Making the Wedding Playlist

Dancing our way from wedding planning to marriage

Vivian Chen

With our September 24th wedding date staring me in the face, there were certain tasks I could no longer avoid. Music was one of those projects, pushed back until it couldn’t be delayed anymore. Jared and I decided from the beginning that we’d do the iPod thing, even though I had my doubts about the logistics—does that literally mean an iPod? Because mine has a glitch and randomly skips songs and his is so small I don’t know how to work it. I could take my temperamental laptop, but it’s four years old, which is like one hundred in human years. The thought of lugging it on what is supposed to be a technology-light holiday bummed me out.

Then there was the question of the music itself. When I was nineteen, my roommate Bridget and I spent hours crafting the perfect party playlist. Except that playlists weren’t a thing back then, so we had to burn the songs onto a series of eight CDs and label them precisely, because every single song belonged in a specific order. “Pony” was a little slow, so it had to be followed by “Push It” to keep the crowd interested. My approach to our wedding playlist was similar: the sequence could be as important as the songs themselves, and this task could not be taken lightly.

Every time the subject of The Wedding Playlist came up, I groaned. “I don’t know what the big deal is,” said Jared. “I’ll do it on my next day off.” I cautiously agreed, knowing that this was what I was afraid of. In a Venn Diagram of music, the songs we mutually enjoy are slimmer than what is needed to fill five hours of air time. He leans toward Empire of the Sun while I’m more John Mellencamp; cocktail hour and dinner would be easy enough, but it was the two-hour dance playlist where we would have to get diplomatic.

I sat down one afternoon to do some work, opened up iTunes, and hit play on Jared’s dance mix. The third song was “Superstylin” by Groove Armada. It was six minutes long and made me feel like I was at a rave. Maybe our music tastes were even more different than I’d feared. “Jared,” I asked, “Are you fully committed to having this song on the dance playlist?”

“It’s a good tune,” he said.

“It’s six minutes long!”

“Well, at least add some songs, before you go cutting all of mine,” he said.

Although it didn’t convert me into a fan, “Superstylin” did spur me into action; I needed to quit avoiding it and do my part. I made a list of the songs I thought were crowd pleasers, the ones that I knew would get my friends, at least, on the dance floor.  We sat down together to go over the list, and every few minutes I found myself raising my voice in disbelief when he didn’t recognize one of my suggested songs: “What do you mean you don’t know ‘Motownphilly’?” Jared sighed at “Bye Bye Bye,” grudgingly accepted “Ice Ice Baby,” but drew the line at “I Wish” by Skee-lo (in retrospect, maybe a good call). I argued that although he may have enjoyed “Lights and Music” live, it didn’t really translate to a wedding dance floor mix. He refused to budge, possibly on account of me slashing Groove Armada.

“Fine,” I said. “But when that song comes on, I’d better see you tearing it up on the dance floor.”

We managed to come together on old favorites like Green Day’s “Basket Case,” and I realized I’d gone six years without knowing that he, like me, still can’t resist the catchy beat of “Crazy in Love.” After a handful of compromises on both sides, we came up with a dance playlist that we both mostly agreed upon. I came home from work the next day and Jared was packing his lunch, getting ready for a night shift. “I listened to our dance mix today,” he said. “It’s actually pretty good.”

After he left, I turned it on to listen objectively. Yeah, it was a good playlist, but did it make me want to dance? I toyed with the idea of going upstairs to get my wedding dress, so I could stage a practice round in the living room. That would be ridiculous, I thought. Then “Crazy in Love” blared through the speakers. I pressed pause and ran upstairs. What was ridiculous was that the most expensive item of clothing I’ve ever purchased had been living in a closet for nine months. I stepped into the dress, zipped it up, and hit play.

I danced in the living room, then moved to the bathroom, where our only mirror in the house is. I climbed onto the bed to get a full-length view of the dress through the open door, then jumped down to make my way back to the kitchen. Dancing in the dress wasn’t exactly what you’d call comfortable, but it was doable. And the real surprise was, I wanted to do it. It was a pretty good playlist after all, and I’m not a dancing-in-public kind of girl. The process hadn’t been as painful as I’d thought, once we just sat down and got it over with. Nothing in the wedding planning had been, really, which I can only say now that I’m through it.

Early on in the planning process, I latched on to this theory that the hidden reason we have weddings is to really fine-tune a couple’s ability to make decisions together. We’ve been confronted with unexpected differences of opinions on things like cake, save-the-dates, and logistics, but we worked it out. The things we already knew about each other (my tendency to procrastinate, his need to tick items off the list) were put under the microscope, but we managed. I wouldn’t call it fun, but we seem to have planned a wedding without losing our enthusiasm for the whole marriage thing. And, finally, we’ve got a soundtrack to get us started.

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  • Jessica

    I love the image of you dancing in your dress. : ) I too procrastinated on the iPod playlist, because I am just not the musical one in our relationship. Thankfully my husband spent the whole Sunday before the wedding creating our 2 playlists.

    Post wedding it’s been so fun to have them to listen to as they bring back the happy memories from our wedding weekend. We listened to them nonstop on our honeymoon.

    • lady brett

      yes! having the playlist afterward has been one of the *best* perks of doing our own music (and good dancing music makes great driving music – the wedding dance playlist our go-to road trip playlist now =)

      • Meredith

        Great working music, too. I’ve been inspired to put mine on in the office now and daydream about that day.

  • Sarah E

    I hear you on the musical compromises. As an avid booty-shaker at any event, I want the dance floor packed all night (and we have dance-y folks, so I’m sure it will be). My partner loves music, but is not a booty-shaker and each wedding I’ve attended with him, he’s in the chatting crowd somewhere outside or near some patio doors, and I only come back to grab him for a slow song or sip the water he’s (supposed to be) holding for me. So when he adds some songs that he really loves to the playlist. . . I’m skeptical. First, they’re electronica or some other off-beat genre that yes, do have good rhythm, but probably aren’t crowd-pleasers. One in particular is a really popular indie-pop song, but it’s at that odd tempo that’s too fast for slow dancing, but a little slow for fast-dancing.

    I’ve told him, at least in regards to the indie-pop, that it can stay if he actually demonstrates (in the comfort of our own home) how to dance to it. Unsurprisingly, I’ve yet to see any proof of dance-ability. On the other hand, he’s now interpreting my opinion as “absolutely everyone must have heard the song before, so nothing new.” Le sigh. I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but it will probably take more tussle.

    • Pileofstix

      RE: Indie song. Not every song needs to be danceable. It’s can be great to have the very listenable song that people can go pee, grab another drink, say hi to long lost friends etc, without feeling like they are missing primo dance time.

      • Sarah E

        That’s a good thought. I think that’s going to be my sneaky move. As in, I’ll agree to keep the song on the list, but as a no-one-will-dance-but-at-least-you-heard-it.

    • Cleo

      Also, I’ve found that really popular songs, even if they’re not danceable, can encourage people onto the dance floor if they know the lyrics and like the song. Who doesn’t love to sing in a circle with their friends?

  • Lian

    I am at the procrastinating stage of this and I need to know: what technology did you use?! iPod? iPhone? Laptop? Android tablet/phone? Is there a good App? Do I need to buy every song if I already have Google Play Music? I don’t know how to do this!

    • Laura

      We used an iPod plugged into our venue’s sound system (if you’re going the DIY route with music, having good sound equipment is a must).

      As for an app, we used Spotify. Yes, there are still a few artists who refuse to let Spotify use their music, but we didn’t find that too limiting. Because the free version of Spotify has ads, we made our initial playlist with that version. Then, a few days before the wedding, we upgraded to a free 30-day trial of Spotify Premium to get rid of the ads and promptly deleted the service once we got back from our honeymoon. It’s only about $10/month, but we were on a pretty strict budget.

      Whatever platform you use, crossfade is a must! Even a second of two of dead silence between tracks can be a bit of a mood killer.

      • Sarah E

        Spotify is our plan, too. Free service for planning, one month of Premium. We’ll probably be using my laptop, though.

        Spotify hack my partner stumbled on. . .If you install Ad-block, which is a Google Chrome plug-in, then run Spotify’s browser player (it plays from website rather than downloaded app), it skips ads. Wouldn’t be great for wedding playlist, because there’s still a second or two of silence, but for home use, you can totally skip commercials.

      • Valerie

        Re: Spotify, if there are songs you own that Spotify doesn’t have, you can still add them to a playlist. I think it actually did it automatically; when I signed up, it asked me if I wanted to import my iTunes songs, and I said “yes,” and there they were! You can also designate a playlist as “available offline,” which is key since you never know what the wifi situation is going to be like.

        • Mandertron

          Yes! I did this for a party and it worked perfectly.

          • Lian

            To all of you in this thread: THANK YOU! Spotify Premium with an ‘available offline’ playlist it will be! I was worried about the eclectic songs I didn’t think Spotify was going to have. This is perfect. I love you all.

  • Shebar

    I imposed some rules early on in our selection:
    -no live versions as the sound quality gets a little fuzzy
    -nothing longer than 3 minutes
    -the song had to be cheery because we were going to be happy that night, dammit
    So that meant my sweetie’s selection of the live, 10 minute version of “No Woman No Cry” (really, he had that on his list) was out but my parents did end up dancing to Lyle Lovett’s “She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife.”

    We broke it down into three different play lists, cocktails, dinner and party. We had a back up ipod as well as the primary ipod. We also made sure that the play lists were the only thing on those ipods so no one could decide to improvise.

    • laddibugg

      “We also made sure that the play lists were the only thing on those ipods so no one could decide to improvise.”

      GREAT idea!

      • Lauren from NH

        I was thinking of using a iphone or touch so it locks…or wrapping a note around it with a rubber band that says “if you touch this you will feel the full wrath of the bride” . If the bridezilla stereotype is going to be running around making me look bad, I might as well get a couple perks out of it ;)

        • JDrives

          Thank you for my morning giggle!

        • laddibugg

          Oh, I assumed that the ‘no improvisation’ rule applied to the couple as well ;-)

          • Lauren from NH

            Oh you know it!

      • lady brett

        haha, we had a 9-year-old at our wedding who managed to play price’s “kiss” 5 times (it *was* on the playlist, but only once)!

        • enfp

          At least that 9 year old has great taste! I could dance to that song repeatedly.

    • MC

      “the live, 10 minute version of “No Woman No Cry”

      HAHAHAHA. Good call making sure that one got vetoed.

  • Erin E

    Hahaha – Skee-lo, “I Wish”! This will now be in my head for the rest of the day. I love that it was on your list, even if it didn’t make the final cut :)

    • Lauren

      Ha! I love it too, even though it is super cheesy (or because it’s super cheesy?). Girltalk remixed it into All Day, which is actually way catchier than the original and more danceable :)

  • “this theory that the hidden reason we have weddings is to really fine-tune a couple’s ability to make decisions together… he things we already knew about each other (my tendency to
    procrastinate, his need to tick items off the list) were put under the
    microscope, but we managed.”

    I like this theory. If what we’ll get (besides getting married) out of this at times rather harrowing wedding process, is to learn to make decisions together, I’ll take it.

  • Laura C

    We had a DJ, but we made a playlist for before the ceremony and during the cocktail hour rather than having him play generic stuff then, and it was great. But since it was the cocktail hour, etc, we gave ourselves permission to be … eclectic. So I used Dropkick Murphys “Worker’s Song” and I’m pretty sure he put Elvis Costello “Good Year for the Roses” and so on. And our coordinator and the venue tried to give us some space to decompress privately immediately after the ceremony, and we were sitting off in a room by ourselves going “I’d rather be out hearing the playlist we made.”

  • Lisa Marie

    This is wonderful and happy and makes me happy, the thought of dancing around in a wedding dress in the living room.

    We had a DJ but he was kind enough to post-wedding send us our wedding playlist, which were different for different parts of the evening. New Orleans jazz for cocktails, standards for dinner, and dance music. I still love listening to the dinner mix. My husband loves the eclectic dance mix.

    You’re right, trying to blend musical tastes was way harder than expected.

    My non-clubbing husband’s list of 80s/90s hair metal had to be culled. Explaining that even though I rocked out to Blink-182 back in the day, 4 songs were probably a little much proved difficult.

    In the end, I appreciated having a professional to trust and he did a wonderful job understanding us and blending our styles and tastes to make for a wonderful musical mix that everyone enjoyed.

    • I love that your DJ sent you your playlists after. That makes so much sense. It’s like the photographer sending you the visual record of the night only it’s the DJ sending the audio record.

      • Lisa Marie

        We had to bug him a bit, but considering all of this stuff is digital now anyway, it really shouldn’t be that hard, or that outlandish of a request. 2 were spotify playlists, one was just a list of the songs which I turned into a spotify playlist in about 20 minutes. We also shared those playlists with attendees when we sent out an email with a link to the picture gallery too. Thought it was a cute (and free!) way to share a piece of the evening with them.

  • Meredith

    We used our cocktail hour playlist to play our soft hipster music that nobody would dance to. It was a lot of Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, Wilco, etc. The dance party music was stuff everyone would enjoy. Though my husband had to tell me a couple of times when planning that certain things were not appropriate to dance to in front of grandparents no matter how much “fun” i think the song is.. Lookin’ at you now Ludacris. Overall, we had so much fun making our playlist, but it was much more stressful than we expected! We thought it would be the easiest task of the whole wedding. We both agreed we could never be DJs.

  • I remember sitting down to do our playlist. He was surprised I was willing to put so much Billy Joel on it. But I knew he’d grown up wanting to be Billy Joel so I was perfectly fine with it. We had fun listening to songs we liked that were very much wrong for a wedding too and imagining what it would be like to play those.

    I did not do a practice session to our songs in my wedding dress, but that would’ve been fun.

    And I love that it was an iPod (or in our case, lap top) playlist. We pull it out every anniversary and play it again and dance to it in our living room together. It’s one of my favorite anniversary traditions of ours.

  • Bsquillo

    All I have to say is mad props on the 90s jamz. Sounds like a blast!

  • Mandertron

    The FH and I had one failed attempt at making a playlist, and have been postponing it ever since. And we run a business together (so decisions are rarely a “thing”) and mostly have the same taste! There’s something about making such a “definitive” list of music that causes a weird anxiety.

    We’re going to try making it more fun by tackling similar like our joke writing: We’ll each make our own first pass playlist of just obvious “yes” songs, then we’ll combine them to add, subtract and re-shuffle songs together. “Maybe ‘I Wish’ is a better after party song?” “Yeah, that’s a good note.” “Denny’s?” “Denny’s.”

  • emmers

    Has anyone done their own ceremony playlist? Any special ceremony-specific tips?

    • karyn_arden

      We did playlists for… everything. A playlist of pre-ceremony music while people were waiting for things to get started, a playlist for my song for walking down the aisle, one for walking out of the ceremony, one for cocktail hour, one for dinner, one for dancing… It might have been excessive, but we gave my phone to my brother-in-law and all he had to do was press play all day – easiest job ever, and it saved us the worry of having anybody else mess with the music.

      For music while folks were waiting, a playlist of about 10 songs ranging from City and Colours “Northern Wind” to Royal Wood’s “I’m So Glad” – low-key romantic songs (we made this list together). For walking down the aisle, I chose “Hoppipolla” by Vitamin String Quartet (a cover of Sigur Ros) and for walking out my husband chose “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone. (This way, we each got to choose the song that mattered most to us in approaching/departing from the ceremony.)

    • Leah

      We had a friend play guitar for our ceremony, and totally agonized over what to have him play for each piece of it. In the end, we laughed about the fact that neither of us remembers even hearing the music – there was so much else going on! But, what we ended up with was:
      – various jammy/instrumental stuff for while everyone was sitting down
      – Nobody Cept You by Bob Dylan for the main processional
      – Here Comes the Sun (Beatles, obvi) for the bride’s processional
      – Judy Blue Eyes (CSNY) for the recessional, because it’s got such a great, snappy intro that we planned to start as soon as we stomped on the glass.
      But really – it could have been anything, we were thinking about other things at the time.
      I think the only tip would be to have some filler music on the ipod or whatever just in case some things take a little longer than anticipated, or there’s a delay. It was nice knowing that our friend would be able to improvise to fill in any dead air time.

  • A friend recently included a song request line on her RSVP cards — I thought this was a brilliant way to develop a playlist that is guaranteed to please the crowd (or at least one person in it).

    • enfp

      I did this, because I thought it would be fun, and helpful, but the truth is that it actually wasn’t so helpful. A surprising number of people picked obscure songs that would have cleared the dance floor, or things like Skrillex, which was not gonna work for my crowd. Obviously some folks put great songs that my DJ played, but we’d have played those songs anyways. My DJ, who is a friend of mine, played awesome crowd pleasing tunes and people danced, even if they didn’t get to hear their fave Skrillex jam.

      • Lian

        We are doing this, and so far it is helpful. We’re getting a nice mix of older and newer music from our various guests. But we did specifically ask for “a song that is sure to get you dancing” or something similar, rather than “a favorite song”, because those can be very different!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I failed on reception music. I don’t dance much, but wanted dancing at the wedding. I don’t usually play music at parties. I listen to hardly any music composed in the last 100 years. It would have been better had I recognized I was completely inept at crowd-pleasing music early in wedding planning, and handed off the responsibility earlier. My husband could have arranged something he would have liked more than what we got – which was adequate amateur DJs and a playlist half-compiled by my mother-in-law.

  • Maddy

    Yay! How exciting! Our compromise was the ceremony. I got to pick the processional and congregational songs in exchange for an organ recessional… But only after what felt like a million fights! For the reception we’re having a band so it’s been infinitely easier to choose like 5 songs that we go crazy for and a first dance! :)

  • laurasmash

    Eeeek. I’ve been procrastinating music because I thought it would be easy and not a big deal, especially since we aren’t even having dancing. But I never considered all the different sets of music we would have to have (pre-ceremony music didn’t occur to me at all, but I guess we’ll need it). After reading this, I definitely don’t want to make a playlist because I don’t have a lot of opinions about music and fiance likes obscure electronic music and hardcore punk. So that’s gonna be more trouble than its worth, better to outsource.
    My parents think since there is no dancing that people will get bored without live music of some sort, but I have no idea what kind would work for us. Fiance already vetoed a string quartet. APW, any music suggestions?

    • Christina

      We’re both big Wes Anderson fans and love music from the 60’s, so we’re planning to play a modified version of the
      Rushmore soundtrack pre-ceremony. (Although I might not hear it in that case… hm, may have to re-think.) Anyway, I recommend finding soundtracks from movies that you love and choosing songs from there. Film scores can be a fun way to create a mood, too.

      I definitely don’t think people will get bored without live music, though… the key is having background sound that facilitates conversation and keeps things upbeat.

  • Sarah

    I love this post so much! Music can be so personal and trigger such emotions. I remember being my OS’s car at the end of one of our first dates, and thinking “Oh dear, not sure I can do this” when he put on some techno. Not my thing AT ALL! Fortunately it turned out he likes a wider range of music than just techno, and I will be forever greatful to him for introducing me to Johnny Cash.

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