Wedding Songs and Playlists
As I was having my haircut today the hairdresser asked whether I prepare sets of wedding songs that I’m going to play in advance for the weddings. I explained him to my process of working and he suggested that would make a great article… and so it inspired me to write this blog post after a long break!
Having been DJing a long time both as a club DJ and now as a specialist wedding DJ and have never been a fan of creating set playlists and while I never criticise what other DJs choose to do, on this subject I think those that do create set playlists in advance and then stick to them rigidly are missing a trick and possibly even shortchanging their audience.
At weddings I generally rarely know more than 2 songs ahead what I’m going to play because I prefer to react to the atmosphere and to how the crowd are responding to the music that is being played as well as taking into account both the requests received on the night as well as the music preferences of the bride and groom.
The Bride and Grooms likes and dislikes
For 99% of weddings I’ll have a final meeting with the bride and groom a couple of weeks before the wedding day at which we go into great detail about the wedding songs. Discussing not only the tracks that are special to them and the genres they’re both into, but just as importantly the tracks and genres that they dislike and the songs they really don’t want to hear on the night. So by the time of the wedding i have a very good understanding of their likes and dislikes.
Reading the floor
There has been many a time that as I’m reading the floor, that a track will suddenly pop into my head that I’m pretty sure will work a treat and 9 times out of 10 my hunch is right. Sometimes it might be a track that I haven’t played for ages (for many years, even decades in some cases), but it’s like I have a sixth sense when it comes to picking music that will create a good atmosphere. If I tried to create a playlist now whilst sat in front of my MacBook I’d probably come up with a pretty good list of tracks but it wouldn’t compare to the inspiration I receive as I’m working and the night unfolds.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I know thousands of DJs and being chairman of the London branch of the National Association of DJs (NADJ) also keeps me in contact with many and I have seen many DJs perform. Mostly club DJs but occasionally wedding DJs also. The majority of club DJs I’ve watched have been superb and known just what to do to excite the crowd but every now and then I’ve seen some that haven’t even tried to read the crowd because they’ve already planned their set meticulously in advance and in many cases the atmosphere hasn’t been as good as I felt it could’ve been.
The science of wedding songs!
I’ve explained in other blog posts about the science of playing wedding songs, which might sound ridiculous to many but hear me out. At the average wedding there is a vast range of ages, music tastes and even nationalities/cultures (especially at weddings in London!). Because of this no matter what genre of music is being played at any one time there’ll almost certainly be at least one person in the audience that doesn’t like it. It’s generally best to attempt to keep the majority happy and sometimes not possible to keep the minority happy (which I’ll go into more detail later). So because of this it’s not a good idea to play too many songs from any one genre or era.
Say for example I’m playing some Motown and this has really appealed to the bride and grooms older relatives and many of them are now dancing to it and having a good time on the dance floor. This style of music often encourages many younger people to dance to, but rarely all of them. For me now comes the tricky part… deciding how many Motown tracks to play. What is too many and what is not enough? and the answer to that question is different at EVERY wedding. It could be that 5 Motown songs is just the right amount, and if I only played 3 it might annoy some of those dancing, but on the other hand if I played 7 it would start to really annoy some people at the bar that do want to dance but dislike Motown. Plus once I decide it’s time to change there’s then the quandary of just what to follow it with. At some weddings it might be a gradual progression through the eras and slowly moving into the 70s, then to the 80s, to the 90s and eventually playing current chart tracks, while at other weddings that would be a disaster and a much better idea would be to transition into playing some much more recent music for a while and then seeing what transpires and how the atmosphere is at that point.
Clearing the floor
Playing a genre too long can clear the floor and transitioning into the wrong era or genre can also clear the floor. Clearing the floor isn’t necessarily a problem and I’m confident enough that I can get everyone back on to the dance floor, but if it happens too often the audience begin to lose confidence in the DJ and then it becomes a huge problem, because once that happens even if the DJ plays a great track some audiences just will not dance and it can really dampen the atmosphere.
An inexperienced DJ can sometimes panic at clearing the dance floor and this can make things worse while someone more experienced knows it’s just part of the night and generally nothing to worry about and at times it can be welcomed! At clubs t’s not rare for the manager to encourage the DJ to occasionally clear the floor so that everyone goes to the bar and spends some money and at a wedding it can show the DJ is not being lazy and maybe trying to be a little creative. What i mean by that is that it can be very easy to just play the huge popular tracks that always get everyone dancing but this can become both boring and predictable. Whereas finding a track that many of the audience like, but haven’t heard for many years can produce a phenomenal reaction on the dance floor and literally have people running onto the dance floor screaming!! BUT playing such a track is a risk and it isn’t guaranteed to work. Occasionally in my head I might be pretty sure that the crowd all know the track I’m about to play and were into it, but then… nothing, no reaction…. because when it comes down to it, that is what the whole night is about and what DJing is about… the DJ all night long has to second guess the crowd and by a combination of experience, intuition and guessing decide what to play next from the beginning through to the very end of the night. At most events this is done instinctively and is a pleasure, but every now and then it can be a chore!
Keeping the minority happy
I mentioned earlier about not always being possible to keep the minority happy and what I meant by that is sometimes there’ll be a wedding where someone will ask for a song that is completely different to what the majority of the audience are into. Such as asking for a heavy rap song when the majority of the people are older and clearly the most popular music is from the 50s, 60s & 70s. Or someone requesting a waltz when nearly everyone is in their 20s and full on dance music is clearly the vibe that’s going down. On the face of it you might it’s a no-brainer and that obviously in that situation the waltz wouldn’t even be considered to be played, but what if it was requested by the brides elderly grandfather? and he hasn’t danced all night but would dance to this. Or the rap song might have been requested by the grooms cousin who is a fantastic dancer and although the song might clear the floor that will also allow him full use of the floor to display some awesome dance moves that enthrals the crowd.
The answer to these questions is often far from black and white and the decision again comes down to instinct. For me it will purely be based on
A. Will the bride and groom like this?
B. Will it harm the atmosphere?
C. Is there a possibility this could really create a buzz and take the night in a different unexpected direction that could take the energy to a different level?
D. Is the request from someone very close to the bride and groom and/or important to them?
Weighing it all up
I will weigh up all those factors and try to come to a decision that I feel will be best for the bride and groom and their guests as a whole, which unfortunately can sometimes result in upsetting one person, but if it’s a choice between upsetting one person and maintaining a special atmosphere or trying to please the awkward requester and harming the atmosphere for everyone else then there is no choice.
My explanation to my hairdresser wasn’t quite as long as this, otherwise I’d be left with no hair whatsoever by now but hopefully that might make the thought process of DJing, or at least how I DJ a little clearer.