When it comes to music

This is a 10-minute article that takes a look at ways to save $$$ and when and where you should hire a pro.

Anyone that has to foot the bill for a full-featured wedding will tell you that the totals are eyebrow-raising. An idea can balloon into a large project and before you know it, you could be out of budget for something that matters more than anticipated. I’ve put together a list of things to consider.


Make a list of categories. In this way, you can visualize the components you want and where to focus your energy. Here’s a list you can borrow:


  • centerpieces, flowers
  • arch for ceremony
  • invitations
  • rentals such as linens, chairs, tables and etc
  • anything decorative

Location or venue

  • seasonal rates
  • weekday rates
  • Parking

Catering & Event Services

  • appetizers
  • meal service
  • bar service
  • cake

Specialty Services

  • DoC or Day of Coordinator
  • Officiant, pastor
  • Photographer
  • Videographer

Music & Entertainment

  • ceremony string ensemble
  • band
  • DJ / MME (mobile music entertainer)
  • photo booth

After you make your list, it’s time to consider which of these you want professional help with.

Pros and non-pros

Most people have a skill. Sometimes the best skill is delegation! Depending on the size of your wedding and invitation list, there are a handful of things you may wish to take on yourself, and certainly some categories that should be handled by a professional. One quick way to identify if that service or product requires a pro is to consider the following:

“Would my wedding and/or reception be considered a success if this category experienced a failure?”

I say this because there is another saying that comes to mind, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, think how much it will cost to hire an amateur.”

Let’s take a look at the categories again with ways to possibly save on expenditures.


Perhaps you know someone that has a flair for decoration, or a relative that has access to fabric. If this person or group is willing and able, perhaps you could accept their offer for decorative assistance.

Location or Venue

You can either have your wedding at someone’s residence, or you can have it at a paid location that offers features that are important to you. Many venues offer seasonal rates that differ from other times of the year. Discounts may be available in two ways

  • out of season vs “in season” months (commonly April to September)
  • days of the week – the least expensive options are Sunday through Thursday

Other considerations for the venue are morning or afternoon vs full-day access, and if the location requires you to clean-up after. If your guest count is under 100, I would keep a venue that requires DIY clean-up as an option. If the guest count is higher, I would skip the DIY option here and go with a venue that has this taken care of.

If your location is in the city, other considerations include valet charge, pay-to-park lots, shuttle service, and so on. Opt for venues that have ample self-serve parking. If your venue does not have great parking, perhaps using a park-n-ride system would help. This is where guests park in a large lot and then use either a shuttle service, the local metro system, or even Uber to get to where they need to go. It could be a fun way for guests to connect before and after your big day.

Catering and Event Services

When it comes to the food, you may not be able to save a lot here, but there are some things you would want to weigh. Some venues offer in-house catering for the food. This helps you in that you don’t have to look for an outside vendor as you are actually solving two categories with one. You may discover however that the in-house menu could knock you out of your budget, or you may need to raise your budget, depending on how you value meal service, bottle service, and food.

Personally, I’m fine with catered BBQ so I’m not the person to help with this decision. If you are into the full course meal and paying for all of your guests to experience the same, then by all means. My opinion here is that yes it’s a most spectacular day, but if I can achieve the same results by using an outside catering service at $12 pp versus an in-venue catering that is pushing $62 pp, guess which option I’m going to go with?

You can save by going with an outside catering service but you will want to ask if they bring a clean-up staff, if they offer family-style, or is it buffet style, and so on. Perhaps the time of day suggests that you can run heavy appetizers and bar service only. I have been to a few weddings where they actually had 2 food trucks. I wouldn’t recommend that for events where there are more than 80 people, however.

Be aware that some venues will charge a corking service, and could also forbid you to bring in outside bottles. Other options to consider are if you want to pay for alcohol, or if you could offset this cost by having a cash bar. A cash bar could deter some from over-indulging as well.

Over the last two years, I’ve seen a trend of going away from a traditional tiered wedding cake and gravitating toward a sweetheart cake and offering cupcakes to guests. This is completely acceptable and could save you a lot of dollars in the long run.

Specialty Services

Some of the services in this group could be in the DIY category.

Let’s start first with the DoC or your Day of Coordinator. If your wedding and reception are simple in the sense that there isn’t a lot of “pomp and circumstance”, you may be fine with assigning the best man or maid/matron of honor as a go-between to make decisions as the day unfolds. The DoC is beneficial in making sure all vendors are on point, and also functions as the liaison between vendors and you and your wedding party. This person, if you choose to have one, should be versed and well experienced, and should not be easily rattled. If you have hired multiple vendors, you will want a DoC or wedding planner.

The officiant or pastor is someone that should be well-spoken and pays a lot of attention to detail. The fee for someone to administer a wedding isn’t high enough in my opinion. There’s something to be said for someone that can captivate a group with their words, and annunciates well. Perhaps you have a friend that fits this category – they could be your officiant if they agree to it and if they become ordained. It’s easy to become ordained, but it’s not easy speaking in front of a group of people. By the way, I am ordained 🙂

If you decide to go with a pro, your photographer and/or videographer should be experienced. If going with a pro here, there aren’t many ways to save dollars, as this is a premium service. If your wedding photos are highly important to you, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a friend here, unless your friend is a professional with a portfolio.

Speaking of photos, I’ve noticed a trend in the inclusion of photo booths at receptions. A photo booth may not actually be a booth at all. Many systems are “open-air” style without an enclosure. They often have a backdrop or a green screen so you can have any background you wish. Photo booths offer a candid way for guests to interact and are commonly a hit.

Music (pt 1)

Some couples consider saving on expenditures by taking a DIY approach to the music component of the ceremony and reception. By this point, you will want to decide if you want a band or musician to play your ceremony, or if you wish to go with a pro DJ, or a DIY. For this part of the article, I assume you are not going with a band. Now let’s separate the ceremony from the reception for a moment. The ceremony consists of three parts, pre-ceremony, during, and post-ceremony.

In pre-ceremony, having a list of songs play in autoplay is perfectly acceptable and can be accomplished using an iPod. During your ceremony, will you want more than one song played? It’s fairly common to start the ceremony with a song for seating and for the wedding party to walk into their places, and then transition to a song for your partner to walk down the aisle to. This can still be accomplished by a non-professional but I would recommend practice in fade techniques and timing of the walk-through.

After your ceremony completes, pressing play again on an iPod is a pretty easy task. The person pressing play will need to know the exact moment of when to play. If they press play too soon, the officiant will be drowned out when he announces the newly married couple. If they press play too late, there is an awkward moment of “do we begin walking now?”

Whether you hire a pro or go with the DIY approach for your ceremony, make sure the person doing it has a script so they can follow along and their performance will be seamless.

Music (pt 2)

The next segment of your day is the reception and it can include a cocktail hour, meal service, and open dancing. During the reception, there are specialty moments such as the grand entrance, toasts, first dance, parental dances, and perhaps specialty or traditional dances such as the anniversary dance, bon voyage dance, and garter & bouquet toss (these are slowly disappearing from tradition).

The cocktail hour generally does not involve heavy mixing and song changes – here is where a pre-mixed set or playlist could be used. The song choices vary from instrumentals only, jazz, modern or classic love songs, or anything you wish. The focus here though shouldn’t be on the music content, but on how guests will enjoy themselves. Most of the time, guests will be glad to see others that have traveled to be there, and engage in conversation. This part of your reception can be managed with a 60-minute length playlist.

Decide if you want to include a grand entrance, and when you want to do it. Commonly, it is within the cocktail hour, and can either be simple or skit-based. I recommend a pro to manage this for you as it will enhance your expected results.

During meal service, and as with the cocktail hour, the content of the music is not as important as what happens next – socialization. Your guests will be seated at tables and probably engaged in conversations, so calculating which song to play when isn’t nearly as imperative as you might think. Again, here a 60 to 90-minute playlist will suffice.

When it’s time for the toast, the music should fade to almost zero volume or completely off as you don’t want the speeches/toasts to compete over the music. After toasts, your first dance is one of the most memorable moments in any reception. The song choice is often simple, but I’ve also recorded a mix for couples that wish to do a skit or montage of dance moves to various songs.

The first dance may be followed by parental dances and anniversary dance. Soon after, it’s time for open-dancing. If it were up to me, everyone would hire a pro for this. I am approached at least twice a year by couples that had at first opted to handle this using an iPod but decided it was just too overwhelming.

The truth of it is this — your favorite songs are simply that, songs that are your favorite. Setting a playlist and thinking it will work for everyone is a mistake. If you want to switch to a different song, it’s not easy if using an iPod. It’s awkward even if using your own iTunes collection or using a service such as Pandora, Spotify, or Tidal. It will also come across as unprofessional and folks will talk about it for a long time, and not in a good way. I heavily recommend hiring a professional for this – they will be able to work with guests to find music that serves the masses and know what is and isn’t appropriate to play.

In researching why someone would not hire a pro, it came down to the following:

  • Fear of “cheese” – a DJ that is full of themselves could be a red flag
  • “Don’t DJs just press play?” (short answer: NO!)
  • “I have an iPod full of songs that EVERYBODY will dance to!”

During your vendor search and interview process, you will want to identify a mobile DJ that fits with your needs and goals. Find one that will work to make your reception grand, one that will listen to what you want and what you DON’T want, or DNP list.

Speaking of which, I once had a bride request absolutely no “Happy” by Pharrell. I pressed her on it since at the time “Happy” was the #1 song. The DNP list shouldn’t include a song simply because you’ve heard it too much. Trust me, as an MME and DJ, there are lots of songs that have been played a lot but I can’t exclude them because of my personal stance. I recommend that if you have a DNP list, that it contains songs that make you mad, make you vomit, make you cry, or make you think of someone you don’t love. Okay went off on a tangent there.

But my point is, during the open dance segment, you will not want to try the DIY approach here, it is about the only thing you don’t want to leave to a non-pro.

We are here to assist you in any way we can – call us today to discuss your wedding or event.

-Patrick Nolan