More likely than not, most of your wedding elements (the invitations, the color scheme, the décor, the style of photography) will have come together long before you choose all of the music. And if that's the case, you’ll want to ensure that your music selections—for everything from the ceremony prelude and cocktail hour to your reception entrance and the last song of the night—are matched to the holistic style of the celebration.
"I am a strong believer that music really sets the vibe for your wedding guests, so we always suggest certain types of entertainment for all parts of the wedding, from a playlist we send to the transportation company for shuttles, to the string quartet playing the song that was playing at the bar they met while guests are being seated at the ceremony," explains Victoria Holland, destination wedding planner and owner of Victoria Ann Events. "We suggest always trying to find fun and unique ways to use music to mirror making their wedding totally them, but also matching the vibe, which can be done easily by selecting certain types of performers and asking them to play certain songs that match the couple."
Meet the Expert
Victoria Holland is a destination wedding planner and the owner of Victoria Ann Events, a luxury wedding planning company.
Here, Holland helps us break down everything couples should consider when aligning their music choices—both the performers and the songs—with the overall style of the wedding day to ensure a cohesive (and romantic!) experience.
Identify Your Wedding Style
When you first started planning your wedding, you probably had a specific vision in mind. Perhaps you tackled the guest list first, and you know you're having a large, formal wedding. Maybe you've known from the get-go that you want an intimate celebration that feels more like an at-home dinner party than a typical reception. Perhaps you're having a destination wedding, and you've decided on different elements around that specific destination, like a beach, an island, or a desert. Those leading factors that have helped shape your wedding concept will help you determine your wedding style, and that's a great place to start when figuring out what kind of music you want. "We always love to pull from the location of the wedding or the theme of the wedding," shares Holland. "If you're getting married in Mexico, it's a given to have a Mariachi band at one part of the wedding weekend. [For another wedding}, we had steel drums at the cocktail hour in a more tropical location."
Whether it's the theme, destinations, or a combination of stylistic elements, here are a few things to consider when determining your own wedding style, as it relates to music choices.
The Photography Style
What kind of photography are you hoping for? Do you want vintage-style photos, film photography, or black-and-white photos? Maybe you want editorialized or journalistic pictures, or something more dark and moody. If you have a specific vision with photography or videography (or even social media content for Instagram or TikTok), you should consider that when choosing the style of music to play (i.e. for a vintage aesthetic, having classic 1920s music, or hiring a jazz band, could be a great fit).
The Décor Aesthetic
Do you have a specific wedding aesthetic in mind? Some examples would be a garden wedding, a nautical wedding, a rustic wedding, a boho wedding, or a whimsical wedding. If you've chosen a specific style, let that guide you when deciding on a band, DJ, or solo performer, as well as the kind of musical arrangements you want to feature. For example, if you're having a boho-style wedding with 1970s vibes, you'll want a playlist that reflects that era. On the other hand, if you're having a colorful, whimsical wedding, you may want to opt for super upbeat, acoustic music throughout the event. By no means does your music have to stick to one genre, but you'll want to ensure that there is a seamless flow throughout the entirety of the day.
Are you getting married in a specific destination with traditional music that would fit the wedding vibe perfectly? For example, if you're getting married at Lake Como in Italy, you could hire live local musicians to perform classic Italian love ballads during cocktail hour and the reception. If you're having a nautical beach wedding during the summer in coastal New England, you might want laid-back, beachy acoustics as the main focal point of the soundtrack to your wedding.
When Is Music Most Important During the Event?
Some couples may feel like having standout music isn't the most important part of the ceremony or the sit-down dinner. If that's the case, consider splurging for a great band and just having them perform during the dance party to ensure that the energy is really high during this part of the night. Alternatively, if it feels like you need a little something extra during the ceremony (for walking down the aisle and during the processional), having live musicians, like a singer or a string quartet, during this portion of the event might be where you want to put your focus.
Think About the Space
One important aspect of your wedding style that will impact your music choices is the physical space where the wedding is taking place. Will you be in a huge cathedral with towering ceilings or a big hotel ballroom? Are you having an outdoor wedding near a body of water (where sound will travel!)? Or maybe you're in a small space, like a bar or a restaurant. The size of your space will certainly influence the style of music you ultimately choose—for example, Holland says that she generally suggests DJs, solo performers, saxophonists, or string quartets for small spaces. "You still fill the space with music, but the set-up doesn't have to take up too much of the precious venue space," she explains.
Alternatively, if you are planning an outdoor wedding, talk through all of the logistics. "Make sure everyone is on the same page with sound ordinances, when the entertainment has to stop, how loud the entertainment is allowed to be, and how much power you will need for the entertainment—and if that needs to be provided by you or the venue has a way of getting the power to the reception location," suggests Holland. "Try to get this all ironed out before you go into the contract so that you don't have unexpected charges at the end." She shares that couples should also consider what their musical performers will require, in terms of setup needs. "Most bands have certain specifications for their setup, like the size of the stage."
Find a DJ or Wedding Band With Similar Music Tastes
As you're researching and interviewing different bands, DJs, instrumental performers, or vocalists, make sure that you feel like your taste in music aligns with what they offer—the last thing you want is for a musician to go off-book and play something that feels totally wrong for your personality or your wedding style. Make sure you read reviews for each musician, watch videos of their past performances, check out their Spotify or Apple Music page if they have one, and read about their style on their website. Come to the meeting with specific examples of what you want to hear at the wedding—and what you don't want to hear! If you have a do-not-play list, ensure that you provide this to the musician(s) well ahead of the wedding date.
Holland explains that when she begins working with couples, she always asks what type of music genres they want to hear at the wedding. "If they are going for a club atmosphere and want everyone to just be on the dance floor all night long, we suggest a DJ, but to really dive into getting a DJ that understands the type of music you want," she says. Alternatively, if a couple knows they want genres like Motown, Oldies, or R&B, she'll almost always recommend a band. "Hearing those genres of music live always sets the tone for a good time!"
Consider Nontraditional Music Options
People talk a lot about wedding bands and wedding DJs—but there’s a lot more out there than these two options. Consider hiring individual musicians for different parts of the event. For example, you may want a string quartet to perform an instrumental version of a song you love as you walk down the aisle, and again during the ceremony procession. After that, you could plan to have a playlist ready for the cocktail hour, reception, and dance party. Alternatively, you may want recorded music to play over speakers during the ceremony, and then hire a solo singer with accompanying instruments (like a guitarist) to perform during the cocktail hour, followed by a playlist or a DJ for the rest of the reception and the dance party.
When it comes down to it, the options for choosing your wedding music are really limitless. Using your overall wedding style to guide these choices—and working closely with your planner and hired musicians—will ensure that the day sounds as seamless as it looks.