Winter Wedding Music Trends With Toby Oakley – Your DJ
Toby Oakley is a wedding DJ based in Beaulieu, in the New Forest. With over 15 years' experience as a full-time DJ, playing at a wide variety of functions and events - including weddings - Toby has well and truly honed in on his musical mastery to make sure the dancefloor is well and truly packed at the party. Through his business, Your DJ, Toby has been commended through multiple industry awards, so it's no surprise we are pleased to have him as our resident DJ for our wedding packages at Careys Manor Hotel & SenSpa.
Thanks for agreeing to share your music knowledge, Toby! First, we want to know… What do you love most about being a DJ?
My pleasure, thanks for having me on the blog and great question to kick things off. I think a lot about how invited to a big event can be a very rare occasion for most people, which is a shame as it’s so fun to let loose and have some fun every now and again! Once an event does come around, people can often then be shy and not quite used to coming out of their shells anymore (especially at smaller events or in very hot weather which can tire people out at the end of the day). I personally love the challenge that comes with trying to get that dancefloor busy; seeing lots of happy, smiling faces once things start to liven up – it doesn’t really feel like a job at all when I’m in the moment!
Weddings in particular are so positive and filled with all sorts of emotions and energy from the ceremony right up to the party, which I love being around. There’s also the uniqueness that comes with every wedding – the two families (or guests from each side) will have a range of ages, music tastes, nationalities, cultures and traditions which can be quite difficult to bring together to create a lasting memory for everyone, but it can be done and when it’s achieved it’s magical! Most nights I stand back towards the end of the event and just take a minute to appreciate how lucky I am to be doing something that I love. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
There’s a fine line to be drawn between winter wedding wonderlands and Christmas parties. What would you suggest to make sure a winter wedding doesn’t sound like a Christmas party?
Christmas parties are not a lot different to other corporate events or private functions – usually it’s the only red and green (Christmas specific) decorations and Christmas songs that really tell them apart (assuming there is no fancy dress involved). But, a wedding is very different indeed, not only in the formalities, but it should have a much more personal touch – it is an event centred around two people after all, and their love and commitment to each other.
At Careys Manor, the stunning ‘Love At Frost Sight’ winter wedding package reflects the season without being focused Christmas, so hat’s off to Owen the florist – he has really done an impressive job with the décor! The theme is not Christmas, or red and green, it’s white (which is a wedding colour and a winter theme) so the only thing to remove is Christmas music (especially Slade & Wizzard), and you have yourself a beautiful winter wedding without the Christmas party edge.
Generally speaking, what music is guaranteed to get the party started at a wedding?
Although there is a lot more to the wedding than just playing music, especially at the start of the big day, I have a 15 year long tried-and-tested process for kicking off the party. For the first dance, I usually gather guests from the outside, keep the bride and groom out of sight (on the front steps by the main entrance at Careys for example), whilst playing some really upbeat music at a higher volume. Then, mic in hand, I join the guests and make an announcement to take them to the dancefloor. I’ve found that if you leave everyone seated for the grand entrance, they’ll lose concentration and start talking again which takes away from the moment.
If the cake cut happens to come before the first dance, which can quite often be the case, this usually draws guests onto the dancefloor to take photos anyway, and gives plenty of time for people at the rear of the room (or the bar) to get to the front as first dance is announced. Inviting guests to join half way through the dance gets them settled into the party zone (especially the more shy evening guests), and having an extravagant wedding party member lead the way is also very helpful – arranged in advance with them of course! Being able to dim the lighting is also very useful, as having nice light on first dance is great for the couple and the photographer, but dimming & changing the effects will encourage guests in. I have the means to do this from my booth, but can also walk around and manually change the room lighting were necessary.
With regards to the music, I will often have a slow track that won’t shock the guests, and a more upbeat one ready depending on the vibe and uptake of guests dancing. This can’t be decided before or even during the first dance, as things can change moment to moment – you really have to be present and read the room. A slow one that works well is Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’; slightly more upbeat tracks might be ‘Superstition’ or ‘Shape of You’, which lend themselves to be followed by a faster pace track. If there is a lot of energy in the room, I often launch straight into a more energetic song such as Whitney Houston – ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’. And, if they are really up for it, I would play something like ‘Shut Up and Dance’.
My method tends to include using tracks from the bride’s pre-discussed playlist, addressing the bride using her new name (if changed), which always gets a good reaction from the crowd, and ensures the bride stays on the floor and enjoys her evening dancing to the music she likes! That isn’t to say the groom isn’t involved – the playlist is put together by both the bride and groom so he’ll be dancing to music he likes too. There’s also the father-daughter dance to consider, which may need a favourite song from the dad included on the list. As I said, it all really depends on the moment – you can’t plan a GOOD, bespoke wedding music set list in advance, you just have to go with the flow.
You briefly mentioned the first dance, and it is a big deal, so there is some pressure to get it right. Which songs would you recommend not having for your first dance?
A first dance is a special moment and it should be personal to the couple and something that is meaningful to them. But, on the whole, I would advise something that is not too fast and ideally it should be a track that people can dance to as usually everyone will eventually join in. I have been to a wedding (as a guest), where they played Foo Fighters ‘The Pretender’ – you can imagine what happened when the DJ asked guests to join!
For various reasons not every couple wants to do a first dance and that is fine, but for a wedding I would recommend some form of “start” involving the couple. If not a first dance than maybe the cutting of the cake, or I often also suggest a group first dance, which works wonders as long as everyone is next to the dancefloor and ready to go.
When it comes to specific tunes, well-known pieces of music like Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ get the best uptake and reaction, but if the couple have chosen a track that’s a cover or not very well-known that’s obviously fine – it has to be special to them. I would just remind them that anything slow might not be so inviting to their guests, who should be getting ready to put on their dancing shoes – especially during the evening. I’d recommend a piece of music that has nice lyrics and sentiment too, as some tracks that sound sentimental are not lyrically on the same level. For example – ‘Every Breath You Take’ by Sting, or ‘Marry you’ by Bruno Mars. My personal favourite wedding music pieces for the first dance are Etta James ‘At Last’, Al Green ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and Christina Perri ‘A Thousand Years’.
How would you prefer to finish the wedding – on a slow song or party banger?
I do both! I like to use a ‘fake ending’, where guests are all on the floor in a circle holding hands – sometimes this needs a bit of encouragement, but more often than not most people are dancing already. Certain songs lend them selves to being ending tracks – such as ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Never Forget’, ‘Wonderwall’ etc. I put up the lights slowly during the track and full at the end. We all congratulate the bride and groom, and wish them well on the honeymoon, then I will usually choose a track from the couple’s playlist, dim the lights (as I have control from the booth) and bring back the energy again until it’s really time to leave.
For inspiration, these are some ending tracks I’ve played at weddings over the last few weeks: Belinda Carlisle ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’, Foo Fighters ‘Times Like These’, Elton John ‘I’m Still Standing’, Meduza ‘Piece Of Your Heart’.
After that, I will play a slow one that the couple have asked for, maybe their first dance again, ceremony music or something that suits the mood. I personally like ‘A Thousand Years’ – first the original version, followed by the instrumental, whilst slowly reducing the volume and bass.
Examples from the last week are: ‘Across the Stars’ from Star Wars (ceremony entry track), ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow, ‘See You Again’ by Wiz Khalifa and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ by Elvis Presley.
How easy is it to create a set list for couples? Can you talk us a little bit through the process?
Couples send me a list from my website form, so that first step is straightforward. I’ve also included a lot of advice and lists of real track lists from weddings to assist them. On this list, there’s space to include the bride’s top 10-15 tracks, the groom’s top 10-15 tracks – anything goes, as long as it’s wedding friendly – which gives me a great insight into what they want separately. There’s also a longer list space for 20-50 tracks that they have picked personally, but together, and a list for suggestions that their guests may have given on the RSVP’s if requested. Combined with this, I will ask for suggested tracks to end the evening, a list of slower songs, and importantly – pieces of music, artists or genres they do not like!
On the night, I separate out the tracks and list them as and when I think they will be useful for the running of the event. I do this on the night as I have a better idea of what will work once I’ve spent some time around the guests and couple – every wedding is different and my job as the DJ is to make sure it’s perfect for that group on that night. The set list, combined with guest requests and my own professional experience of knowing what to play and when, as well as building up the energy at the right times, is the secret to keeping a dancefloor rammed and, like many things, this can only be acquired through years of experience.
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