Choosing music for your wedding reception

The big day.

Your wedding.

You’ve been dreaming of this for years.

It’s all about you!

Isn’t it?

Well, yes, sort of. It is your day, but you also want to keep everyone happy. The wedding reception is really you trying to come up with a way to entertain a bevy of different people and different ages. The musical choice for the reception can either support or detract from the whole event, whether it’s quiet, rowdy, party or somewhere in between.

There are so many different styles and formats of people willing to play for your wedding, the choice can be overwhelming. So how do you choose what you need?

The Main Categories to consider are…

  • Solo intrumentalist/vocalist
  • Solo with backing track
  • Pop covers duo/trio
  • Jazz Duo/Trio
  • Professional Wedding band (bands that only do weddings)
  • Rock Covers/Corporate style band
  • DJ

And the main thing that affects the suitability of these groups is the style of reception.

1. Casual

Casual Wedding

A Casual, fingerfood, standup event, where people arrive, chat, nibble, drink and leave. Maybe with a couple of speeches and cake.

First Choice – Solo intrumentalist/vocalist, Solo with backing track, Pop covers duo/trio, Jazz Duo/Trio, DJ

Comment – Nothing much to say here; unless it’s a huge posh garden party, the full bands are likely to overwhelm things.

2. Traditional

Traditional Wedding Reception

By Traditional I mean the traditional ‘Anglo’ style reception where guests arrive and find their seats, chat a bit, wedding party enters, dinner, cake, speeches, first dance, party time.

First Choice – Pop covers duo/trio, Professional Wedding band, DJ
Second Choice
– Solo with backing track, Jazz Duo/Trio, Solo intrumentalist/vocalist, Rock Covers/Corporate style band

Comment – For this kind of event you need an act that can play a range of musical styles, so that dear old Aunt Edna doesn’t have to find her table to the sounds of “Whoa Black Betty, Bambalam”, or guests who have had one too many at the end of the night don’t feel like they need to liven things up themselves.

“Solo with backing track” only just dropped out of the first group – I’ve seen a couple of really good solo artists who had a room of 50 up and dancing. I dropped it down because:

  1. you have to work find these stand outs, and
  2. the size of the crowd and length of required performance may still be too much for one artist

“Jazz Duo/Trio” and “Solo Instrumentalist” are great for the quieter stuff, but not so much for the after dinner dancing. Again, as always, there’ll be exceptions; I’ve seen some jumping jazz outfits, but usually they’re more than 3 piece.
“Rock Covers/Corporate style band” – it’s unlikely they’ll have two sets worth of quiet songs.

3. Reserved

Garden Wedding Reception

A more reserved sit-down event, maybe in a restaurant or garden.

First Choice – Pop covers duo/trio, Professional Wedding band, Solo with backing track, Jazz Duo/Trio, Solo intrumentalist/vocalist
Second Choice – DJ, Rock Covers/Corporate style band

Comment – In this case, “DJ” was only demoted for stylistic reasons. DJ’s don’t have the same personal connection that a live musical outfit can convey. So for this type of reception, you may as well plug in an iPod and put the money towards the house.

4. Party, Party, Party!

You’ve had the ceremony; enough of this trad-bride stuff. Bust out the flouro’s, the smoke machine and the jello-shots. Let’s part-ay!

First Choice – DJ, Professional Wedding band, Rock Covers/Corporate style band
Second Choice – Pop covers duo/trio, Solo with backing track, Jazz Duo/Trio, Solo intrumentalist/vocalist

Comment – “Pop covers duo/trio” didn’t make the cut this time on the assumption you’re going to need 3 sets of full on dance music. These guys usually have a portion of their repertoire dedicated to more laid back stuff. As always, there’s exceptions, but you’ve more chance of striking gold with one of the First Choice formats.



Think about the kind of reception you want, then consider the makeup of the guests. Applying the thinking above should then help you whittle it
It might sound obvious, but one final suggestion is to look for bands that have done weddings before and that will support you. You’ll be busy enough on the day, and if you can find someone who understands the general flow of things, then that’s one less thing to need your attention on the day.down to a few different types of musical outfit. If total budget is an important driver, consider the importance of the entertainment in relation to the amount of money you’re spending on the rest of the wedding to come up with a rough idea of what you want to spend in this area. That may help zoom in even further.

DJ’s and Professional Wedding Bands were the most versatile because this is their bread and butter; this is what they do. But that doesn’t mean the other formats should be overlooked, especially if they have had experience in weddings. The small groups (solo/duo/trio) can provide an intimacy and flexibility that DJ’s and larger bands can’t manage.

I hope this has been of some use. If you have other categories you think I should have included, please let me know in the comments and I’ll look at including them in a re-write. Next up, I’ll write about what to look for in a band for your wedding.

Brett Monten performs in popular two piece, unsequenced acoustic guitar duo in Adelaide, Dangerfield! Acoustic Duo and fronts International Rock’n’Soul outfit PlanB

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