Wedding DJ Blog

Wedding Cocktail Hour and Dinner Music Playlist tips from a Pro.

I’ve DJ’d hundreds and hundreds of weddings and one compliment I get all the time goes something like this: “The music was perfect from start to finish…this is the best wedding I/we’ve ever been to!  You played such great music!!”  It leaves me to wonder, what on Earth are other DJs playing to make so many people say this kind of thing to me.  I wonder if DJs play mindless garbage, or music that people don’t know…or a lot of boring songs, slow “adult contemporary” and “soft rock” music, or Kenny G…what could it be?

Ultimately, I believe a Wedding DJ has to play great music from the “drop of the needle” or the very first song to the very last song, leaving no room for crap music!  Since music is so subjective, how does one come to the conclusion of what “great music” is, and why do so many people tell me I play great music when they seem to agree that many other DJs don’t?  Here’s a little bit of my secret  sauce for the perfect Wedding Playlists that will wow your guests and have them all saying what so many say to me, “the music was awesome!”

If your DJ is playing music for cocktails and dinner, this is no time to hit the snooze button on the music list, you don’t have time to bore your guests…this is, in fact, the time to capture them, to perk them up, to give them a sense that tonight is going to be a lot of fun!  Think about the Theme of Your wedding.  What’s that?  You don’t have a Theme?  Yes you do!  A Wedding is a Celebration, it’s about love, relationships, tradition, family, friends, and the idea that love is abundant and unending, it’s joyous and it’s fun (or at least it’s supposed to be all of that stuff!)  So there’s your Theme, now run with it.  Music should set the tone and accentuate that running theme, in other words, play songs with lyrics about love and celebration (not to be confused with that tired old song by Kool and the Gang, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just very played out!) and play songs with a good beat.  The bulk of your wedding music should  be upbeat.  Slow songs are great, they encourage people to dance as couples, which is often what gets the dance floor packed in the beginning of the dance sets, or we sometimes use slow songs to bring the energy down a bit if people are getting worn out on the dance floor, or to appease your grandparents and older guests, but too many slow songs can kill a party in a heartbeat, choose them wisely and make sure they either have “special meaning to you or your family, or they are well known and nostalgic to the majority.   This doesn’t mean playing “Dance” music while people are eating…but let’s not put them sleep either.  For music during Dinner and Cocktails consider some of these tips:

If you love artists like Frank Sinatra, or any of the Rat Pack and Jazz artists of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, keep in mind, a lot of that music is ballad, slow and deliberate, yet loving and meaningful…but most of those artists also have great songs with the same lyrical ideas, they’re just more upbeat and “swinging”…these are the songs you want to play.  A few examples from the Jazz genre,  Frank Sinatra: Do Play “Fly Me to the Moon” and “The Best is Yet to Come” and Don’t Play “Embraceable You” or ” I Only Have Eyes for You”, Dean Martin: Do Play ” I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me” or “Just in Time”, Don’t Play “When You’re Smiling” or “You Belong to Me”.  Ella Fitzgerald is tough, her voice is classic but she had a lot of slower tempo tunes, so utylize that and pepper the playlist with a few of her great ones, like her duet with Louis Armstrong “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” or “Our Love is Here to Stay” an old Gershwin tune, it just says “Classy” when you play some of those old tunes, but again, too much of a good thing is never good, mix it up! Michael Buble has some new twists on these old tunes that a lot of the current generation love just as much as their grandparents do.

A big thing to remember is, your guests are the reason you’re having a wedding reception.  You need to appease them as much as possible.  I often have Brides and Grooms who have very eclectic tastes in music, which is wonderful, it provides me with an opportunity to play some music I may not have been aware of, and to give their wedding music some unique touches that say something special about the Bride and Groom.  However, I don’t think a wedding reception is a good time to introduce all of your friends and family to a whole bunch of music they’ve never heard of.  It’s important to remember that people are happiest when they are comfortable and familiar with their surroundings, and music plays a HUGE role in this.  When people complain that a wedding was boring, or unmemorable, it’s often because the music was lackluster, unfamiliar, or the DJ made poor choices in his programming of the music, or the order in which he played the songs.  So, the moral of the story is, allow your DJ to play music that people know and love, and give him a list of the songs that are special and unique to you as a couple and to your family and friends.  For instance, sometimes a Bride will say, “my parents love the Temptations and Marvin Gaye”, then the groom says “and my parents love Led Zeppelin and the Beatles”  and then they both say “But we love Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait and Ingrid Michaelson, indie pop, and also Rihanna and Usher, and David Guetta, top 40 stuff, etc…”   The good news is, we can play all of those artists and we’ll make Everybody happy.  But during Cocktails and Dinner, keep the theme alive…remember the lyrics.  A bride recently had the song “Rumor Has it” by Adele, on her general music request list.  This song, like many of Adele’s songs, is about Cheating and unfaithfulness and breaking up only to end up with the right person, it’s a fine story but is it wedding appropriate?  I dunno…  She’s great, but the bulk of her music catalogue  is not really lyrically wedding appropriate.  However, you could play her version of “To Make You Feel My Love” a great song written by Bob Dylan…it’s slow but it’s sweet, and she’s also done a remake of “Love Song” by The Cure, and it’s great!

Great soulful tunes like “My Girl”, “Under the Boardwalk”, “Signed Sealed Delivered”, “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”, those are great songs for dinner and cocktails, they’re happy and joyful and fun and while you could dance to them, they can serve as just plain old great background songs too.  Additionally, play some new stuff like Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I”, or Colbie Callait’s “I Do” or Jason Mraz “I’m Yours” or Bruno Mars “Marry You”, and mix in some classic rock tunes like the Beatles and the Stones or even Queen. You can play 80’s tunes too…I always try to keep in mind, if a song was great then, it is probably great now…as long as it’s not considered “cheesy” or over played, you’re fine.  Since our company is DJing about 150 weddings a year, I can tell you that we get tired of the same old music as well, but it’s good to remember that a lot of wedding guests don’t attend a ton of weddings, so the experience will be fresh for most of them.  Even if they can’t remember every song that was played at the cocktail hour and dinner set, they should still come away feeling like the music was really great and set a fun  and sometimes even quirky or sweet tone for the whole event.

When it’s time to dance, the music can be less about the lyrics and more about the beat…great dance songs are more often thought of in this way, so it stands to reason that we aren’t as concerned with the theme or plot of the song…just make sure that the song is upbeat and fun and that enough of your guests know the songs to keep the dance floor packed.  Again, this is no time to show off your love of trance and techno music or hard core underground rap and death metal…unless of course you want everyone to leave early and talk about how bad your wedding was…believe me, I’ve had a few couples through the years who were dead set on playing music Only They wanted to hear, because somehow, they thought everyone would enjoy it, and as the party was dying, they ran to me to say “what can you do to save our wedding” and I said “stop playing this music you requested that no one knows and do what I know works time and time again”  and out comes  all the classic dance songs that people love and a lot of great current top 40 dance music…yes, I know these artists and songs are played at every wedding, but there’s a reason for that: People Dance to them!  So if you want a packed dance floor and to keep the guests happy, play what they’ll know and love and play a big mix of genre’s and artists, just like I’ve said to do for Dinner and Cocktail Hour Wedding Music.

If you’d like a copy of my Perfect Wedding Cocktail and Dinner Music Playlist, I have 4 versions and I am selling them for $100.00 If you’re interested, write to me at and I’ll give you all of the information you need to make the transaction.

Happy Planning!

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