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Set Your Wedding Band or DJ Up for Success With These Top Tips

Plus, learn the music mistakes to avoid at all costs.

From your walk down the aisle to your grand entrance as newlyweds, music plays a pivotal role in your wedding. The songs you select have the power to set the tone and atmosphere for your nuptials. Without a curated soundtrack, some of the most special moments from your big day wouldn’t be as touching or memorable. “Music is extremely important because it feeds the energy of the night,“ Eric Sampson of The DJ Firm says. “It can make happy moments turn emotional and create unforgettable memories during the night.”

Your reception is one part of your celebration that just wouldn't be the same without music. After saying “I do” to your partner, there’s no better way to celebrate than by joining your friends and family on the dance floor. Whether you choose a band or DJ to bring the energy, the musical ensemble largely contributes to the success of the night. To select the right vendor for your event, Sampson suggests doing research and reading reviews to see what resonates with you. To get a feel for style, Justyn Priest of Royale recommends attending their next gig. Social media content and websites are great. But, in my experience, you’ll want to go listen and mingle if you have the time,” he shares. 

Of course, DJs and wedding bands provide a certain amount of talent that will help generate a packed dance floor, but there are a few steps you can take as a couple to set them up for success. From delivering special song requests to sharing the timeline of the evening, below are expert-approved tips and music mistakes to avoid for the most memorable reception. 

Meet the Expert

  • Eric Sampson (DJ Jem) is the owner of The DJ Firm, which is based in Chicago. He’s been playing at weddings for more than 10 years.
  • Justyn Priest is the lead guitarist, singer, sound engineer, administrator, and co-manager for Royale. He’s been performing at weddings for five years, along with his band members Derik Lavers, Josh Fry, and Alvin Flores.

How to Prepare Your Wedding Band

To ensure your wedding reception has a crowded dance floor all night long, these are the three most important tips to keep in mind when working with your band, straight from the experts..

Couple dancing to a live band

Photo by Jeff Brummett / Design by Tiana Crispino

Provide an Itinerary

Before you get into the nitty-gritty details of song selections and equipment setups, it’s important to provide your band with an overview of what will be happening at the reception. Share a rough timeline with the group, and note the band’s level of involvement in each part, from the newlywed entrance to family dances. Priest advises identifying a set time that the band will start performing, as well as any key songs for those important moments. Within that schedule, mark speeches and announcements and outline instructions for the MC.

Communicate Clearly

It's important to be transparent about your expectations with your band from the beginning. Make sure that you share the important information, like your do-not-play list or the vision for the band setup, in a clear and concise fashion. Remember to include the ensemble in any correspondence that relates to the team’s area of expertise. 

If you must make a change to the music before your big day, Priest encourages couples to have an open conversation about it with the band. “Please do your best to give the band ample notice and find a resolution that works best without having to change any terms previously agreed upon,” Priest recommends.

Specify Your Song Requests

During your reception, the band will typically play their own repertoire, which Priest says will be available to you before the wedding. Once you receive the list, you can make adjustments, highlighting any songs you don’t want to hear or making a few additional requests. The group won’t always be able to accommodate your suggestions, which is why Priest stresses attending a live show before booking the band to get a feel for the type of music it plays. “If you do have a few requests for the live band, be sure to get that conversation going early on in case the band needs to learn those songs and rehearse them prior to the event,” Priest notes.

Include Pre-Recorded Music

Of course, your band will perform a majority of the songs at your wedding, but it’s also important to provide an assortment of pre-recorded music, especially if the vendor is covering sound for the entire event. “We usually end up with three pre-recorded playlists for each wedding,” Priest shares. Couples tend to select specific songs that can be used for the processional, recessional, mother-son dance, and father-daughter dance. Then, for the cocktail hour or band breaks, Priest suggests piecing together a general list of ballads to keep the party going. This can be utilized during their breaks, too.

Figure Out Your Floor Plan

Your band will arrive with a lot of equipment, so the ensemble will need ample space to set up. A stage is the most popular spot to station the group, but it isn’t always a requirement (check their contract to see what setup they require!). However, Priest warns against placing the vendor on the ground or in an uncovered area. Another necessity? Designate an area on your floor plan that’s close to a power outlet. If there isn’t one available, Priest says to come prepared with an extension cord or a generator.

Wedding Band Mistakes to Avoid

From being indecisive about your music choices to forgetting to feed the band, these are the most common mistakes couples make when working with their wedding band before and during the event.

Forgetting to Share a Point of Contact

If your band has a last-minute question or a detail they need to change on your big day, they probably won’t be able to reach you. “The last thing we want to do is bother you while you’re getting ready,” Priest notes. Before you tie the knot, designate one member of your wedding party or your planner as the band’s point of contact. Remember to share that person’s phone number with the musical group, so they won’t have to pull you away from an important moment or interrupt the flow of the evening.

Leaving All Decisions Up to the Band

Since it’s your special day, the music needs to reflect that. Instead of having your band make the final decisions, it’s important to communicate exactly what you want, whether it’s your first dance song or the last track of the evening. “We as a band can always make recommendations, but it’s better to take a hands-on approach to avoid any potential disappointment, even if all you want is typical wedding music,” Priest explains.

Using Indirect Communication

Of course, your planner will coordinate many of the details behind your big day, but a lack of input from you and your partner will likely lead to missing gaps. By communicating directly with the band, you’ll be a part of the process and have more of a say in what you want the music to look like. Not to mention, the band will get to know you on a personal level, so they’ll be able to deliver a better performance. If you aren’t able to work with the band, Priest suggests making sure that your planner acts as a proper liaison, asking questions and sharing information efficiently.

Having Unrealistic Expectations

It’s completely normal to have high standards for your band, but setting the bar too high will only lead to disappointment. The contract that you signed before your big day spells out the musical group’s roles and responsibilities, so they shouldn’t be expected to go above and beyond. “If you need to adapt and overcome an obstacle on your wedding day, do your best to work within the lines of the contract and be willing to negotiate to find a reasonable resolution for all parties involved,” Priest advises.

Neglecting to Feed the Group

For a killer performance, your band members need fuel. After hours and hours of playing, feeding the ensemble is essential. It might even be outlined in your contract. Talk to your caterer about vendor meal options, whether it’s a “chef’s choice” or the same course your guests are getting.

Graphic of live band and first dance

Photos by Paulina Bichara and Love Tribe Weddings / Design by Tiana Crispino

How to Prepare Your DJ

If you’ve decided to book a DJ for your wedding, these are the top tips to follow for a noteworthy performance.

Map Out Every Detail

Before your big day, you should arrange at least one meeting with your DJ. According to Sampson, some of the items you’ll want to discuss are a rough timeline of your reception, the songs you want to play during special dances, the names of the people who will deliver speeches, and the vibe you want for every part of the evening. If you’re planning on arranging more than one meeting, you don’t have to nail down every detail the first time around, but make sure to cover these components throughout the process.

Send All Important Materials

Yes, telling your DJ what you need is essential, but what’s equally as important is delivering every item that the musician has requested from you. “Your DJ knows what they need to be successful and perform at a high level,” Sampson explains. “If you give them those actionable items they ask for in a timely manner, then that will allow them to be more prepared and allow for smooth adjustments.”

Share Your Musical Preferences

The tracks you select for your post-ceremony party single handedly determine whether or not it’s a triumph. If you’re having trouble coming up with a soundtrack of songs, Sampson recommends asking yourself, “Does your music style match with the majority of guests attending your wedding?” By keeping your friends and family in mind, in addition to your own musical preferences, you’ll guarantee a lively dance floor. Along with the songs you definitely want to hear on your big day, remember to note the tracks that your DJ should steer clear of. Why? “It will help the DJ pinpoint and mold your vibe more accurately,” Sampson shares.

Identify Timeline Expectations

To keep the energy alive all night, you’ll need to create a timeline and share it with your DJ. If you want the musical expert to play during your cocktail hour and reception, Sampson says to pinpoint a start and end time for each of these events, so your DJ has plenty of time to get situated. “There is nothing worse than a DJ that is not setup by the time room shots need to be taken or when you walk in for your room reveal,” he states. For a rough estimate, Sampson says he requires two to three hours, depending on the amount of equipment he brings.

Figure Out the Best Setup

The floor plan is a vital component of any successful event, and your DJ plays a pivotal part in it. “Always place your DJ five to six feet near the dance floor, with an unobstructed view,” Sampson instructs. “Try not to put any tables or guests in front of them.” That way, the sound will carry through. Additionally, he says to place the DJ booth in front of a wall, so guests won’t walk behind the space and potentially damage any of the equipment.

Cover the Logistics

Since your DJ will be making announcements, whether it’s the names of your wedding party members or key people delivering speeches, you’ll want the sound to be pristine. That all starts with a stellar microphone. Sampson advises finding a device that will amplify the DJ’s voice, especially if you’re throwing a wedding in the city with loud noises in the background.

Another element you’ll need to cross off your list? Speakers. “If you are using three different locations on the property, then you will need three different sets of speakers for music,” Sampson notes. 

DJ playing on the beach

Photo by Chris & Ruth Photography / Design by Tiana Crispino

DJ Mistakes to Avoid

To properly prepare your DJ, here are the mistakes you need to steer clear of, from slow response times during the planning stages to an impractical setup within your floor plan.

Communicating Inefficiently

The same goes for working with any of your vendors—communication is key. Sampson encourages couples to outline all expectations and needs up front, so your DJ knows exactly what you want. Whenever the musician sends you information or requests certain items, make sure to respond as quickly as possible. Not only is it polite, but it will also keep the process moving along smoothly.

Limiting the DJ’s Creative Freedom

Instead of telling your DJ every single song they have to play at your reception, trust their expertise. “You don’t want to turn your DJ into a jukebox,” Sampson says. “Leave room for your imagination, and let the DJ give you and your guest an experience.” It’s important to suggest certain songs, but letting the DJ showcase their talent will make the night even more special. 

Showing Up to Meetings Unprepared

To avoid wasting anyone’s time, come to every meeting with your DJ fully prepared. Since you’ll want to discuss the aforementioned items, such as a timeline of the evening and who will deliver speeches, make sure to arrive at the meeting with all of those details fleshed out. The more specific you are, the more your DJ will be able to play songs that fit with your vision.

Making Last-Minute Changes

Whether it’s an updated song choice or a shift in your reception plans, making changes right before the big day is a recipe for disaster. “If something gets communicated the wrong way, this can result in errors at the wedding,” Sampson explains. If you really must alter something, he suggests submitting a change no later than four days before the wedding.

Placing the DJ in the Wrong Spot

You hired your DJ for a reason—to create an unforgettable experience. The music professional can only deliver that performance if they’re placed on the dance floor. “We want to connect with your guests, and it’s hard to do that 15 feet away,” Sampson says. Remember to include the DJ stand in your floor plan. Then, double check with your vendor to make sure they’re comfortable with the setup. 

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