With more than 300 weddings under her belt, singer and pianist Rebecca Walker knows a thing or two about keeping a wedding crowd entertained.
Rebecca and her band, Boutique Entertainment, specialise in wedding entertainment and, she says, there are five things every couple should consider when planning their wedding music, regardless of whether they are hiring a band, a DJ or simply using their own playlist.
By considering them, Rebecca insists, your wedding music will be a hit with everyone in the crowd, from the youngest members to the oldest ones.
“In the decade I’ve performed at and emceed weddings, I’ve seen it all and, no matter what the age of the couple marrying, their cultural background or their style of wedding, there are a few rules that seem absolutely universal,” says Rebecca, who sings lead vocals and plays keyboard in the versatile Melbourne-based band, which covers most styles of music, everything from jazz and Top 40 to rock ‘n’ roll and, of course, ’80s classics.
“If more couples considered these wedding music rules – and stuck by them – every wedding would be a hit and most every guest will make a dash for the dance floor at least once during your celebrations!”
Rebecca Walker of Boutique Entertainment struts her stuff on stage with fellow band member Cliff Boatswain
Weddings are celebrations where, hopefully, all your guests have a memorable time, regardless of their age or preference in style of music, so, “If you want everyone to have a good time (not just you and your bridal party), choose songs from across the board that will appeal to all age groups,” suggests Rebecca.
This applies, in particular, during a wedding’s ‘big moments’ and formalities such as the First Dance or at the end of the reception when the couple is leaving.
“For example, when you and your new spouse are making your way around the Farewell Circle, it’s always nice to play a classic song, such as New York, New York; Ain’t No Mountain High or This is the Best Night, that will have everyone in the audience buoyant and kicking up their heels while they wait for you to reach them, rather than the latest Top 40 hit that will probably only be enjoyed by part of the crowd.
Why go out with a whimper rather than a bang?
Of course, Rebecca stresses this decision is not an easy one because the songs being played in the final few minutes of a couple’s wedding need also be meaningful to them. The song, after all, will usher in the end of one of the biggest moments of their lives.
It is unrealistic to expect that the dance floor will be full from the minute the music starts until the end of your reception and, often, it has nothing to do with the music, the band or your DJ’s playlist.
“Perhaps there are family members who haven’t seen one another in years and would rather catch up before hitting the dance floor,” says Rebecca, who is a classically trained pianist and also acts as MC when Boutique Entertainment performs.
Weather, too, can affect how much guests dance. When the weather is hot, people tend to tire more easily and, for others, they may stick to their seats for fear of sweating too much. If your big day started early and is ending late, they may simply be too tired to dance after more than a few hours or, perhaps, they’ve just eaten too much and the belt buckles have already been undone.
“Consider also, that every event has its own natural ebb and flow,” says Rebecca. “There are high points and low points where, perhaps guests need a break from dancing or wish to sit down for a cup of tea and chat with other guests.”
A talented MC or band leader understands these ebbs and flows and can read the crowd’s mood and will tailor the music to suit this mood. When they sense the crowd needs a break, they’ll put on something a little slower or more sedate to allow those people to stop and ready themselves for the next round of dancing.
Ultimately, you have to hire a band you’re happy with, one whose style matches your own but when in the market for a band, be sure to choose one who has experience performing at weddings.
Performing at a wedding is an art and it’s quite different from entertaining the crowd at other events because there are so many things that ‘must’ happen, such as first dances, speeches, the cutting of the cake and, perhaps, a garter toss etc – and the music needs to match the various moods and solemnity – and fun – associated with these moments.
Also, unlike, say, 21sts and corporate events where the formalities are quite different, weddings are about ensuring two separate families come together and mingle and start bonding as the one family they now are. Where better for that to start than on the dance floor and it’s in the couple’s best interests to get as many people up and dancing together as possible? Dancing is the perfect icebreaker!
“Performing at a wedding is about more than simply turning up on the night, unpacking your bags and singing a few songs,” says Rebecca, who always sits down with couples before their big day and plans out the music.
“Great if a band or DJ can do that, but we prefer to ensure the couple is fully aware of how the night will flow beforehand and that their favourite songs make an appearance at some stage during their big day.”
An experienced band leader will be able to ‘read the crowd’ and even change the playlist on the go to keep the night moving smoothly and ensuring the mood stays party-like. They won’t be ‘‘awkward’ silences, inappropriate songs played or boring lulls in the night and they’ll check beforehand if there are songs you definitely don’t want included in the playlist.
“They should also be able to advise you on ideal background music for the formal parts of your night, such as during your introductions and cutting of the cake, as well as help you plan a perfect running schedule that will make the most of your band, allow plenty of time for dancing and provide you and your guests with a fun-filled night that they truly will remember.
Don’t succumb to trends. Yes, it’s great to pepper your favourite current hits throughout your reception, but save them for moments other than, say, your first dance or father-daughter dance.
“Your first dance has to be special to you and your new spouse, but it should stand the test of time with the two of you,” says Rebecca. “You don’t want to choose something that is going to make you cringe in a few years’ time, because you choose a soppy Top 40 song that was a hit at the time – but probably won’t mean too much to you both years later.
“Choose something that is truly special to you both. Perhaps it’s the song that was playing when you met or a song they both love.”
Rebecca says that if you’re stuck for a first-dance song, include The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra.
While Boutique Entertainment can play anything from Michael Buble to Rhianna, Rebecca says it’s inevitable that someone in the audience will always ask for a song by ABBA or favourites such as Nutbush, Dancing Queen, the Grease Megamix, Summer of 69 and Jessie’s Girl.
There’s a reason they feature at just about every wedding (or event) you attend, because they’re always requested so whether or not you’re a fan of those cheesy old favourites, don’t be afraid to pepper a few throughout your playlist because they’re the songs everybody loves getting up to – even if you don’t.
“There are some songs nobody can resist dancing too,” says Rebecca who has never attended a wedding where Time of My Life (from Dirty Dancing),wasn’t played. “They’re fun, frivolous and, most importantly, everybody knows the words.”
Cheesy songs also give your guests license to throw off their inhibitions and play up, perhaps, even, act a little silly on the dance floor. Expect the odd air guitar to be pulled out – and lots of classic movie dance moves.
“Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what is ‘cheesy’ and what is not, but just because you personally don’t like Loveshack or Time of My Life, doesn’t mean your guests won’t – and there’s nothing more pleasing for a couple throwing a party than to see their beloved friends and family up and dancing, having a fantastic time in honour of the newlyweds and their big day.”