Cut through the sales pitches and ditch the agency commissions on top, read about what you need and how to get it.
So here's the deal, musicians don't tend to have offices, or administrative staff or pension schemes to pay for. They're typically a nimble breed doing what they do because they actually enjoy it. They're not trying to make mega bucks, they just want to make a living enjoying what they do and building up their reputation. A wedding is a beautiful event to be a part of as everyone is there to celebrate the couple and have a great time
Now, before you think I hate agencies, let me just say I really don't, in many cases they provide an excellent resource and for me too a degree of income. In fact, a number of very good friends run their own and add real value for their engagement. Some for example have excellent relations with bars and restaurants and ensure a constant flow of musicians every Friday or Saturday night that the venue promises live entertainment. They're absolutely essential in this area and can source replacements at super short notice, keeping the variety fresh. AMVLive is a great local example of this. Sadly, many agencies don't add real value and what you end up with is essentially paying up to 40% extra than you would if you hired direct
A number of internet based agencies are also turning the tide in this area providing unfettered access to the artists and charge the musicians a very reasonable fixed cost per year. A excellent example of this is Last Minute Musicians (link below). Alongside the usual reviews you would expect, they host videos and samples for the musicians but again, crucially, they provide unfettered access to the musicians contact details, exactly the way it should be.
As a bride or groom you have a singular and very tailored requirement. You want a musician who you can trust, enjoy listening to and crucially, you can pick up the phone to in the time leading up to your big day. All of these things are incredibly more difficult when you hire through a typical agency... and you will actually pay more for this...
Don't just take my word for it, put it to the test. Find a musician you like the sound of in your area (google 'wedding pianist' [your city]).. ask them for a quote. Then, find the same musician on an agency website (google 'music agency' [your city])... request a quote again for the same artist.. notice the difference?. Take it a step further, ask the agency if you can have the musician's mobile number so you can discuss song choices and interpretations, what happens?.. 9 times out of 10 it will be a straight no and this can be incredibly frustrating for a bride and groom
Agencies have their place 100%, they add massive value to restaurants, bars, festivals essentially, anything which requires a degree of coordination beyond that of a single musician or band.... For your wedding day however, they just add cost and worse still, a wall between you and the musician.
Attend wedding fairs, hear the musicians play, talk to them (that's what they're there for) and book a musician direct to add magic to your Big Day.... And put away the CD... no technology in the world can orchestrate you wedding day like a professional musician.