Music to Your Ears
Let sound help set the mood of your ceremony and reception.
Columbus Pro DJs got the party rolling at the Aug. 25, 2012, wedding of Megan and Ian Sample. The couple chose "I Just Knew" by Better Than Ezra for their first dance.
Hillary Ferguson Photography
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Twentieth-century novelist and mystic Aldous Huxley wasn’t specifically referring to weddings when he wrote those words, but few could be more apt when it comes to one of the most important days in a couple’s life. Music, after all, fills the silence of a wedding day, setting just the right mood at just the right time. Choosing the right music, and those who provide it, are vital parts of planning the day.
“The absence of music is a real void. You notice it when it’s not there,” says Chris Ortleib, owner of Premier Entertainment, which provides deejay services. “You think about the serious ceremony or the happy, bouncy cocktail hour or the romantic first dance, and it’s music that gives it the mood and the atmosphere.”
For Kassaundra (Majoy) Paugh, who married Kyle on New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Columbus Athenaeum, it goes even deeper than that. “I think that music can make or break your entire wedding,” she says. “Our music kept the reception flowing and kept our guests entertained. I loved how we were able to showcase our tastes and our own personal style, and then could immediately change and allow everyone to enjoy themselves when the time was right. Because of the music that kept our guests up and entertained, our New Year’s Eve wedding was a great celebration of our new beginning as a couple—and a great way to kick off the new year.”
Each part of a wedding celebration has its own musical needs. The ceremony is usually traditional, religious or reverential. The cocktail hour and dinner need a lively, yet not overpowering, soundtrack. And for the party after dinner, the music ranges from loving tones for the first dance to the beats of a rollicking dance club.
“It’s hard to imagine a wedding that didn’t incorporate music,” says Paul Hoy, owner and talent broker at Class Acts Entertainment, which books live bands for events. “For every feeling, every emotion that’s going to be present on a wedding day, music elevates it all.”
Couples must first decide whether they want a live band, deejay or personal song selection. Of course, wedding professionals eschew the latter option because they say it’s in the interest of the couple. Simply playing music isn’t the only function of wedding music providers—if it was, an iPod would be a terrific deejay. Couples rely on their professional for more than music.
“We of course are proponents of live music,” says Hoy. “To me, live musicians add a bit of character and sophistication, but also they give a lot of flexibility to the timing of all of the events of a wedding. You’re not going to have a song be too short or too long for the processional, for instance, because live musicians can adapt and end or extend a song as needed, rather than simply hitting stop on the iPod in the middle of a song if the bride reaches the altar too quickly.”
Whether it’s introducing the bridal party or announcing that the cake is about to be cut, your deejay or bandleader will cue your guests on what’s to come next. They also know how to keep the party running smoothly.
“I was very specific in the type of music I did not want played,” says Kelly (McCafferty) Pedersen, who married Eric Oct. 22, 2011. “When one of my guests requested a song [my deejay] knew I wouldn’t like he approached me and asked if he should play it or not. I thought it was great he really took that seriously after our discussion with him. Also, because our guests were having such a great time, he stayed and played longer than we had originally planned. He kept the party going.”
Deciding whether deejays or live musicians are better suited to supply the mood you want is a major decision, and there are several factors to consider.
For one, deejays can bring a wider range of tunes than bands, since their collections consist of thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of songs. This gives the bride and groom more leeway in the songs they can choose.
“We also liked the flexibility to allow our guests to request their favorite songs at the reception,” Paugh says. “We did have a spot on our wedding website where people could request songs, but everyone knows when you are out on the dance floor and in the moment that it’s so fun to be able to run up to the deejay and request your favorites.”
Despite the vast collections of songs many deejays have access to, live bands cover a lot of ground, too, and most can field requests or standards from any period. Most bands will even learn tunes for couples who have a particular song they want to use for their first dance and father-daughter or mother-son dances.
Live musicians also can react to the mood of the crowd. If the dance floor is empty, an energetic lead singer can provide the motivation needed to get the crowd moving. And for those guests who don’t like to dance, watching a band perform is entertainment on its own. If you want the reception to adhere to a specific musical genre, such as big band or ’70s funk, a live band that specializes in those types of tunes brings unbeatable authenticity to the stage. And some couples feel there’s nothing like the vibe from a live band.
But if you want the music to sound exactly like what you hear out of your iPod, you’ll probably be happier with a deejay.
“We considered having live musicians, but there are just some classic songs that you want to dance to by the original singers,” says Kelly Pedersen. “I can’t imagine a band singer being able to outdo Frank Sinatra.”
And of course, budget always is a consideration. Paying musicians for their performance generally costs more than paying a deejay. But to some couples, music is important enough that they’re willing to spend a little more on it, even if they have to make sacrifices in other areas of the wedding. Don’t forget also that you’ll need background music during the cocktail hour, if one is planned, as well as during dinner. That time might be the most likely spot to use that iPod for a bit of cost-cutting.
While a lot of the energy you spend planning your wedding will go into the reception, don’t forget that the ceremony is the reason for the party. There are lots of factors to consider other than just which songs to play.
If you’re getting married in a church or synagogue, you’ll need to ask about any restrictions regarding the type of music allowed. It’s possible that the organist is contractually guaranteed participation in all church events involving music. If the organist would get paid whether he or she plays a note, you could take advantage of the situation even if you hire other musicians by having them alternate their songs with those of the organist.
Outdoor ceremonies present challenges for musicians. Acoustic instruments will have to carry over any possible background noises, such as the cascading water of a garden fountain. Brass ensembles and woodwind groups are better suited for outdoor weddings, because their sound carries better than that of stringed instruments. Also, extended periods of time in the sun can harm instruments, so provide a shady place for the musicians to play.
Many brides and grooms choose live musicians to perform during the ceremony. Couples watching their budget could opt for a duo or trio, which substantially lowers the cost. “We had … a violin, flute and cello for our ceremony,” Pedersen says. “We selected ‘All You Need is Love’ as our recessional and they did a stellar job learning this for our wedding.”
Since many venues can accommodate the ceremony and reception in the same building, it might be economical and logistically easier for a couple to book a deejay to provide all the sounds for the day’s events. Just make sure the arrangement of your music makes sense within the setting of the ceremony.
Whether you go with live or recorded music, it’s important to consider which songs and styles of music will complement your crowd. Music providers generally concentrate on oldies and classics from the ’70s and ’80s for the first few hours, then play music that appeals to younger folks and any party animals in attendance.
Music providers say some couples select many songs for their playlists, while others give only a general style preference. Still others rely on the provider’s experience to plan the music, then adapt and react to the desires of the guests.
“Our wedding also consisted of a large age range of guests—from my 87-year-old grandmother to our 10-year-old cousins,” Paugh says. “We wanted everyone to be up dancing, having a great time, and we were able to accomplish that by playing songs that everyone liked and allowing guests to request their favorites. Our wedding and reception all went off without a hitch.”