Reception music is one of the most important considerations a couple can make concerning their big day. Aside from the venue and the food, very few other factors can more heavily affect the vibe and atmosphere of your big day than the quality and selection of music.
Most of your songs are stuck in one genre? Bland.
Too many oldies? Boring.
Not enough oldies? Irreverent.
Too many explicit lyrics? Crude.
Not enough of XYZ Artist? Irrelevant.
There are a lot of considerations to be made while mapping out the entertainment for your big day. It can be very tempting to craft a 37-hour Spotify playlist for your DJ with every significant song ever played in your entire life. Then you might be asking yourself, “Is that rude, appropriate, or even helpful? How long of a playlist should I make? Will I insult the DJ?”
Many couples have asked us if it is “ok” to provide us with a playlist for their reception. Our response is always the same: “You can give us a fifteen-hour playlist or a list of ten songs, and we’ll figure out the rest. Anywhere between those two extremes is well within our comfort zone.” At Aexo Entertainment, our priorities are your satisfaction first, then you and all your guests having a fantastic time second.
In today's article, we’ll tackle this question directly while giving practical advice from a professional wedding DJ’s perspective. None of today's perspectives are hard and fast rules on this subject. Instead, consider this article a debunking of some of the myths and preconceived notions surrounding the topic of wedding music playlists.
On the subject of your wedding day, it is YOUR wedding day. No one has the right or the ability to control any aspect of your day, regardless of their relationship with you or your fiancé or even how much money they’ve put toward your wedding expenses. Any advice given in this article is just that, advice. You have the final say on all things concerning your wedding day.
With all that said, let’s dive into the question:
Is it appropriate/helpful to give my Wedding DJ a playlist?
In short, yes!
Depending on your DJ's level of communication and preparation, a well-curated playlist can make or break the night. On the other hand, a well-versed DJ might feel limited if asked only to play songs from a particular list. The better question may be, “What kind of playlist should I give my DJ?” Here are a few different types of playlists you may consider utilizing to communicate with your wedding DJ:
The Strict Playlist, aka “The Leash”
This playlist is the end-all-be-all for your night. It covers every song you want to hear throughout the evening, and excessive deviation is not encouraged. As the most restrictive playlist type, “The Leash” should be a last resort if you genuinely feel it is necessary. When is it appropriate to use this type of list? Here are a few examples:
You don’t trust your DJ
Your DJ is a family member or a friend of the family
Someone else booked the DJ for you, and you’re not sure about their skill level or vibe
You’ve heard concerning things online since booking your DJ
Your DJ came included with the venue
Your DJ has not been very responsive and/or has made concerning comments about the music (i.e., “I only play good music,” or “No school like the old school,” etc.
You’re highly concerned with including every single guest
You have a multicultural crowd, and your DJ may not be familiar with one or more of the languages/cultures represented
You have a very generationally diverse group with lots of kids, seniors, and everything between
You are very particular about song choice
You and your circle have very eclectic tastes, and most DJs in your area won’t have much exposure to your preferred music
As you can see, these scenarios can get a bit extreme. Unfortunately, this list is most likely to offend a DJ with low confidence. What matters more than the DJ's feelings, however, is that the day goes exactly how you want it to. If you can identify with one or more of the abovementioned scenarios, it may be time to bust out “The Leash.”
Many scenarios in this section may be better served with another playlist type, but it’s ultimately up to you. If you decide to make use of the Strict Playlist, make sure that this is communicated clearly with your DJ in advance so that your expectations are apparent.
The Loose Playlist, aka “The Vibe Check”
This list typically contains specific suggestions for your DJ but is less constrained. You might use this list to communicate the general vibe of the night while also giving your DJ the freedom to bring the night whenever it naturally goes. We call this “The Vibe Check” because your main goal is to establish a vibe, and the DJ's job is to ride that vibe and add to it using their unique experience and skill set. Here are a few examples of when to use “The Vibe Check:”
You trust your DJ but want to communicate clearly with them
You have a list of songs that clearly define your vibe, but you don’t want to put your DJ “in a box.”
Like the Strict Playlist, you have some niche songs that your DJ may not know about. You want to communicate these songs but don’t want to limit them otherwise
As you can see, this is an inclusive list type that most DJs would be happy to receive. These lists let us DJs hone in on your vision more quickly, and we’d go so far as to say every couple should provide a “Vibe Check” for their DJ if possible. Your vibe check doesn’t have to be long; we’ve received lists with less than ten songs which can be enough to go by.
As a rule, the more niche your vibe, the more detail you should give. Most wedding DJs can crank out top 40 hits in their sleep, but if you’re looking for Folktronica, German Ragae, or other similarly obscure musical genres, you’ll want to spell that out.
Finally, if your vibe is highly niche, it may be worth going for a DJ specializing in that niche. Doing so will likely garner better results than asking an English-only DJ to bang out a night's worth of Scandinavian Folk Rock.
The Must-Plays, aka “Your Jams”
Must-Plays are those songs that make you stop what you’re doing, grab all your best friends and rush out to the dance floor. These are the party starters, the mega hits, and if you don’t get up to dance when these come on, you have no soul…
That was a bit dramatic, but you get the point.
Must-Plays are different from Vibe Check songs in that they can be a lot more specific and don’t necessarily lead to other songs of the same genre. Many brides and grooms include songs from their teenage years that are special to their friend circles.
Do you and your girls go crazy for Truth Hurts by Lizzo?
Did you and your boys memorize all the words to Sicko Mode by Travis Scott?
Will your whole guest list collectively lose it when they hear the opening riff of Mr. Brightside by The Killers?
Let your DJ know, and include those details so they can shout out to you and your closest friends. A great DJ knows how to create moments, but it never hurts to have a little insider information!
We highly recommend every couple supply their DJ with a Must-Play list. It is your DJ's job to meet and even exceed your expectations. That said, it is your job to set and communicate those expectations. Your DJ will not know about that summer you and your friends spent with Taylor Swift's album on repeat unless you tell him.
To close out this topic, no Must-Play is too “out there” or “weird.” Only you know your graduation song or fraternity song, etc., so even if it’s coming from left field, include it (maybe with some details about why it’s special) so that your DJ knows how best to serve your night.
The Do Not Play List, aka “Boundaries”
There’s not much to say about this list type. Everybody’s got those songs that they’ve heard a few too many times, remind them of bad memories, or are just plain too much. You have your reasons for not wanting to listen to it, and that’s enough of an explanation in itself!
As we said previously, be clear in your communications with your DJ. If you find a song particularly offensive and wish to have it omitted from your night, they will not know unless you tell them. Every couple is different; one party’s hits are another group's buzz kill.
Setting your expectations is what a playlist is all about. Be upfront about what music you don’t want to hear, and chances are it won’t get played.
Other Important Playlists
In addition to these primary playlist archetypes, there are a few other somewhat less common list types. Weddings won’t always need these lists, but yours might, so they are worth discussing.
Guest Arrival Music
Guest Arrival Music is played at your ceremony venue while your guests arrive and before the start of the ceremony. Not all couples care what happens during this time, especially since one or both of you may not be in the space during this time. Most DJs have an elegant list of instrumental-style music for this section.
If you’re the type of couple that wants to make the most of this time, consider curating a list of songs that have had significant meaning to the both of you over your relationship. Outside of that idea, any list will do. You could match the theme of your wedding, tie in with your venue, or call out the city if you’re having a destination wedding in a place with musical character, such as New Orleans. It’s as much or as little as you want it to be!
Cocktail Hour Music
Cocktail hour is another time frame where the couple may or may not be present. Often this time is when photographers steal the two of you away to capture those stunning sunset photos, or you meet with your officiant to sign the marriage license. You can decide if these times should have a specific soundtrack or if the DJ can take control.
Dinner music is essentially the same as cocktail hour music. If you have both cocktail hour and dinner planned for your Wedding, consider setting different tones between the two to break up the monotony. Many weddings may only have one or the other, so use the time you have carved out however you see fit.
Truth be told, most DJs would rather have control over these times to start creating a musical atmosphere that will build and eventually lead to a packed dance floor, but to reiterate, it is your big day! If you have a specific vision and want to use these times to serve that vision, it is your DJ’s job to follow your lead.
To recap, yes, it is appropriate to give your DJ a playlist. We highly recommend giving your DJ an applicable playlist based on your unique situation. It's up to you to decide what kind of playlist you should supply. Whether you’re slapping The Leash on your DJ, sending over your perfect Vibe Check, pointing out all of your favorite Jams, or setting some healthy Boundaries, utilizing the appropriate playlist will not only help your DJ set the perfect tone for your night in some cases it could save your night. Talk to your fiancé about your wedding playlists today!
About The Author:
Alex Moore owns and operates Aexo Entertainment, the premier wedding entertainment company in New Orleans and its surrounding areas. He’s been performing for ten-plus years and is passionate about weddings, fantastic entertainment, and his clients. He and his wife have been happily married since 2015 and have four beautiful children.