Choosing Your Wedding Music
Being a DJ, music is one of my favorite parts of the wedding. It is the one thing that makes the atmosphere personal to the bride and groom. It also sets the tone for how the guests will feel, and to an extent behave, throughout the reception. The cool thing about wedding music is the same song played in different settings, or even in the same setting, is going to get different reactions. The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra is going to get a completely different response from someone in their 50s compared to someone who is in high school. Also, if you play the song at dinner or during open dancing the reactions will be even wider.
I say all this to highlight the importance of song selection. However, you DO NOT need to put a lot of pressure on yourself. Picking the right song isn’t a huge ordeal as long as you have enough time and a professional DJ that’s willing to brainstorm with you to come up with ideas. Also, there are tons of song lists you can find online of which I will provide links. My goal is to make picking wedding music as stressless as possible!
Before we get started
An important part of song selection is understanding the vibe you are looking to create for each part of the wedding. Is the vibe for your wedding music traditional, classy, trendy, hip, hipster, fun, acoustic, etc? Deciding on the vibe you want for each part will help you make your choices by helping you focus on songs that fit the vibe. It will also introduce songs that you might not have heard before or could remind you of songs that you may have forgotten. Start with a vibe as your foundation and work from there.
Something else to keep in mind…
Even though some wedding songs are considered “the traditional” wedding songs, if you don’t use one of them for a specific event at your wedding, that’s ok. There’s A LOT of room for originality in song selection, and I think your guests will appreciate your choices, even more, knowing they fit who you are. Just remember, this is your day. You get to construct how you like!
Last thing about this list. I created it so that you can focus on each section in one sitting. They start from what I feel is most important to the least important. This way, you are starting with BIG moments first. If you do run out of time, you will at least have taken the time to put thought into what are your wedding’s defining moments.
Now that that’s done…..LET’S GET STARTED!
The Songs That Define You
Your First Dance
This song should be the most meaningful song for you both. Think back to the memories you have together. What moments stand out? Are there any songs that happened during those times? Do you have “Your Song”? When Rhoda, my wife, and I were selecting our wedding music, we remembered that one of the favorite duets we learned together was Quando Quando Quando by Michael Buble and Nelly Furtado. Singing together has always been something that defines our relationship for us and those that know us. What are things, moments, activities that define you as a couple and how can you incorporate them into selecting your first dance?
The Bridal Processional
Ladies, I know some of you have dreamed about your ceremony since you were girls and played the moments of it in your head: from the dress to what the bridal party is wearing to the decor to what you walk down the aisle to. This is THE MOMENT for a wedding because it is the first time that everyone is focusing their attention on the bride. Rhoda and I chose Back at One by Brian McKnight because I played a Brian McKnight playlist on my computer for her when we had just started dating. Plus, we both enjoy Brian McKnight as a vocalist.
Bridal Party Processional
This song is the preparation for the big reveal! The bride entering in her beautiful gown. Think back to what kind of vibe or feeling you are looking to invoke for this part of the Ceremony. It can be similar to the Prelude songs but you can also change it for this song and the Bridal Processional. Unless the Bridal Party is small or non-existent, leaving this part of the Ceremony for the officiant and the groom, you should pick a different song from the Bridal Processional.
This is my favorite song because you can use it to transition from the vibe you created for the ceremony. It can be fun, upbeat, a signal that the event is moving in a different direction. Or, it can be a continuation of the vibe you’ve created thus far. Remember, there are no wrong decisions when it comes to picking your songs. As long as they are what YOU want, that is all that matters. We picked You Are The Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne because we liked the song’s sound and felt it helped transition from the formal setting of the ceremony to the more relaxed and fun atmosphere we wanted to have during the reception
Bride & Groom’s Grand Entrance
If the Ceremony Recessional is a signal that the event is moving in a different direction, the Grand Entrance is a crescendo of fireworks. The song used for your Grand Entrance sets the tone for how the rest of the reception will unfold. I usually encourage couples to go with something more upbeat, especially if there are going to be Bridal Party introductions (more on that later). Even after saying all that, this song should be one that you both enjoy. It will help to lift your mood as you enter the reception area and possibly help with some nerves as you are about to partake in your first dance as husband and wife!
Last Dance – Romantic
I know it’s called the Last Dance but I am separating it into two different categories: Romantic and Party. The reason is you never know how the night will go. I have been a part of some weddings where the guests appeared to be having a great time and then, suddenly, they started leaving. The DJ will always do his best to build the energy so that the climax happens at the Last Dance but, just in case the party fades away to where a slower, more romantic song is more appropriate, this is good to have prepared for those instances.
Last Dance – Party
We would rather end the night with this song. This is going to be the ultimate song you both want to end the night with. It could be a song that you both would party together to or it could just be a song that you both enjoy and is super meaningful.
The grand finale of the night! The Grand Exit is typically accompanied by sparklers or bubbles or confetti (check what your venue allows). While this is not quite as important as the Last Dance, it is another moment where you can personalize your wedding reception for your guests.
Now that we have taken care of the wedding music that highlight you as a couple, let’s move on to…
Wedding Music for Your VIPs
The Father-Daughter Dance
Aside from the First Dance, the Father-Daughter dance is one of the most touching moments of the wedding. The bond that a father has with his daughter is powerful. Its power is often expressed by the emotions they both feel when they dance with each other. While there are traditional Father-Daughter Dance songs, think back to songs that remind you of your dad. Does he have a favorite song that might be appropriate for this moment? If you ask him, he may be able to provide you a suggestion (or suggestions) for songs that would be a good fit. Or would you rather pick a song as a dedication to him?
The Mother-Son Dance
This formal dance is very similar to the Father-Daughter Dance. Guys, consult your mom for this as well!
Bridal Party Grand Entrance
Will you have a Bridal Party? If not, skip this. If you are going to have a Bridal Party, you can’t go wrong with including this. Incorporating the Bridal Party Grand Entrance helps to create a vibrant, fun, and high-energy vibe for your reception. In my opinion, I consider it A MUST! Your Bridal Party members are the ones closest to you and are going to be the most excited for you. The enthusiasm they bring when they enter will bring up the energy level for the entire. Plus, who wouldn’t want to be acknowledged like this?
If the Bridal Party Grand Entrance is a yes, select a different song than the Bride & Groom Grand Entrance. The two moments will be clearly defined and it allows for a natural climax leading to when you both enter!
This is part of the wedding is often overlooked but it is another opportunity to personalize the wedding to you both.
This moment is all about the ladies, so you’re going to want to pick either a song that highlights that aspect or one that you know the single women attending the wedding will get excited to hear. Do you have a group of friends that will be participating in the Bouquet Toss? Do you all have a song that has been an anthem?
If you know that there will not be a lot of single women (more than 7-10), it may be better to not do the Bouquet Toss at all or have it include all the women attending the wedding to join for the Bouquet Toss not just those that are single. If there aren’t a lot of single women, you run the risk of having this moment feel awkward and forced and the pictures may not look as good because there are fewer people in the shots captured by the photographer.
Now it’s the fellas turn! Similar criteria apply for selecting this song as the Bouquet Toss but the note I included in the Bouquet Toss applies as well. You don’t have to nix the Garter Toss if you nix the Bouquet Toss but it is something to consider if that is the case.
This element of the wedding is not always included but I wanted to make sure to mention it just in case you were contemplating making it part of your wedding reception. Traditionally, the Money Dance is a way to help the Bride and Groom pay for their honeymoon. Since guests will pay either the Bride or the Groom to dance for part of the song, you may want to either play on that or just pick songs that are easy to dance to that the majority of your guests will recognize. If you have under 100 guests, two songs would be appropriate. However, if there are more than 100 guests, feel free to select three to four songs but allow the DJ/MC the discretion to transition to the next part of the wedding reception if it appears that all of those who want to dance with either of you have.
Now that we’ve taken care of wedding music for the VIPs let’s move on to…
Songs for your Guests
Open Dance Songs
This is the part of the reception the guests are looking forward to the most: the time to DANCE! It is best to pick anywhere from 15-20 Must Play Dance Songs. As a DJ, this gives me a great foundation to work with and I can add tracks that work well with the ones you have selected. Make sure to not only pick songs that you both enjoy but also pick songs that you know your guests will as well. The more fun they have, the more the energy will build, and the more great memories everyone will have and enjoy.
DO NOT PLAY Songs
Even though I’ve placed this in the Songs for your Guests section, this category can also fit in the Songs that Define You section as well. The reason I placed here is that sometimes guests will request wedding music that you may not like, want to hear, or fit well with what you’ve already selected. I have DJ’d weddings where the couple did not want to hear any Michael Jackson. That was a surprise to me because most people enjoy Michael Jackson but I am glad that I asked them if they had any songs or artists they did not want to hear. It helps me to curate the songs to their tastes. Even with Michael Jackson making the DO NOT PLAY list, there are so many good artists to include in a dance set.
Are there songs or artists that remind you of a former relationship or an unpleasant experience? Are there songs or artists that you just don’t like? For instance, do you not like line dances? Not only should you decide what TO play, but you also get to decide what NOT to play. Place those songs on the DO NOT PLAY list. The last thing I would want as your wedding DJ/MC is to play a song that is going to detract from your wedding.
Prelude, Cocktail Hour, and Dinner
Each of these occurs at different times but I encourage couples to adopt a similar philosophy for all of them. Remember when i talked about vibe earlier? Picking the vibe of these parts of the wedding ceremony and reception is the most important part. Songs for Prelude set the tone for the ceremony, Cocktail Hour helps make the guests feel comfortable when mingling (especially if not everyone knows each other) and Dinner acts as the preparation for Open Dancing are parts of the reception that you want to make the guests feel comfortable. This is where you should lean on your DJ to select tracks that are appropriate for each.
For Prelude and Cocktail Hour specifically, you both either won’t hear many or any of the songs. For this reason, the most specific I would encourage you to get would be choosing artists that fit the vibe you are looking for. However, because of how short Prelude is typically (15-20 minutes), it can make sense to select the songs for that part of the Ceremony. For Dinner, if you wanted to pick songs, I would suggest limiting the songs you pick to around five. I will be able to take the vibe you’ve requested along with the artists you’ve chosen and then create the soundtrack for Dinner.
And, that’s a WRAP for wedding music! In total, you only need to select 35-40 songs, and, within a typical 9-month wedding planning period, this is doable :). Even if you have less time, you don’t have to stress about it. Working with your wedding DJ/MC, you will be able to put together the perfect playlist for your big day. If you have any questions, either comment below or reach out to me at info@highlightweddingsandevents and I will do my best to assist you in whatever way I can. Your wedding is going to be great because it is going to be completely YOU!