Recently, I was called on to perform a service like no other. DJing a friend’s wedding. Going from a few ideas to five hours of music designed for people to drink, dance, and reminisce to is a big job, and I only get one shot. Nobody plans on having more than one wedding.
So here I go making a five hour mixtape for some of my favourite people.
Recognizing that part of this gig is taking work off the bride and groom’s plate, I polled them for ideas and preferences. Keep things dancey, but lean toward more traditional music rather than techno or EDM. Not into hip-hop or R&B, look for wedding classics that go as far back as the 50’s.
As a person who likes systems, I think about pace as an optimization problem. There need to be slow, medium, and fast songs. Too many fast songs will tire people out, and too many slow songs will bore people a bit. The night will go on, and energy will change, so front load quicker things, but maintain a set of ratios. The pattern can’t be too strict though, or it becomes predictable, and takes the whole notion out of a mix.
It’s a complicated thing. With a set of live music or comedy, I’d have time to experiment and adjust, to tune it a bit audience by audience. But a wedding is a one time event with a unique set of people. The music needs to motivate them onto the dancefloor and help them have a good time, but also fade into the background.
There is a habit, when doing anything to assume that everyone listening to a thing is like you. Even if they aren’t the same, they have the same sensibilities. But weddings bring together people of all eras and affiliation, so the first things to get cut were the more lascivious numbers. Apologies to Carsie Blanton.
There’s a lesson there in knowing your audience, though. The things that get my feet moving aren’t the same for everyone. There’s also that sense of sparing people long conversations with that one aunt about how Honey, I’m Good is still about sinning. As ever, family events are about compromise.
The most important thing I keep remembering is that this isn’t my list. This isn’t a mix I’m putting together that I’m going to change thirty times, and it doesn’t need to cater to my preferences and idiosyncrasies. But it’s also not entirely for the audience, either. if it was, every wedding list would be five hours of YMCA. It’s not a list designed to introduce people to new music styles, but to ensure that they have music they love to eat, drink, and celebrate to.
It’s more than that too. It’s a love letter to the bride and groom. It’s a one time offer to make a thing that lasts forever. That in a year or two, or ten, they’ll put it on and remember a night when the people they care about came together to celebrate their commitment to each other.