When planning a wedding, music is one of the most essential elements to consider for the big day. "Wedding music serves both as a reflection of a highly personal relationship, and also functions as a way to bring lots of people together, regardless of age or background," share Chris Byrne and Ruby Zuckerman, COO and event producer of Dart Collective, respectively. An event with no music is more like an everyday gathering of people than a wedding, so the soundtrack you set for your ceremony and reception helps set the celebratory tone.
Furthermore, while couples have the ability to curate a list of tracks they'd like to hear, the real work (and frankly, pressure) is placed on the individuals hired to perform the songs; the vibe of any reception is dictated by how well each musician—whether a DJ, band, or performer—is able to execute a couple's musical preferences. So, when analyzing all of these elements together, music at a wedding is more than just throwing a few tracks together and wishing for the best. It's something every couple should fully think through, and it should be viewed as a priority on every planning checklist.
To further emphasize the importance of music, we spoke with a wedding DJ, band, and performer on everything you should know about the tracks you play at your wedding. Be sure to take notes, as these suggestions will help you throw the most incredible celebration of your life.
Time is of the essence.
Just as immediate consideration is placed into what you will wear, what guests will eat, and your reception venue, the music at your wedding should also be handled swiftly and with care. "Most couples book us immediately after they book a venue and secure a date (some even before that). Bands and DJs are one of those vendors that can only commit to one wedding a day, so (especially if you're planning a wedding in the middle of wedding season) it's important to book your entertainment early (sometimes two-plus years in advance) because the good ones book up fast," advises Kasie Donoghue, director of client services at Night Shift Entertainment.
In addition to securing a DJ and/or band as soon as possible, it's important to think about the songs you want to play ahead of time. "Immediately after the engagement, begin saving songs on your phone that you’re considering for the ceremony and reception. Keep your antennas up because there is a big chance you'll come across songs that you'll forget while driving, walking into a restaurant, etc," notes Michael Eagan, a renowned DJ professionally known as Mr. Matrimony. Preparation is key when planning any event, and even more for your wedding day music.
Reputation is everything.
While you may have a friend or family member that moonlights as a DJ, it's best to hire a professional for your ceremony and reception. Wedding music experts have spent years and countless hours creating sounds for a diverse range of events, so leaving your music to the experts is the safest, and most efficient, route to take. According to Donoghue, evaluating a person's work history is essential as it relates to selecting a skilled performer for your special day. When deciding who to book, she advises all couples to answer a few key questions: "What's their reputation? Have you talked to friends and family that have worked with or seen the performer(s) live? Check-in with other vendors and see if they have heard of your entertainer. Reputation is everything—we can't say that enough."
Thankfully, it's never been easier to assess the reputation of a musician, and Eagan highly recommends looking up your experts to see if they have an online presence. Most, if not all, wedding musicians will have a website or social media page for you to peruse before booking. "In this digital age, all couples have to do is read reviews, watch a few clips, and ask other newlyweds for feedback. Schedule a Zoom and feel the energy," shares Eagan. Additionally, Byrne and Zuckerman advise couples to pay close attention to the context clues provided online. "Did you feel invited by the website? Are you getting a warm, collaborative sense from the people you’re talking to, where you feel comfortable and able to express your concerns and desires? These are good things to look out for when finding your perfect match," they share.
Sometimes less is more.
What should you do after you find the right musician for your wedding? When it comes to planning the soundtrack for your big day, less is oftentimes more. "Don’t overthink everything," advises Byrne and Zuckerman. "The most simple approach is always the most effective. Think through what you enjoy, and what your audience might enjoy. And make sure to trust the performers you’ve hired. They’re doing the heavy lifting so you can sit back and relax!"
Donoghue agrees, noting that while you should provide your band or DJ with some direction—like a must-play and do-not-play list— you should lean into their expertise and trust their process. "Don't over plan (yes, there is such a thing)," she advises. "Choose vendors you trust, share your likes and dislikes with them, and allow them to bring your vision to life. After all, they are the pros!"
Realistic budgets should be established.
Hosting a wedding can be an expensive endeavor, which is why there has always been an emphasis on establishing a budget early on. As it relates to your wedding music, understanding what you can and cannot spend is important since that will impact who you're able to book, and in turn, determine the type of celebration you're able to host. Therefore, all experts agree that couples should set a realistic budget for their music—one that isn't too low or unattainable. "Do your research. Contact vendors within your own wedding market to gather some realistic pricing for both bands and DJs in your area, then be realistic about what you can comfortably spend on entertainment for your big day," advises Donoghue.
That said, one key factor to remember is that the music played at any wedding takes time and effort to put together. "Most DJs I know dedicate about 12 plus hours to each wedding," shares Eagan. So, the prices established by a vendor should be respected, and negotiating unreasonable deals should be avoided.
Ultimately, "wedding music (specifically first dance songs and parent dance songs) will be forever linked to a special memory and moment for the remainder of your life," says Donoghue. For some, smooth jazz and mellow instrumental tunes are sufficient for setting the vibes, while others prefer to stick with top 40 and hip-hop hits. Regardless of your preferences, if you follow the guidelines set by your music professionals, you're sure to have a memorable and magical day.