How to Choose the Music for your Wedding

For some, choosing the right wedding day music is a no-brainer: they’ve always wanted a string quartet; love a live singer; or like to party to their favourite club tracks – so a DJ is the answer.

If you haven’t already made your mind up on your choice of wedding day music, it can actually be a difficult decision. Your choice of music can have a huge impact on the atmosphere and vibe of your wedding day (and night), and whether your guests party on til the early hours, or spend the evening in a more relaxed fashion.

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It may be a matter of budget, especially if you’ve left it til the later stages of planning, in which case you might be wondering if you can get away with an iPhone playlist.

Whether you want to DIY, hire a DJ, or have live music, make the decision well in advance and keep these tips in mind.

Do you need to have professionals?

No. You don’t need to have anything, really. Should you choose not to/cannot afford to have a professional DJ or musician, with some forward thinking and organisation, you can absolutely plan a wonderful wedding without them.

For the best result possible with a DIY playlist, you will have to be really thorough, and not leave it ’til the last minute.

  • Ensure you have someone to be responsible for pressing ‘Play’ (and other things) throughout the day – as you’ll be busy. Ideally, someone who can also troubleshoot if there’s a technical glitch.
  • Decide whether you’re going to create playlists for the entire day: ceremony, afternoon, dinner and dancefloor.
  • Work out how many hours each playlist needs to run for, and therefore approximately how many songs you’ll need.
  • Consider whether you might have alternatives for the dancefloor music – if more of the ‘oldies’ are getting into the dancing, you might like to tailor the music to their vibe, or if you get requests from friends and family, how easily you can change the soundtrack to something suitable.
  • If not you, is there someone else who can help you put together the playlists, especially the dancefloor tunes, which can be the most crucial for atmosphere?
  • If you’re planning to use a web service like Spotify, will you have adequate WiFi?
  • Will the venue’s sound system be adequate, or do you need to hire additional speakers, microphones, etc?
  • Do you really have the time, patience and musical nous to do so.

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Live Music or DJ?

If you don’t immediately fall into one camp or the other, consider the weddings you’ve attended, and whether you preferred the vibe of each. Many consider that a band create the best atmosphere, but a DJ is usually considerably cheaper, and more easily able to take requests or change the style of music played.

For live musicians, you have options including string quartets, jazz, piano, covers bands, solo or duo singers, etc, each which have many options for the style of music played. A DJ, on the other hand can cover every style of music and can play almost every song in the world.

Cost

The cost of a live musician/band will usually be in the range of $1-5000 (especially dependent on the number of players, and the distance travelled). Keep in mind that if your wedding is far out of town, they may require more than one vehicle to transport their instruments, and that musicians with very large instruments often buy a second airplane seat to transport theirs. Some, not all, will have additional microphones, speakers and lighting for use too.

A DJ, on the other hand, will usually cost $1-3,000, requires one car, and should have all their own equipment, speakers and lighting. If you have a particularly diverse crowd, a DJ can play the greatest variety of music, and can switch between older songs and brand new hits at a moment’s notice.

Space

Your choice may also depend on the venue, for instance the amount of space a band will take up, or whether the venue is better suited for a large dance-floor and DJ. If the venue is particularly large, and not all guests will be able to hit the dance-floor at the same time anyway, a band can create a really nice atmosphere for the entire room, whereas a DJ’s sound and vibe tends not to travel so well to fill the room with.

Time

Like anyone, your live musicians will also require a break, and especially so if they’re singing, or continuously playing music. Take into consideration how much time you have on the dancefloor, and talk to your musician in advance about the number, and timings of breaks expected, so that you can play around them, with the cake cutting, for instance.

If you’d like to have live music in the afternoon, a good option is to have the musicians continue through the first hour or so of the dance-floor, and then move onto a playlist or DJ. It won’t cost too much more per hour, if the musicians will already be with you, and it can be a nice way to transition between the choices.

If you’ve only got a couple of hours on the dancefloor, maybe it won’t be too hard to craft a great playlist. What worked for your friends mightn’t be right for your style of wedding, but if you particularly loved a friends’ playlist, ask to borrow it as a starting point (just don’t make it identical!).

Plan in advance

Whether you’re going with a DJ, DIY or a band, get organised and plan in advance. Most professional bands/musicians can learn special songs for you if given enough notice, and all will tailor the evening to your preferred style of music, you’ve just got to be able to hand them lists of play/do-not play lists a few weeks in advance.

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Ask your guests what they’d like to hear!

A wedding invitation arrived in the mail recently with an RSVP card prompting:

The song you’ll actually dance to at our wedding?

This is a wonderful way of making sure all your guests want to get up and groove, and if you get these responses back early enough in advance, they may impact your choice of tunes, or style of music. If all the answers returned are top 40 tracks, a DJ or playlist are an easy choice.

Sound Limits

Make sure to check with your venue what time the music has to be quietened down, or else you’ll annoy the neighbours and possibly end up with a fine passed onto you from the venue, in the worst case. If the dance-floor is inside, you may get away with some quieter tunes with the doors closed, even after the curfew, another reason you might like to put together an iPhone playlist.

Planning your playlist

There are three major tracks to choose, the processional, recessional, and the first dance. For the processional, the size of venue and bridal party might demand that you have a different song for the bridesmaids to the bride, or one song for all if they can make it in time. It’s nice to also choose the track one before the processional, so that you have a bit of a ‘countdown’ prior. Often these are more traditional, classical music.

The recessional track is usually more upbeat, to match the occasion, and often something that means something to the couple, or make them want to celebrate.

Top choices for processional song:

  • La Vie en Rose, Edith Piaf
  • Higher Love, James Vincent McMarrow
  • How Long Will I Love You, Ellie Goulding
  • Skinny Love, Bon Iver
  • A Thousand Years, Christina Perri
  • Hoppipolla, Sigur Ros
  • Your Song, Elton John
  • Marry Me, Train
  • At Last, Etta James
  • Gymnopedie No. 1, Eric Satie

Top choices for recessional song:

  • Love on Top, Beyoncé
  • Let’s Stay Together, Al Green
  • You Make my Dreams Come True, Hall & Oates
  • Love Never Felt so Good, Michael Jackson featuring Justin Timberlake
  • Feelin’ Good, Michael Bublé
  • At Last, Etta James
  • Lovely Day, Bill Withers
  • (This Will Be) An Everlasting Love, Natalie Cole
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder
  • Home, Phillip Phillips

Still confused? If you’ve narrowed it down to a select few, actually meet with them, attend a live gig, ask for a demo, and talk to your newlywed friends.

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