Bringing music out of the background

I’m admittedly not a music person. And my partner’s music stylings range from Britney Spears to Britney Spears. So, when it came time for us to decide on entertainment for our wedding reception, we had more questions than we did for most other parts of the planning process.

One of the first decisions we found we had to make was the type of music we wanted — a DJ, live band or some quirky alternative. Advice is far flung, but from what we found, most couples suggest taking time to weigh the pros and cons of the various entertainment options, figuring out what are your main music priorities and doing your homework on the possibilities. In thinking about what mattered most to us, we knew we wanted an option that would get, and keep, our guests out on the dance floor, and decided a DJ would do the trick. 

But, DJing isn’t as simple as hitting the play button. A wedding DJ needs to have a full and comprehensive knowledge of music — from current hits to classics to the oddball song choices you or your guests may ask for — equipment to ensure the tunes keep coming seamlessly and a verve that makes people want to get out of their seats. We’ve all been to weddings with those awkward moments of an empty dance floor, so having a DJ who’s energetic, passionate and has experience filling the floor is integral.

Like with all wedding vendors, it’s important to vet your DJ before selecting him/her. Find out about their experience, number of weddings they’ve DJed, the type of equipment they would bring to the reception, if they work alone or with partners, if they have a backup plan for technical malfunction (which amazingly hadn’t occurred to us until our DJ mentioned it!) and if they would require dinner during the event (different vendors have different approaches to meals during the reception, but it’s important to note ahead of time for crowd-count purposes). And, if you really want to get a good sense of whether your DJ is a good fit for you, ask to come see him/her DJ an event in advance.

Learning about a wedding DJ’s approach to music selection is also important in the process. We chatted with one DJ who told us the company advised couples to design their music selection based primarily on what the guests would like, as opposed to what the couple would like, a notion that didn’t quite sit right with us. While playing a variety to appeal to the masses is certainly needed, we were instead drawn to a DJ who advocated for couples making their music selections based on their own tastes, with a few picks for different crowds mixed in. 

At weddings we’ve been to, we never gave much thought to what went into the music selection but quickly saw that it is a much more deliberative process than we realized. The process varies from DJ to DJ, but many will give the couple the option to submit a “Must Play” list, as well as a “Do Not Play” list. Even if your DJ likes more independence in creating the set list and doesn’t offer to go off your lists, if you have strong feelings one way or the other on certain songs, make sure they’re voiced ahead of time. Along the same lines, couples have to decide whether or not they want their DJ to take requests; some may wish their guests to have a voice in the music that’s played, but there’s also the risk that too many requests can overtake the couple’s song tastes. An interesting approach to this is to send a request card with your invites and have your guests write a song they’d like to hear, and take those suggestions into consideration when working with your DJ on the set list.

Both my partner and I tend to do things almost obnoxiously early, but our DJ rightly advised us not to start thinking about songs we definitely want and don’t want played until two-three months prior to the wedding, as new music will come out and our ideas, and subsequent lists, will likely change tenfold in that amount of time.

The DJ can also play an important role in helping you craft the music that will be used at special moments throughout your big day. Since our ceremony is outdoors and not in a church, we’re able to have our ceremony music come from our DJ. While we’re retaining a number of traditions throughout the ceremony and reception, neither of us was into the traditional pomp-and-circumstance wedding-ceremony music, so we’re going to instead pick more modern songs that have meaning to us as a couple to use throughout the ceremony.

Throughout each step of this process, we’ve seen that there are ample opportunities for couples to make small modifications to the traditional wedding model that can go a long way in making the wedding your own, and music is no exception.

Spotlight on: Michelle Lee Entertainment

We met Michelle Lee at an LGBT wedding expo — a big A-plus in our book — but, among the myriad entertainment professionals who set up shop there, Lee and her company stood out for a number of reasons.

Lee clearly knew her stuff. Just in our first few minutes chatting about our wedding with her, my partner and I were impressed by the information she offered, tipping us off to a wealth of questions we should have kept in mind that we hadn’t even thought of. Lee is at the helm of Michelle Lee Entertainment, which centers its operations around a three-pronged mission: being modern, exciting and different. In business for 15 years, the full-service event company itself is different in that it is owned by one of the few female DJs on the East Coast. Lee, who goes by the name DJ Shelly, has a staff of 10, who work to bring a unique spin to each event they cover.

“We understand every client has different needs, and every event should be unique,” Lee said.

The company provides everything from DJs and MCs to greeters, characters and entertainers, photography and videography to event-planning. They handle weddings, birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and everything in between.

When it comes to wedding DJing, Lee said her team tries to make each event stand out.

“We DJ all types of weddings,” she said. “Our mission is to make every event spectacular and create experiences that your guests will continue to talk about for years.”

Part of that process is getting to know the couple and their goals and working with them to create an entertainment package fitting them and their wedding needs. Having a rapport with your wedding DJ, we found, is tremendously helpful; for folks like us who aren’t wholly knowledgeable about music, it was important that we were able to trust our DJ, based on her experience and ideas.

But, that foundation was furthered by Lee going the extra mile to ensure the process is fully inclusive: She will meet with us a few months before the wedding to go over our song do’s and don’ts, and invited us to keep in touch before then with questions, ideas and calls for advice. Lee inquired about our wedding theme and is working with us to build in songs that support the theme — offering suggestions and ideas based off of her vast music knowledge and also-vast DJ experience that we never would have conceived of. Having that personalized attention is invaluable.

Speaking of value, Lee offers packages and prices to fit budgets of all sizes. And, in celebration of marriage equality in Pennsylvania, she’s currently running a special to attract same-sex couples, offering up to a $300 discount — $100 off each for DJ services, photography and videography for contracts signed by Nov. 30.

For more information on Michelle Lee Entertainment, visit


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