For most North American wedding receptions, the life of the party revolves around the dance floor.
Whether it’s accompanying the bride and groom’s first dance or an open floor, the wedding reception music
contributes an immense portion of the atmosphere throughout the reception. So, when you’re deciding on
a wedding DJ, live wedding band, soloist or duet, take time to consider how the musical aspect of your
wedding reception will unfold.
These rules for choosing wedding reception music will help you keep your priorities straight.
1. Audition Early
You were planning on auditioning wedding bands and DJs, right? If not, that would be your absolute biggest
mistake. If possible, attend at least one or two other events that your wedding musician is gigging, or
get a hold of a live tape or wedding video. When it comes to professional musicians or DJs, consistency is
key and you can’t usually trust a studio demo or a one-off performance.
The second key is to start soon. The best acts are booked solid, sometimes for a full 18 months in advance.
It’s worse during peak party season. Begin shopping around as soon as possible - otherwise you might have to
settle for your second, third or fourth choice.
2. Consider Your Wedding Guests
Your wedding music selection should match your personal tastes, yes, but remember: your wedding reception is
a celebration for all of your friends and family. If you know for a fact that your great aunt and uncle
aren’t going to appreciate 3 and a half hours of solid ambient shoegaze drone, but they would happily shake
a leg to a little bit of honky polka, then the choice should be obvious. Your wedding reception music
should set the mood, not show off your over-developed taste in music.
A good compromise is a wedding band or DJ with a diverse catalog or playlist. Not only that, a seasoned
wedding musician or DJ will be able to read the crowd and adapt their set list according to the mood. You
might be surprised at how easily it is for a skilled wedding musician or DJ to bridge the gap between
generations. But above all, it’s important that everyone has a good time.
3. Be Reasonable with Your Wedding Reception Playlist
You hire a DJ or wedding band to commandeer the sonic realm for you - so don’t waste your time micromanaging
each and every song. While it’s absolutely expected that you’ll choose an entrance song, a first dance song
and possibly a set for dinner music, don’t take it much further than that. Instead, relax and enjoy the
mood and throw in a few requests here and there. If you must, include a “do not play” list instead of a
play list. For example, if the “Chicken Dance” grinds your gears or the “Macarena” offends your grandma,
then feel free to include them on a “Do Not Play” list.
4. Consider your Wedding Reception Venue
How many people will be attending? What kind of stage is there? What are the acoustics like? A wedding DJ or
band will ask these questions themselves, since they’ll need to plan their equipment and PA system
accordingly. If they don’t, be sure to ask what kind of equipment they’ll need.
For an orchestra or some other acoustic ensemble, you’ll need to scale the number of instrumentalists
according to the size of the room and the number of guests. A good rule of thumb is that for guest lists
up to 150, you’ll want a five piece orchestra. For larger, you may want to go with six or seven.
With plugged-in bands or DJs, it doesn’t matter - as long as they have the juice to fill the room
appropriately. Most do.
5. Don’t Take Risks
This is your wedding day. And your wedding reception is going to last several hours, with occasional
interludes where the band may need to be on their toes to introduce someone or play on cue. Don’t go with
amateurs for your all night entertainment. You may have friends who have bands or DJ as a hobby, but don’t
feel guilty about hiring someone else - even if they offer to do it for free. For one, they should be
enjoying your wedding reception with the rest of the guests, not working a gig. Secondly, by bypassing
your rigorous vetting process, it leaves the door wide open for unprofessional delivery, which can mean
bad blood for the rest of your life.
Reliable wedding musicians and DJs don’t get the credit they deserve - it takes a certain talent, selflessness
and ingenuity to keep a crowd entertained for hours, even if something goes horribly wrong. Plus, if you
choose a DJ or wedding band with a solid work history, chances are they’ll be able to put you in touch
with a reasonable backup if they have to pull out due to an emergency. Oh, and speaking of which, always
get a contingency in writing. You definitely want your money back if they fall through, but you certainly
want a replacement lined up, too.
The value of experience can’t be reiterated enough. If a wedding band or DJ has played your venue several
times, it’s a good sign. If a wedding band or DJ has four or more referrals, that’s great.
One last thing about your musically-inclined friends: If they are truly going to be heartbroken, let them
sing a song during the ceremony or play one or two special songs during the reception. It puts their
talents on display without burdening them with too much responsibility.
6. Have Fun!
This is your wedding day. Do all of your worrying and fretting upfront and on the big day, don’t worry
about it. If the DJ accidentally plays a fast dance song instead of your planned first dance song,
don’t sweat it - kick off your shoes and roll with it instead of clawing his eyes out. If the singer gets
laryngitis half way through, turn it into a karaoke night. Whatever you do, don’t ever lose sight of your
main mission: to enjoy your wedding day as much as possible. Hopefully, if you’ve followed the first
5 rules, you won’t even have to worry about this one - it’ll come naturally.