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Wedding Reception Music: Getting Started

Reception music is a tough nut to crack unless you have the basics down pat. Begin with these hints and shortcuts.

Photo: Denise Cregier Photographer

If it’s done right, music will energize your celebration, heighten romance, and inspire guests to get down on the dance floor. "If music be the food of love, play on...." So said Shakespeare, and we echo his sentiment wholeheartedly. Here are eight notes to keep in mind.

Finding Your Muse

The best way to find the perfect band or DJ for your reception? Firsthand knowledge. Have you been to a wedding where the band kept the guests grooving all night long? Were you all smiles until the very last dance? Get the band's name and contact info. Alternatively, poll your recently married friends: Did they love their wedding band or DJ? Have they been to an event with great music? Word of mouth is still the best way to get the best musicians.

The Size Factor

Consider your reception room size and your crowd. An intimate space won't fit a 22-piece orchestra, and a 3-piece combo may not cut it for 400 people.

What It Costs

Reception music fees are dictated by the city, number of performers, day of the week, and time of day. A DJ generally costs less than a band. On average (for a four- or five-hour reception), you'll pay $1,300 to $10,000 for a band, while a DJ range would be more like $350 to $3,500. The more pieces in your band, the higher the cost.

Act Now

Top talent -- be it the kickin-est DJ in town or the local pub's liveliest Irish trio -- can be booked up to a year in advance. The sooner you make arrangements, the better your chances of landing exactly the act you want.

Time It Right

Bands and DJs are typically contracted for four or five hours, but if you think your reception might last longer, consider booking them for more time up front. If you spontaneously decide to have them stay longer, you could incur steep overtime fees. You may be able to hire for the event, rather than for contracted hours, in which case you could avoid overtime charges that way too.

Noise Restrictions

Check with your site manager: There may be time-of-day restrictions on music or limits on noise levels.

Give 'Em A Break

Keep in mind that your band or DJ may need to take a break during the night, so discuss how you'll want to fill this time. A DJ can just throw on a compilation CD of your favorite music, or you may be able to coordinate the band's break time with the toasts.

Putting It All Together

There are a few parts of your reception you’ll need to decide in advance:

  • Talking Points: Do you want your DJ or bandleader to announce the wedding party and reception events? Then arm him with information. Write down people's names (with pronunciations), wedding roles, and their relationship to you (groom's brother, bride's parents, and so on). If someone else is handling the task, make sure the entertainment knows their sole duty is turning out tunes.

  • Your Dances: The band or DJ will need to know how you want to handle a few key dances, that is, your first dance, your last dance, any of the parent dances, and possibly the cake-cutting song.

  • Your Vibe: Want your 15-year-old cousin Jane, 46-year-old Auntie Lou, and 75-year-old Gramps to all boogie down together on the dance floor? Focus on variety. Ask your musicians or DJ to play songs that span several decades, from Big Band standards to Bob Dylan and the Justin Timberlake -- and everything in between. Kick off the night with intergenerational songs so popular that everyone will know and enjoy them: the Beatles, Sinatra, Aretha, and Patsy Cline. As the evening progresses and curfew-bound relatives start to say adieu, feel free to rock the house with your favorite age-appropriate tunes.

Photo: Tony Israel Photography

-- The Knot

See More: Wedding Music + Dancing