Hang the DJ: Your Wedding Playlist

by Jen

I’m a wedding veteran. I’ve been to dozens of them, including my own first one. My friend Liz’s wedding stands out, though. (OK, mine stood out too, but for different reasons.) Liz didn’t want to deal with a lot of the wedding planning, so she just hired a DJ and never checked in with him about anything but what time he should start playing and what time he should stop.

You know those songs you hear played at almost every wedding you’ve ever been to? The worst clichés you can imagine? He played all of them. One of them twice.

You and your fiancé will never regret sitting down with your band or DJ to register some strong opinions, good or bad. It won’t take long, and it will save you and your guests from club remixes of The Hokey Pokey. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Wedding Song Dos

The Special Dances
Assuming you’re having any or all of these, you’ll definitely want to take a little time to think about the songs you want for your first dance with your groom, your dance with your father, and your groom’s dance with his mom before you meet with your DJ. Just to keep from blurting out something under pressure and sharing your first dance as husband and wife to “Disco Inferno.” Unless that one is really special to you.

The Must-Play List
If you and your guy have songs that you absolutely love, your DJ wants to know. Spend a fun half-hour with your fiancé putting together a wish list of your favorite songs – a mix of romantic and danceable.

The Older Relatives List
Your DJ or band can help with this one. You’ll want to throw in at least a few to help the older set feel like getting down. Your friends will enjoy a few classics too, especially when Wedding Dance Fever takes over. Don’t worry about kids – they’ll dance to anything.

Wedding Song Don’ts
Some of my friends objected to me writing this part. They think that the whole idea of a list of songs to avoid is wrong. Their point is that the whole reason these songs get played – and overplayed – at weddings is that people love them and they get the crowd dancing. On the other hand, none of these friends were at Liz’s wedding.

Lyrical Offenders
Lots of DJs (this happens way less with bands) are so focused on getting people moving that they don’t think about the lyrics. This made for an entertaining moment at my friend Dave’s family-friendly wedding when about eighteen different people leapt up to get the DJ to cut off a really fun, really danceable, really dirty song. You may also want to give the playlist a quick scan for anything about heartbreak, cheating, or revenge… You get the idea.

The Clichés
These songs are wedding standards… Maybe too standard. Fun? Absolutely. But everyone’s heard them before. On the other hand, everyone’s had cake before, and they still like that. Your call.

“We Are Family”
“Old Time Rock and Roll”
“Love Shack”
“Shout”
“Mony Mony”
“Hot, Hot, Hot”
“YMCA”
“I Will Survive”
“Stayin’ Alive”

The Ballads
You know why. Just be careful.

“(Everything I Do) I Do it for You”
“Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”
“My Heart Will Go On”
“Unchained Melody”

The Line Dances
They make a lot of people who can’t dance very happy. And a lot of other people very annoyed.

“The Chicken Dance”
“The Electric Slide”
“The Macarena”
“Cotton-Eyed Joe”
“The Cha Cha Slide”

The Hall of Fame: Proceed with Extreme Caution
These were the songs most likely to make my friends scream and whimper when I brought them up. Just be careful.

“Celebration”
“Brown-Eyed Girl”
“I Will Always Love You”

Under No Circumstances Should the DJ Be Allowed To Play This Song

“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”

Seriously. Don’t let him do it. For one thing, the lyrics are horrible and shouldn’t be allowed within a hundred yards of your wedding. Have you listened to it? The Incredible 70’ Couple is getting tired of each other, and instead of, oh, I don’t know, talking about it and working things out, the man reads the personal ads with the intention of cheating and ends up answering the ad that his lady ran with the intention of cheating. How romantic.

Plus, it’s a monster earworm that is guaranteed to stay stuck in your head for the first day and a half of your honeymoon, and then to come roaring back in anytime anyone offers you a piña colada. Which, if you’re honeymooning in the tropics, will be a lot. Trust the voice of experience. Don’t do it to yourself.

  • 1. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • im yours

  • 2. Rich (not verified) said:
  • avoid all of this and use your own ipod filled with the songs you love for your wedding reception. You can now add on a custom announcements service where all your events are professionally pre-recorded and added into your own playlist. have your grand enterance, first dance, cake cutting and more personally announced by a professional voice actor and then simply add them into your mp3 player. really cool. check it out at http://www.theMp3dj.com

  • 3. DJ Joshua (not verified) said:
  • I have to disagree with Rich, If you use your own Ipod then you are not getting the same kind of mix as you would with a DJ, its all about timing and knowledge of music. I have been a DJ for the past 10 years and yet i may not know everything about it, I do know that the Ipod is not a good idea< i have seen to many weddings where they used the Ipod and no one is dancing just cause its your Ipod and you figure oh thats a good song well it may be to you but not to everyone else. take the time and hire a DJ for your wedding or party. you will not go wrong.

  • 4. Chompy (not verified) said:
  • I'll walk out of my own wedding if I hear Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight". Every wedding, every prom, everything.

    Gimme some Cream! Sunshine of your Love!

  • 5. DJ ollie (not verified) said:
  • It's funny everyone says they can't stand those cliche songs (as do i) but when you spin them at a wedding after everyone has had a few too many they all sing along at the top of there voices and dance like mad cows!
    Most weddings are cliche... so the music suits ;) -- oooh love shack baby that's where it's at!
    I'm with DJ Josh - ipods don't cut it. They can't look at a general crowd and figure out genre and mood. humans rule...
    that is all... :)

  • 6. Qoolee Kid (not verified) said:
  • +1 to Rich...

    The iPod trick mentioned isn't geared towards the dancing portion of any event. There's more to the wedding program than just dancing. So with that being said, an iPod/iTunes/Laptop/CD player/USB Drive is very suitable to use during cocktail hour and dinner. I always get a playlist from the wedding couple of songs they'd like to hear for cocktail hour/dinner and during the dancing portion. I just let the music play off iTunes until it's time to get back on the mic or when it's time to dance. If I'm MC'ing/DJ'ing a wedding on my own, I'll record a mix of the First Dance/Father-Daughter/Mother-Son, depending on the order and flow of the program. Everything in the program is running off a playlist in iTunes and I don't start mixing until the dance floor is open.

    But yes, there are those cliche songs, some cornier than others and some still work depending on the type of crowd you get. Mix the old with the new, keep the music clean and lyrically appropriate and you will be alright.

  • 7. Bill (not verified) said:
  • Thank you so much. My "Do Not Play" list just got much stronger.

  • 8. UserName (not verified) said:
  • This website is great. I like it.(www.linkspirit.net)N_X_D_S.

  • 9. Miss T (not verified) said:
  • I have most of these songs on my do not play list. Also, I told my DJ if he plays a single second of a song by Kesha my husband and I will be leaving. Pretty much, other than Kesha, I just don't want to have my guests gettin' down to the Chicken Dance Song, the YMCA, or the Macarena. But I do love some good, 90's, cheesy boy band music and a little Mariah Carey here and there.

  • 10. DJ Tommy (not verified) said:
  • To Jen and Miss T - Although I certainly wasn't "at Liz's wedding," I have been the DJ at over a hundred very successful rockin' wedding parties (as well as a few duds) over the past decade. I am writing to cast my vote in favor of Jen's wise friends, and in favor of those cliche over-played songs that nobody wants to dance to, except for the 80% of guests who are poorly-educated, unwashed, music non-snobs. Miss T, while I must admit I share your contempt for the artist formerly known as Ke$ha, my secret wish is to see you, radiant in your beautiful white dress, running across the still-empty dance floor to beg your DJ to accept your apology and immediately start playing fun music from the MissT Forbidden List. I would love to find out if I am proven wrong - (even more would love to find out I was proven right) - write again. PS- I will be singing along with you on "I Want It That Way," but it will be way more fun if it is played after "Celebration!"

  • 11. Dj B-rad (not verified) said:
  • Did a 60th Bday last night, and the crowd were getting upset that I didnt have the Chicken Dance. After about the tenth person asking when it was comming on I had to find it on youtube on my smart phone and hook into the amp and play it for them. So YOU think you know what is best? I say be ready with every song. After all its not about US it is about the customer. Don't get a big head, because then you have lost touch.
    Also just becauese a song is played at every party doesnt make it bad or cliches It probably just means it is popular and enjoyed by most. Just because we hear it at 20 weddings in one year doesnt mean that the people who go to only one wedding every two years are over exposed to it like us. Just sayin' thats all.

  • 12. Anonymousbhj (not verified) said:
  • nn

  • 13. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • I agree with Dj B-rad. Keep is simple "Also just becauese a song is played at every party doesnt make it bad or cliches It probably just means it is popular and enjoyed by most. Just because we hear it at 20 weddings in one year doesnt mean that the people who go to only one wedding every two years are over exposed to it like us. Just sayin' thats all."

  • 14. DJ Liquid (not verified) said:
  • First of all Ipod music will not play music seamlessly with no breaks in between music and I dont think that person has enough quality Equipment to even play that music not to mention that by the time you get your equipment with quality speakers and pay for your CD that you have make you would have allready spent more than if you would have just hired a DJ. Its people like you why guests at weddings have such a bad time at weddings.

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  • 16. djpaulyoung (not verified) said:
  • Cliche songs can be invigorated in many ways- 1. Live DJ says something 2. Live DJ edits (shortens) song by starting past the boring intro, etc. 3. Live DJ suddenly stops cliche song when dancers roll their eyes and says "oops, I meant to play THIS": and starts a non-cliche song they love!

  • 17. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • PLAY the cliche songs at double speed!

  • 18. Anonymous (not verified) said:
  • Hey Rich, why don't we just let an iPod host the Grammy's, or the Oscar's? In reference to an iPod making the announcements at your wedding, if by really cool, you mean really embarrassing, then yes, that sounds like a really cool idea.

  • 19. Ken (not verified) said:
  • I'm probably in the minority, but I have found over the last 3-5 years of DJ'ing weddings that the cliche' songs are a mixed bag. Some songs, like "Sweet Caroline" or "Brown-Eyed Girl," still resonate with a crowd. Others, like "Love Shack," "Casper/Electric Slide," "Y.M.C.A.," etc. don't. Many times I've had people come up to me at the end of the evening and thank me for not playing the "same old songs" as they put it.

    There are plenty of songs that are popular today that people of all ages now and will at least try to shake their butts to. Songs by the Black Eyed Peas and Usher seem to fair well these days in place of 70's disco.

    And I always tell the bride and groom that it is their evening so they can have whatever music they like. And that has been extremely successful (even for those that asked for old school heave metal after 10 p.m. at one reception).

    Weddings are changing. People getting married now were not weened on disco and the chicken dance. And while some music (the above mentioned and some of the great Sinatra/Buble songs for dinner) still have lasting power, it's ok to diversify. It ok to do something a little unique. It may even lead to an extra gig or two because you are doing more than monkey press play for the songs we' heard at weddings for two + decades.

    My four-cent (adjusted for inflation) opinion.

  • 20. dlezeoyze (not verified) said:
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  • 21. DJ Paully (not verified) said:
  • I often get a playlist from the bride and groom of like 50 songs to play. I love the suggestions and it can help me tremondously. It can also tie the hands of the DJ and alienate the guests. Remember, there is a certain expectation that people have of what reception music is. It may be cliche or over played, but that's what they want. If you try to be too creative or think outside the box, people will wonder what is going on and lose interest. I mix in these "sometimes hated, but other times loved" songs in with other popular but less played classics. Somewhere you will hit upon the right balance of "that again" with "that's a change" which will keep music snobs satisfied and allow the less critical to enjoy the standards. A professional DJ can read the crowd and adjust the playlist as needed. Remember as well, your taste in music may not be the same as your guests. You have people of varying ages, fans of different genres, and your particular playlist could be very one-sided. A good DJ takes all of this in to consideration. I would never recommend using an iPod playlist for those reasons.

  • 22. DIYReception (not verified) said:
  • My partner and I wrote what we think is the definitive guide for couples looking to DJ their own wedding to save money.

    We're professional DJ's on the weekends - we tend to do about 30 weddings per year. We wrote down basically all of our experience, our planning sheets, playlists (Spotify), etc... and we have it on our website. For a little extra, we'll record the bridal party introductions and then deliver that via email/MP3.

    http://www.diyreception.com

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