Long after the honeymoon pictures are stored away, brides and grooms will remember the songs that played at their wedding. The same music, heard later, can evoke the joy of the ceremony, remind the couple of their first dance, or bring back memories of a precious family moment. Music is uniquely human, and our most personal and universal expression. And getting married is the most joyous occasion where music can express a couple’s intertwined love to the world.
Wedding music is the heart and soul of the celebration, and the repertoire deserves thoughtful and careful preparation. Selected songs must be carefully orchestrated to fit the mood of each part of the wedding: whether playing in the background, flowing seamlessly between the ceremony and the cocktail hour, or pumping up the dancers. From the recessional to the last dance, music is the soundtrack of your important day.
Whether you hire one entertainer to provide the music from beginning to end, or a combination of a string quartet, DJ, and live band, you will have different musical approaches to consider to keep the right tone and energy during different parts of the wedding.
Most weddings follow a basic music script for the ceremonial part of the wedding, give or take some personal touches. Typically, music is played at selective times during the marriage ceremony and then as the newly joined couple begins their wedding march.
Imagine: Your guests start arriving to the site you’ve chosen for your ceremony. As they’re being seated, music floats among the whispers and soft laughter of the friends and family who are being seated in joyful anticipation of the marriage ceremony. As the wedding party makes their entrance, the music becomes more distinctive, drawing the audience’s attention. Then with a dramatic change in the music, all eyes move to the bride who is making her grand entrance.
Music helps amplify the emotion of the ceremony, but it also serves as guide.
Is It Live…or DJ?
Classically trained musicians are generally more expensive because of their high level of skill and education. The chosen pieces can require new arrangements and of course, many rehearsals. So although the musicians may be on the scene for a brief period, there is much time spent in preparation prior to the wedding day.
Live bands may be easier on the budget – though they can be just as skilled as the classical players – but they cost more than a DJ. They may have a particular style of music – say, Dixieland jazz or Top 40 – or they may play a wide variety of genres. While their list isn’t always as far-reaching as that of a DJ, live bands usually are willing to attempt familiar songs on the spot. Typically a bandleader will ask the couple to choose songs from a set list, and the band picks from them during the reception.
Professional DJs each have their own programming style that defines what songs they play at what time they feel is appropriate. Thanks to digital music, most have a nearly limitless selection of music at their fingertips. A good DJ is familiar with a wide range of wedding event music, and fits the songs to the mood. They are often able to showcase the musical tastes of the bride and groom as well as play reliable crowd-pleasers that will get guests out on the dance floor. Some DJs also act as a Master of Ceremony and provide their own brand of entertainment. Be sure you ask about a DJs style to make sure it’s a good fit. Also inquire if they are up on the latest releases or have older favorites in their mix, if that’s your taste.
Outdoors or Inside?
The big variable is the venue: beach, backyard, or church? Despite the challenges, an outdoor Outer Banks wedding is often a dream come true. Couples choosing to marry here generally pick the casual beach wedding over a church setting. Depending on the setting, weather can be a huge factor in the quality of the music. Reed and stringed instruments, for instance, do not fare well in extreme temperatures or salt air. Vocals or instrumental music may be drowned out by noisy winds. Electrical equipment can be shorted out by rain or, heaven forbid, lightning. Even with nice weather, acoustics can be difficult to control outside. It is important to have a backup plan in the event of bad weather.
Local couples or those looking for church weddings may choose from many houses of worship of different denominations here on the Outer Banks. If the couple chooses a church wedding, they may have the option of hiring the in-house organist or using pre-recorded music. Wherever the venue, some couples like to provide their own music selections for the DJ from their MP3 player or iPod.
As the wedding transitions from the solemnity of the ceremony, music for the first hour or so at the reception venue should be upbeat but non-intrusive, fostering conversation and setting the mood for a party. Often the cocktail music will be focused on jazz standards, but pop music also can work well. There is a growing trend of couples choosing more pop-rock songs over traditional music, as well as instrumental versions of songs from groups such as The Piano Guys.
Many times the musicians, DJ, or live band hired for the reception can also play during the cocktail hour. Some live bands will have their keyboard player, guitar player, and vocalist play “unplugged” or acoustic music for both the ceremony and the cocktail hour.
They reunite with the rest of the band and rev it up later for dancing. If the band is adaptable, it can provide a nice transition that guests will enjoy, and it may be more affordable than hiring different musicians for different parts of the wedding.
Similarly, classically trained musicians hired for the ceremony (which can include trumpet, cello, violin, viola, vocals, flute, and/or guitar) can also play livelier music, usually jazz, during the cocktail hour.
Typically, the couple selects the songs for the “first” dances. A bandleader or DJ often can help the couple pick out the song that fits their relationship. Recent local trends are leaning towards contemporary favorites such as “Perfect,” by Ed Sheeran and Beyonce, and “Tennessee Whiskey,” by Chris Stapleton. Other favorites include another Sheeran song, “Thinking Out Loud,” “Better Together,” by Jack Johnson, and “Die a Happy Man,” by Thomas Rhett. Of course, there are still the standard favorites like “Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong and “My Girl,” by the Temptations. If it is a live band, the band makes sure they all learn the chosen songs before the date. Many musicians also are very willing, usually for an additional fee, to arrange a new song provided by the bride.
Here is where the fun really steps up, and the couple can relax and join in the festivities without having to worry. A festive wedding can be just about guaranteed with a great band or DJ, who often serve as the glue for the party. Experienced bandleaders and DJs know to keep tabs on the caterer, the photographer, the family and the guests to ensure things roll the way they should. Real pros read the crowd and adapt the music accordingly. Dancing, both slow and fast, can be inspired by how a skilled DJ or bandleader tailors the music, adjusting appropriately when the younger folks out-number the older folks later on in the party. Most recent popular dance tunes for the reception, according to three local DJs, include “24k Magic,” by Bruno Mars, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” by Justin Timberlake,” and “In My Feelings,” by Drake. The classic, “Shout,” by The Isley Brothers remains at the top of list of favorites, as does “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” by Michael Jackson. A last song chosen by the couple is a sweet way to close a great gala and leave the guests with wonderful memories.
You may be changing both your venue and your music if you have planned an after-party. By switching locations, you can arrange to gather at a club where there is live music or request reserve seating. You can also hire a DJ to be ready and waiting at a new location. If you opt to stay put, couples often change the music to suit the late night crowd. From the first note to the last dance, music has the magical ability to loosen up guests, introduce favorite songs and sentiments, and rhythmically seal your union.
An Entertainment Checklist
What Musicians & DJs Want the Bride and Groom to Know…
- Not all song requests may be appropriate for the crowd or the mood. Respect the expertise of the professionals you have hired.
- A “do not play” list can be restrictive.
- It is not always possible to perform outside on the beach, especially in high wind and rain. Always have a backup plan in place for outdoor weddings.
- Even if you are willing to pay for overtime, the venue may not allow it. Check ahead of time if you have the option keep the party going.
- Happy guests make a great party, so always keep them in mind when choosing the music.
- Trust the professionalism of the musicians or DJ in reading the crowd.
- The more trained/experienced the musician, the more he or she is worth.
- A phone or in-person consultation is much better than email in helping the entertainer get to know your taste and meet your expectations.
What the Bride and Groom Should Ask…
Musicians & DJs:
- What is your musical specialty, background and experience?
- Do you charge by the hour or the event?
- Do you have references?
Live music performers:
- Can you accompany vocalists?
- What are your equipment, power, and space requirements? Have you played at this venue before?
- Do you have a set list from which you work? Will you provide a copy?
- Are you willing to learn special songs that are not on your set list? Is there an additional fee?
- Do you offer additional entertainment beyond playing music?
- What is your policy on playing overtime? Is there an additional fee?
- Are you open to taking requests from the wedding party and/or from guests?
For outdoor weddings:
- What is your policy in bad weather?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Do you offer discounted rates on weekdays or off-season dates?
- How far in advance do you need to be booked?♥
Top feature image Matt Lusk Photography