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Must Play List Misfortune

I have A LOT of conversations with potential clients.  These discussions can get pretty deep when talking about must play lists, getting people dancing, etc.  Here’s one that comes up very frequently…


A couple calls to see if we might be the right service for their wedding. The bride says that she recently saw a DJ (NOT OUR COMPANY) at a wedding who seemed to play songs, with no rhyme or reason to it.  A great song would pack the dance floor, and the next song would make guests instantly leave it.  Because the couple wants to make sure this doesn’t happen at their wedding, their idea is to create a very specific must-play list for the dancing portion of the reception, to protect them from “having a bad dj.”

IMPORTANT TO NOTE:  They want to choose EVERY SINGLE ONE of the dancing songs.  I am not talking about a normal-sized must-play list here.

Why this isn’t necessarily such a good idea:

I’m the first one to say that we’ll honor your must-plays, as well as your do-not-plays.  And we really, truly will.  No matter what. 

The problem with the scenario above is that the couple is most likely creating exactly what they want to avoid. With a long must-play list, you are trying to predict what will work for your wedding, and there is a chance you could be wrong … or just not aware of options that could work better.

Unless the DJ had a really tricky crowd, or really was a bad DJ (both do exist), there is a great chance that the DJ at that wedding had been working with a strict must-play list from the couple.  A “must-play” means we play it NO MATTER WHAT.  But with a lengthy must-play list that takes up every minute of a reception, the DJ has lost all control to adjust the music to the crowd.

Well, great wedding DJs take note when a particular room of people love a song, and adjust to play other songs that go with it to keep people dancing. But what if those songs are not on your must play list, and you have given a HUGE list of must-plays? Now your DJ uses your list to find the next best thing, if it exists.  THIS is what often makes it seem like there is no rhyme or reason to what a wedding DJ plays.  If a couple has taken away the DJ’s best ‘tools’ – flexibility, ability to read the room, and a lot of his best proven dance mixes.  The ability to bridge the gap between different genres is gone.

With no prior experience DJ’ing weddings, and no ability to read your crowd and respond to what they are saying or responding to, your extra long “must-play list” is basically you attempting to DJ your own wedding. On paper. Before the party.

Imagine if we could walk into weddings every single weekend with only 50 dance songs that were sure to work (average based on a 6 hour wedding). 

Well, first of all, there would be no difference between good DJs and bad.  And people wouldn’t aspire to become DJs, because it wouldn’t be challenging or fun.  When in fact, it is one of the most challenging and exciting jobs you could have.  Part of the thrill of being a DJ, is knowing that you were directly responsible for giving people one of the best parties of their lives, and packing dance floors.

When you’re a wedding DJ, you have a different crowd every weekend.  You really do “read the crowd”.  And believe it or not, a good DJ doesn’t play the same stuff at every wedding.  Of course, a lot of the classic hits that are sure to make people dance are played. Because they work.

But it’s the filler stuff that makes the difference.

The stuff that a DJ plays as a result of a good conversation with the couple, because they understand what they want for their wedding.

The stuff a DJ plays to support a smaller must-play list, because they know other songs that mix well with it.

The stuff a DJ plays that they haven’t played in awhile, but your experience tells them it will work because “the crowd just loved the song played a minute ago.”

The stuff a DJ knows to play because it gets the guests absolutely PUMPED for one of the must-play songs.

The stuff a DJ pulls out of nowhere because they’re so damn good at their job and do it so often, and have a tool box that other DJs that don’t. 

And the stuff that has people saying, “WOW!  You are an amazing DJ.  You’re the best DJ I’ve ever seen at a wedding”!

A great wedding DJ will have such a thorough conversation with you to know what you want … that there’s no way they’ll play the songs you don’t want (for those that worry about the cheesy stuff).

The moral of the story:  Hire a DJ who has the right experience, cares enough to find out what you like, has a proven and verifiable track record of getting people dancing AND provide them with the flexibility to read your crowd.  This will ensure that your wedding is what you’re afraid it won’t be.

And sometimes a crowd really is so tricky, that your DJ needs the extra stuff that an extensive must-play list takes away.

With all of this said, some couples care more about listening to their own soundtrack than getting people dancing. 

If that’s the case, it’s an entirely different conversation. 

We don’t insert our expectations into your night. 

If you want to hear your favorite songs regardless of the results, we respect that.

Before I get the backlash of people saying that they picked all of their own music and it worked … I’ll admit, we’ve had some weddings where the couple picked all of their own dance songs, and it freaked us out, AND it worked!  There’s a chance it may have sounded more fluid if we had access to songs we thought would mix better, but it worked!

Yet we have had MANY MORE weddings where a couple walked up to us and said, “just do whatever”, after the must-play list was failing.  Or, receptions that we didn’t feel were as good as they could have been, had we had access to all of our tools and favorite mixes.  In those cases, we had to RESCUE the party, or never had the opportunity to do so. 

As with anything else in life, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.  What an extensive must-play list is essentially doing is gambling with your dancing.  And from what we’ve seen after servicing thousands of weddings, the odds AREN’T necessarily in your favor.

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