Music helps set the tone for a special event.
If you’ve ever entered the main room of a party or a gala without hearing any music, you may have felt that you got there too early. It’s no different for a wedding.
From the moment the first guest arrives at the wedding ceremony, the prelude creates the right atmosphere. Then later at the wedding reception, it’s the DJ or band’s job to make sure that wedding guests dance the night away.
Listen to the Episode – #396
Podcast: Play in new window
Ceremony segments to consider for music:
This is seating music that sets the mood for the ceremony as guests arrive and should be played for at least 30 minutes before wedding ceremony begins.
This should be a majestic selection of music that begins with the appearance of the celebrant and the groom and continues to play as the wedding party walks down the aisle
This is typically fanfare music and ends when the bride arrives. NOTE: This is the most important music selection of the wedding ceremony!
This is music designed to fill in any ‘gaps’ of the ceremony such as Holy Communion or lighting of the Unity Candle
This is an upbeat and triumphant selection played as the married couple and their wedding party leaves.
This is the ‘leaving’ music after the recessional that plays as wedding guests filter out of the ceremony site. TIP: Simply repeat the musical selection used for the prelude.
Reception segments to consider for music
Entrance of the Couple
The emcee informs guests that the couple are about to enter the room. Typically attendants enter first, then the wedding couple make their grand entrance.
Music for Dining
Music that’s easy to talk above should be played throughout the meal without interruption – at least an hour.
Music for Dancing
- The Couple’s First Dance – this is the most important song at the wedding reception. They’ll remember it for many years.
- Family Dances and Traditional Dances – After the couple’s first dance, it’s time for the father-daughter dance followed by the mother-son dance.
- Dance Music for Everyone – The bandleader or DJ plays song selections based on your client’s preferences. Of course, the best dance music is music that everyone knows.
- The Last Dance – this signals the end of the reception and the end of the wedding celebration. The emcee should invite all guests to join the couple on the dance floor.
Cutting of the Cake
This tradition usually occurs toward the end of the wedding reception, but depending on ethnicity or local custom it may happen earlier. The couple can select a special song or simply repeat the first dance song.
Bouquet and Garter Toss
Both of these traditions also occur toward the end of the wedding reception or as a break during the dancing. Most often, a drumroll works well for the windup.
Wedding Ceremony Musicians
Wedding Ceremony Musicians include:
- Organist and/or pianist
- String Quartet
Ideally, you should already have a shortlist area wedding ceremony musicians. If not:
- Ask the ceremony site/house of worship – especially for organist or pianist
- Ask other wedding professional vendors for suggestions
- Visit area bridal shows (this is a great way to look for other wedding vendors as well)
- Ask recently married friends and relatives for suggestions
- Music department of universities – faculty and students
Questions for Ceremony Musicians
- Do they have a playlist?
- Can they make suggestions for ceremony music?
- Do they have a specialty/niche?
- Will they attend rehearsal?
- What will they wear?
- How soon before ceremony start time will they arrive?
- What equipment do they need from your/clients?
- What is the back-up plan if they become ill or are unavailable?
Wedding Reception Musicians/DJ
Your clients have the option of hiring a live band or a DJ for the wedding reception.
Live music brings a special energy to a wedding and for some adds class to the event. A DJ provides access to a wider selection of songs and genres played the way you know and remember them.
Of course, having both is an option, too. Perhaps a band to begin the festivities and a DJ for the after-party
The couple must decide how involved the DJ or bandleader will be. Should s/he make announcements or just play/perform music?
Questions for Reception Band/DJ
- Have they played/performed at a wedding before?
- Do they take guest requests?
- Will the musicians on the demo be the same ones at the wedding?
- Is there a mic available for toasts?
- How do they handle overtime?
- How soon before the reception will they arrive?
- Do they use special lighting?
- How many musicians are in the band?
Get it in writing
In addition to the routine parts of a vendor’s contract, be sure the DJ or Band’s contract includes:
- Actual names of the DJ or band members, including key members
- Must-play songs
- Do Not Play songs
- Emcee instructions (if applicable) provide a list of reception events and what needs to be said
Wedding Planner Music Checklist
Approximately two (2) months before the wedding day, you, the wedding planner should be prepared to provide the DJ or band with:
- Your client’s must-play songs
- Your client’s First dance and any other special songs
- Share any cultural music traditions – dollar dance, hora – that may require a special selection of music
You should also:
- Confirm with the reception site where the band/DJ will set up; make sure they have access to a large door.
Wedding Music Best Practices
- Be ready to cue musicians at the wedding ceremony; discuss this beforehand
- Advise your clients to feed wedding reception musicians/DJ. Coordinate when this will happen!
- Using prerecorded music – e.g. on iPod – requires sufficient wattage to maintain the right amount of volume for wedding ceremony and especially for wedding receptions. Home stereo equipment may not suffice and it can sound distorted. Additionally, someone needs to ‘run it’ and know about song sequence
- Space wise – each musician takes up the space of about three people who are seated and facing each other comfortably. This is enough space for the musician, his/her instrument and any other equipment.
- Musicians need to be able to see the action! If not, how will they get their cues? Even if you’re supplying cues, it’s much easier if they can see what is going on.
- Make sure musicians can see their music. Is the wedding outdoors, will musicians be facing the sun? Not good.
- As with any professional wedding vendor who your client hires, make sure to get everything in writing in the form of a contract.
Music for a Last-Minute Wedding
If you’re dealing with a last-minute wedding or your clients aren’t that picky about their wedding music selections, answers to the following four (4) questions should cover the important bits.
Ask your clients:
- Do you want to walk down the aisle to ‘Here Comes the Bride” or something else?
- What style of music do you want for the rest of your wedding ceremony (classical music, modern pop love songs or religious hymns)?
- What song do you want played for your first dance?
- What style of music do you want for the rest of your reception?
That’s it. It can be as easy as that. 🙂
Music plays a central role at a wedding and can create long-lasting memories. Most married women can easily recall two songs from their wedding many years after their wedding day.
Encourage your clients to select the music they love for their big day.
Debbie you bring the points home with ease. Great piece on music. It’s a bit unfortunate some couples don’t always ask advice in this area, since music is such a personal thing. Great article and refresher for all. Thanks and continue being real.
Ingrid, thank you so much for your feedback. Hopefully, it encourages more of us (wedding planners) to raise the topic of music with our wedding clients.
Your knowledge and information that you share is very helpful to me. I am very fortunate to have found your site and my church. In my ministry (Wedding Coordinating) both share very similar knowledge. It only shows that I am on the right track. Thank you, Sheryl
Hello Sheryl. Thank you so much for writing. I’m happy to know that you’re finding the information helpful. Keep going! 🙂