We have performed at hundreds of events. Some music playlists were highly prescripted for the DJ by the client. Others left all of the musical choices up to the DJ. The most successful events were somewhere between these extremes. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but here are some pros and cons.
Leave the Music Playlist Up to the DJ
This works well if you hire a great DJ who really has thorough musical knowledge, can read a crowd, and create or react to the emotional needs of the moment.
It doesn't work so well if you hire an inexperienced or young DJ who may not thoroughly know all music genres, or a DJ with an ego who is driven to share “their” music and could care less if you or your guests disagree with their musical taste and timing.
Pick All the Music for the DJ
Some DJ sites list every song they have available on their web site, with the idea that you can verify that they have all the music you want, and then you can click all your selections on line. After all, it's your money, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you get to pick the music you want? Yes, but…
Deferring most musical selections away from the DJ negates the very reason why you should hire a professional entertainer. The primary responsibility of a pro DJ is to know all types of music, then play the right tune at precisely the right moment. If all or most specific music decisions are taken away from the DJ, then it would appear far more logical and much cheaper to create your own playlist, plug in your iPod to a sound system, and bypass the DJ fees. Most folks instinctively recognize that this would be a very, very bad idea because iPods can’t react, transition from song to song, or think.
Working with brides who have pre-selected all of their music usually causes unanticipated problems. The primary problem is that often many favorite songs that the bride or groom loves may not be appropriate for dancing or motivating guests out onto the dance floor for an extended time. For example, several years ago an inebriated best man insisted on the DJ playing “Stairway to Heaven.” After doing everything I could think of to avoid playing this tune, the bride finally insisted, “I am paying you a lot of money, so play it to keep him happy.” Ever try to dance to “Stairway?” Naturally, this cleared the dance floor–permanently. The best man was happy, but virtually everyone else headed straight for the parking lot.
So, what is our best advice? First, hire an experienced professional DJ. You should be able to request six to twelve songs that have special meaning for you, but beyond that, you should trust the DJ to make the specific musical decisions. However, you should feel free to request genres of music that you think your guests will like. Rock, Country, Hip Hop, Oldies, whatever. You should feel free to submit a “Do Not Play” list of music you simply can’t stand. Just keep in mind that you should make your requests with not only you but the majority of your guests in mind. Unless dancing is unimportant for your event, at some point remember that the DJ will have to play music that will keep your guests on the dance floor for hours.
Recently, I worked for a bride who requested classical music and a groom who loved Country. Relying on years of musical knowledge, during the dance set I played Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance For The Rest of My Life” and transitioned into a Strauss Waltz. Both the bride and groom were happy, as were most of the guests who filled the dance floor. I have yet to meet an iPod that can do that.