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How to Choose Your Wedding Music

The soundtrack at your wedding reception can really set the tone. Here’s how to choose what’s right for you.
By: 
Claire Swinarski
A couple performs their first dance at their wedding while a band plays in the background.

When you close your eyes and think of your wedding reception, what do you see? A dance floor packed with friends and family busting the latest moves? A big band playing all the classics? A jazz singer crooning on stage as couples sway and gaze into each other’s eyes?

Whether you’re going for romantic or rowdy, the musical entertainment you choose will have a big impact on the overall feel of your event. Our guide can help you navigate the factors that come into play.

Band or DJ? Consider Your Guests
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when it comes to your music is whether to choose live music or a DJ. Matt Anton, president of ACA Entertainment in Waukesha, suggests thinking about who will be at your wedding when deciding if a band or DJ is right for you.

“We particularly recommend bands for brides and grooms who have families that are a challenge to get out on the dance floor. With a band or orchestra, you get several performers, all skilled in engaging an audience, encouraging your guests onto the dance floor,” Anton says. “Those guests who choose not to dance are still treated to an entertaining concert. It’s always fun to watch and listen to skilled musicians practicing their craft.”

Also consider how the band will mesh with the event in general, says Geoffrey Sandler, owner of Celebrations Entertainment in Madison. “Make sure they will play the genres of songs that will fit the style, theme and taste of your specific event. Choosing a band that can play multiple genres is the best bet.”

If you’re looking for your music to be a bit more personalized, many live performers with wedding experience can meet your specific requests. They may be able to play certain versions of songs or have a common mood or theme running through your reception.

“Live musicians provide a more unique experience because you can customize the way the song sounds or the way the song is presented,” Anton says.

However, if your crew loves to dance and expects a variety of music, a DJ may be the way to go. A talented DJ will be able to get even reluctant dancers out on the floor and will likely be able to find almost any song you request. And if your guests have a lot of song requests, a DJ may have an easier time fitting them into the rotation.

Wedding band

Contemplate the Vibe
Are you looking for a wild dance party or a low-key evening celebration? The answer can help you make the right musical decision. 

Alton Olson, owner of SoundFire DJ in DePere, recommends interviewing entertainers before you hire them and discussing the feel you want for your reception.

Meet with your entertainment to discuss your musical tastes and those of your guests. “A great idea is to put a line on your RSVP for your guests to request their favorite song,” Olson suggests. “Pass this list along to your entertainment, noting any particular songs that are requested multiple times. Trust them to take the best selections from this list and incorporate them appropriately into your night.”

Consult Your Budget
DJs tend to cost a bit less than hiring live musicians, though a high-quality DJ can still make a mark on your budget. Regardless of which you choose, they’re worth every penny.

Olson recommends saving at least 10 to 20 percent of your budget for your entertainment.

“Food, drink and décor are important, but there’s only so much they can do. If you don’t have great entertainment, people aren’t going to stick around just for liquor, beer and flowers,” he says.

Sandler agrees—with music selection, you usually get what you pay for.

“When selecting a DJ, make sure they have great reviews, provide insurance, back-up equipment, and legal music libraries. Full-time companies with multiple years of experience are most likely to have all those boxes checked,” Sandler says.

Both/and
Still can’t decide? You don’t have to.

According to Anton, many brides are deciding to use both.

“Today’s questions are more focused around how best to implement elements of live and recorded music to achieve your vision and create the soundtrack for your big day. The format our brides and grooms are requesting most often is a live band, with a DJ rotating in on the band breaks and for an after-party,” Anton says.

Olson agrees. “Bands typically don’t have a trained MC and will take breaks during the night. If you do decide to hire a band, consider hiring a DJ service as well to fill in the entire night. “A great DJ service will have an MC to lead your guests throughout the entire reception, and when the band takes breaks, the DJ can help keep your guests on the dance floor so your guests don’t use those breaks as an excuse to leave.”

This dual choice can also play a part in your budgeting decisions. If you’re dying for live music but can’t afford to hire a band for the entire night, consider hiring one for your ceremony or cocktail hour, then have a DJ take the lead on your reception.

What really makes your reception special is the friends and family sharing it with you, of course—but the right musical accompaniment can take your wedding day from an event to an experience.

Wedding DJ
Courtesy of Janelle Rose Photography

Don’t Forget To Ask
When interviewing potential wedding entertainment, here are a few must-ask questions to float their way:

  • How many hours will they be able to perform?
  • Do they have a taped performance available for you to review, or could they provide references?
  • What are some of their favorite songs to play?
  • What do they pride themselves on when it comes to their wedding-day performance?
  • How many weddings do they work a year?
  • Will they actually perform at the wedding, or will another DJ or musician be present?
  • What sets them apart from other DJs or musicians?

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