I really don’t remember much from my wedding — mostly the things that made me laugh and how tired I was that night — but I knew I just needed to hear certain songs that day. If you’re like that, there are ways to make it happen. If your budget doesn’t allow for live musicians, you can always choose the handful of tunes for the special moments and have someone press play and stop.
Basically, there are three songs needed for the ceremony: the processional (walking in), signing the register (this song can be longer as this takes a good five minutes or so for the signing and photos to be finished) and the recessional (walking out). I like to tell the bride or groom to choose something calming for walking in and a peppier tune for walking out, just to help with those jitters everyone gets at the beginning of the ceremony.
Obviously, a generic theme of love songs is a good start when it comes to choosing the music, but if the couple have some special memories tied to certain tunes, that makes it all the more memorable for them. I really don’t recommend having a different song just for one person in the processional (i.e. the bride or groom) — you’ll only hear about a minute of it and the changeover can be awkward. It’s better to just turn up the volume a little bit in that case, or maybe pick a song with a few verses before the chorus comes in.
We’re not quite done with the ceremony yet — we can’t forget to entertain the guests! Having a playlist about 30 minutes long is great for taking care of before and after the ceremony, while the guests are milling around and visiting with each other. If you have live musicians playing, you can tell them who some of your favourite artists or styles of music are, and they can choose their songs accordingly.
Next comes the reception. Dinner music should just be in the background, as a lot of guests are enjoying catching up with one another and want to hear each other speak. These days, having music on during dinner might not even be necessary, as dinner is a great time to have the speeches instead.
You may need one or two special songs for the first dances (the couple with each other, then split off with parents) but otherwise a playlist does just fine, and even better — a DJ with a professional sound-and-light system. Then you know requests can be taken, the music choices adjusted according to how many people are dancing, and everything is taken care of by someone with a lot of experience. Nobody has to worry about renting equipment they may not know how to use, ideally the DJ has insurance to cover any revelry related mishaps, and it’s one less headache for the honeymooning couple to deal with later.
For hiring live musicians, keep in mind whether your venue is outside or inside and have a contingency plan in case of bad weather. Most musicians have played outside and know to bring what they need to deal with wind and bugs. Often they can provide a pop-up tent for an extra fee, but if not, this should be provided to keep the instruments and players safe from the elements as they will be stuck in the same place for a long time, often an hour between setup and takedown.
Placing them is also a consideration. Is there power nearby? Do you want to see them in the background of all the photos of the wedding party? I find that setting up somewhere that allows a sight line of the entire procession as well as the action up front is best, so musicians can watch for when to kick it up a notch, and when to stop the tune nicely. Off to the side or near the back with a good view down the aisle works well. Then actions such as getting the next music ready or retuning don’t distract the guests from the ceremony.
Many helpful websites exist with lists of popular choices for wedding music, and of course talking to each other and to the musicians who will play will help narrow things down as well. If you give live musicians about a month with your final choices, they will have enough time to buy or arrange and learn songs they don’t already know.