A Beautiful Sound
Ben Barnes Photography
For some couples, music is at the top of the to-do list. For others, it’s a last-minute detail that can be taken care of after flowers are chosen and the menu is perfected. The truth is, though, music—from the selection for your first dance to your choice of DJ—is a detail your guests will talk about long after the night ends. Your music choices are a representation of who you are as a couple, and it’s here that you can truly go a long way toward impressing (and entertaining) your guests.
“It’s the soundtrack to the day,” says Andy Hughes of Columbus Pro DJs. “And it definitely sets the mood for the type of reception you’re going to have.”
In fact, music can be a “make it or break it” detail of the wedding day. According to wedding professionals, too long of a lag in between songs, for example, is a noticeable distraction for guests. And music is one truly customizable element of the celebration that couples can use to really impress their guests.
Whether live, pre-recorded or performed by a close friend or family member, music is an ideal opportunity for sharing who you are as a couple. It goes beyond entertainment and making sure that the wedding ceremony, cocktail hour and post-dinner dancing flow—it helps tell your story. And each moment of the wedding day—from pre-ceremony to last-dance—is an opportunity for music.
The ceremony typically includes traditional or religious music, often instrumental. More and more couples, however, are choosing contemporary songs and songs with personal meaning for the ceremony, especially prior to the bride’s appearance. You’ll want to liven things up for pre-dinner drinks, although hiring a pianist is still the go-to for many couples. The music during cocktail hour is for casual enjoyment.
The reception is of course the main music event, and it’s here that you have the most options. Hiring a DJ—preferably one that specializes in weddings—is a great way to ensure your guests will get grooving, but live bands are a wonderful choice, too, if you have the budget for one.
When choosing music for your wedding day, be aware of the different elements that make up the day. You have the ability to set a completely different tone for the ceremony, cocktail hour and reception all by choosing the appropriate songs.
If you’re looking to hire a DJ for the reception, have an idea of what musical genres and songs you’d like to hear. Discuss as a couple the pros and cons of having a set list of songs versus allowing things to be more flexible, with the DJ accepting guest requests. And decide early on if there are any songs, genres or artists that you absolutely don’t want the DJ to play—taste is subjective, so be sure that if you love it or hate it, your DJ knows.
If you opt to create a set list yourself, understand that DJs are still the best at gauging the mood of a crowd. It’s appropriate—and important—for a bride and groom to give as much feedback as possible, but at the end of the day, the DJ has a job to do: get the party started, and keep it going. Professional DJs have countless songs at their disposal, and they’re also aware of what works for what age groups.
“There are ‘home run songs’ that you can always depend on to get people up and out of their seats,” Premier Entertainment owner Chris Ortleib says. “As the older guests leave throughout the course of the evening, you can play more current music that the bride and groom and their friends will stay to enjoy.”
Of course, budget is always a primary factor when couples make the DJ-or-band decision. Hiring a DJ is often the more economical choice, but if you’re going to need to hire a musician for the ceremony or cocktail hour, too, it’s worth considering a band.
Live performers add creativity and energy that recorded music sometimes can’t, says Louis Tsamous of Affiliate Musicians, a service that provides live entertainment for weddings and events. These musicians add a splash of character to the evening, putting their own spin on classic and contemporary favorites.
Another benefit is, of course, the flexibility that comes with hiring a live band—you can make songs longer or cut some numbers short, and you’ll never have to worry about moving things along more quickly (a processional, for instance), as live musicians are able to adapt. And bandleaders, like DJs, can assist in cueing what’s next, from bridal party introductions to speeches from the father of the bride and best man.
Although DJs have access to a larger library of music, many live bands will be able to cover current hits and classics alike; you’ll just want to discuss this during your planning process. No two bands are alike, of course, and some will have strengths (oldies, Top-40 hits, jazz) that others won’t.
Finally, you’ll undoubtedly have guests who choose not to dance, because they’re not able or because they just don’t enjoy it. Watching the band provides its own enjoyment—hiring a live group goes a long way toward keeping everyone entertained.
One option that many couples are taking advantage of is to book a live band for the cocktail hour and a DJ for the reception. This allows for the spontaneity of a live performance while also giving guests a chance to hear more contemporary music. Bride Bryanne Dundee booked a piano player for the cocktail hour and a DJ for the reception when she married husband Ben on June 2, 2012.
“My husband just thought it would be the coolest thing in the world if we had a piano player who was playing ’80s rock ballads in a classical style on the keyboard,” Dundee says.
Regardless of your preference, remember that it’s OK to rely on the music professionals to use their best judgment as to what songs are perfect for the dinner hour and which songs will keep the crowd up and dancing all night long.
There’s always the iPod option; prepare a playlist, plug it in and get grooving.
Unfortunately, and although it may sound like a money-saving no-brainer, going it alone (or having a guest take this on for you) isn’t always a safe bet.
Although your music taste may be superb, professional wedding DJs are in this business for a reason—they know what songs will get everyone on the dance floor, from your college buddies to your grandparents and everyone in between. It’s important that the music flows well and sets a general tone, and most people—even those with a huge music library—aren’t accustomed to creating a flawless party mix.
There are also technical issues that can arise. You and your guests should be focused on having a great time—not coming up with a quick fix for equipment or sound-related challenges. A pro will be prepared to tackle any problems that occur throughout the night, and will have a back-up plan if any equipment fails.
DJ vs. Live Band
Trying to decide between a DJ and a live band can be tough, so consider this list when picking your musical act.
- You’ll hear your favorite song just as you’ve always heard it performed, with no room for interpretation.
- DJs play a wider variety of songs, as their collections typically consist of thousands of songs.
- DJs are typically open to requests.
- DJs are often trained as masters of ceremonies.
- DJs don’t always provide the same excitement as a live performance.
- Live acts can lengthen or shorten songs as needed.
- Your guests will experience the excitement of a live show.
- Bands will need to take breaks—and sometimes will need to be included on the dinner list.
Bands are generally more expensive.
Our First-Song Favorites
We asked staff members, newlyweds, our Facebook fans and Twitter followers and trawled the web for the most romantic reception songs.
Here’s a sampling to get your playlist started.
“Love Song,” Adele (originally by The Cure)
“Salvation Song,” The Avett Brothers
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” Stevie Wonder
“At Last,” Etta James
“No One’s Gonna Love You,” Cee-Lo Green (originally by Band of Horses)
“Crazy Love,” Van Morrison
“I Melt with You,” Modern English
“Is This Love,” Bob Marley
“God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys
“Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones
“Across the Universe,” Fiona Apple (originally by The Beatles)
“Home,” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
“Unforgettable,” Nat King Cole
“Mirrors,” Justin Timberlake
“I Was Made for You,” She & Him
“Marry You,” Bruno Mars
“You are the Best Thing,” Ray LaMontagne
“My Girl,” The Temptations
“Save the Last Dance For Me,” Michael Buble