Wedding DJ Checklist

From the first dance to the last “Cupid Shuffle,” the wedding DJ can make or break a wedding party. To that end, here’s our comprehensive wedding DJ checklist.

By The Zola Team

Wedding DJ Checklist
Photo by Unsplash

The First Look ✨

  • Though there’s no rule that says a DJ is a required wedding staple, a pro disk jockey can help make your wedding and reception more musical and more fun.
  • When hiring a wedding DJ, create a list of requirements before you start looking. Consider the affordability, availability, experience level, and professionalism of each DJ before making your final decision.
  • After choosing your DJ, outline your playlists for the type of music you want for your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception.

From the first dance to the last “Cupid Shuffle,” the songs that narrate your wedding day will be dancing in the minds of you and your guests for years to come. As you and your SO map out the details for your big day, you’ll probably want to create a separate spreadsheet just for your wedding DJ checklist.

Here, we’ll help you get started with our three-part wedding DJ checklist:

Is a Wedding DJ Necessary?

Sometimes the line items that you considered critical last week on either your wedding vendor checklist or wedding decor checklist appear less so after reviewing your budget—only you can decide if a professional DJ is truly necessary.

There’s no rule that says you have to hire professionals—whether that’s a DJ, a live band, or a college Cappella group—to play at your wedding. If you’re hosting a small event, you may be better off with a speaker system, an AUX cord, and a playlist of all your favorites.

No matter what you choose, you’ll want some kind of music playing in the background of your big day, even if it’s just for ambiance.

And, if you’re hosting a larger gathering with a guest list chock-full of party people, a professional DJ could elevate your day from good to great.

Hiring a Wedding DJ: Everything You Need to Know

To protect yourself from the late-stage madness of wedding planning, you’ll want to start crafting your wedding DJ checklist eight to 10 months out. And before envisioning which songs you and your partner will cut loose to all night long, you’ll need to choose a DJ.

8-10 Months Prior: Choosing a Wedding DJ

Many engaged couples are shocked to find out that their first choice musician is already booked up six months prior to their wedding date, so don’t delay in finding your dream DJ.

If you have a wedding planner, lean on them first if you aren’t familiar with the DJ market in your area. They’ll have a shortlist of their favorites and can give you a sense of pricing and style before you decide to set up interviews.

If you don’t have a wedding planner to ask for advice, you can browse through Zola’s vendor list of pre-screened wedding DJs. Search by price, music genres, setup, and availability as you determine what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you might want to meet your potential DJs. When choosing a wedding DJ, go through the following checklist to make sure that they’re up for the job to meet your musical needs:

  • What’s included in your rate? First, check that this DJ fits within your overall wedding budget. To do so, you need a full and complete picture of the entire wedding package that he or she provides. Ask about his or her rate and, most importantly, whether it includes:

    • Setup
    • Breakdown
    • Rental equipment
    • Transportation
    • Other extra fees
  • How experienced are you? Find out about his or her previous spinning experience, particularly with playing weddings, and his or her overall understanding of various music genres. A good DJ can switch venues and event styles easily, but you also might not want to hire a first-time wedding act. Check reviews from past clients for a more accurate picture of his or her performance. Keep in mind that if he or she is so experienced—and by extension, so popular—they might be overworked and exhausted when they come to play your wedding.

  • What would the collaborative process look like? Every DJ works differently. That doesn’t mean that one is better than the others, but one will fit better with your needs. Do you want a DJ that will take your vision and run with it, filling out the details and creating the actual playlists? Or do you want to make practically every decision about what song plays at what time? Both are fine! But you’ll need to find a DJ that can work with your method, whether that means he or she is trustworthy or can be flexible with changes.

Depending on his or her level of experience and how long your wedding will be, wedding DJs can cost anywhere from $500-$2,000, which is generally less than you’d pay for a live band. In fact, recent data shows that DJs cost up to 70 percent less than live bands.

Perhaps the best part about a DJ is how mobile he or she is—as long as he or she can plug in the equipment, he or she can play a Bahamas wedding, a rooftop ceremony, or a party in the park.

If you’re looking to skip the interview process altogether, you can rest assured that Zola’s DJ picks are all hand-selected and pre-screened to meet your quality standards. You may still want to reach out with a few specific questions, but you don’t necessarily have to run each option through the wringer.

5 Months Prior: Going Through Your Wedding DJ Questionnaire

When you say “yes” to the disc jockey of your choice, the fun really begins. Now, it will be your DJ’s turn to ask you the questions. Plan a session several months in advance to give your DJ time to work his or her musical magic.

Come prepared with this checklist of things you have to discuss:

  • Create an itinerary for your ceremony: Music will be an integral part of your wedding ceremony. Either before your meeting or with the DJ present, plan out the various components of your ceremony and whether or not he or she will need accompanying music. Make sure that you cover:

    • The processional (when the wedding party walks down the aisle).
    • A special processional song for the bride.
    • A pre-recorded solo to be played between readings.
    • The recessional (when the couple walks back down the aisle together).
  • Determine the specifics of your cocktail hour: As the in-between event of your wedding, the cocktail hour usually builds off the elegance of the ceremony, while ramping up to the fun of the reception. The music plays an important role in shaping this transition. To plan your cocktail hour, run through this list of questions:

    • What kind of vibe are you going for during your cocktail hour?
    • Do you want the party to get started early with some dance tunes?
    • Are you keeping things simple and elegant with instrumental love songs?
    • How long will your cocktail hour be?
  • Plan your reception: This is when the music really takes center stage and when your DJ’s input becomes invaluable. During your meeting, talk over this checklist of reception song considerations:

    • Introduction of the wedding party and the married couple’s introduction. In addition to a background song, do you want the DJ to announce you in a certain way (i.e., “now introducing Mr. and Mrs.” or “now introducing the Smiths”)?

    • Will you want a special playlist to play during dinner (if you have a sit-down dinner planned)?

    • In what order do you want the DJ to play your special dance songs (first dance, father and daughter, mother and son, etc.)? These songs are often popular and have many iterations—be sure to let the DJ know which versions you want.

    • How and when do you want the DJ to introduce the people giving toasts? Do you want the DJ to open the floor for anyone to give a toast?

    • Will you have a cake cutting during the reception, and, if so, what time and what song would you like played?

    • Will you be doing a garter or bouquet toss, or perhaps some other tradition? If so, what songs would you like played during this time?

    • Do you want the DJ to make a “last call” announcement for the bar?

    • What do you want the final song of the evening to be?

Other general questions may include whether or not you will allow your guests to make any special requests and if there are any songs that you absolutely do not want to be played on your wedding day.

3 Months Prior: Creating the Ultimate Wedding Playlist

If you’ve teamed up with a reputable DJ that understands your vision for your wedding music, you don’t need to be involved at every step of the day. However, it’s your wedding—and your money—so it’s up to you to decide how much input you want and how much freedom you’ll be giving your DJ.

Some couples may only want to choose the special dance songs and leave the rest up to the pros. Other couples, especially if they are music aficionados, may choose every song that is played all night, even if that means selecting 200+ tunes. In this case, you’ll definitely be glad that you started planning your playlist three months in advance.

No matter your preference, it’s time to start brainstorming.

Here, we’ll outline simple checklists to follow as you decide on potential songs, themes, and playlists for the different aspects of your wedding day.

Crafting Your Cocktail Hour Jams

The time between your ceremony and your reception sets the tone for the evening, so it’s important to curate a playlist with the entire event in mind.

A common choice is to play catchy, love-centric music with a light, but upbeat feel. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste all your favorite songs during the cocktail hour. Most guests will be mingling and munching anyway, so they may not fully appreciate your carefully curated playlist.

Follow this checklist to arrive at a mix of romantic, upbeat, and universally appealing cocktail hour tunes:

  • Start with soulful classics: They’re called classics for a reason. You just can’t go wrong with these simple melodies and laid-back crowd favorites, including:

    • The Beatles: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Come Together”—the list of potential Beatles songs goes on and on. Chances are that everyone from your great aunt to your 15-year-old cousin will be humming along.

    • Frank Sinatra: Shuffle in “The Best is Yet to Come,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “My Way,” for some big band fun without the price of the big band.

    • James Brown: The soulful voice of James Brown is perfect for cocktail hour, though you’ll want to reserve some of his greatest hits for later in the evening. “The Boss,” “Night Train,” and “Try Me,” are great cocktail hour teasers that will set you up for an epic rendition of “Get Up Offa That Thing” when the sun goes down.

  • Add in some easy acoustics and ballads: At this point in the evening, your music should provide a simple backdrop for mingling and sipping. Toned down acoustic songs and lyrical ballads are perfect for creating a little ambiance:

    • The Lumineers: Skip the sappy songs and sprinkle in their lighter hits such as “Ho Hey,” “Ophelia,” and “Flowers In Your Hair,” for a laid-back, acoustic vibe.

    • Ed Sheeran: Love him or hate him, Ed knows how to set the mood for die-hard romantics. “Perfect” comes to mind immediately, but there’s also “Thinking Out Loud,” and “Shape of You.”

    • Sam Smith: For a sprinkle of romance, a touch of fun, and the voice of an angel, go ahead and throw some of the UK singer’s hits, such as “Stay with Me,” “Latch,” and “I’m Not the Only One,” onto your cocktail hour list.

  • Sprinkle in upbeat songs: Your cocktail hour playlist still has room for a little personality. Don’t be afraid to add in some of your personal favorites and the occasional upbeat jam for some much-needed variety, such as:

    • Garth Brooks: For a twang of country fun mixed into your classic playlist, Brooks’s “Papa Loved Mama” and “Two Pina Coladas” are fun cocktail hour choices.

    • Sara Evans: Consider adding some Evans flair to your playlist with “Born to Fly” and “Suds in the Bucket.”

    • Tina Turner: Chances are that Turner is already on your reception playlist, but you should consider her for cocktail hour tunes, too. Guests will shimmy and sway to “Stay Awhile” and “(Darlin) You Know I Love You” while preparing for the main event.

Deciding on Your First Dance

If you don’t have an immediate answer to the question, “What’s your song?” then you might have trouble picking a tune for your first dance. There’s no such thing as the “perfect first dance song,” just the one that means something special to you and your future life partner.

If you’re still drawing blanks, sit down with your SO and this checklist to make a decision, once and for all:

  • Draw on shared memories: First dance songs often have emotional significance to the couple swaying along to it. Use this list of questions to take a quick trip down memory lane (and maybe towards your perfect first dance soundtrack):

  • Where was your first date? Can you tie this location to a popular song?

  • When did you meet? What was the top love song that year?
  • What is your favorite shared activity? Is there a song that centers around this?
  • What was the first concert you went to together? Does that band have a song you both love?

  • Surf the streaming platforms for inspiration: If your first dance song has no significance, it should at least be something you both like. Browse Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube playlists to check out shared genres you enjoy or popular first dance tunes. Here are Spotify’s top 20 most streamed songs in first dance-themed playlists for 2020 to use as a starting point:

    • Brad Paisley, “Then”
    • Dan + Shay, “From the Ground Up” and “Speechless”
    • Ed Sheeran, “How Would You Feel (Paean),” “Thinking Out Loud,” and “Perfect”
    • Ellie Goulding, “How Long Will I Love You”
    • Elton John, “Your Song”
    • Etta James, “At Last”
    • Haley Reinhart, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
    • James Arthur, “Say You Won't Let Go”
    • Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give Up”
    • John Legend, “Conversations in the Dark”
    • LANCO, “Greatest Love Story”
    • Lee Brice, “I Don't Dance”
    • Leon Bridges, “Beyond”
    • Michael Buble, “Everything”
    • Ray LaMontagne, “You Are the Best Thing”
    • Russell Dickerson, “Yours - Wedding Edition”
    • Train, “Marry Me”
  • Go old school instead: Most of the above songs are contemporary, or at least contemporary versions of more vintage tunes. If you want to choose a safe, yet sentimental song, you can’t go wrong with the classics. Some top first dance wedding songs from the past century include:

    • Frank Sinatra, “The Way You Look Tonight”
    • Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
    • Frankie Valli, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”
    • Nat King Cole, “L-O-V-E”

Don’t forget to hire a professional wedding videographer to capture this touching moment and so many others. Find qualified photographers and videographers through Zola’s comprehensive database of wedding vendors.

Hammering Out Your Reception Hits

According to Spotify Trends Expert Shannon Cook, anything goes when it comes to your wedding music, meaning that you can mix R&B, jazz, country, rock, and more into one big, louder-than-life playlist.

Chances are that your wedding guests span a wide demographic, from seniors in high school to senior citizens, and beyond. You want your reception playlist—especially the songs you want everyone to be dancing to—to reach a wide audience.

Reception songs should include a healthy variety of songs that make you want to sing, shout, dance, and enjoy a quiet, romantic moment.

Follow this song suggestion checklist to craft the perfect playlist:

  • Start with upbeat music that you enjoy: A reception is supposed to be a celebration, and your playlist should reflect that. The foundation of your wedding soundtrack should be danceable tunes that you and your guests can mutually groove to, and you and your spouse mutually enjoy.

    • Layer in the classics: To appeal to guests of all ages, throw in a few classic hits that even the youngsters know the words to. That includes:

    • ABBA: “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” will appeal to those that were around during ABBA’s heyday, as well as anyone that saw “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again!” in theatres.

    • Jackson Five: “ABC” is a classic that appeals to every demographic.

    • Journey: Is a wedding complete without a chorus of your friends and family singing and dancing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’”?

    • Shania Twain: This Canadian songstress will get the last seated stragglers up with “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”

    • Pepper in some pop music: Add in some of today’s best and most popular music, especially the dance-friendly, upbeat jams, such as:

    • Beyonce: “Single Ladies,” “Crazy in Love,” “Savage,” “Love On Top,” and “Halo” are all guaranteed party-starters.

    • Bruno Mars: Songs such as “Uptown Funk,” “24K Magic,” and, of course, “Marry You” will get people up and grooving in no time.

    • Ariana Grande: “7 Rings,” “Thank U, Next,” and “Positions” are all chart-topping hits with dance-floor-ready melodies.

Don’t forget the wedding must-haves: There’s no pressure to structure your wedding playlist any particular way, but your guests will be expecting some of their all-time reception favorites. That list includes:

  • “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond
  • “Cha Cha Slide,” DJ Casper
  • “Wannabe,” Spice Girls
  • “Livin’ On A Prayer,” Bon Jovi
  • “Hey Ya!,” OutKast
  • “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Whitney Houston
  • “September,” Earth, Wind & Fire
  • “Cupid Shuffle,” Cupid

Zola: Your Home for All Things Wedding

Crossing off everything on your wedding DJ checklist is but one aspect of the overall wedding planning process.

Whether you decide that a professional DJ, live band, or simply a set of quality speakers will play the music for your big day, you’ll want to craft some kind of playlist in advance. From the processional playing as you or your SO walks down the aisle, to the last song you hear as you hop in your getaway car, the music of your wedding day will play in your head for years to come.

At Zola, wedding planning can be a breeze, with hundreds of free wedding website templates to choose from, plus customizable wedding invitations, a registry guide, and a vendor database.

Ready to streamline your wedding planning? Zola’s modern, easy-to-use tools and comprehensive resources will help you cross off every box on your to-do list.

Find Your Wedding Vendors at Zola, All Pre-Screened for You