Years ago I read a book about planning events that encouraged its reader to let the five human senses - touch, hearing, sight, smell, taste - lead them as they made decisions and that’s the best event planning advice I’ve ever received. Today I’m passing it on to you as we meet your wedding vendors.
👆🏻Touch (and feel)
Isn’t it funny how we say that something feels a certain way, and we’re almost never actually touching it with our fingers at that moment. Like as certain cafe might feel good, or dinner with friends might not have felt great. Seeing an old workmate might feel really nice, and walking past an ex in the streets might feel terrible.
When it comes to wedding planning, the sense of touch is about how it feels, and really this has everything to do with everything, but I’ve kind of committed to grouping all of the wedding creators under these five major headings, so I’ve got to stick to the bit.
The biggest factors in how a wedding feels are
- the place it’s in, the venue
- the guest list, who’s there
- the time of year and time of day, in other words, temperatures and light
Also, this is going to sound odd, but some other factors in how you feel is what you’re wearing and what personal grooming you’ve taken to, so we’re talking clothing plus hair and makeup.
Finally in the touch and feel category I’m going throw a curve ball: photographers, podcasters, and videographers. On the day your experience with them is a toto vibe check, but you’ll also receive a product after the day, so controversially, I’ll add them to Touch, not Sight, come at me bros.
Think about choosing a wedding venue the same way you think about framing a picture or a photo to hang on a wall. The frame isn’t the main thing, but it presents the artwork. It allows the artwork to be experienced, it encapsulates it, places it, presents it, and the design of the frame sets a tone for the artwork inside it.
Your wedding venue is the frame of your wedding.
Some venues have minimal offerings, like a warehouse space that is a blank page for your wedding dreams, through to the all-inclusive wedding venue that provides everything and anything.
Choosing a venue has to start with the framing aspect, because it might be the best packaged deal in town but if it doesn’t feel right, and if it’s not in the right town/state/country for your wedding dreams, then it’s not the right venue.
Packaging of venues and inclusions of non-venue extras should correlate to price. A blank page kind of venue should be cheaper than the all-inclusive venue, but that’s because you need to bring everything else, maybe even bathrooms, through to chairs, tables, dance floor, and cutlery.
Read the information provided and choose a venue that feels amazing when you’re standing there. If there are “free” inclusions or larger packages with extra inclusions, make sure they are what you want, and particularly when it comes to packaging other vendors be sure to check them out and make sure you’d book them even if they weren’t included - DJ is a good example, often packaged with a venue, and they’re not a DJ you’d book if you had the choice. If the venue is providing staff for the wedding, meet them and see what their style is.
Invite as many people as you have to, and invite as few people as you can.
If you’ve been looking at catering or venue quotes and you see a “per head” fee, put that number next to each guest and ask yourself if you’d be happy to spend that on them if you were catching up for lunch tomorrow.
Are these people you talk to all the time, people who are active and present in your life, people who add to you and your marriage?
Britt and I ran through our text messages and if we hadn’t heard from someone in three months they most likely didn’t get an invite. Here’s the big news though, out of our 45 guests, at least half of them are in our regular conversation histories. Whether it’s a call, text, or sharing a meme or video, we luckily chose a really good group of people to come to our wedding because they’re still our closest today.
I hope the same for you.
No one deserves an invite to your wedding. This is your permission to invite as many people as you want to and to also invite as few people as you can.
Be intentional about who is in the room, they affect how it feels.
Ralph Lauren said, “Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It's not about brands. It's about something else that comes from within you." My least favourite thing about the entire wedding industry is the expectation that a bride is wearing a big white dress and the other person is wearing a dark-coloured suit.
Wedding fashion isn’t about wearing the right wedding dress from the popular de alta couture, but about what’s coming from inside of you. Don’t wear the wedding uniform, wear clothes, dresses, pants, shirts, whatever, that make you feel like a billion dollars. That as you strut into the room wearing that piece, that you know you’re hot and ready to trot.
Hair and makeup
If there were a sports commentary-style TV show which didn’t commentate on sports but instead, issues of human beauty, makeup, hair styling, and cosmetics, your pet fish would be more likely to be cast on that panel than me, it’s not my area of expertise.
I have but four thoughts on the matter:
- If you’re the type of person, or gender, which might not stereotypically engage in hair and makeup for a wedding day, take it upon yourself to identify something that just makes you feel really attractive and awesome on the day. For me, it’s a barber, for you it might be a foot massage. Do something however so you walk into that wedding feeling confident and awesome.
- All hair and makeup artists are liars, not about everything though, just about what time they’ll be finished. Every wedding I’ve been at that has ran late has been because of hair and makeup, so tack an extra 30-60 minutes on there unless the artist is extremely confident in the timeline.
- If you’re a person, typically a guy, who thinks ‘all this hair and makeup rubbish’ is a waste because you think they’re beautiful without it. I hear you, but shut up. This isn’t for you, it’s for them, let them feel amazing.
- If you’ve booked photographers and videographers and they’re capturing you getting ready for the wedding, including hair and makeup, book some accommodation that has heaps of natural light, windows and large rooms, and heaps of space. The Photographers and Videographers Lobby paid me $5 to tell you that.
Photographers, videographers, audio recorders/podcasters/producers
The common thread amongst these three wedding creators is that they are capturing something for later consumption and enjoyment. Still pictures, moving pictures, and moving pictures without the pictures, aka audio.
I’m personally a bit of an audio nerd, I love a good podcast, and I can see the audio documentary of your wedding growing in trend, but it’s not the regular choice. Much like videographers, audio is seen as an optional extra.
The thing is, documenting anything in life - baby’s first steps, the first alien invasion, Donald Trump’s hair, or your first kiss - serves a few purposes.
- Social media cred: if you’re not doing it for the ‘gram, are you even doing it? Seriously though, it’s nice to have stuff to share online every single anniversary, birthday, and Valentine’s Day for at least the next ten years.
- For your own enjoyment: I’m a father and when I’m alone, experiencing those moments of silence and peace we call ‘a coffee after I drop them at school’ I’ll often find myself flicking through photos of the family. I actually really like them, and documented moments from our times together are really special to me in the now.
- For your friends and family enjoyment: a wedding is a shared experience so documenting the day is a way for you and your friends and family to continue sharing in the moment in the years to come.
- To show your grandkids how hot you used to be: Grandad was cool once, ok kids, quit judging.
These creators are also working double time at your wedding, they’re desperately in the moment thinking about what to capture and how to capture it best, but also thinking about how this will fit in the grander narrative that they’ll eventually deliver to you. And they’re doing all this at a price that is probably below the minimum wage because everyone with a camera or a microphone today thinks they can do weddings.
So how do you choose a photographer, videographer, or audio producer?
There’s three things you need to agree on for all three:
- You need to love the person/people. You’ll likely spend more time with them than even the person you’re marrying. They’ll be closer, physically, and always pointing some kind of electronic gadget your way, so you need to like the human. This is my big dig against studios where some random turns up on the day, I don’t want my wedding day to be clouded by having a random by my side for 10 hours.
- You need to love their work and imagine yourself in it. When you experience their art, can you imagine yourself in it. Every one of these creatives is different, very few are the same, so the way they capture, the way they work with you, the way they edit, is very - seriously very - different. Look at a whole wedding gallery/video and check out all their work and make sure you could mentally photoshop yourself in there and be happy with that.
- You need to love the business side. In the end they’re doing a job, charging for it, and making a promise on what they’ll deliver. So read the information pack, read their reviews, read the contract, sign it with joy.
The photographer often takes the lead in documenting and directing the day, so you want someone who can lead that element of the day, and ideally they can do that in a tone and voice that is going to slip right into the vibe of your day. Try to not invite a Hitler-like character to hold a camera at your wedding.
On being directed, something most people don't know - I didn't until I was on Married at First Sight - was that directors actually want their "talent" (aka you and me) to look really good. No photographer is waking up on your wedding day thinking "I'm going to make these fools look so stupid in their photos!" So ultimately you want to trust their direction when it comes to standing a certain way, or in a particular place.
My videographer friend Steven reminded me that a good videographer is nothing without good audio. In film and TV world they're different jobs, but at weddings they're most likely the same job because you probably can't afford to hire all the roles an actual film would require, so check out their previous work to see if they actually know how to record good audio. In my humble opinion as a celebrant and an audio nerd, a dead giveaway that someone doesn't know what they're doing is if they're taping a voice recorder to a handheld mic.
Also, either take a videographer recommendation from your photographer, or make sure they get along. I've seen far too many blowups between videographers and photographers.
Bonus tip for photo and video: the best of the best wedding photographers and wedding filmmakers can produce beautiful art out of a wedding ceremony. It’s the hardest part of any wedding to photograph and film, because there are human bodies everywhere, lighting they can’t change or choose, positioning and stances that cannot change once set, and there’s some legend with a microphone (the celebrant) up there running the show and they might not be aware of how to make things awesome for a shoot, so the creative is in-between a rock and hard place. They’re tasked with capturing the most important and valuable part of the day but they have no input on how to change it so it’s in good light, metaphorically and actually, for photo and video. So if they can make beautiful work out of a ceremony, hire them immediately. I’ve created weddings in epic locations with cool couples and their photographer came with big credentials, and an even bigger social media following, but when I saw the gallery the ceremony just didn’t cut the mustard.
Our ears are sensitive little things, if they weren’t you would all cheer and applaud as Britt and I walked aboard an Airbus A320 with our four and two-year-olds in our arms. Apparently what you hear around you matters.
The three hearing-related aspects of choosing a wedding vendor is firstly with your marriage celebrant or marriage officiant (depending on what slice of the globe you live in), and the music choices.
Considering that your author is one, he has many thoughts and feelings about celebrants, but here’s the god-honest truth. No one is reading their wedding invitation to find they’ve been invited to a wedding reception and there’s a small gathering before, in case you’re not doing anything earlier that afternoon.
The marriage ceremony is the main event.
Before your ceremony, you are not married. After your marriage ceremony, you are married. This ceremony involves the two of you, someone who creates and delivers it, any extras, and your witnesses - your guests.
That person who creates and performs your ceremony is called a marriage celebrant where I’m from, or in other parts of the world they’re called an officiant, some others think only priests or religious ministers do it, and some regions even use judges or justices of the peace. Either way, someone is making the ceremony, someone is creating the main event, the big deal, the really important and meaningful thing that everyone has been to. The reason you’re dressed up all pretty and the precursor to the reception, where you are being received as a newly married couple that just got married at what you ask?! A marriage ceremony!
In Australia where I hail from the federal law created an allowance in 1961 for people who were not religious ministers to create ceremonies for people to be married, they called this designation of person a “marriage celebrant” and the popular term in Australia to differentiate us from minsters is to call us a “civil celebrant” so people know that we’re most unlikely to open a bible or pray in their ceremony.
In Australia today there are over 9000 marriage celebrants all creating totally unique and different kinds of weddings so your hard work is to find a human you like, who has similar world views to you, a similar vibe and energy so that ultimately your marriage ceremony creates and celebrates your actual marriage. Not the idea of marriage, or what Merriam-Webster says marriage is, but what you say your marriage is.
Entertainment and music
Imagine your favourite movie, your “desert island disc” choice. I’m guessing you’re familiar with its general soundtrack and choice of songs? Now imagine that all the songs are taken away. Boring right? Even worse, imagine all the songs and soundtracks are there, but they’re too loud, or you can’t hear them. Imagine the songs don’t start at the right time so the climax of the song misses the beat with the movie’s script.
Even worse, imagine you get the DVD and as the movie starts playing it asks you to open your music app and load up a playlist of all those songs and as the movie plays as normal you need to take cues to play the songs at the right time.
All of this is the worst movie-viewing experience I could imagine.
That’s the movie version of not hiring a professional DJ, musician, or band.
As for who you hire, get the best. Go all out. No one has ever regretted hiring Elton John to perform at their event, and although you might not have Elton John money, if you’re going to spend money on the soundtrack of your wedding, let it be well spent.
Whether they’re a DJ, solo musician, duo, trio, band, orchestra, that’s 100% a you-problem to solve. Sorry.
This is where most of the wedding industry has been stuck for an eternity, mainly because things you can see are very easy to print in a wedding magazine or publish on a blog. When the people in charge of this stuff figure out how to blog a smell or a feel the wedding industry will be set on fire!
Stylists, styling, and furniture
In much the same way that the venue frames a wedding, styling a venue makes the framing even more personal, meaningful and beautiful. Can I add any advice here more than spend as much as you can and as little as you want. It’s like a trip to Ikea, you can leave with a $2 plastic plant or $500,000 trolley of goods, how grand you go is all up to you.
The fact of the matter is that your styling ad furniture dictates how people interact with, sit around, and enjoy your wedding. Well designed styling does triple the work than any sign with an arrow does.
Lighting is the underdog of the wedding styling world. Well-placed, well-positioned, intentionally-coloured lighting can change things at a price that a flower wall would cry at. Don’t do this yourself unless you have good life insurance or you’re an electrician.
How did the last wedding you attended smell? Was the venue next to a dumpster or was it in a Tuscan valley? The venue has a lot to do with how a wedding smells, but having a wedding coordinator with their head screwed on makes sure that rubbish won’t pile up, and that any potential smells are eliminated.
But this is also the perfect place for some of the loveliest vendors you’ll find.
You’ve got to look far and wide to find someone who works with flowers all day and is an asshole. Generally speaking, florists are the loveliest people because they’ve chosen art that surrounds them with florals 24/7.
There is no end to the money you can spend on flowers, and I figure that if you’re into flowers, you don’t need or could benefit from my advice, so I’ll comment on these two topics.
- If you don’t like or want flowers, if you don’t value them, or if you think it’d be weird to hold a bouquet, this is your permission to cross florist off your list. They’re not required at weddings anymore. We started making brides carry flowers back in the day when one old bloke would want to do business with another old bloke so he’d offer his daughter up for marriage to the other dude’s son. The problem was that unless you were a Kardashian of the era you didn’t bath or shower a lot, and if the groom didn’t accept the bride he was literally meeting for the first time at the marriage ceremony the whole business deal might fall apart, so some enterprising sperm-donor put a bunch of beautifully smelling flowers in his kid’s hands so as to detract from the BO problem she had.
- If you do value flowers but want to save money, don’t do them yourself. It turns out being a florist is a true art and skill, and many a wedding day has become stressful and painful as a bridal party hits the flower markets at the crack of dawn and then proceeds to watch ‘make your own bouquet’ Youtube clips and end up spending more money than buying an actual bouquet would have cost them.
I’m no chef, but here’s a few bare thoughts on catering for a wedding.
A wedding cake is not necessary, so if you don’t want one, don’t have one, but I will go out of my way to remind you that a wedding cake can be actually, a cake, and cakes are awesome. If you’ve never had one it’s quite the efficient manner of getting sugar directly into your belly. Now some wedding cakes have fake bits with foam, cast these cakes directly into the pit of hell. Don’t let foam get in the way of sugar being delivered to all of your tummies.
If you don’t like cake, may God save your soul, but I will recommend the entire genre of desserts as a perfectly fine replacement.
Definitely get food. Think about any good gathering you’ve ever attended, there was food. It’s how us humans connect with each other. How should you get this food, and in what form, I don’t know. I’ll simply recommend that you get more food, not less food, albeit your guests are forced to make a pit stop through a McDonalds on the way home.
Irregardless of your opinions pf Messiah and organised religion, Jesus has a great story on wedding beverages. The carpenter was famously was attending a wedding with his mother and Mary noticed that the caterer had ran out of wine. What does the Mother of God do when she sees empty bottles of red in the bin? She tells her son to fix the situation. Assuming it was late and there were no bottle shops open nearby, Jesus tells the waiters to fill up bottles with water and when they pour the water out, it’s been turned into wine. The son of God’s first miracle was getting really good wine into the hands of weddings guests.
Buy the good wine. Serve the good beer. Bring expensive bottles of whisky. Or don’t, what do I know?
If nothing else, make sure there’s a good supply of water all day long, particularly at the ceremony if it’s outdoors and possibly hot. The last thing we need is Grandma suffering heatstroke before she gets to experience your exquisite wine selections.
Other wedding creatives and creators
There’s an endless supply of people who can sell you things for your wedding, or services they can supply to your wedding. My best advice is to buy everything you want and need, nothing more and nothing less, whilst also taking into account that this is a day where you want to enjoy yourself and be served in luxury and with professionalism. Making these bookings or purchases with intent, and not on credit, means you get to have a good old-fashioned awesome day.
The prudent reader might have noticed that wedding planners, wedding coordinators, day-of co-ordinators, wedding coaches and those kinds of person aren't in the list above, and it's no accident, there's two reasons:
- Their job is doing all this stuff, it's likely that if you have a wedding planner then you're not reading this book, or if you're reading this book, you'll not need a wedding planner.
- They most definitely have their own spin on my entire philosophy, and many of them would carry a different set of values to me on these topics.
I'm not at war with wedding planners, and we're not in competition, we're just two humble Joes eating the cake different ways. I'm slicing the cake like you do a pizza and eating it with a large spoon, like a classy gent, and they've cut the cake into squares and they're eating it with a dainty little teaspoon, something I do not understand.
Day of cordinator: I'm Not a Coordinator, Not Yet a Planner
Wedding coordinators or day-of-coordinators, or whatever title they choose to hold are my kinds of people. They take your plans, our plans, and they turn up on the day and make it happen.
You should hire a day-of-coordinator even if you have a planner. It's just nice to hear about a problem and say, "that sounds like a J.Lo problem." Your day-of-coordinator is the person you can lean on to execute your amazing, intentional wedding plans.