Planning out the 100+ songs you'll need during your wedding reception can be a daunting task. From your cocktail hour right through to your dance, there are many considerations to be made.
But you've got loads of things on your plate as you plan your wedding, so we're here today to save you some time by providing you with some solid suggestions for your wedding reception music playlists.
PLUS, we'll even conclude by showing you our tried an true formula for building a bullet proof wedding dance playlist, in case you don't have a DJ or Band to take care of ordering your favourite dance songs for you.
Let's get right to it.
Just to clarify, we're talking about wedding reception music here. Not ceremony music or first dance songs. But do check out our post "Sure Fire First Dance Wedding Songs You Can Use" if you want some first dance ideas.
Wedding reception music includes:
- Cocktail hour music (1-2 hours)
- Dinner music (2-4 hours)
- Wedding dance music (2-4 hours)
In total, you'll need about 5-10 hours of music for your wedding reception.
As a side note, we'd like to make a quick plug for Spotify. We don't get any kickbacks for endorsing their amazing music service, but for a wedding reception, it as an invaluable asset. Sign up for a Spotify Premium account before your big day so you can use the playlists below, ad free!
Cocktail Hour Music
This is the first chance for all your guests to mingle. Keep that in mind as you set the volume of your sound system, but also as you choose the song list.
You and your partner likely have some favourite genres of music for chilling out to, and this could be a great place to use that music. That will feel authentic to you and set a mood for your guests' mingling pleasure.
Here are a few playlists that have worked well for our past weddings:
- Wedding Reception Jazzy Cocktail Hour Songs
- Wedding Reception Spanish Flamenco Guitar Cocktail Hour Songs
Wedding Reception Jazzy
Cocktail Hour Songs
Wedding Reception Spanish Flamenco
Guitar Cocktail Hour Songs
TIP: Enable "Crossfade Songs" in your Spotify advanced settings to allow songs to seamlessly flow into one another. This will help you avoid any uncomfortably lengthy pauses between tunes.
To enable this feature, go to Spotify >> Settings and scroll down until you see this:
Then, click on the "Show Advanced Settings" button. In the panel that expands, toggle the "Crossfade Songs" setting to "On" (or green), and set the time slider to around 10 seconds. Your new settings should look like this:
Go out to a few restaurants for dinner over the next couple weeks and take a pause at a few different points during the evening to observe the music they are playing and how it is making you feel. Music can have a tremendous impact on how dinners are enjoyed (or not).
If you happen to stumble upon a rare instance of a restaurant that doesn't play music, note the likely uncomfortable mood and speediness with which guests eat and depart.
Hopefully you realize that having no dinner music is out of the question. Your two main choice points should be:
- Will we have live dinner music or,
- Will we have pre-recorded dinner music
Nothing says classy like having a live band over dinner. An instrumental Jazz trio with drums, upright bass and piano, can perform standard jazz repertoire and create a very relaxing and warm environment.
Keep in mind that when you are working with a live band, they will need to take breaks. Their break times are ideal opportunities for you to do speeches. Your hired musicians will be much happier if you bunch your speeches together into one or two groups, rather than scattering them one-by-one throughout a 1-2 hour period. Doing this allows your musicians to take reasonable breaks and will also allow them to maintain a flow in their set list which will add to your guests' experience.
So what about song selections? Well, if you don't opt for the live band for your wedding dinner, here are a couple playlists that should work well:
Wedding Reception Contemporary
Wedding Reception Background
Finally, it is time for your wedding dance! We're going to skip the bit about first dance songs, because we have another post about that here. Let's talk about how to build a wedding dance playlist.
If you are considering hiring a band or DJ to perform at your wedding, inquire as to how they build their set lists. If they use a haphazard approach that changes every time, it probably isn’t very efficient. Lower efficiency means a higher unnecessary cost that you will end up paying. If they don’t plan sets and just “wing it” or try to “feel out” your crowd, you can assume they don’t perform very often.
No professional entertainer who values your business will show up without a plan.
Of course you want entertainers who can feed off your crowd’s energy and make adjustments on the fly - every band should be able to take a last minute request - but the difference between making adjustments to a well thought out plan and just “winging it” is huge. Any experienced band will know their repertoire well enough to know which songs will illicit which reactions and they'll have a good idea of how they are going to build and climax the energy of your party well before they show up.
So here is how your wedding dance playlist might come together:
- You select songs from your band or DJ's song list and leave it up to them to build a set list
- You select songs from your band or DJ's song list and YOU build the set list
- You don't have a band or DJ and you need to build a playlist all by yourself
If you answered #1, your job is pretty easy. Get in touch with your bandleader or DJ and request their song list. Select what you want and send them your choices. Usually, bands have limited song lists whereas DJ literally have every song in the world these days...in other words, it's harder for you to narrow down their song list.
In that case, you may want to proceed with steps 1-7 below.
If you answered #2 or #3, you'll want to complete steps 1-10 below in order to create your bulletproof set list and keep your dance floor packed as much as possible.
Before we get started, here are a couple great pre-made playlists that may suit your needs:
- Wedding Reception Old School Dance Playlist
- Our very own carefully curated list of old school Motown, Funk, R&B, Soul and Hip Hop music, combined with a few pop hits from recent years is a deadly combination for your perfect party. These songs come directly from Phonix set lists and have been tested on countless dance floors at numerous weddings.
- Wedding Reception Dance Playlist
- A diverse mix of songs that are perfect to keep your dance floor alive all night. From AC/DC and Journey, all the way to Bruno Mars, Beyonce and Michael Jackson.
Wedding Reception Old School
Now, create your own wedding dance playlist:
1. Know your demographic
How old are your guests and where are they from? Will the be mostly twenty-somethings, or will you have nieces and nephews right up to the grandparents? Is there a good mix of every generation or is there more emphasis on one than another?
2. Note the music that each of your demographics likes
Talk to your grandparents to see what they enjoy. Call up an aunt or an uncle and check it with them. Do your younger folks listen to the radio a lot or go clubbing? Maybe top 40 will make them happy?
3. Visualize your desired outcome
Is your dancefloor a sweaty mess with folks in their twenties drinking like crazy and headbanging to club music and a lazer light show? Or is your party a classy one, where all your guests from young to old are dancing together, having fun and enjoying respectful music that everyone knows and wants to dance to? Certain music and lyrical content can evoke certain moods. Keep your desired mood in mind as you select your music genre and songs.
4. Choose a genre (or genre group) that will best represent your demographic and align with your desired outcome
That sweaty mess might call for some club mix top 40 music. Maybe your inter-generational party needs a little Funk, Soul and R&B? Are you aiming to keep everyone dancing all night, or just use your breaks for one certain music genre and have the main theme be something else?
5. Plan a rough schedule for dancefloor action and breaks
Your guests will dance better if they get some down time to grab another drink (water of course) and freshen up. Your wedding dance playlist should include 2-3 sets of “dance” music, anywhere from 50-90 minutes each, and 2 or 3 breaks, 15-30 minutes each. Your guest won’t have the energy to party non-stop for 4-5 hours straight and plus, they need a little time to chat without having to scream over a blaring sound system.
6. Calculate how many songs you will need
Popular songs range from 3-5 minutes in length, or an average of 3.5 minutes. You can fit about 14 songs into a 50-minute music playlist, 17-18 songs into an hour and about 28 ino a 90-minute set. Plan 5-10 songs for each break as you’ll want to keep the mood in your room alive and fun!
7. Choose the songs
Based on the genre you chose for songs, use iTunes or YouTube for find songs from some of your favourite artists. If you have chosen to hire a band or DJ, ask them for their song list as your choices will be limited to their repertoire. You can use the Phonix’ song list for some artist or song ideas to get you started. You’ll probably need about 45 dance songs and another 15-20 songs to play during breaks.
8. Rate your songs by energy level
You don’t want 5 slow jam songs all in a row or you’ll bore people. Too many fast songs all in a row will wear people out. To ensure that each of your favorite songs punches just as much as the last, the context of each song needs some thought. Take your list of dance songs and rate each one with a number from 1-5 based on this energy scale:
1 = Slow song: A ballad you can slow-dance to. Ex: Let’s Stay Together
2 = Slow jam song: Not something you would slow dance to, but not quite a number 3. Ex: Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay
3 = Standard radio song: Most songs on the radio are around 100-135 beats per minute. These songs are great mid-range songs and they make great set openers as they have great energy, but aren’t so energetic that you’ll lose your shoes dancing to them. They will make up the majority of your wedding dance playlist. Ex: Treasure (Bruno Mars), Superstition (Stevie Wonder)
4 = Slightly more energy than a 3. These songs aren’t great to openers because they need a bit more of a build up. These songs may call for crowd participation, so you’ll want your audience to be warmed up nicely. Save these songs and use them to build the energy on your way from a 3-song to a 5-song in your wedding song playlist. Ex: Respect (Aretha Franklin)
5 = As much energy as a song can have. These songs will be the climaxes in each playlist. They work perfectly at the end of the playlist so as to leave everyone on a high. In a long set (50-90 minutes), you’ll probably want 2-3 of these. Ex: Shout (Isley Brothers)
9. Organize your songs based on a tried and true formula
Think of your wedding dance playlist like a roller coaster. You don’t want to bore people with too many flat stretches. The key is to keep energy levels changing so that the ride is interesting. Here’s a sample order for a 50-minute wedding dance song playlist. You can just duplicate this if you’re going for a 90-minute set. Use this framework to plug in your own songs:
|Song #||Energy #||Explanation||Example|
|Start on a familiar note||My Girl|
|Keep the familiar train going||Signed, Sealed, Delivered|
|Start picking up the energy||Let’s Groove|
|A little more energy||September|
|Everyone has sung along and danced for a while now, they are ready for some crowd participation and musical appreciation. Check out those horn solos!||Pick Up The Pieces|
|Building the energy again!||I Wish|
|First climax. People are singing along and getting sweaty!||Hey Ya|
|Bring it back down for another build||I Heard it Through The Grapevine|
|Still building||Seven Day Fool|
|Still building||Forget You|
|Oh, getting hot in here!||Jump Jive and Wail|
|Wow, I love this song! I can’t stop dancing now!||Uptown Funk|
|One last time to grab your sweetheart before this set is over.||You Are The Best Thing|
|Last climax of the set - leave them wanting more||Shout|
10. Get the songs ready
Your wedding dance playlist is ready to go. Send it off to your band or DJ, or if you’re running the party yourself, create a playlist on Spotify. Now you’re all set!
This may seem a bit complex and over analytical, but after years of experience, an experienced band or DJ doesn’t need to go through this entire process every time. They should have a very good idea of how their songs fit together and be able to whip up a wedding set list with ease. This level of experience and expertise is just one factor that can add to and justify a higher price for a well established band or DJ.
Now that you have some more information about how to build a wedding dance playlist and some great ideas for other music playlists throughout the rest of your wedding reception, you should be well prepared for a memorable party!