Wedding Music

How To Plan Your Wedding Playlists

When planning your wedding day playlists, it’s essential to realize this isn’t just a bunch of songs in the background: you are curating an acoustic soundscape that is every bit as important as the décor, the food and drink, and the guest list. Think of music less as background entertainment and more as non-invasive surgery. Music gets inside people’s hearts and minds and changes their attitudes without them even knowing what hit them.

Music, as we all know, can have a profound effect on mood. Think of supermarkets and the calming effect of muzak, which makes you feel like buying toothpaste in bulk. But music can also make you happy—and happiness has been linked to better physical health, higher income, and greater relationship satisfaction. So you could literally save your wedding with the right playlist.

Of course, there are different parts of the wedding where you need to pick specific songs to mark one or another ceremonial event, moments like the processional, the bride’s entrance, the cake cutting, etc. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about playlists: the music that will help set the mood and facilitate social interaction. You will want to go for a different effect for each of the five key stages in a wedding:

1) Getting Ready

There’s nothing that says you have to make a playlist to listen to while you get suited up and ready to go, but why not? If you’re nervous, it will help you get psyched up. If you’re relaxed, it will keep you that way. There aren’t any rules here: just a mix that you and your friends can groove to. Whether it’s Motorhead, A$AP Rocky, or the original cast recording of “Kinky Boots,” you do you.

2) Arrivals

When selecting the music that your guests will hear as they arrive, you want to avoid anything that communicates any one mood too specifically. Allow people to enter the space, look around, check their coats, and mingle. They’ve just arrived and don’t want to be bombarded with anything super-heavy or emotional. This is a time of anticipation, and calls for a light, friendly, and soothing soundtrack. The music should say, “It’s OK, you made it. You’re on time, and this is going to be fun.”

Ambient music and/or orderly classical music is perfect for this. Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports,” say, or a familiar classic piece like Pachebel’s “Canon in D,” Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” or just about anything by Mozart.

3) Ceremony

Depending on how much you follow tradition, the music here will consist of discrete pieces to mark out different stages of the ceremony. We cover this elsewhere, but the long and short of it is this: no playlist for the ceremony.

4) Cocktails

For the cocktail hour, you want something fun and bubbly—quiet enough that people can still talk but also something to signify it’s OK to have fun and relax. Music that goes well with ice clinking in glasses. Chords that enable flirtation. Tempos for small talk. In other words, Sinatra’s ‘50s albums, Georgie Fame and the Famous Flames, Booker T. and the MGs, Benny Goodman, Django Reinhart, even Norah Jones in a pinch.

Feel free to explore other genres but be wary of playing anything culturally divisive, such as Ted Nugent or Rage Against The Machine. And never under any circumstances play Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” That song—despite its title—will result in a riot and the entire wedding hall going down in flames. 100% of the time.

5) Dinner

Dinner is the time for music to sink into the background and become aural wallpaper. Nobody should actually notice the music—they should be focused on conversation. So you want something elegant and unobtrusive. Erik Satie is the gold standard, but if that’s too subtle and highbrow you can also go with more Vivaldi, or maybe Chopin or Debussey. Pat Metheny is also an option, but progressive jazz is sort of like serving ceviche—a certain percentage of the population will end up vomiting.

6) Reception

During the reception you really have to think about tempos—this is the time when you want people to get out on the dance floor. On the other hand, this definitely is not the time you want to give grandma a heart attack. So rule out any EDM songs with tempos above 170 beats per minute.

A professional DJ will know how to arrange the flow of songs to keep the energy of the crowd up. But if you aren’t going to hire someone you need to think about these things yourself: how many fast songs before everyone is sweating like stuck pigs, and needs a ballad to bring their heart rates back down? On the other hand, if you have hired a DJ, you will probably want to give them a list of songs you wouldn’t mind hearing–and definitely a “Do NOT Play” list of songs you’d rather not hear.  Like, for example, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.

Everyone hates that song.

7) Afterparty

We’re operating under the assumption that any afterparty you throw will be attended by young folks and close friends, so once again you can open it up to whatever music you’d regularly listen to. Feel free to get raunchy here: this is the time for club burners, bump-and-grind remixes and that latest Drake mixtape everyone is talking about. Everything should be contemporary and a little bit filthy. After all, it’s been a long day.

Bottom Line

When putting together your wedding day music, suit the playlist to the moment, not the moment to the playlist. The music is there to make the event more enjoyable for everyone present. It’s an enhancement, and should be planned as such.

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