The Sound of Music

Designing a playlist for your reception can be as simple as do-re-mi.


“BOY, THESE COCKTAILS ARE SMOOTH.” “Did you get a load of those shrimp?” “I haven’t danced this much in years!” Ah, the buzz of a successful party. Want your guests to have smiles on their faces and blisters on their feet? You have the power to make it happen with a fabulous wedding playlist—and we asked some of Boston’s most experienced proprietors of sound how to do just that.

Music for Big Moments

MANY COUPLES TODAY, SAY BOSTON-area bandleaders and DJs, are abandoning the tradition of having an emcee announce introductions as the wedding party enters the reception. “A small percentage of people are getting announced,” says Judy Blake, business manager of The Nines, a 10-piece band based in Keene, New Hampshire. Instead, the bride and groom are opting to mingle with guests or launch right into their first dance.

But for traditionalists who want to set the tone for the party by way of a grand entrance, introductions set to big band music are always fun. For something completely different, Chris Marsh, bassist and singer of the Boston-based Johnson Brothers, says his clients have asked for “crazy, tongue-in-cheek stuff,” like “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter. Either way, Marsh advises couples not to stress too much about intro music. “The music is secondary to the names,” he says.

Ernie Houle, a DJ with Locomotion DJ Productions in Dracut, agrees that couples shouldn’t focus on the lyrics for the entrance. “When a couple picks an entrance song, it should reflect their personality,” he says. The entrance also gives Houle a chance to read the crowd based on the level of applause: “People have come into ‘Crazy Train’ by Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Beautiful’ by Moby and even the Rocky theme,” all of which can get the crowd going.

Choosing the perfect song for their first dance can be daunting, but entertainers say don’t sweat it. They suggest picking a song that is easy to dance to, that has personal significance, and, if a band is playing, that matches their style. G. Andrew Maness, a bandleader for Absolutely Music/Four Guys in Tuxes, which is based in New England and plays throughout the country, also warns that couples should know what a song is about before choosing it. “Be sure the song is appropriate for a wedding,” he says. “Did you know [Marvin Gaye’s] ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ is about a breakup? And Whitney Houston’s ‘Saving All My Love for You’ is written from the point of view of a woman having an affair with a married man.” Perhaps that’s not the best way to kick off a marriage.

Classic songs like Nat King Cole’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” The Beatles’ “I Will” and “Is This Love” by Bob Marley & the Wailers, on the other hand, are nice options. Even if “your song” isn’t a ballad but rather what was playing during your first date, go for it. “What’s important is that it means something to the couple,” says Blake. “If they love it, it works well.”

Marsh also suggests that couples keep it short. “Don’t have the song go on too long, or your guests will lose interest and the conversation level will go up,” he says.

Parent dances, while not mandatory, are a touching tradition that most couples choose to include. Should you decide to include that sentimental moment with your folks, consider your options: separate dances, or one tune for a combined parent dance.

Regardless, choosing a song for this dance can be tricky. You want the lyrics to be appropriate, so ballads don’t always fit the bill. Old standbys, like Bobby Burke’s “Daddy’s Little Girl” and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” still work, but if you want something unexpected, try “You’re the Top” by Cole Porter or Billy Joel’s “Lullabye.” James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” was played for one bride and her father, which Blake says went over big.

Bustin’ a Move

FORMALITIES FINISHED, IT’S TIME to pump it up. Maness says couples should ask themselves who the party is for. “Couples who are concerned with the musical tastes of the guests, as well as their own tastes, will have a better party,” he says. If you’re planning a fun dance party, be sure to invite people who like to dance. What’s more, be prepared to dance yourself. “People want to be with the bride and groom,” Maness says, so have a presence in the room and on the dance floor.

Take time to look over your band’s or DJ’s playlist before the Big Day—Maness encourages his clients to pass it around at the rehearsal dinner. Note some favorites, but don’t fall into the trap of creating a list of must-plays from just one genre. “They might be great songs individually,” Blake says, “but you want to have a mix.” Provide a guideline, then “Trust that we know how to keep the party moving,” she says.

It’s also important to be clear about what songs you don’t want to hear—especially if guests make requests. Some people are suckers for a good line dance, but if you despise the “Electric Slide,” your band or DJ should know. Houle warns, however, not to place too many restrictions on music. Every crowd is different, and if you dictate what your band or DJ cannot play, you may lose the interest of some guests.
To get people moving, classics like The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail” by Louis Prima usually get people out of their seats. Marsh says people go nuts when they play Bon Jovi hits. But slow tunes also do the trick: “We’ll play a bunch of slow songs in a row to keep people out there,” he says, noting that segues are key. “Stops and starts [between songs] allow people to sit.”

So, too, can dedications. Instead, Maness suggests playing a requested song and, if absolutely necessary, noting the dedication after.
“It can be a real downer moment that puts the party back to square one,” he says.

Other downer moments can come when your band or DJ takes a break. Luckily, there are easy ways to keep the party alive during those 20 minutes. If money is no object, hire a second band or DJ to trade off sets. A less expensive option is to burn a CD with some of your favorite tunes to be played through the band’s or DJ’s sound system.

Breaks also provide a good opportunity to celebrate your heritage with a set of ethnic music. Houle has played at many weddings reflecting different backgrounds, including Romanian, Arabic, Chinese, Indian and Jewish. He speaks with the couple to learn about the music and traditions before the wedding. “I suggest the couple provide a list of their favorite ethnic songs from their own library,” he says—and from that, he builds a set.

The key to a rockin’ reception is to relax and enjoy. Do your homework before hiring a band or DJ, and then trust them. This is their job, and they’re good at it. As Houle says, “You spend more time planning the wedding than you are actually there celebrating. Make the most of those five hours and enjoy it.”

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