Photo: Michael Anthony Photography
There’s a lot to consider when picking your wedding music: the flow of the day; key moments you want to highlight; meaningful songs for special dances and tunes you definitely don’t want to hear.
Your first big wedding music decision is a big one: band or DJ? Cost may be the biggest deciding factor here, but there are a few other points to consider: What kind of tone do you want to set at your wedding? Will your big day be more traditional, or unique and alternative? For your ceremony, live music is the classic choice, and there are lots of musicians and ensembles that can play all kinds of genres. For your reception, if you love the feel of live music, a band might be the right choice for you. But if you’d prefer to hear songs the same way you hear them on the radio, you may decide on having a DJ at your wedding.
When it comes to choosing music for your wedding, work with your DJ or live musicians to select songs that are appropriate for the different important moments of the day. But remember that you don’t have to, nor should you, select every song that will be played during the day—trust that the pros you hired to coordinate the music will be able to read the crowd and choose tunes accordingly.
Picking Key Wedding Songs
There are a few moments throughout the day that you’ll want to highlight with specific music, so start by working with your DJ or musicians to choose these tunes.
These are the songs that will play while guests are arriving and finding their seats. You can choose songs that are low-key but upbeat, and use this as an opportunity to set the tone for the day. If you’re having a formal or traditional ceremony, for example, a classical song like "A Rose Is Gently Blooming” by Johannes Brahms might be appropriate.
Your wedding party is about to enter—send them down the aisle in style! This is an opportunity to choose songs that reflect your friendships, your personality, or special moments in your relationship with your spouse-to-be. Either way, the choice is yours.
Of course, “Here Comes the Bride” (which is actually Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus”) and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” are the go-tos here, but if you’d rather enter to another song you know and love, go for it! You could even surprise everyone at your wedding with a down-the-aisle dance!
Walk back down the aisle with your new spouse and your wedding party to a song that sets the tone for the rest of your day. Choose something fun and upbeat, “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles or “You’ve Got the Love” by Florence and the Machine, for example. You’re married—it’s time to celebrate!
Your band or DJ can definitely guide the music during your cocktail hour, but be sure to talk through the kind of vibe you want to create. Cocktail hour should be upbeat but you don’t want to get people dancing just yet. Choose songs like “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service that will keep the energy up but won’t prompt a round of shots at the bar.
Now the party is really beginning. If you’re planning to have your wedding party, parents or other special guests make a formal entrance at the reception, you can choose songs for each pair or group or talk to them about any entrance songs they have in mind. Most importantly, consider your own entrance! This is the first time your friends and family will “officially” meet you as a married couple, so pick something that’s upbeat, kicks off a great reception and reflects your relationship with your spouse. Do you love country music, or is hip-hop more your style? Whatever your taste, scroll through your iTunes or Spotify playlists and pick something that gets you both excited—or take this quiz to help you pick a grand entrance song.
Unless you already know “your song,” this will probably be the toughest music-related decision you make. Start by thinking about the kind of dance you want to have: is it intimate and cheek-to-cheek, or is it fun, silly or choreographed? Do you want to surprise your guests, or bring them to tears? You could also choose a song that’s meaningful for one of your families, perhaps your grandparents’ first dance song. Whatever you decide, just make sure you’ll be comfortable when you’re out there together on the dance floor. Note that you can also move your first dance to the end of dinner and use it to kick off the dance party, or share your dance between courses, while guests are waiting for their next dishes. Check out these first dance song ideas if you’re struggling to find a tune that you love.
As with cocktail hour, you can give your band or DJ a sense of the overall mood you want to create, but let them choose the actual songs. Dinner is a time for conversation and mingling among guests, so keep things fairly mellow. This is a nice opportunity to play those jazz standards you love that don’t make it into the slow-dance portion of the evening.
Dances with parents
Whether or not you have a mother-son, father-daughter or other type of “parent” dance is up to you; you can also place these dances almost anywhere in your reception timeline. For instance, you can flow from the first dance into these tender parental moments, use these songs to kick off your dance party, dance with your folks between courses or even pause the dance party to give your guests a break and enjoy a moment with your mom or dad. As far as the songs are concerned, talk with your parents about what they envision for this moment: Are they expecting an emotional, tender moment? Are they interested in doing some fun choreography? Talking through everyone’s expectations for this dance will help you decide on the perfect song. If in doubt, choose a classic like “My Girl” by The Temptations or “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole.
Here’s your chance to tell the DJ or band which songs you need to hear at your wedding, and which tunes they absolutely cannot play (yes, do-not-play lists are totally allowed!) If music is especially important to you and your spouse-to-be, make sure you hammer out all the must-haves and songs associated with special moments in your relationship. You should also let your band or DJ have some free reign to play the hits they know will get your guests moving.
Other songs to consider
A few other tunes you might want to pick out include: slow dance songs; last dance of the night; cake cutting song and bouquet toss/garter toss songs. You don’t have to choose any of these—your band or DJ can make the decisions (or play nothing during the cake and garter/bouquet tosses if you’d prefer)—but you certainly have the option to personalize these moments.
For some couples, having a “soundtrack” is an important part of the wedding experience—so don’t be afraid to be specific about what you want. Consider, too, making playlists for other non-wedding parts of your wedding day, for example, getting ready in the morning, after-party jams and brunch the next day. Finally, if you need a little help picking out the best tunes (or want some input) ask your guests to include song suggestions on their RSVP cards or on your wedding website (but feel free to ignore them!) This often adds to the fun of the reception, since guests will get amped up when they hear “their song.”
Most of all—have fun with this! Your wedding is a day to celebrate, so go ahead and tell your DJ or band to play all the songs that make you laugh, cry, smile and shimmy.