DJs' Tips for Selecting key Reception Songs

Peter Tonguette
D&M DJ Entertainment kept the party going at Jennifer and Henry Thomas' reception.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

David Kurtz of D&M DJ Entertainment gets it: Mapping out music choices on your big day can make Nervous Nellies out of the best of us.

“I tell people to slow down and make them realize, statistics say [planning a wedding] is the third most stressful thing in a person’s life,” says Kurtz, who encourages couples to take full advantage of DJs to help calm the wedding waters.

“You want to get them to realize that the DJ is a major part, of course, to make sure things happen,” Kurtz says. That’s because in addition to manning the turntables, the DJ often is the evening’s emcee, announcing important moments like the cake-cutting and keeping everyone on schedule. “[We] make sure that all the events happen before the photographer leaves,” he says.

Long before the main event, however, DJs can help you formulate your set list for the big day.

In the two to three hours that encompass cocktail hour, dinner, a first dance and parent/child dances—everything before the main party gets started, that is—the DJ might cue up a minimum of 20 to 25 songs per hour. “A lot of times, they’re not even playing that full song,” says Corey Cowger of Party Pleasers. “They’re just playing the part that everyone likes and then moving on to that next song seamlessly. … So that can now take it from 20 songs an hour to 40 or 50 songs an hour.”

If the prospect of selecting that many songs has your palms sweaty, fear not; brides and grooms don’t have to bear the burden of picking it all.

“Every couple is different,” Kurtz says. “Some people are super into music … and they’ve got a ton of music in their head that they want to hear.” Other couples are fine with leaving it to the pros. “I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t feel like you have to sit here and pick 200 songs,’ ” says Cowger, who recommends Googling “top wedding songs” to generate a list of classic wedding fare. Pick as much as you want, and the pros can fill in the blanks according to your tastes.

Another trend is to solicit recommendations from guests via the RSVP card, which can have a response line for song requests. “Their guests write in their favorite dance song. That gives them essentially a whole playlist of stuff they know their guests are going to like,” Cowger says.

For a first dance, though, a focus on your preferences as a couple is definitely appropriate. Todd Jones of T.E.A.M. DJ says that many brides and grooms have a special song in mind. “They went somewhere … or they saw a movie or something with a song in it,” Jones says. “Or just something they both really, really like.” But, if nothing springs to mind, there are other options.

“Obviously, you can go with what the current trends are,” says Kurtz, who points to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” or “Thinking Out Loud.” Not a Top-40 fan? Kurtz says you’re not alone: “I also sometimes will see music that you wouldn’t think of that’s being used—a lot of indie rock.”

But, Cowger cautions, make sure that the song is occasion-appropriate. “A lot of people hear a melody in a song and they think, ‘Oh this is a great slow song that we could do our first dance to,’ ” he says. “But then, if you really dive into the lyrics, sometimes it could be a breakup song.”

For a parent/child dance, the parent’s input should be considered. “Sometimes there might be a song that was sung to [the bride or groom] when they were a baby that they don’t even know has that significance,” Cowger says.

When the dance floor is opened up, keep in mind that some guests—like grandparents and older aunts and uncles—might not stay the whole evening, so pick tunes for them to dance to first. “You want to make as many guests happy as possible,” Cowger says. “[We’ll play] some of those oldies and those classics at the beginning of the dancing to get their fix, and then, as it gets later in the night, we progress to your newer, more kind of hip-hop or pop.” If music with off-color lyrics is on the “must-play” list, Kurtz says he recommends saving it for the final hour and to alert guests ahead of time.

Of course, all bets are off when it comes to the final song. “It lets everybody know that you’re done,” says Kurtz, who says that “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” of “Dirty Dancing” fame and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” are popular picks. Buckeye-related standbys, including “Carmen Ohio,” also are frequent picks.

Of course, you could always opt for two “final” songs if you can’t decide on a singular mood to close out the night.

“We do a final slow dance, because that’ll typically get just about everyone back on the dance floor,” Cowger says. “Then my final song is a fun song, whether it’s a high-energy dance song [or], nine times of 10, it’s more of a sing-along. … Something that everybody knows, whether they’re young or old, that they can all form a big circle [on the dance floor] and sing at the top of their lungs.”