.


If you have any queries as to music for your wedding, please feel free to contact me at any time!

Best Wishes for a fabulous Wedding!

Vov Dylan

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