For all of you couples who are considering DJing your own wedding, this post is for you! Our friends at Uptown Down Entertainment are sharing their best advice for putting together the perfect wedding reception playlist to keep your dance floor rocking all night long. They even included their EXACT playlist that you can easily copy for your big day! Talk about amazing. Hope you love this post as much as we did! xoxo Jessica
There’s a quote folks in the DJ industry use all the time.
“Everyone thinks they can DJ!”
And it’s true! Most people look at the act of DJ’ing and believe it’s really not that hard, especially when you’re talking mobile DJs that perform the corporate events and weddings.
Truth be told, the actual technical act of ‘disc jockeying’ is NOT very hard, especially if they’re not doing things like beat-matching or song-mixing while they blend songs. If DJs aren’t doing that, then no- the act of DJ’ing at that point is not much more then using a computer or some turntables to switch between songs.
However, that’s NOT what we pay DJs to do. Yes, anyone can switch songs back and forth, just like technically ANYONE can take pictures or even bake a cake. But the real value of a DJ comes from a few other areas, just like those other jobs mentioned above.
The Value of Hiring a Professional DJ
You pay a photographer not to ‘press a button on a camera’, but to capture little moments in the best light and exposure. You pay a baker not to mix some batter from Kroger and put it in the oven but to craft a great-tasting, custom-decorated cake. The same goes for a DJ. You’re not paying them to ‘play songs on an iPod’, but rather to:
- Emcee and lead an event, acting almost like a second coordinator
- Set up a quality sound system, make it sound good, and use it to create a buzz and contagious energy in a room to make sure you and your guests have a great time and dance all night long
- Put together a song list that will create peaks and valleys during an event and keep the dance floor full
So while it’s true that anyone can perform the general ‘action’ of DJ’ing, being able to lead a party and not just randomly pick songs and hope for the best is something that takes experience, trial-and-error, and experimentation. All of which your college buddy Schwarz with the ‘fire mixtapes’ probably doesn’t have!
THE PURPOSE OF THIS REPORT
While the first two steps are out of the scope of this report, we ARE going to go over how to put together a playlist that will keep the interest of your guests, and keep a dance floor packed.
After we go over the quick psychology/methods of putting together a great wedding reception playlist, I’ll give you a list of songs for a 4-hour reception that will keep a crowd into it, as well as a few ‘Secret Sauce’ songs that are guaranteed to bring a withering dance floor back from the dead.
BUILDING THE PERFECT PLAYLIST IS AN ART
Putting together a DJ playlist for a wedding or special event is an art. It really is.
Think about it: as a DJ, you’re tasked with putting together a list of 120-150 songs (about 60-90 seconds of playtime each) that will appeal to your whole audience and one that ensures they’ll be interested enough in them to dance. It’s kind of a daunting task!
You’ll also be dealing with people coming up all night making requests, some which will DEFINITELY kill your dance floor.
A Real Wedding Example
I performed at a wedding once where this girl, probably in her mid-20s, kept coming up and asking if I could play this random slow hip-hop song. At first, I politely told her, “I’ll try and squeeze it in later!”, knowing full well I was not going to play it because it would totally kill the vibe and I’d lose the crowd. But then she came up again and asked. Then again. Then AGAIN. Finally, I told her I wasn’t going to be able to play the song because it wouldn’t go over well, and it’s so hard to get a dance floor back once you lose it.
5 minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder- it was the girl’s father. Yes, a mid-20s woman had tattle-taled on me to her dad that I wouldn’t play her song, so the father decided “he’d see about that!”. At this point, I said, “All right, whatever!”, played the song, and (as expected) the dance floor no more.
What’s my point?
I use that story to get across the fact that putting together a playlist is more than just picking your favorite songs- that will almost never work, even if your taste is ‘great’. People don’t want to discover and be exposed to new, cool music on a dance floor- they want to dance and sing along to songs they know. All generations too, not just young bucks! Grandma wants to get down too.
So with that in mind, and before we drop you the list of songs, here are 6 pointers to keep in mind when putting together a wedding reception playlist:
6 POINTERS FOR PUTTING TOGETHER THE PERFECT PLAYLIST
1. PLAY THE HITS
No matter how you slice it, there are certain songs people just want to hear. Play the hits!
That’s the reason people hear the same songs over and over again at weddings and corporate events- it’s because they work! They accomplish the task of packing out the dance floor and keeping it there. Songs like Billie Jean and Shout or Yeah! by Usher.
People aren’t interested in you playing your curated list of ‘Top 30 indie songs of the last 10 years on independent labels’. They don’t want to hear your exclusive recording of an acoustic Shins song. They want Motown, Top 40, 90’s pop, etc.
2. KEEP IT 90% FAST SONGS, 10% SLOW SONGS
A good wedding reception playlist will have high moments and low moments- fast songs and slow songs. Times for people to dance close, times for people to slow dance, and even times for people to go get a drink so they can enjoy the dance floor even more.
If I had to give you a ratio, I would advise playing about 90% upbeat/dance songs against 10% slow jams. Or maybe every 10-12 songs, throw in a slower one. People want them… just not as much as the fast ones!
So structure your playlist to have a lot of highs and upbeat tunes, but then add in some slow ones too to keep a flow going.
3. PLAY THE TOP 5 POP SONGS ON THE RADIO THAT MONTH
Find out the top 5 pop songs of that month and play those, especially if they’re faster songs. Just look at the Billboard Hot 100 charts or listen to the radio for a few hours and you’ll know exactly which ones to hit.
These songs will be fresh and new, but also familiar enough for people to sing and dance to.
4. DON’T LEAVE ANY SILENCE BETWEEN SONGS
When you’re DJ’ing, even 2-3 seconds of silence between songs can make a room feel SUPER weird and crush the momentum.
When you’re DJ’ing, you want to fluidly and seamlessly flip between songs so that there’s no silence or anything like that. This is the more ‘active’ part of DJ’ing, and one reason you can’t really “set it and forget it”.
Silences are a little more acceptable for things like background dinner music or a cocktail hour, but you don’t want to have ANY during the main dance time!
5. DOWNLOAD THE SONGS BEFORE YOU GET TO THE VENUE
With the decline of CDs and the advent of streaming, building a song database has gotten tricky.
On one hand, DJs have access to pretty much every song in the world. The downside of that is that we only have access to the songs if we have access to the internet, right?
What happens if you set up a Spotify playlist and head to your event venue, only to find out it’s in the middle of the woods in Nowheresville? You switch on your phone and BOOM- one bar of service. Trust me, it’s a huge bummer to have your music cut off mid-song so your weak signal can ‘buffer’. It’s even more of a bummer if it happens every 30 seconds.
ONE IMPORTANT TIP:
Before you leave for your venue, make sure you make your wedding reception playlist available ‘Offline’ if you’re using a streaming service to DJ. What this will do is save a copy of the songs to your phone or computer, which you can delete later if you need to. This step alone will save you some heartache!
6. ONLY PLAY A SONG FOR ABOUT 90-120 SECONDS
People usually don’t care to hear a whole song. The variety and unpredictability of a DJ playlist is part of the fun! Usually keeping the songs around 90-120 seconds is a good mark.
However (and this is again where experience comes in), some songs DO benefit from being played all the way through. Think songs with classic bridges or last choruses. Songs like Don’t Stop Believin’ or I Want It That Way.
So stick to a minute and a half to two minutes to per song unless there’s a signature part of the song after that mark.
So we’ve gone over some psychology of putting together a great music selection and the psychology behind it. Now let’s put one together!
The following wedding reception playlist should be good for about 4 hours of play time. The order is not really important- just make sure you’re keeping it mostly fast songs and then adding in a few slow ones here and there.
This playlist also works for a lot of generations- younger kids, teenagers, college age, adults, and older people. Old folks don’t mind dancing to the Backstreet Boys as long as everyone else is out there doing it too! It’s about the atmosphere, the fun environment. People want to feel connected and dance and sing along; it doesn’t matter who it is as long as everyone’s doing it!
Below are some hour-by-hour playlists that you can use to setup your DJ playlist for the evening. Keep in mind, these are always changing (especially the newer stuff), but a lot of these are old standby classics that are evergreen.
THE PERFECT WEDDING RECEPTION PLAYLIST
This is the exact playlist we use to DJ our weddings and events!
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- Yeah! (feat. Lil Jon & Ludacris) – Usher
- Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd
- Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
- Firework – Katy Perry
- Get Lucky – Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers
- Happy – Pharrell Williams
- I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston
- I Want You Back – The Jackson 5
- No Diggity – Blackstreet, Dr. Dre, Queen Pen
- Shout, Pts. 1 & 2 – The Isley Brothers
- Shut Up and Dance – WALK THE MOON
- Sugar – Maroon 5
- Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars
- I Gotta Feeling – The Black Eyed Peas
- Love Shack – The B-52’s
- Low (feat T-Pain) – Flo Rida T-Pain
- Get Down Tonight – KC & The Sunshine Band
- Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield
- Brick House – Commodores
- TiK ToK – Kesha
- Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees
- Sexy And I Know It – LMFAO
- Hey Ya! – OutKast
- Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
- Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-A-Lot
- Thriller – Michael Jackson
- Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera, Mac Miller
- We Are Family – Sister Sledge
- Stronger – Kanye West
- Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke T.I. Pharrell Williams
- Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It – Will Smith
- Timber – Pitbull Kesha
- Party In The U.S.A. – Miley Cyrus
- Just Dance – Lady Gaga
- Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO
- U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer
- Lips Are Movin – Meghan Trainor
- Want to Want Me – Jason Derulo
- Bang Bang – Jessie J Ariana Grande Nicki Minaj
- Ignition (Remix) – R. Kelly
- Can’t Stop the Feelin’ – Justin Timberlake
- Wobble – V.I.C.
- Cupid Shuffle – Cupid
- Cha Cha Slide – Mr. C
- Electric Slide – Electric Slide Music Makers
- All Star – Smash Mouth
- 24K Magic – Bruno Mars
- Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers Coldplay
- Shape of You – Ed Sheeran
- I Don’t Wanna Live Forever – ZAYN Taylor Swift
- Closing Time – Semisonic
- Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) – The Offspring
- Kryptonite – 3 Doors Down
- What’s My Age Again? – blink-182
- Summer Girls – LFO
- Thong Song – Sisqo
- Tubthumping – Chumbawamba
- Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice
- Wannabe – Spice Girls
- …Baby One More Time – Britney Spears
- Livin’ La Vida Loca – Ricky Martin
- Tearin’ up My Heart – *NSYNC
- I Want You Back – *NSYNC
- Bye Bye Bye – *NSYNC
- It’s Gonna Be Me – *NSYNC
- Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) – Backstreet Boys
- I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys
- Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) – Beyoncé
- Dynamite – Taio Cruz
- Footloose – Kenny Loggins
- Dancing Queen – ABBA
- Wild Ones (feat. Sia) – Flo Rida Sia
- Gangnam Style – PSY
- Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida ft David Guetta
- Boom Boom Pow – The Black Eyed Peas
- Let’s Get It Started – Spike Mix – The Black Eyed Peas
- Beat It – Single Version – Michael Jackson
- Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
- Forget You – CeeLo Green
- ABC – The Jackson 5
- Locked Out Of Heaven – Bruno Mars
- Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye
- Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi
- Respect – Aretha Franklin
- We Are Family – Sister Sledge
- September – Earth, Wind & Fire
- You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
- Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae) – Silentó
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
- Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex
- Umbrella – Rihanna JAY Z
- Fergalicious – Fergie will.i.am
- SexyBack – Justin Timberlake Timbaland
- SOS – Rihanna
- My Humps – The Black Eyed Peas
- Hollaback Girl – Gwen Stefani
- We Belong Together – Mariah Carey
- Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
- Oops!…I Did It Again – Britney Spears
- Super Bass – Nicki Minaj
- We R Who We R – Kesha
- Only Girl (In The World) – Rihanna
- DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love – Usher Pitbull
- Like A G6 – Far East Movement The Cataracs DEV
- I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) – Pitbull
- Hot N Cold – Katy Perry
- California Gurls – Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg
- Teach Me How to Dougie – Cali Swag District
- Trap Queen – Fetty Wap
- Cake By The Ocean – DNCE
- Love Yourself – Justin Bieber
- One, Two Step – Ciara Missy Elliott
- Drop It Like It’s Hot – Snoop Dogg Pharrell Williams
- All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor
- The Hills – The Weeknd
- On My Mind – Ellie Goulding
- Paris – The Chainsmokers
- Fancy – Iggy Azalea Charli XCX
If all else fails and you just can’t get people on the dance floor, these following songs are your fail-safe, life support songs. Your secret sauce songs. They’ll save your party- just turn ‘em on, and let the song take care of the rest. Only use these in emergency situations- don’t waste them!
- The Wobble – V.I.C.
- Cha-Cha Slide – Mr. C The Slide Man
- I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys
- Baby’s Got Back – Sir Mix-a-Lot
- I Gotta Feelin’ – Black Eyed Peas
So there you have it- a little psychology about picking a playlist for a DJ event, as well as some great playlists that you won’t have to think about. All those songs are vetted and give great results (speaking from personal experience)!
If you’d like to know more about DJ’ing your own wedding or even hiring a DJ to perform for you and your guests, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to help and answer any questions you have!
Thank you and happy DJ’ing!
Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more pandemic wedding resources here.