Does your background music work for you or against you?Does your background music work for you or against you?

Written by Tony Winyard and published in issue 61 of ProMobile the magazine for DJs

In playing background music at a wedding, all you’ve got to do is stick on a Michael Buble cd and that’ll do, right?… after-all, no one’s really listening, so it doesn’t really matter?

If this is what you do, why is the customer paying you for background music? They may just as well get the venue to play that same CD and save themselves a few bob!

If the above is something like your attitude towards the background music, you play may I suggest you could be missing a trick, and it deserves far more time spent selecting the tracks for each event, to match the audience. You won’t know exactly what audience it’ll be until they are there, so it’s not something you can completely do in advance, although you can set some groundwork in advance.

When done properly, the background music can provide you with some gems to play for later in the night. Watch for guests’ reactions to what’s being played and take your cue from them. Be a little adventurous and cater for all the guests, not just those that like the rat pack/Buble!

Setting Yourself Up To SucceedProMobile 61-September 2013 Does your background music work for you or against you?

For instance, I often include a happy/feel-good Latin number, as often there are at least 2 or 3 guests that this will appeal to. I then watch for a reaction. Fingers tapping, heads nodding, legs that want to dance! A track such as Celia Cruz–Guantanamera will often have some guests singing along to it. This may be a sign that 1 or 2 salsa tracks may hit the spot later. Also consider testing out a track such as Doris Day–Que Sera. As often as 8 out of 10 times that I play that track it gets a hugely positive reaction, and frequently has sparked a spontaneous spot of singing and swaying from many of the ladies, it’s almost as if they can’t stop themselves to this song!

If you’re reading this and thinking that’s far too lively for background music, I challenge you to reconsider. What rulebook says that all background music has to be slow and uninspiring? Now granted this isn’t a track I’d play at every event, but you’d be surprised at the number of parties it works a charm, and is just one of the many songs I play to really aid in creating a great atmosphere. A wedding is after-all, meant to be a happy, joyous occasion and the music should reflect that – not some dire sombre affair!

The power of background music isn’t just limited to weddings; carefully selected warm-up songs can really help to elevate the mood at any social event. The background music we play sets the tone of the party and can, if done well, warm the audience up for when the dancing starts.

It’s not only tracks from the 50s and 60s that have that effect; there are many songs from the 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties and this decade that will elicit a similar result. There are songs from Lenny Kravitz, Take That, Bruno Mars, Bill Withers and many more that are not quite dancing songs, but are just right for feel-good background music.

After song choice volume is the next most important factor to consider. Background music should never disturb conversation. If guests have to raise their voices to chat to each other than it is too loud, be careful not to be too cautious; the volume does need to be loud enough to add to the atmosphere.

Don’t upset granProMobile 61-September 2013 Does your background music work for you or against you?

For weddings, it’s never a bad idea to suggest during your planning meetings that the bride and groom try not to position elderly people too close to where your speakers when they’re creating their table plan. If there is a table of elderly people right next to a speaker, they will probably (and understandably) want the volume low, as they are more prone to hearing difficulties and therefore more sensitive to the audio level. If you need to keep the volume down to accommodate them, people in other sections of the room may not hear your background music at all, depending on how many speakers you are using. A quick chat with the couple can avoid this issue in advance.

Be a little adventurous and cater for all the guests, not just those that like the RatPack!

The background music you play should also vary for different parts of the day. For a wedding there are four sections where background music will be relevant:

  1. The ceremony (prior to The Processional)
  2. The drinks reception
  3. The wedding breakfast
  4. The evening reception before the first dance.

The music for section 4 will be much more upbeat than Section 1 or 2. Section 4 is when I play teaser tracks to gauge the atmosphere and who my early dancers might be.

Rockin’ all over the world

In your planning meetings with the bride and groom you should also ask what nationalities would attend the wedding. You can get a fantastic reaction by playing a Japanese song when there are some Japanese guests, or a Danish song when you know there’ll be some Danes present and so on. Not only will it please those guests but that may endear you even more to the bride and groom when later those guests gush about how amazing it was when the DJ played a track from their country. This also gets you credit in the favour bank for when the dancing starts. The more guests you build rapport with early on (whether by playing a song or two for them, or simply by chatting with them), the higher the chances they will be behind you when the dancing starts. Essentially, the more guests that like you, the better the evening will be. That’s my experience anyway.

It sounds like a cliché, but every wedding really is different and so the background music I play at each one can be different. This is dictated not just by the various ages, nationalities and cultures of the guests, but also by how they react to the music. Remember, if you don’t watch for a reaction to the background music you play, then you won’t be able to sculpt it and change your choices as the day progresses as you should be doing to ensure what you’re playing is perfect for this audience.

I know some DJs won’t be happy at the suggestion that they might have to concentrate on the music at a time when they would usually just be chilling in a different room, but trust me – the results are worth it. As an added tip, it’s useful to have another pair of ears to help you with your background music selections and with reading guests’ reactions. This is just one of many areas where “Ride-alongs” are hugely beneficial. Not familiar with the term “Ride-alongs”? This is explained in issue 62.

Written by Tony Winyard and published in issue 61 of ProMobile the magazine for DJs