Great tunes — or musical misfires — can make a wedding unforgettable. We asked local industry experts how to ensure your wedding begins and ends on a high note.

Don’t (necessarily) stand on ceremony

When it comes to ceremonies, music can set the stage for magical moments. Depending on the couple, that might mean a string trio and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” or a DJ playing the “Star Wars” theme. Anything goes these days — it just needs to be done well.

According to Chris Jones, manager of popular wedding venue Felicity Church, most couples choose a string-based trio or quartet for the processional and interlude music, with many adding a brass band to second line guests out of the ceremony space. That said, Jones has also seen plenty of exceptions to the classical standard, like instrumental renditions of Imagine Dragons hits, or brides walking down the aisle to the “Jurassic Park” theme. 

Jones advises couples to consider their budget. If ceremony music isn’t a high priority, that money might be directed elsewhere. But if you’re like the bride Jones recalls who always dreamed of having a harp play her down the aisle, it may be worth the expense. 

A warm reception

Every couple has a different vision for their reception, ranging from a laid-back instrumental vibe to a nightclub-worthy dance party. It’s important to first set the stage with the right marriage of venue and entertainment, whether a band, DJ, or “hybrid DJ” that combines elements of each. 

“A lot of times people don’t take into consideration their venue,” says Susan Zackin, owner of Z Event Company. “They immediately just think, ‘I want a 12-piece band.’ If music is one of the most important things to you, you need to build around that.” 

That means first finding a venue with good acoustics and ample space for the band and dance floor. 

“If you hire a great band and stick them in a little room, they’re blowing everyone’s ears out and they sound terrible,” says Zackin.

Couples should also consider power and noise ordinances, particularly in historic venues where a thumping bass can disturb the plaster — and the neighbors. 

When hiring a band, make sure they can play the music you want. Some couples opt for a DJ because they think bands can’t play contemporary hits, but the city’s top wedding bands can execute everything from hip hop to Frank Sinatra with style.

“Most of my clients want a variety of stuff,” says Michael Taylor, owner of wedding band The Phunky Monkeys. “You have Grandma who wants Motown, Mom and Dad who want ‘70s and ‘80s, and kids who want young stuff. And the band should do it well. Don’t say you can do ‘Uptown Funk’ and play it like a rock band or ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and sound like an R&B band.”

Couples might hire a band they have seen perform previously to minimize surprises. That said, a wedding’s uniquely demanding logistics, timelines and etiquette mean that the cool band you saw at a bar might not be right for your reception. The ideal band will also try to work with your tastes. For The Phunky Monkeys, that often means learning several new songs for an event. 

“We want to make sure we do what’s important for you,” says Taylor.

A DJ might appeal to couples who prefer songs performed by the original artist and can be a good bet if budget or space doesn’t allow for a band. As with any vendor, be clear about your preferences and make sure they fall within the DJ’s musical comfort zone. 

“If you want nothing but a country DJ, I wouldn’t hire someone who just plays hip hop and techno,” says Donovan Calfee, main DJ of Calfee Productions and On Fire Entertainment.

Calfee cautions against being overly prescriptive with the song playlist, noting that the music you relax to at home might not translate well to a reception setting. According to Calfee, who works about 120 weddings a year, the DJ’s role includes responding to the crowd’s level of engagement and making adjustments that keep the fun flowing. 

Calfee also advises couples to make sure the DJ will come equipped with a mobile hot spot and not rely solely on a venue’s Wi-Fi, which can make for some uncomfortably quiet moments if it cuts out. The same goes for using Spotify or YouTube for the first dance song — and being greeted instead with a commercial. 

Soundtrack for success

New Orleans is full of talented players. However, what sets wedding winners apart are often professional skills like being punctual, prepared, and responsive , including solid “clock management” — the ability to adjust seamlessly when dinner runs late.

With many weddings, music is something guests may remember long after they’ve forgotten the or the placement of the centerpieces. 

As Taylor says, “What you’re trying to do for the event is create a memory …  a good time, something someone is going to cherish … music is probably the biggest factor.”