You make me feel like dancing
Originally published in Wedding Album magazine
LET'S GET IT STARTED IN HERE
Weddings have many musical high points – the processionals, the first dance, the 2am Spice Girls reunion – but don’t forget about those in-between moments. Most of your guests will arrive a good 30 minutes before the ceremony begins, with nothing to do but make polite conversation and read your order of service. A little ambient music goes a long way in making the atmosphere social rather than stilted.
Then there’s the often dreaded ‘cocktail hour’ – when the wedding party disappears into the nearest stretch of veld to have photos taken, leaving your guests to dissect your gown and make their first turn at the bar. Opt for music that’s a little more upbeat for this period; you’re not getting the party started quite yet, but you want to capitalise on the high everyone’s on from the ceremony (and hopefully bolster their patience for dinner). Live musicians are a popular choice here, as they also provide a talking point for guests.
THE BIG MOMENTS
Read the lyrics. There are few things more awkward than watching a bride walk down the aisle to a break-up song. Heartache and pain aren’t great travelling mates for your first steps towards married life, no matter how beautiful the melody.
Steer clear of your current favourite jams, too. ‘My best piece of advice for couples picking songs for their wedding, is not to choose anything that’s popular now,’ says Cape Town DJ Robert Scholtz, or The Robfather. ‘In five or 10 years, you might cringe. When it comes to something like your first dance, I’d say go with something that’s already a classic.’
‘Classic’ doesn’t mean you can’t still be true to yourselves though. ’I’ve worked a wedding where the couple walked into the reception to the Star Wars theme song,’ says Robert.
Maybe the most fitting proclamation of your love is an explicit rap, angsty metal track or something equally inappropriate for the occasion. Make it work by finding an instrumental version – you and your fiancé will share an inside joke, and your conservative grandmother will be none the wiser.
If your ceremony is in a place of worship, check with your officiant beforehand whether there are any restrictions on what you’re allowed to play. Some churches, for instance, won’t allow even instrumental versions of secular music.
THE RECEPTION (AKA THE AFTER-PARTY)
Everyone wants their wedding reception to go down as the #bestpartyever, and achieving that depends almost entirely on your playlist. Whether you’re going with a DJ or live performers, keep the following in mind:
Variety is key. Sure, the playlist should reflect your personalities and your journey as a couple, but it’s also no good having your guests too scared to join in the Slipknot mosh-pit party of two. A range of genres and tempos will mean everyone will hear something that gets them on the dance floor.
One fun way to make sure everyone’s catered for? Ask your guests to send a song recommendation along with their RSVP.
At the end of the day, everyone on a dance floor just wants to feel good and move their feet, so don’t discount old-school and modern cheese. It doesn’t take more than the first bars of ‘Hey Ya!’ to have guests surging on to the tiles.
No matter how much you trust your DJ, provide them with a ‘do not play’ list. You don’t want to be surprised by a tear-jerker that reminds you of your ex, or that irritating Top 40 earworm.
End on a high note by choosing a feel-good final song ahead of time. Have your DJ or musicians announce it, so everyone can get one last wiggle in.
DJ? BAND? 76 TROMBONES?
There’s no prescription for the ‘perfect’ wedding music, but here’s what to keep in mind:
What you choose will largely depend on your taste, venue, budget and the atmosphere you’re trying to create. A DJ spinning ’80s cheese won’t really gel with a tasteful garden party. A string quartet may be drowned out by the sound of the waves at a beach wedding. A 12-piece swing band simply won’t fit under that intimate marquee for 50 guests (or into a limited budget).
Check with your venue before you start scouting for your artist(s), in case there are limits to what they allow or can accommodate in terms of equipment and noise levels.
If you’re going the band route, consider their repertoire – will they be able to play the nostalgic covers you and your bridesmaids want to hear at 11 pm? The most popular compromise these days is to have live music for your ceremony, cocktail hour and maybe the first dances, with a DJ taking over later when you’re all ready to throw down on the dance floor.
Try to watch your band at a live gig before you sign on the dotted line, as this will give you a feel for their stage presence. (Bonus: A charismatic band leader could double as your MC.)