Choosing your wedding music: The ceremony

This week's installment of choosing your wedding music is a long one! And so it should be, because we're focussing on the most important part of the wedding: the ceremony.

The Ceremony Header

Ceremony music can be the most difficult part of your wedding soundtrack to plan. You will have your guests' full attention as they eagerly await the arrival of the bridal party and following formalities, so your musical choices will take centre stage (until the bridal party arrive of course). If you're stuck or overwhelmed we hope our guide will help make your planning a little easier.


How much music?

The first thing to decide is how much music you want. You don't need to fill your ceremony with music, and often less is more, letting your choices stand out and be fully appreciated by your wedding guests. If you're huge music lovers and want to go crazy with a ceremony soundtrack go ahead, with our blessing, but if you're feeling a little overwhelmed you're better off concentrating on one or two key moments in your ceremony.

The following are the most common sections of the ceremony to include music:

Pre-ceremony music

It's often nice to have some background music while your guests are waiting for the bridal party to arrive, and it can help keep them entertained during any delays. You'll want something light and unobtrusive as your guests greet each other and chat. A professional band will know what to play to set the right mood, and if you're making a playlist yourself light jazz, classical recordings, acoustic songs and slow to mid-tempo pop songs are good choices. Keep the music in the background and save the party tunes for your reception.

When the bridal party are ready to enter you'll need someone to pass on the message to the band or person controlling the recorded music, perhaps one of your ushers. Fading out recorded music or waiting until the end of a song to press stop is nicer than an abrupt end in the middle of a song, but sometimes it's not possible. Your band will find an appropriate spot to end their music once they're given the signal to stop playing. The following silence is usually all you need to tell your guests the bridal party are ready to enter.

Processional (entrance of the bridal party)

There are a lot of rules and traditions dictating the order in which everyone enters the chapel or ceremony venue. You might be following all or none of these, but most couples choose to accompany the processional with some music, either just the bride's entrance or the entrance of the full bridal party.

Song choice

Song choice is entirely up to you, but there's nothing wrong with sticking to the traditional Pachebel's Canon in D or Wagner's Bridal Chorus. They're both beautiful pieces of music, and classics for a reason. If you're opting for something far less traditional the best advice is to find a song you like that expresses something positive. That last one is important, as many seemingly romantic songs are actually about breakups or unrequited love. By all means play your favourite song from whatever genre that might be, but listen to the lyrics all the way through to the end before you make your final decision.

For a song choice that sits somewhere between the timelessly traditional and super modern look to the back catalogue of jazz singers like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. The composers of Tin Pan Alley wrote hundreds of beautiful tunes in the 30s and 40s that are just as meaningful today as they were 75 years ago, and when performed by a modern jazz singer they don't sound fusty or dated. I bet you didn't know that At Last was a sentimental ballad written in 1942, almost 20 years before Etta James made her famous R&B recording in 1961.

If you still have no idea what song you want for your processional ask your band - they'll have plenty of great suggestions from their song list. If you've hired a jazz or classical band but don't regularly listen to that kind of music you might not know most of the songs on their list, so they will help you find something that fits your ideas for this part of your ceremony.

Length of music

Once you've chosen a song to accompany the processional you will need to estimate approximately how long it will take for everyone to enter, which can be a good three minutes for the full bridal party in a large church or a very short fifteen seconds for only the bride and her escort in a small room. Ideally the music will play for 10 - 15 seconds before the bridal party enters, and then end fairly soon after the last person to enter has reached their destination.

Getting the perfect timing for recorded music is tricky. The time it takes for everyone to walk down the aisle is often much shorter than anticipated, and as most pop recordings are three and a half minutes long you can end up with a good two to three minutes of everyone waiting for the track to end before the official business can start. You might not mind this, but if you do try and arrange someone to fade the track out when everyone has entered.

If you have a good idea how long the processional is going to take you can create a shortened version of the track ahead of time that fades out part way through. A music savvy friend should be able to help you with this, or you can have a go yourself using free software like Audacity.

Live music timings are easier to get right, provided the band can see what's going on (sometimes we can't! Our director Erica was once stuck sitting right at the back of a large standing crowd in a loungeroom wedding, and the bride was very short so it was impossible to see when she'd reached the celebrant). Let you band know in advance the estimated length of the processional so they can work out an arrangement of your chosen song. They will end their music at an appropriate spot once everyone has entered, usually at the end of a section unless you've organised with them to keep playing the whole song. If the band are in a weird spot or facing away from the altar arrange for someone to give them a signal when the processional is over.

Register signing

The signing of the register is another popular moment in the ceremony for music. It takes a few minutes, so a song can keep the guests entertained and provide a nice conclusion to the official business. Something upbeat is always a good option, as it reflects the excitement and happiness everyone will be feeling at this point in the ceremony, and marks the transition from ceremony to reception. You don't want to be bringing down the mood with a romantic dirge when everyone's just getting ready to party.

As with processional music, if you're stuck for song ideas ask your band.

Recessional (exit of the bridal party)

Like the processional you might be following some traditions that dictate the order in which the bridal party leave the chapel. This is another opportunity for music but it's not in the spotlight like the processional or register signing music. Everyone's busy congratulating the happy couple, so you probably don't have to stress as much over this song choice. Keeping with the upbeat vibe of the register signing is a good rule of thumb, but not something too over the top as most guests will want to greet and congratulate the bridal party as they leave the chapel.


Live or recorded music

If you haven't read our First dance: Live or recording? post yet most of what we talk about in that one is also relevant to your ceremony music.

Live music

If you've hired a band for your reception you might want them to play at your ceremony too. Some bands include this in their service, some don't, so check with them when you make the booking. At Bright Young Music we offer our ceremony packages separately to our reception packages. We have both add-on and standalone ceremony music offerings, which allows us to be booked for both the reception and ceremony, just the ceremony, or for different bands to be booked for the ceremony and the reception.

There are factors that can influence the cost and success of using a live band for your ceremony:

Reception and ceremony in different venues or rooms

If your ceremony is in a different room (or entirely different venue) to the reception and you're using the same band for both they will have to travel and set up their equipment twice, which could effect the cost of the booking. Think about requesting a smaller subset of the reception ensemble, a vocalist and guitarist for example, to help keep your music costs down.

Outdoor ceremonies

Power access, sound projection and bad weather are the most common issues faced when organising music for outdoor ceremonies.

Most pop, rock or jazz bands will require power, and while your band may offer to play acoustically the wrong weather conditions can effect how far sound will travel in an open space. Unless your ceremony is very intimate your guests up the back might find they can't hear the music at all. Classically trained vocalists or string quartets are a better choice for acoustic music outdoors as they have better projection.

Also consider the weather forecast, and make sure your band has adequate protection from both sun and potential rain. If the band have any powered equipment they probably won't set up to play if there's a possibility of rain and they don't think the available shelter will protect themselves and their equipment from getting wet. Ideally there should be a marquee with three walls, as overhead protection from an umbrella or canopy is not enough to keep rain from blowing onto equipment.

You should provide your band with shade even if they are only playing one song. They will be set up in their spot for at least fifteen minutes before they actually have to play, and even if they can wait somewhere shady until the moment they need to perform they won't want to leave their equipment in the direct sun for longer than a few minutes.

Suitability of music for the band

You should also consider the suitability of your chosen music for the band. Check our First dance: live or recording? post for help on this point.

Give the band time

You should give your band at least a month to learn any special music requests. If you leave it to the last few weeks they might not have time to learn the music, or the performance might not be as polished as you'd like.

Recorded music

Amplification

If you're going with recorded music you'll need a way of amplifying it. These days recorded music is usually played from an iPod, tablet or phone, but CDs are also an option. Check with your celebrant or venue if they have a PA system you can use and whether it takes an iPod or CD. If not, an old school boom box or one of those portable mp3 speakers might do the job, although the smaller ones probably won't be loud enough for an outdoor ceremony or a big room.

Find someone to press play

Arrange for someone to control the music, either your celebrant, venue manager or a trusted friend. If using an iPod or other device make sure they know exactly where the songs are and remove any pin locks. If it's a CD give them a list of the track numbers of each song and where they should be played during the ceremony.

Put phones and tablets into airplane mode

If you're using a phone or tablet that has network access put it into airplane mode so that there aren't any calls or notifications interrupting the music at a crucial moment.

We've also been caught out with calendar notifications (eg "My wedding day!") beeping while using a phone in airplane mode for background music, so you'll also need to turn off any notifications and alarms.

Don't forget the music on the day!

As we suggested for your first dance music, add bringing the iPod or CD to your wedding day checklist, and check the morning of your wedding that the iPod is charged and the songs are actually on there. It's also a great idea to email copies of the important songs to yourself as a backup, as you can download them onto your phone and play them from there if you forget the iPod.


Phew, good on you for making it to the end. We hope you're a little more confident about making your ceremony music choices after reading.

We know we've only scratched the surface of the topic, so stay tuned for more posts in the series that delve into more detail. In the meantime feel free to contact us to chat about our own ceremony music offerings.