The MANual: Wedding Music

The Reception Rituals That Need Music

Now that you’ve figured out your ceremony songs, it’s time to turn your attention to the reception.

The reception is like the ceremony’s less serious younger sibling. There are a few rituals you are still expected to do, but generally the tone is more relaxed and celebratory. The music can be more fun, more contemporary. It’s a party, after all.

We continued our conversation with Mike Bedkowski (wedding DJ and co-owner of Posh DJs), who went through the songs one is expected to pick for the reception–and let us know which ones the bride and groom can skip, guilt-free.

The Reception

Cocktail Hour

This is the music that plays as people file in to the hall, find their table numbers and scope out the alcohol situation. It’s meant to be background music, so it’s generally pleasant and unassuming. It could be orchestral or maybe light jazz or swing. Keep it mellow: this is the moment for people to unwind. Let the music lull them for a while. You’re going to blow up the spot shortly.

Wedding Party Intro Song

When the wedding party enters the hall, the music should herald them like visiting royalty. This is where you can kick the energy up. Go big. Play something upbeat and evocative. Bedkowski says the theme from Kill Bill is a popular choice for getting blood flowing (hopefully your bride will leave her katana at home). If your wedding party likes to dance, let them shake it a little, as long as they don’t hog too much attention.

Parents Entrance Music

The parents of the bride and groom get their own entrance song. You may have to work this one out with them, as they’re probably footing the bill for the wedding. But don’t make this a battle of wills that drags out for months. In the end, just accept that your mother-in-law wants to walk into the reception to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and move on with your life.

The Bride and Groom’s Entrance Music

If you’re like most American males, you’ve dreamed of having your own personal entrance music, a song that expresses your true epic force, like a professional wrestler as he makes his way into the ring. Your wedding reception entrance song is a rare chance for that WWE dream to come true. You and your wife can pick the perfect song to score one of the most important moments in your life.

“This is your grand entrance,” Bedkowski says. “Just pick something crazy upbeat, something that pertains to you. If you like heavy metal, for instance, walk in to Metallica or something like that.”

First Dance

Now everybody’s seated and all eyes are on to the wedding party. It’s time for those months of swing dance classes to pay off. Or maybe it’s time to pray you don’t rip your bride’s wedding dress with your two left feet. Either way, it’s traditional to keep the tempo slow and the mood romantic, as it gives your wedding photographer the opportunity to capture the last moment of the night before you’re half in the bag and drenched in sweat.

Dinner Music

In a way, this is a continuation of the Cocktail Hour music. People will be eating, talking, and drinking, so you want something nice, but not too distracting. Jazz or vocal music is always good, as long as it fills the sonic space when the conversation lags.  

Dances With Parents

No matter what music you choose for the mother-son and father-daughter dances,  Badkowski recommends getting them done early in the night, no matter how much of a rush your caterer is in to serve the salad.  The mixed greens can wait but your family’s ability to remain reasonably photogenic will not.

“If you’ve been dancing for first two hours and the bride’s father has a band of sweat around his neck, his tie is loose, his boutonnière’s destroyed—the pictures aren’t going to be any good,” Bedkowski said.   

Cake Cutting Song

If you google “cake cutting song,” you get a murderer’s row of obvious wordplay about cake, from “Sugar, Sugar” to “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You.” It’s hard not to roll your eyes or lick your lips while reading the suggestions. But here’s the truth: cake is one of humankind’s crowning achievements and it stands up fine on its own, without a song.

If you want to skip a cake cutting song, you’re in good company. Badkowski said foregoing them is a rising and welcome wedding trend. Just sneak off with the photographer and immediate family, cut the cake, get the picture and get back to the party. Give the people what they want: cake and time to dance.

“When people are going that hard and then you stop and you say it’s time to to cut the wedding cake, everyone just kind of hits a brick wall,” Badkowski says. “That really just stops the train. And then everyone sits down and it’s like all the alcohol catches up to them.”

Bouquet and Garter Toss

By a wide margin, the bouquet and garter toss is the least essential wedding song. The bouquet toss has all of the problems of the cake cutting song but none of the cake. It’s an outmoded tradition that kills party momentum. The only people lamenting the death of this tradition are sadists who love watching unmarried women humiliate themselves as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” plays over a PA system.

“I’d say like 95 percent of our brides nowadays, they don’t do the garter activity,” Badkowski says. “They’ll just cut the cake and move on with the party.”

Last Dance

All good things come to an end, and your wedding reception is no exception. The last dance is in a way the culmination of the whole evening, a raucous, all-out celebration of the couple, the wedding, the whole thing. Pick something that everybody knows and loves. This is an “everyone on the dance floor singing the chorus to “Sweet Caroline” moment. It’s also a great way to let your guests know it’s time to clear out of the venue so you don’t get charged extra.

Bottom Line

Reception music is a little easier to pick than ceremony music: things are less formal, and the only rule is to have fun.

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