Music — it’s such a magical way to express the emotion behind your wedding day, the mood you want to set for your guests, and it can convey a true glimpse inside the bride’s and groom’s personalities. Although choosing a playlist for such a momentous occasion may seem overwhelming at first, finding trusted vendors (or even a music-buff friend) can be the first step toward musical bliss from the first notes of the father-daughter dance to the dance beats serenading the last of the night’s revellers.
The first decision? Whether you’ll be hiring a band, D.J. or putting together a D.I.Y. iTunes playlist. If hiring a band or D.J., consider giving them some creative license to read the crowd and use their professional expertise in song selection; however, it’s important to convey a few pieces of crucial information. Discuss genres of music and artists that you do (and do not) want to hear at your wedding, and provide a detailed account of the order of events so they can plan to usher guests from cocktail hour to the meal to the dance party with music that will set the appropriate vibe for each setting. You’ll also want to discuss any toasts that might be happening, as well as scheduled “dances,” like father-daughter, mother-son and bride-and-groom.
Looking for the best Wedding Entertainment to put the rhythm into your special day. Look no further, Vines of the Yarra Valley has you covered.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Make the Best Wedding Reception Dance Playlist
- 1.1 Recognize Sometimes It Is a Popularity Contest
- 1.2 Embrace the Crossover
- 1.3 Serenade Your Guests…Even If—Especially If—It’s Weird
- 1.4 Mind Your Sh*t List
- 1.5 Save the First Dance for Everyone
- 1.6 Cheesy Dance Songs
- 1.7 Rock Classics
- 1.8 ’90s and ’00s Pop Tunes
- 1.9 Sing-Along Songs
- 1.10 Romantic Slow Songs
- 2 The Value of Hiring a Professional D.J.
- 3 Pointers for Putting Together the Perfect Playlist
How to Make the Best Wedding Reception Dance Playlist
Recognize Sometimes It Is a Popularity Contest
For your first selections, let’s a throwback to high school by looking at the superlatives and then judging the hell out of them. (Kidding.) Remember when Spotify figured out which songs were most often added to users’ wedding playlists? What is it about these that make them such great additions?
Check out the top 10 again:
- “Thinking Out Loud,” by Ed Sheeran
- “Marry You,” by Bruno Mars
- “All of Me,” by John Legend
- “Uptown Funk,” by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars
- “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” by Whitney Houston
- “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.
- “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé, featuring Jay Z.
- “A Thousand Years,” by Christina Perri
- “I’m Yours,” by Jason Mraz
- “Hey Ya!” by OutKast
Nothing on this list surprises me. “You’ve got a representation of up-tempo fun songs with ‘Hey Ya!’ and ‘Uptown Funk.’ Some of these songs are very romantic with an appropriate message for a wedding like ‘I’m Yours’ or ‘Marry You.’ Then you’ve got John Legend’s song ‘All of Me’ that’s been popular since its release because Legend wrote that song about his fiancée, Chrissy Teigen, and it’s all about how much he adores her. What bride wouldn’t like to echo that sentiment at her wedding?” For our playlist, Cook found this remix with a sick dance beat that doesn’t detract from the song’s emotional quality.
Even if you feel like some songs, such as Pharrell’s “Happy” or J.T.’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” are overplayed on the radio, they can take on new life at a wedding. “They’re still great additions because most of your guests will have heard them and they’re such feel-good tracks,” says Cook. “They encourage your guests to move or sing, and they’re also great for younger kids.”
And, don’t underestimate including some freshman picks in your lineup. What’s currently owning the Top 40 charts? Play songs people are listening to and talking about right now. (See Cook’s choices like “Mi Gente,” Justin Bieber’s “Friends,” or Maroon 5’s collab with SZA.)
Embrace the Crossover
Pop. Country. Rock. Hip-hop. What do all these genres have in common—besides a hit song featuring Nelly? They can all feel at home on a reception playlist. “I think anything goes at weddings,” says Cook. “Most of the time, you’ve got a mix of genres. It’s all about what makes people happy and puts them in the mood to dance. It makes sense that you’re going to have the full spectrum.” While you and your sorority sisters may have an entire choreographed routine to “Crazy in Love,” maybe your mom and her pals have an equivalent with ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” (By the way, we recommend springing for Spotify premium to download your songs beforehand and avoid duking it out with spotty Wi-Fi. God forbid a lost connection throws off your 8-count.)
So go ahead and put Frank Sinatra, Notorious B.I.G., and Dolly Parton in a room together; you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before.
Serenade Your Guests…Even If—Especially If—It’s Weird
If your wedding day is simultaneously the only time your kooky aunt is willing to fly across the country and the only time she’s game to juju on that beat, you’ve got to make the most of it.
“You can’t expect every song to cater to absolutely everybody. “What you can do is include specific songs for specific guests, especially if they’re travelling far distances to come to your wedding. That is such a big commitment and such a loving thing for them to do. It’s nice to sprinkle in one or two songs they especially would appreciate.”
You can easily reach out beforehand to poll guests on what songs they’d like to hear, or include a song suggestion space on the RSVP card. “Hopefully, you’ll like their choices, with a laugh, “because you guys have to be happy, and they have to keep people in the mood to dance.”
And are there certain songs that encourage people to let their freak flags fly?
“Songs that include extreme emotion are great songs for weddings,” says Cook, specifically mentioning Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. “We played ‘Hey Ya!’ at our wedding. That’s just a fun, outrageous song that helps people let their hair down.”
Cook also recommends up-tempo songs that appeal across generations. “If your mom loves Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, and that’s a song that’s going to get her excited, why not put it in there?. “It’s a song for many people. My four-year-old daughter loves that song, and my mom knows that song.”
Mind Your Sh*t List
We’ve already established the power music has over people’s emotions, so be careful. If a song, or the bad memory (read: ex-boyfriend) behind a song has made it onto your list of names “in red underlined,” keep it off your playlist.
“Even if it’s a song that everybody loves, “if you have some negative association with it, you don’t want to hear it at your wedding—where you should be as happy as can be.”
Similarly, if there’s a song that’s going to upset someone else at your wedding, probably best to leave it off too.
Or, maybe your sh*t list just includes songs that make you feel crappy or say the word shit.
“You don’t want sad songs, and you don’t want songs with perhaps overly offensive lyrics, who switched out explicit tracks here for their radio-friendly versions—a good idea if you’ve invited the entirety of the tee-ball team you coach on weekends. Better to be safe, and sometimes it’s more fun to yell obscenities over the censored silence anyway.
Save the First Dance for Everyone
At this point in your process, we don’t doubt you’ve stockpiled your playlist with gems of jams, but only one belongs at the top of your list chronologically. “It’s always good to kick off the dance floor portion of your wedding with the right tone. “That tone is, it’s party time! Encourage people to dance.” The first song must be a beacon, its bright boppiness guiding your guests away from their hesitations and insecurities toward a warm, safe place to dab, drop, and Dougie all night long. That’s why this playlist begins with Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” Speaking of, I’ve just made it to Whitney on the playlist. Hold my drink…
The vows have been uttered, the speeches delivered, and the reception is about to get underway. There’s just one thing left to do—oh yes, it’s time to dance.
Curating the perfect wedding reception playlist is something of an art form. It takes a taste, grace, and planning. You want to make sure that every second of this celebration is accounted for. From pop-tastic tunes to classic tracks, you need to make sure that the roster has something for every single wedding guest. It’s a tall order.
Struggling to get started? You might be lacking the inspiration you so desperately need. Never fear. We have an idea (or 50) that will get your imaginative juices flowing. Featuring some of the cheesiest music known to the world, along with a few sing-along songs, here’s the perfect wedding reception playlist. Read it. Copy it. Use it.
Cheesy Dance Songs
Getting your guests to the dance floor will take some seriously cheesy songs. When the formalities are out of the way, you’ll need to make sure that your wedding party starts with a bang. Here’s some inspiration to help you choose some excellent tunes.
- “The Grease Megamix,” by John Travolta, featuring Olivia Newton-John
- “I Want You Back,” by The Jackson 5
- “Twist and Shout,” by The Beatles
- “Dancing Queen,” by ABBA
- “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” by Whitney Houston
- “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” by Beyoncé
- “Cha Cha Slide,” by DJ Casper
- “Y.M.C.A.,” by the Village People
- “Macarena,” by Los del Río
- “Footloose,” by Kenny Loggins
Ready to rock? We’re not talking obscure bands that nobody’s ever heard of. Instead, this section is dedicated to classic rock tunes. The moment the opening chords play, you’ll need your air guitars at the ready. These tracks are certain to liven things up.
- “Bat Out of Hell,” by Meat Loaf
- “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” by Queen
- “Close to Me,” by the Cure
- “Sweet Home Alabama,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston
- “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith
- “Brown Eyed Girl,” by Van Morrison
- “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses
- “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
- “Livin’ on a Prayer,” by Bon Jovi
Check out some of Melbourne’s best Wedding Singers to help you celebrate on your special day.
’90s and ’00s Pop Tunes
Next, let’s take a trip back in time using the magic of music. It’s an undisputed fact that the 1990s and 2000s were the golden years of pop. For this section of the evening, you can get your guests feeling super nostalgic as they dance along to some throwback favourites.
- “Hot in Herre,” by Nelly
- “Bye Bye Bye,” by ‘N.S.N.Y.C.
- “TiK ToK,” by Ke$ha
- “Hey Ya!” bAll-Start
- “All Star,” by Smash Mouth
- “Thong Song,” by Sisqó
- “Oops!… I Did It Again,” by Britney Spears
- “Umbrella,” by Rihanna
- “Say My Name,” by Destiny’s Child
- “Hollaback Girl,” by Gwen Stefani
As the evening hits its climax, your guests will be ready to bust out some tunes. It’s the perfect time to switch the music to the sing-along songs. We’re talking the tracks that everyone knows by heart. From “Sweet Caroline” to “Red Red Wine,” you can’t go wrong.
- “Sweet Caroline,” by Neil Diamond
- “Don’t Stop Believin’,” by Journey
- “Tubthumping,” by Chumbawamba
- “Africa,” by Toto
- “Love Shack,” by The B-52’s
- “Ice Ice Baby,” by Vanilla Ice
- “Sweet Home Alabama,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “American Pie,” by Don McLean
- “Red Red Wine,” by UB40
- “New York, New York,” by Frank Sinatra
Romantic Slow Songs
Before the night is out, it’s time to take things down a notch and get all romantic. After all, this event is all about love. The following songs make ideal first dances, but you can also sprinkle them throughout your wedding playlist.
- “Unchained Melody,” by The Righteous Brothers
- “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” by Aerosmith
- “You’re Beautiful,” by James Blunt
- “Thinking Out Loud,” by Ed Sheeran
- “The Lady in Red,” by Chris de Burgh
- “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” by Elvis Presley
- “Your Song,” by Elton John
- “You’re Still the One,” by Shania Twain
- “Halo,” by Beyoncé
- “Make You Feel My Love,” by Adele
The Value of Hiring a Professional D.J.
You pay a photographer not to ‘press a button on a camera’, but to capture little moments in the best light and exposure. You pay a baker not to mix some batter from Kroger and put it in the oven but to craft a great-tasting, custom-decorated cake. The same goes for a D.J. You’re not paying them to ‘play songs on an iPod’, but rather to:
- Emcee and lead an event, acting almost like a second coordinator
- Set up a quality sound system, make it sound good, and use it to create a buzz and contagious energy in a room to make sure you and your guests have a great time and dance all night long
- Put together a song list that will create peaks and valleys during an event and keep the dance floor full
So while it’s true that anyone can perform the general ‘action’ of DJ’ing, being able to lead a party and not just randomly pick songs and hope for the best is something that takes experience, trial-and-error, and experimentation. All of which your college buddy Schwarz with the ‘fire mixtapes’ probably doesn’t have!
Pointers for Putting Together the Perfect Playlist
Play the Hits
No matter how you slice it, there are certain songs people just want to hear. Play the hits!
That’s the reason people hear the same songs over and over again at weddings and corporate events- it’s because they work! They accomplish the task of picking out the dance floor and keeping it there—songs like Billie Jean and Shout or Yeah! by Usher.
People aren’t interested in you playing your curated list of ‘Top 30 indie songs of the last ten years on independent labels’. They don’t want to hear your exclusive recording of an acoustic Shins song. They want Motown, Top 40, 90’s pop, etc.
Keep it 90% Fast Songs, 10% Slow Songs.
A good wedding reception playlist will have high moments and low moments- fast songs and slow songs. Times for people to dance close, times for people to slow dance, and even times for people to get a drink so they can enjoy the dance floor even more.
If I had to give you a ratio, I would advise playing about 90% upbeat/dance songs against 10% slow jams. Or maybe every 10-12 songs, throw in a slower one. People want them… just not as much as the fast ones!
So structure your playlist to have a lot of highs and upbeat tunes, but then add in some slow ones too to keep a flow going.
Play the top 5 pop songs on the radio that month
Find out the top 5 pop songs of that month and play those, especially if they’re faster songs. Just look at the Billboard Hot 100 charts or listen to the radio for a few hours and you’ll know exactly which ones to hit.
These songs will be fresh and new, but also familiar enough for people to sing and dance to.
Don’t leave any silence between songs.
When you’re DJ’ing, even 2-3 seconds of silence between songs can make a room feel SUPER weird and crush the momentum.
When you’re DJ’ing, you want to fluidly and seamlessly flip between songs so that there’s no silence or anything like that. This is the more ‘active’ part of DJ’ing, and one reason you can’t really “set it and forget it”.
Silences are a little more acceptable for things like background dinner music or a cocktail hour, but you don’t want to have ANY during the main dance time!
Download the songs before you get to the venue
With the decline of C.D.s and the advent of streaming, building a song database has gotten tricky.
On the one hand, D.J.s have access to pretty much every song in the world. The downside of that is that we only have access to the songs if we have access to the internet, right?
What happens if you set up a Spotify playlist and head to your event venue, only to find out it’s in the middle of the woods in Nowheresville? You switch on your phone and BOOM- one bar of service. Trust me, and it’s a huge bummer to have your music cut off mid-song so your weak signal can ‘buffer’. It’s even more of a bummer if it happens every 30 seconds.
Before you leave for your venue, make sure you make your wedding reception playlist available ‘Offline’ if you’re using a streaming service to D.J. What this will do is save a copy of the songs to your phone or computer, which you can delete later if you need to. This step alone will save you some heartache!
Check out our post on What are the wedding DJ packages and specials?
Only play a song for about 90 to 120 seconds.
People usually don’t care to hear a whole song. The variety and unpredictability of a D.J. playlist is part of the fun! Usually keeping the songs around 90-120 seconds is a good mark.
However (and this is again where experience comes in), some songs D.O. benefit from being played all the way through. Think songs with classic bridges or last choruses. Songs like Don’t Stop Believin’ or I Want It That Way.
So stick to a minute and a half to two minutes to per song unless there’s a signature part of the song after that mark.
Wedding entertainment is one of those budget line items that can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. The pricing varies from vendor to vendor and also depends on the type of professional you hire. There’s typically a price difference between a D.J. and a band. If you’re looking to lock in several different groups (say, a string quartet for the ceremony and cocktail hour, then a band for the reception, and a D.J. for the after-party), you could be looking at a pretty high price tag. That’s why some brides and grooms see the appeal of forgoing professional musicians altogether and curating a playlist of their favourite tunes instead. While this method of entertainment certainly works for some couples and their events, it may not be for everyone.
Consider what music your friends and family dance to at other weddings you’ve been to, or when you go out to a club. Chances are those same genres and songs will get them dancing at your wedding. Most often, the dance starts with more of the older crowd on the dance floor while the younger crowd is at the bar, so try to include some all-ages dance floor hits to start the night. Later on, when your younger friends have migrated from the bar to the dance floor, you can bust out the music that will get the party going.
Lastly, there’s just something about nostalgia that creates a great dance party. No, your whole night doesn’t need to be throwbacks. But be sure to make a note of the songs that bring back memories for your friends and family, and mention them to your D.J. It will help them choose more music that they know your guests will love. You can also sneak in some nostalgia-inducing tunes throughout cocktails and dinner. That song that you and your bestie played on repeat during your last road trip? You know she’s going to look over at you and smile when she hears it playing during dinner.