Let's face it: While every moment of a wedding is carefully thought out, at the end of the day, guests are more inclined to remember the details of the reception. Between the food, the speeches, and the special dances, it's the reception that your family and friends will likely think of long after the day is over. That's why it's so important that the songs you choose to play at your celebration have the ability to bring everyone together for an unforgettable night. Your music selection can help everyone feel comfortable on the dance floor no matter their age, race, or gender identity. According to Jay Hardie, a member of the Atlanta-based wedding band Shimmer, “Most receptions bring together three generations, two families, and two groups of friends. The goal is a full dance floor and fun, fun, fun.” But while it may seem easy to throw a "fun" party, is that truly possible when your grandmother, college roommates, and work colleagues are all in the same room?
The stakes are high when it comes to wedding music, and curating the perfect playlist is a difficult task when working with a diverse guest list. Lucky for you, we spoke with two experts who offer tips on how to lock in a wedding soundtrack that will appeal to everyone in attendance.
Here's Why Reception Music Matters
"The music that is played for your big day is a very personal choice, and there is no wrong song selection as long as it means something to you and your soon-to-be spouse," says Keisha Rodgers, co-founder of Orchestra Noir, an award-winning all-Black symphony. Therefore, with an emphasis on music being personal, what you choose to play at your reception has the ability to invite friends and family into your love story (after all, that is the main purpose of a wedding).
To further help break it down, the songs you select should be thoughtfully curated, just like they would be in any good romance movie. There should be moments of rising action and excitement as well as moments where the energy slows down, which will give guests a chance to catch their breath, refill their drinks, or sit down for a moment. Ultimately, though, the end result should be a fun vibe where everyone feels like they've played a minor role in celebrating your big day. And in order to service these supporting acts, you'll need to choose a mix of crowd-pleasing songs that each person will enjoy.
The Top Reception Music Tips to Follow
As previously noted, most, if not all, weddings have a diverse guest list that includes people from all walks of life. However, regardless of who plans to attend, you will need to play tracks that will connect everyone through song and dance. While nailing the right mix of classic and contemporary songs is an art form, it's not impossible and can be achieved by following a few tips, as noted below.
Play songs that are inclusive and not offensive.
Many couples put off or forget to write up their must-play and do-not-play lists. This is a mistake! It's important that you take the time to decide which songs you absolutely want and do not want to hear. For instance, music with profanity might make certain guests uncomfortable, so it may be best to stick to songs that don't contain curse words. As for tracks to that foster inclusivity, ask your DJ to play a few line dances, as this is a great way to get everyone up and dancing together. Also, talking with your DJ or band ahead of time will allow them to tailor the program to your specific needs, and build momentum from the very first song.
Play a variety of genres.
If you’re not a fan of the oldies but know your guests will love these tunes, don't immediately write off the genre. Play a mix of tracks that everyone will know and enjoy, and be sure to also lean on your music vendors for their expert advice. A DJ or wedding band will likely have a huge catalog of music to pull from, and a wealth of experience to guide your selections. These professionals also know how to read a room, and are able to immediately curate a flow of songs that will get your guests moving.
Ask your guests for song recommendations.
The easiest way to engage a crowd is to ask for their song recommendations, as this will allow you and your vendors to get a feel for the type of music your guests would like to hear. However, it's important to remember that these tracks are only suggestions and you don't have to include every song your family members have requested. "At the end of the day, the only opinion that really matters is you and your fiancé's," shares Rodgers.
Trust the experts.
While you should always communicate with your hired professionals, you don’t necessarily need to provide an entire catalog of music you want them to play. For couples hiring a DJ and/or band, you are paying for their expertise, and thus, you should let them do what they do best. “The band needs to be allowed to read the audience, and react and adjust to what they like,” says Hardie. “Sometimes the audience gets tired and needs a slow song; sometimes the energy can be ramped up and left at a high level. Let the band engage all guests at the start with music that appeals across generations and genres."
Plan breaks wisely.
The key to successfully engaging your guests is ensuring they have time to rest throughout the night, especially for those who are older in age. As previously mentioned, be sure to incorporate a few slow tracks so your friends and family can catch their breath after hours of dancing. “Break one may be used for speeches and toasts,” notes Hardie. “Break two may be used for a DJ mix of the couple’s favorite dance tunes."
Watch the volume level.
You don’t want the band or DJ to be so loud that people are forced to shout throughout the night (this is a sure way to annoy your guests). “Cocktail and dinner sets should be performed at a conversational volume level,” says Hardie. Keep the volume at an appropriate level for dancing, which falls above a middle school dance and below a Las Vegas nightclub.