Let’s talk soundtrack. Because that’s what your wedding and reception music will be. The soundtrack to the most romantic – and possibly the most exciting – day that the two of you will ever share. It had better be good! 

Music will set the tone for your wedding and provide the energy for your celebration. It can be a blast. It can be awe-inspiring. And it can be deadly dull. So spend some time thinking about this one. What mood or theme are you trying to create? What kind of music moves you? Do you love show tunes or reggae? Are you planning a garden party or a hoedown? Do you weep at the sound of bagpipes or do you imagine heaven when you hear a harp? What about swing or ballroom dancing? Would a string quartet move you or would you need a rock band for that? What kind of music do the two of you like to listen to? Dance to? Reminisce to? Snuggle to? 

These are all valid questions. And the answers will have everything to do with the kind of ambiance you hope to create. Sit down together and make a list of all your favorite music. The styles that make you want to dance. The songs that make you want to sing. Perhaps you envision traditional or religious music for the ceremony, but want only the hottest R&B music for your reception. Maybe you have another blend of styles in mind. Also bear in mind the mix of people you have at your wedding. While you don’t want to bow to everyone’s individual music tastes, you’ll want to make sure that everyone has a good time – so perhaps include a couple of “oldies but goodies” for your grandparents and one or two pop songs for the teenagers to bop to.

We can help you think through some of the issues that need to be addressed, but this very personal choice is yours. Once you’ve determined the type of music you want, it’s time to figure out what to play and when to play it. Whether making selections for a formal wedding or a simple low-key event, the following formats will offer the basic structure for building your music list.

The Ceremony

  • Prelude. This is your basic mood music. It usually begins 20 to 30 minutes before the ceremony and is meant to entertain your guests as they are being seated. The melodies are usually kept light and consist of instrumentals and a vocalist or two. The prelude is followed by a brief silence that signals the start of the wedding.
  • Processional. This is the bridal party’s grand entrance and procession. It begins as the mother of the bride is seated and must last until all the attendants have walked down the aisle. The music often changes as the bride appears and accompanies her triumphant march to the altar. For more on the processional, visit Processional Music
  • Interlude. Also known as incidental music, the interlude can be played at any time during the ceremony. The purpose is to reinforce the mood you are trying to set. Your selection can be solemn, romantic, joyful or moving. The choice of style and the number of interlude songs is up to you.
  • Recessional. This is the grand finale! Played as you and your new spouse walk up the aisle together, this music is usually the most joyous – and loudest – of the ceremony.
  • Postlude. This optional music is played in the case of a receiving line at the ceremony site. It provides quiet background music as your guests wait to congratulate the two of you.

The organ is the most traditional musical instrument for wedding ceremonies, but pianos, guitars, violins, harps and flutes are also popular today. How much ceremony music is appropriate? Find out here.

The Reception

  • Cocktail Hour. This is the time at the beginning of the reception and the music here is usually light and soothing – perhaps soft jazz or classical – to encourage chitchat and mingling between guests.
  • Toasts. Either go for soft background music or none at all during the toasts and speeches.
  • While Eating. Muted music should be played while guests are dining.
  • First Dance. The first dance for the newly wedded couple. For first-dance song suggestions, visit Top 20 Most Favorite First Dance Songs. And for songs NOT to choose, visit Worst First Dance Songs.
  • Father/Daughter Dance. The bride dances with her dad. A sentimental song is usually selected to honor their relationship.
  • Mother/Son Dance. The groom dances with his mom. A moving melody is usually played – it can be combined with the father/daughter dance. For advice on choosing a song for these two special dances, visit: Family Dance Songs
  • Cake cutting/bouquet toss/garter toss. You may select individual songs to be played for these events or just musical flourishes. The important thing is to be sure you have the guests’ attention.

For help on choosing songs for the reception, visit:

Things to Consider


  • If you are marrying in a religious setting, check with your officiant before selecting music or performers for your ceremony. Some congregations do not allow non-religious music in their place of worship. Some do not allow music of any kind. Others allow music, but only if you use their in-house staff.
  • Consider the size of your site versus the size of the act. A soloist may be lost in a crowd and an intimate space will not be able to accommodate a large band.
  • If you select an outdoor site, make sure your performers are under some form of cover to protect their equipment or instruments from the elements.
  • Consider the location and time of day when choosing your ceremony music. If the ceremony is outside, the music might have to compete with the noise of traffic, wind or other people’s voices. If this is the case, consider having the music (and your officiant) amplified.
  • Public sites are usually governed by noise restrictions. Find out ahead of time!
  • Music being too loud can be a challenge in any venue. Your guests shouldn’t need to yell their congratulations or strain to talk to each other.


  • Audition – or at least meet – all musicians, singers or DJs that you are seriously considering. You not only want to get a feel for their musical range, but you need an idea of their stage presence as well. If you are unable to audition, YouTube clips of them performing make a reasonable second choice. Or, even better, watch the musicians you’re interested in perform at another event before hiring them.
  • No matter how good they are, always check references! If they did a good job at other weddings, you can expect they’ll do a good job at yours.
  • Discuss any “must-have” music selections with your candidates. Also bring up expected dress and duties. Be as detailed as possible and be sure that all agreements are in the contract.
  • Avoid musicians who don’t listen to your ideas, keep you waiting, or who don’t return your phone calls.
  • Also steer clear of musicians who won’t allow an hour for advance set-up time prior to the event. If there are any electrical or mechanical components to their act, there’s the potential for technical difficulties.
  • Talk about your expectations and what you hope they can provide. Listen to their responses and suggestions. If you like what you see and hear, book them.
  • The best performers are booked months in advance. Ensure your first choice by booking early.
  • Let your performers know whether they should accept requests from the guests. You might even assign a family member or friend to be a liaison between your performers and your guests. They can pass on requests and advise your performers on volume levels.
  • If your DJ or lead singer in the band acts as your master of ceremonies at the reception, make sure they know what they should say and when.


  • Select an extra 15 to 20 minutes worth of prelude music to have on hand in case there is some sort of last-minute hold-up.
  • Keep the number of attendants in mind when selecting your processional music. It will be awkward if the procession ends too much before or after the melody has stopped playing.
  • Dance songs often run up to four minutes or more. If you don’t relish waltzing your way through the center of attention for that long, consider combining some of your music. For example, the bride and her father can dance at the same time as the groom and his mother.
  • Consider the dancing skills of yourselves and your parents when making your selections. Nobody should be embarrassed by the first dances. Certain styles of music require fancy footwork while others can be mastered with a simple box step.
  • Performers need breaks just like everyone else. Specific details of how often and for how long should be covered in the contract. Make other musical arrangements – like iPod playlists – to play during breaks.
  • There is plenty of musical inspiration available – listen to the radio and go online for ideas. In addition to “traditional” music, consider show tunes, movie theme songs, or music related to your ethnic heritage.
  • A couple of months before the wedding, send an email to the guests asking for five songs they’d love to hear on the big day. They’ll be tickled pink when they hear one of their tunes being played – and it’ll probably encourage them to get on the dance floor.

Questions to Ask When Choosing A Band or DJ

What music variety do you offer? Do you take requests?

You want to know the styles and number of songs they have in their repertoire. Do they have a selection that can please up to three generations – or more – of guests? Discuss how you want them to handle requests from your guests.

Who will be performing?

The contract should include the names of all musicians as well as other performance details.

Can I see a song list?

Any professional band or DJ should have at least 1,000 songs available. They should be willing to acquire or learn additional favorites in advance, and avoid any selections you don’t want to hear. Believe it on not, some people just can’t see themselves dancing to the Hokey Pokey on the happiest day of their life!

How many breaks will you need and for how long?

Most performers break for 20 minutes or less after each hour or so of performance time. Find out what sort of back-up music will be played during the breaks.

What are your payment terms? What about overtime?

As with most wedding professionals, musicians and performers will want a non-refundable deposit to hold your date. The balance is generally due on the day of your event. Also ask about any overtime charges. Consider booking the band for an hour longer than you expect to need them. The cost may be minimal compared to paying overtime fees.

How do you want to handle food and drink?

You don’t necessarily want your band members or DJ drinking alcohol, but you should expect to feed them. Be clear on both points! Make food service arrangements with your caterer.

What will you be wearing?

You’ll want your performers dressed according to your theme and their style of music. An Irish pub band will probably dress differently than a string quartet. Ask!

What equipment will you bring? Are you familiar with my site?

You want to know your performers are providing their own sound system and that it is professional equipment. It also needs to be battery powered or electrically compatible with your venue. Ask musicians to coordinate with site management about this. See if you can get them to scout out the site prior to the event if they are unfamiliar with it.

For other factors to consider when hiring a DJ, visit:

Costs Involved

Experts suggest that you reserve at least 10% of your wedding budget to cover music. Actual costs are up to you. A soloist is generally less expensive than a trio and a DJ is usually more affordable than a band. But check around. Different performers charge different rates. Make sure that any quotes cover all fees including possible charges for travel and overtime.

General rate ranges:

  • Singers $50-$250 each
  • Organist or other musicians $50-$250 each
  • DJ $250-$2,000
  • String quartet $300-$1,000
  • Band or orchestra $500-several thousand dollars

The Contract

Make sure you have a written contract with each performer or group that will be entertaining at the ceremony and reception. Be as specific about your needs and expectations as possible. And get all agreements in writing.

A thorough music contract should include:

  • Exact time and date of performance
  • Details of performance-related duties including equipment delivery, set-up and breakdown
  • List and description of any equipment provided or rented plus terms for return or in case of loss
  • Exact reception location including street address and room name or number
  • Any special requests and fees
  • Estimated hours of work
  • Overtime fees
  • Food service provisions
  • Dress requirements
  • Approximate length and times of breaks
  • Musical provisions to cover performance breaks
  • Payment schedule including deposit and balance due dates
  • Contingency clause to cover emergencies such as illness or equipment failure
  • Name, contact information and signature of performers