If you want a great atmosphere at your wedding, then choosing the right DJ, band or entertainment is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Welcome to the 10th blog post in our series on planning a wedding. This guest post is written by Alex Carder, Canberra musician and DJ from Creative Sound Concepts Canberra. This article is an incredible resource for brides and grooms, and Alex has been very generous in sharing his extensive knowledge about wedding entertainment. He shares so many helpful tips here, so we hope you all benefit from his advice and expertise! We like to start out every post by acknowledging that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate your decision to spend the rest of your life together. We want to make it clear that our opinions about our wedding are a reflection of what we value and what’s important to us. You can read the other blog posts in our planning a wedding series here.
Music and entertainment for your wedding
By Alex Carder – Creative Sound Concepts Canberra
Choosing the right musical options for your wedding can be challenging – there are so many choices, and an absolute flood of suppliers to pick from. In the end, the best option for your wedding will be a matter of combining your taste, the vibe or theme of the event, your budget, and the style of music you or your guests might want to hear.
Music is not essential for a ceremony, as sometimes the location (scenic gardens, running water nearby, birds chirping etc.) can create the atmosphere that you want, without having to add anything extra.
If you do decide to have music at your ceremony, there are again, many options:
- It is rare, but some DJs can provide battery-operated PA systems, and act as the controller for your ceremony music whilst blending in with the crowd at the ceremony. An experienced DJ will know exactly when to play the right songs, and the perfect volume so as not to be too intrusive – this can take the pressure off an already stressful event, so it doesn’t hurt to ask your DJ if they provide this service.
- Many couples choose to be traditional and hire a string ensemble to perform classical wedding music such as Wagner’s Bridal Chorus, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons etc. There are several fantastic string ensembles in both Canberra and Sydney that service the ACT region, and can play classical and modern songs that are perfect for weddings.
- Acoustic soloists or ensembles combining vocals, guitar and other instruments can provide amazing renditions of more popular music, soulful, or jazzy tunes, and are generally quite versatile. Some bands will play songs of your choice for the ceremony, but may charge you for their time to learn the songs if there are too many that they don’t already know. It’s good to clarify any additional charges before locking in a booking.
- Your celebrant may be using a PA system with Bluetooth/thumb drive/CD player built-in. In this case he/she may be able to play your selected music at the appropriate times.
- If you’re having a church wedding, the church hire may come with an organist to perform hymns and songs for the ceremony.
Once you’ve chosen the right type of entertainment for your ceremony, there are several elements to consider music for:
Pre-Ceremony music – as guests are arriving and mingling before the couple/bride arrives.
- Twenty minutes of music whilst people are waiting around can really help with atmosphere, building anticipation, and entertaining guests (especially if the bride is running late!)
Processional Music (aka “Walking down the Aisle”)
- Choose a song that has the right atmosphere for you, or a song that means a lot to you. Important! – make sure you look at the lyrics online when you pick your song. I’ve seen couples choose a song because “it sounds pretty” and if you listen to the words, it’s actually about breaking up, cheating, losing a loved one etc. This recommendation goes for any music you choose for your wedding ceremony, or reception.
Signing the register
- After the celebrant goes through your vows, generally you are required to sign the marriage register and certificate. This can take up to 5 minutes, whilst your guests sit patiently and wait. Having music playing during this period can make the signing less awkward for your guests.
Recessional (Leaving the ceremony)
- Once you’ve been presented as a married couple, you will generally leave the ceremony for photos/celebrating etc. Many couples choose to have a song play whilst they are congratulated and cheered back down the aisle and out of the ceremony.
- Guests may mingle for 10-15 minutes after the ceremony, so a small bit of entertainment afterwards never goes astray – especially if your reception is at the same location, and guests will be hanging around waiting for canapés or other proceedings to begin.
This is the main type of entertainment that most people consider when planning for their weddings – yet there are still so many elements that can make or break your night. No matter which type of entertainment you decide to go with, the key to a successful event is that your proceedings run smoothly. If your music/musician/DJ is well organised and keeps things moving without long silences, delays, strange cuts of music etc., then you shouldn’t even notice whether it’s there or not. It’s when you start paying attention to the music (or lack thereof) that you know something is not right – the couple (that’s you!) are the most important part of the night, and you should be able to enjoy celebrating with your family and friends whilst the music takes care of itself.
Handy Hint – Designate a liaison person for the night (MC/Best Man/Wedding Planner etc.) who will be the go-to person for the entertainers. That way they can ask questions about scheduling/when to play or break etc. without having to bother the couple. If necessary, your liaison can come over and ask you, but they should have a run sheet, and be able to answer any questions for the night.
Some parts of the night where specific musical choices may be required are:
- Bridal Party Entrances
- Memorial to family and friends that couldn’t make it (have passed away or are unwell) – some people like to light a candle after the bridal entries
- Song Snippets to introduce each speech? Definitely not essential, but I’ve seen this done really creatively and not only can it make things interesting, it can also be funny, and make speakers less nervous by releasing tension as they walk up to the lectern. If you want to try this, talk to your music supplier about how best to make it work well, as it can also be done really badly.
- Cutting The Cake – Music isn’t necessary here, but can be a good addition to create mood – pick a song that you like, or that has a meaning for you as a couple.
- First Dance/Bridal Waltz – Dancing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If it is, then this is your time to shine – if it isn’t, then it’s still your time to shine! There are plenty of ways to make the first dance look great – even if you have two left feet.
o Make the first dance about you both as a couple – choose a song you both like, and forget that anyone else is in the room.
o If you want to learn a basic waltz or two-step – plenty of local dance schools provide one-off, or even multiple lessons as wedding preparation, and they can be quite cheap.
o If you’re still not convinced you want to dance much, you can always invite your bridal party and family members to join you after 30 seconds or so to take the pressure off – you’re DJ or MC will be able to help with moving things along if you feel it’s getting too much and you give the signal.
- Second Song/Family/Father-Daughter/Mother-Son Dance – An opportunity for your close relatives and the bridal party to come up and join you for a nice dance before the dancefloor gets too crowded. Invite the people up that are special to you, that you’d like some time with before things get too crazy.
- Cultural/Ethnic Music segment? Do you have a heritage where it is customary or traditional to play a specific type of music, or will there be a lot of guests with a particular cultural background? You may not want to cater purely for this style of music all night, but you may want to put aside a section of the night where you want to play Macedonian Kolo, Italian Tarantella, Latin or Swing dancing tunes, K-Pop, Polynesian Music or other music suitable for your life story. If you hire a DJ who doesn’t specialise in this type of music, you may be asked to provide some samples of songs for this segment that they can include in their set. Similarly, your band may be able to learn one or two songs if it isn’t their specialty. Alternatively, there are many great bands in the region that do specialise in particular types of multicultural music – you may even be able to hire them just for a small section of the night.
- Bouquet Toss – Still a popular event at traditional weddings, though it can be a bit ostracising if there aren’t too many singles at a wedding. If you do this, make it fun and invite all the single ladies (including unmarried) to get involved.
o Handy hint: If you want to keep your bouquet (those things can cost a fortune, and many people like to keep them/dry them etc.), many florists do a cheap/throwaway bouquet that can be used specially for the toss – talk to your supplier for details.
- Garter Toss – This has gone a little bit out of style in recent years; but it can be a lot of fun if it won’t offend the older family members. Choose a fun/sexy/raunchy song to get people involved if you decide to do this.
- Last Song – sometimes it’s nice to have a final song that you really want to dance to – whether it’s a slow, romantic tune, or a high energy upbeat song to end with a bang – if you’re going to be partying ‘til the last minute with your guests, a last song may be for you.
- Farewell Circle/Archway – An alternative (or addition) to the last song idea is a farewell arch or circle (or both).
o A farewell circle lets you play a song so that you can walk around and say goodbye to all of your guests before you head off as a married couple.
o A farewell arch is a great way to leave the event – it’s less formal than a circle, and you don’t have time to stop and see everyone on the way out, hence combining the two can be a nice option. If you have an outdoor wedding, an arch combined with glow sticks or sparklers can be a spectacle and keeps the guests entertained in the process.
Don’t feel like you have to do things exactly as listed above. Pick and choose – make things interesting and personal to you. If you don’t want to do a bouquet toss, but you’d love to have a limbo competition instead – go for it – the night is yours, and you shouldn’t feel trapped by formulas or traditions if they don’t suit your personality or style.
Some extra considerations:
Should we leave early, and keep entertainment going for our guests?
I find that there’s not much benefit in keeping the music going after the married couple leaves. Many venues will want to pack up as soon as things start to die down, and if the guests don’t dance, you’re wasting precious money that could be used on something else. If you’re kicking on with the guests and your venue doesn’t have a set end time, discuss options for extending the entertainment in 15 or 30 minute blocks in a pay-as-you-go arrangement if you’re not sure when things will finish up – many DJs, and bands, too, will be happy to accommodate these arrangements, but make sure you clarify how much it might cost.
Scheduling is key – Get the most out of your entertainment by scheduling with your caterers/venue
Work with your venue, caterers, MC, wedding planner, photographers/videographers and entertainers to make sure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same time frames.
- I highly recommend cutting the cake early in the night (after the bridal entries or between early speeches) so that venues/caterers have time to cut and prepare dessert or your cake/coffee/tea table. Important! Don’t ever serve dessert after the DJ or band has started performing their “party set”. Following your first dance, you’ve got a captive crowd who feel obliged to get on the dancefloor – then it’s the entertainer’s job to keep them there. If dessert is served after this time you tend to lose your audience, and it’s almost impossible to get the same number of people back on the dancefloor – wasting your time and money. Make sure you schedule this into the caterer and venue’s timings for meals etc.
- If your entertainers (and other services) are performing all night – remember that they are on their feet longer than anyone else (except for maybe you as the couple), and it’s always nice to make sure they’re looked after with food and drink. Venues provide crew meals for suppliers at a discounted rate per head – Talk to your caterer to arrange these inclusions – your suppliers will be very appreciative that you’ve considered them. This should be allowed for in your budget, and not seen as an optional extra.
- Schedule crew meals to come out whilst speeches are occurring so that there are no noticeable breaks in your musical entertainment. The venue will liaise with musicians on the night to make this happen at the right time as schedules are generally fluid for wedding receptions.
Live Music versus a DJ
Bands and DJs provide a noticeably different feeling and vibe, and each has their own benefits and downsides.
Nothing beats (good) live entertainment for interactivity and energy on a dancefloor. A professional party band will talk to your crowd throughout the night, take requests if they can, and add to the energy on the dancefloor. Live bands can be versatile in their song choices and styles of music, but they aren’t a jukebox, and you can be limited if your guests are likely to want to request a lot of disparate songs or genres. A good wedding band will have hundreds of songs in their repertoire; however many wedding DJs have thousands, or even tens of thousands of songs in their libraries, so they can be more adaptable to requests.
A good wedding DJ will also create an amazing vibe, and be interactive and engaging. They will be able to read the crowd and build a playlist for the night based on your requests, and what they think the crowd will respond to. A wedding DJ isn’t a club DJ and will be aware that they’re not the focus of the night (you are of course!), so your DJ shouldn’t fist pumping and yelling “ARE YOU REAAADDDDYY?!” whilst dropping the beat (unless that’s what you’re into).
Handy Hint: What about a Combination of Live and DJ performances? If you’ve left a decent budget for entertainment, why not look at having a party band playing sets of 30-50 minutes, and have a DJ to perform in their set breaks. Although bands will provide music on an iPod for their set breaks, having a DJ there will keep people dancing all night long. Many bands provide packages with a discounted DJ, so talk to your supplier for options.
As with everything else, the type of entertainment you choose will come down to your own preferences, so don’t feel like there is a right, or a wrong way to do things.
On a tight Budget? Provide your own music.
DJs can cost anywhere between $400 and $1500 for a wedding depending on how many hours of music you need.
Live bands will vary greatly between $400 and $6,000 depending on size, style and repertoire.
If this is out of reach for your budget, why not try providing your own music for the ceremony. Streaming music subscription services such as Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and SoundCloud Go, provide an endless range of music at your fingertips. Hire a Speaker system from a party hire company (likely to be less than $200), nominate a person to “control” the music for the night by pressing shuffle on your playlists at the appropriate times.
Downsides to this is that too many “DJ’s” (i.e. guests) on the night can lead to a disjointed dancefloor experience, and some streaming services can have long gaps between songs that are really noticeable when you’ve got a full dancefloor. If you’re out bush and have poor phone reception, you may need to download the songs to your device in advance. A DJ or band will still have a better idea of what to play when to keep your party going, so we would only recommend this option for your party as a last resort.
Most entertainers will have a good idea of which songs will work at different times of the night, as well as being able to select the right music for the crowd. Weddings are always challenging due to the wide age range of attendees, so generally a versatile music selection is required to keep the majority of guests happy. Most DJs, and many bands will take requests if you are happy for them to (they will also be able to filter requests from your guests to make sure a song choice doesn’t kill the dancefloor).
Alternatively, if the majority of the guests will be into a particular genre of music, and you want to focus largely on that demographic – let your entertainers know, and they will work with your suggestions.
You can be as involved as you’re comfortable with in order to help with music choices before the event. Giving entertainers tips towards what music you and your guests are likely to be into will give them a good starting point. Try to provide guidance along the lines of any or all of the options below:
- Genre requests: “I’d like to hear a mix of Top40, oldies, Pub Rock and RnB tunes, but I don’t want to hear any country or Jazz music”
- Artist Requests: “I absolutely love Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Stevie Wonder, but I dislike the Bee Gees”
- Specific Song Requests: “Please play Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Riptide by Vance Joy, but do not play Eye of The Tiger or the Grease Megamix…”
- Handy Hint: It’s just as important to provide songs or styles that you DON’T want played at your wedding as the actual ones that you DO want. Imagine if the DJ plays a killer set all night, but plays the love song you had with your ex – that’s the thing you’ll remember – even if the rest of the event has been fantastic.
Guest Participation: If you’re not sure what music your guests will want to hear, be interactive – let your guests have involvement in requesting songs for the night. This can be either by requesting from the band/DJ at the event, or why not ask them to suggest a song request along with their RSVP and pass these to your entertainer to try to include on the night – watch out for “trolls” who send something silly, though – make sure you have vetted the requests before providing to the supplier.
Don’t want any swearing or cursing on the night? Make sure you let your suppliers know that you don’t want to offend anyone, and to avoid rude lyrics. Most DJs will have access to both the “clean” or “radio” edit of a song, as well as the original “dirty” or “explicit” edit.
Both bands and DJs will provide a range of options that you can add to your package.
- Bands and DJs can generally provide “basic” MC services if you do not have someone who you think is up to the job. A basic MC service will keep the night running smoothly, and introduce all of the important events, plus any announcements that need to be made. Generally you shouldn’t expect this service to include jokes, or personalised stories etc., so I always recommend having someone who knows the couple as a preference, and asking the Band or DJ for this service only as a last resort.
Lighting and effects
- Bands and DJs will provide different variations for dancefloor lighting. Discuss the available options with the supplier, as the lighting can make a huge difference to the look of a venue.
o If you’re having decorations that are subtle and include candles and fairy lights – you may want more subtle dancefloor lighting – such as a mirror ball, or fireworks/waterfall laser effects so that they don’t take away from the overall effect of the room.
o If it gets to dancing time and you’d like the dancefloor to be the focus of the night, then many DJs will have LED and laser lighting that can make the dancefloor just like a nightclub
o Dancefloor Fog and Haze machines can add effect to a room, but should be used sparingly at weddings. Do not get these confused with dry ice or low-lying fog machines as these are for a different purpose and are more suited to a wedding.
o Many couples will hire dry ice or low-lying foggers purely for their first dance. These machines will create a low-lying mist that gives the impression that the couple are dancing on clouds. This can be a stunning addition to an event, but hire can be costly and logistics are tricky as dry ice needs to be stored specially and dissolves quickly – compare options from the suppliers, as well as from hire companies like Barlen’s or Canberra Spit and Party Hire before locking something in.
Projector and Screen Hire can often be provided by the venue, however if it’s not – some bands and DJs hire out this equipment. This can be used if you’d like to put up photos that cycle through on the night, or if you’re likely to have a video telegram from guests that couldn’t make it.
Record your speeches – if you don’t have a videographer, you might still like to get an audio recording of the speeches as a keepsake. A DJ is best placed to do this as they can control the volume of a microphone connected to their system and make sure everyone is nice and clear. They can then provide you with the recording on a CD or as MP3s for your memories.
Other types of entertainment:
- Hire professional dancers to entertain you and your guests – A troupe of Swing, Salsa or Brazilian Samba dancers can spice things up a bit, and many performers can also include a short lesson on the night for your guests.
- Celebrity MC’s or professional comedians/entertainers as MCs. – Many celebrities and professional entertainers are available through agencies to provide MC services. I’ve seen some very entertaining sportspeople, TV personalities, and well-polished bilingual Greek, Italian, Macedonian and Spanish-speaking specialty MCs.
- Fireworks, glow sticks, sparklers and confetti can all be used to great effect at particular times in the event depending on your setting and style of wedding.
- Karaoke – I don’t recommend karaoke at weddings, as it can become very messy and disorganised, but if Karaoke is your thing, there are plenty of Karaoke party hosts that can keep things in control for all or just part of your event.
- Games or trivia – another option I’ve seen used at weddings to great effect is the inclusion of some games based around the couple as an “ice-breaker” early in the evening. It can help to settle down the guests, and get them relaxed and entertained – especially if the two sides of the family don’t know each other particularly well. I’ve also seen table trivia used to similar effect – just don’t make it go on for too long, as you don’t want your wedding feeling like trivia down at the pub.
It’s no surprise that entertainment options are so diverse, and there are endless possibilities to suit any event type, style or location. Remember to keep things personal to you as a couple and be as creative as you can. All of the options in this article are designed to give inspiration and ideas to couples-to-be. No specific options are must-haves, and no two weddings should be exactly the same. There are plenty of suppliers that can help you out with suggestions from their previous experience of what works in different situations, and word-of-mouth is particularly important in Canberra when choosing who to use at your event.
Alex Carder is a musician and DJ from Creative Sound Concepts Canberra and provides entertainment packages for any event large or small, and can assist with bookings for some of Canberra’s best musicians and DJs. You can contact Creative Sound Concepts Canberra for an obligation-free wedding entertainment meeting to create a tailored package for your event.