Bringin’ the funk
So, I was incredibly honored when my sister asked me to select the music for her and her husband’s wedding reception. Not only was I happy to play such a pivotal role in their special day, but I was eager for the opportunity to create a new playlist.
Suffice it to say that I took this thing pretty seriously — some would probably say too seriously. Nevertheless, I dug in to what it would take to really make this playlist great in every aspect. This is my process of analyzing, compiling, and creating it from scratch.
Client: 20-something couple getting married
Objective: Develop the perfect playlist to celebrate the marriage with a magic evening of dancing, singing, and carrying on.
Ebbs and flows
Before I could go out and start picking songs, I first looked at how I should structure my playlist. What is the ratio of fast to slow dance songs? How should the music progress?
Dance floors are an interesting beast. Your first impression may be to just play smash hit after smash hit and get people up and moving. But, great music sets rely on fluctuations in tempo and energy to maximize participation. No one (unless they just popped some ecstasy) goes out and dances non-stop for three hours.
“Ideally, you want people to groove to your music for as long as possible, but you don’t want to wear them out. Along those lines, we like to think of rhythm as a landscape with peaks and valleys. At the peaks, you’re telling your audience when to get excited; at the valleys, you’re giving them a chance to breathe.”
The music needs to rise and fall; not only to mix fast and slow songs, but to create natural times for people to rest, use the bathroom, grab a drink, etc. As with all things, this moderation also intensifies the high points and helps people recoup some energy for when “their song” hits.
I used different genres and eras of songs to let the energy build before coming back down with slow songs. The idea is that with faster songs, people will likely dance for about 20-30 minutes before needing to take a break. That’s 4-5 songs of build up before going into a slower song for the break.
My pattern looks like this (don’t mind the weird line shape, Google’s charts aren’t as smooth as I’d like):
Hitting the apex
In addition, I know that at a wedding reception, people will be coming and going. Some may arrive late. Others may leave early. People may not be ready to dance right away (give ‘em a few cocktails).
To capitalize on this, I also built in a steady progression over the course of the entire night. The playlist is meant to build toward an ultimate high point near the middle of the set, and then gradually come back down as the night comes to a close.
With the 4-5 song sets arranged on top of the overall progression, I get a set list that looks something like this (again, ugly smoothing):
The golden ratio
Bey’ to Bright Eyes
The genres here were pretty simple. I knew that I wanted to appeal to the widest audience possible. Since my sister and her husband are both fans of mostly popular music, I wanted to stay pretty well mainstream with my selections.
Now, I did want to throw in different style of popular music, though. So, I hit each of the major genres. Including — begrudgingly — country, per the bride’s request.
Booty shakin’ vs Love makin’
Despite being a wedding, not all of the tracks on the list can be love songs. After all, you need a few club hits sprinkled in to get the place up and dancing around. But, it certainly seems that a large chunk should be at least some form of love song, even if it’s also a dance track.
To balance this, I decided that I would shoot for a 33%/33%/33% split, with a third of tracks being love songs, a third being fast dance tracks, and a third fitting into both categories. This means that overall, the playlist will be composed of about 66% love tracks (both fast and slow), but still a decent number of just-shake-your-thing kinda tunes.
One of the most difficult components of this project was scoping out the eras of music that should be included and striking the right balance between “classic” tracks and newer music.
Most people follow popular music until they’re approximately 30 years old before their knowledge and interest in new music tends to decline.
Each generation is likely to have been exposed to much of the music from their parents’ formative years and other songs that are now considered “classics”. Because of this, each generation would have an increasing knowledge of popular music going backward toward the beginning of the modern music era. (This is illustrated by the fact that millennials are probably not as familiar with 1980′s music as they are with many of the well-known 1960′s tracks.
I gave some bonus points to the 1990′s-2010′s as the bride (my sister) specifically requested that we include songs from these years.
All this f*cking work and I haven’t even picked out a single track? Heh. Yeah.
But, now I have a framework for not only what kinds, genres, and eras of tracks to look for, but also how to order them:
At this point, it becomes a lot less science and a lot more art.
Choosing the actual tracks is inherently a subjective exercise. You may loathe “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis, but I tend to like it. If you are one of those people (cough, haters, cough), then there are plenty of other songs that would meet the criteria for this slot on the playlist you could use. Maybe a little “The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel is more your style. And it checks a lot of the same boxes (1990′s anthem, karaoke-friendly chorus, non-love song, droning and building style, and pretty repetitive.)
Since I’ve laid out such definitive metrics for the playlist and slotted in my tracks based on the above criteria, analyzing my actual list is pretty straight forward. I created a grid to keep track of tracks as I added them and recorded properties for each one.
With a few tweaks (and last-minute requests), I was able to get the playlist into almost perfect sync with my earlier analysis of what the playlist should look like. Here’s how my final list shakes out in terms of the data:
All of this analysis and planning comes down to a final playlist. I created the playlist on Spotify so I could share it (and I’ve already had a few people find it and subscribe.)
How’d I do? Check it out below.
The Perfect Wedding Playlist by Tyler Hakes (Click to open/subscribe)
Note: Before I get a bunch of hate mail, I realize that this won’t be the perfect playlist for every wedding. Obviously, if you’re into certain styles and genres of music, this may not be right for you. But, I created it to appeal to the broadest possible audience, focusing on well-known songs, hits, and classics.
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