With so many choices of fine wedding planners and a wide variety of venues, it’s not tough to put together a good event — but great events go further to fully express and celebrate who a couple is through personalization. “What we and other entertainers aspire to do in the luxury market is not just send the couples and guests away contented, but rather saying ‘Wow, that was really ‘Steve and Sharon’s’ party,’” says Artem Lomaz, of Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment. Jeff Stitely of Stitely Entertainment agrees, saying, “The best compliment we ever get is when someone close to the couple says “Where did you get this band? They are SO YOU!”
Ajay Manaktala of Special Occasions LA adds, “Music is the foundation of most events and when curated with some heart can really act as the soundtrack to a couple’s wedding.” Here, top bands and DJ’s share ways couples can ensure their wedding doesn’t feel like all the others.
1. Utilize Meaningful Songs
Of course, couples choose a meaningful song for their first dance, but there are even more opportunities to infuse meaning through song choice. For example, one of Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment’s wedding couples loved Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” It was special to them because it came on while they were walking on the boardwalk in Maryland and when he reached for her hand, that was the moment she knew he was the one. However they had chosen a different song for their first dance. Lomaz played it during their reception to their teary reaction.
2. Personalize the Introduction for the First Dance
Speaking of the first dance, couples are typically brought into their reception with some fanfare and an introduction that transitions into their chosen song. Instead, Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment infuses humor and heartfelt moments by doing a minute-long love story, starting at the beginning of their story through the proposal then up to this moment. (see full introduction)
3. Allow for Spontaneity
Wedding music isn’t about “just playing a couple’s favorite songs,” says Robert Perkins of On the Beat Music Agency. “While the song selection is certainly about the couple and their guests, a band is able to sing to the guests — and sing about the couple and personalization can happen anytime, even unplanned.” He shares the story of one father/daughter dance, saying “The bride’s father passed away when she was young so she danced with her brother instead. Emotions were getting strong, then out of nowhere, her new father-in-law stepped in towards the end of the song and cut in. The band knew to extend the song to make that magical moment last longer. The crowd and the band members were sobbing.” There’s a certain amount of spontaneous grace at these events that experienced entertainers know how to seize.
4. Remix Important Songs to Perfection
Often the creative ideas come from the couple themselves — but it takes experience and know-how to make it work. Stitely of Stitely Entertainment says, “A mother of the groom had two songs that were both meaningful to her and her son, but they were completely different — with varied tempos, styles and eras. So I did an arrangement to mix them together and created a transition that worked so their mother-son dance had that emotional connection for them.”
Manaktala of Special Occasions LA recounts, “We had a lovely couple who had a song of extreme sentiment to them called ‘Indian Summer’ by Jai Wolf. They really wanted to implement this into the bridal entrance at the ceremony but felt the original version — while eclectic and beautiful — had just a little too much of a build-up. DJ Ajay created a special version for them that they found a perfect fit, keeping the traditional and eclectic elements, but also muting the energy just enough to be fit and breathtaking for a ceremonial entrance reminiscent of Crazy Rich Asians.” (hear the remix)
Special Occasions LA also asks their couples to choose music for their loved ones to enter the ballroom then their team edits those tracks individually or “cuts the fat” so that the songs are energetic and embody the essence of the track in a mere 30 seconds.
David Krieger of KRIEGER, a Los Angeles-based DJ and MC, says that he routinely edits the first dance song. “Most songs are around four minutes and couples don’t want to be out there for that long. I often cut it to two minutes so that they can enjoy the beginning of the song then give that first dance a special moment before guests start to lose interest.”
5. Have a Special Presentation of Meaning
Creating a special moment for a couple can make for an additional sweet wedding memory. Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment says, “One of my couples had their first date in high school — a movie then pizza at a local shop. I went to talk to the owner of the pizza place they had first gone to and he made the couple a heart-shaped pizza and had everyone on staff sign the box. I quietly presented it to them during their reception dinner.”
6. Line Up a Dance Floor Playlist that Pleases All
Special Occasion LA DJ’s will often create a Venn Diagram to clearly define a couple’s musical preferences. Manaktala says, “Each partner represents a circle and the cross-section where their musical preferences align is where we focus.”
Stitely of Stitely Entertainment, says, “We’ve done a handful of weddings for couples that are Phish fans and love jam bands…For those we have played half a dozen Phish tunes, more Grateful Dead songs and some Talking Heads. Each wedding is a little different depending on the couple’s favorite bands.”
Margaret Hill of International Musicians League adds, “Live music sets the tone at any party, so it’s important to understand each client’s vision for their event and what type of music they like. We always ask for a list of songs and artists they like and base our set list off of that, along with the classic crowd-pleasers, and dance-floor fillers. It’s like having your very own private concert and dance party with friends and family!” The League includes coast-to-coast entertainment with high-energy music from New York’s Silver Arrow Band, Atlanta’s Emerald Empire Band, LA’s Lucky Devils Band, and more.
7. Take an Active Role in Music Selection to Tell a Lifetime of Stories
“One thing that I love about music is that it has this documentary quality — you associate specific songs with different events and periods in your life,” says Daniel Rosenbach of Love in the Mix. Groups from different parts of our lives — childhood, high school, college, etc. — will have different shared songs. And since a wedding is two families coming together, he notes that “music can allow a family to reminisce.” He urges couples to have an active role in selecting music as it is “one of the easiest ways to infuse your personality into your wedding.” While Love in the Mix loves to be hired for their expertise, they also really love clients who say “these are our jams, it’s part of our story.” “The more the musicians can customize, the better the results on the dance floor, says Rosenbach, “because they know the music their friends and family will love.”
SOULSYSTEM ORCHESTRAS knows the importance of music in telling life’s stories. Rob Affuso of SOULSYSTEM says, “Our lives have a soundtrack that reminds us of very special moments — both happy and sad, of course. Whether we’re providing a DJ or live band, we do our best to try to evoke some of the happy ‘life-song emoticons’ from our clients’ history together.” The boutique entertainment company is dedicated to personalization through their high-touch service.
8. Include Family in Special Moments
Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment suggests — depending on the couple’s relationship with their parents — a quick introduction for the parent dances as well. For example, at one wedding the groom’s dad had passed away, so the groom and his two brothers recorded a special message for their mom saying, “We all want to make sure we get to share a dance with you, since you won’t get to share one with dad today.” Then the three brothers took turns dancing with their mother.
9. Honor Cultural Traditions
Harlan Ellis of Hank Lane Music — a full-service entertainment provider based in New York — says, “Sometimes a client wants to nod to their personal family histories with cultural music. We can always get a specialist for a traditional Greek dance or the proper pronunciation of an Israeli song.” The team has arranged for an opera singer to croon “Ave Maria” during nuptials, gospel singers to lead guests from the ceremony to the reception, and belly dancers to perform during cocktails.
Love in the Mix is eager to honor cultural and musical traditions as well. Rosenbach says, “Music, like cuisine, is a huge part of international flavor — we do every possible permutation of nationality with lots of customization.” To ensure they get it right, their performers ask clients for specific details about their traditions. “We have expertise in so many types of music, but what might be popular for the masses may not be reflective of the couple’s interest. The hippest, latest Parisian dance song or that song you listened to in your childhood in India — these details help us create a supply of backup music using those very personal data points.”
10. Offer Light-Hearted Surprise Moments
“One of my wedding couples were both big fans of the show, The Office,” says Lomaz, “so much so that the bride made an agreement with the groom that he had to finish the series before the wedding.” As a surprise, Artem Lomaz — NinetyThree Entertainment arranged for a couple of the show’s characters to record funny personalized messages for them. The actors who played Kevin and Meredith recorded clever videos, with “Meredith” lamenting that even though she and the groom, Danny, “met at a meet and greet and there was a lot of chemistry, (bride) Bri worked her magic on him.”
For another wedding, Lomaz spoke to the best man prior to the celebration — he notes that he tries to get to know all of the people closest to the couple if possible — and learned that in college the Yankees-fan groom used to have Twitter feuds with Jose Conseco. So Lomaz asked Conseco to make a 30-second video of him reading condescending messages. The couple and their guests absolutely loved it. (see full video of personal messages from celebrities)
11. Marry the Music to the Style & Theme of the Celebration
“We are currently working on a ceremony for a couple that is creating a Goth-themed wedding. We came up with the idea of having an organ, a cello, and a string bass to add a low, mysterious, dark feel to the music to match the vibe they want,” says Stitely of Stitely Entertainment. He notes that it’s so much fun listening to clients and thinking out of the box to make their celebration unique, saying, “It’s what keeps us fresh and on our creative edge.”
Karen Waldman of San Francisco’s Entire Productions says that their entertainment and event production team loves coordinating the music to the aesthetic of the wedding,, “Maybe the couple wants to transport their guests back to the Roaring 1920s or to Cuba or Miami — our talent roster is so robust that we can turn any vision into a reality. Once we understand the clients’ needs, we’re able to pitch them targeted, expert performers who can bring their celebration to life.” Waldman points out that this can be anything from a solo harpist or an electric LED violinist, to a Theremin player or 10-piece party band.
12. Know When to Let a Moment Unfold on its Own
While talented entertainers can certainly make a moment more special, a much harder skill to learn is when to stand back and let a moment stand. DJ and MC KRIEGER says, “I try to let couples and families have their private moments,” and notes that in those moments, “People don’t care what the DJ has to say.” Instead he lets things happen organically, saying, “Don’t commercialize it and stop trying to be funny. A wedding is not the place to insert yourself.” Rather, he lets the music tell guests what the mood is, keeping them in their feel-good moments without interruption.
13. Invite a Special Guest to Play with the Band
Danny Chaimson of Gold Coast Events Ltd. — with popular bands Gold Coast All Stars in Chicago, Golden Coast All Stars in LA, and more — reminds us to look to our close friends and family who have a musical background for making a wedding super-personal. He says, “Getting them involved for a surprise performance with the band can really take the night to another level.” When it comes to asking a loved one to perform, Chaimson tells us to consider how well known he or she is to the other guests. The father-of-the-bride, an uncle, or even the bride will create more of an impact than a random friend from college. Additionally, have the honorary guest stick to one or two upbeat songs in order to keep the performance feeling spontaneous and novel.
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