The Secret & Proven Wedding Timeline

Introduction: Setting the Stage

Hey there! Planning your big day and feeling a bit overwhelmed? No worries, be it if you have already selected your wedding DJ/planner/coordinator I am here to help. As a seasoned Wedding DJ, I’ve seen it all – from smooth sailing ceremonies to chaotic dance floors. Today, let’s talk about the unsung hero of your wedding: the timeline. Trust me, a well-thought-out schedule is the secret sauce to a stress-free and unforgettable day.

The Importance of a Well-Structured Wedding Timeline

First things first, why is a timeline crucial? Think of it as your wedding day GPS – it guides everyone, from vendors to guests, ensuring everyone’s in sync. And guess what? Your DJ is the navigator. He sets the tone of the evening, and without the proper plan in place things can unfold into something pulling out your har.

Early On: 12-24 months.

It is critical that you don’t wait too long to select not only your Wedding DJ, but all your vendors. Many top quality professionals including myself typically book out one to two years prior. And be sure to not only talk the general details, but some of the specifics, including musical specifics in your discussions from your favorite tunes, special requests in mind, and even the songs that make you cringe. I once had a couple who bonded over ’80s New Wave but also had some very specific do and don’t plays already in their mind. You don’t have to select this yet, but it’s absolutely critical that you should bond with your DJ.

Crafting the Perfect Prelude: 60 Days Before the Big Day

Many quality DJs will have planning forms, or even better yet software (I just so happen to be the owner of one called cue). In there you should have some general guidance of what the day could look like but always remember, it’s your wedding. And if you have ideas that are in a different flow then it’s a perfect conversation piece to talk with your DJ, planner, etc.

The Secret Wedding Timeline Flow

I have advised my couples over the years to start with this particular timeline that creates a nice ebb-and-flow throughout the night, minimizing long stretches when possible, and helps to foster a great crescendo at the end of the night.

  • Pre-Ceremony: 30 Minutes
  • Ceremony: 20-45 Minutes
  • Cocktail: 60-90 Minutes
  • Grand Introductions: 1-5 Minutes
  • First Dance: 2-5 Minutes
  • Small Dance Segment: 15-30 Minutes
  • Dinner: 45-60 Minutes
  • Speeches: 15-30 Minutes
  • Special Dances (Parents, Guardians, Grandparents, Siblings, etc): 5-15 Minutes
  • Major Dance Segment: 90 – 180 Minutes
  • Last Dance

But let’s break this down into more detail.

Before The Ceremony

For the DJ this is usually 2-3 hours prior to the start of ceremony, but of course you’ll be doing things even earlier like hair, makeup, dressing up, and most importantly having fun.

Pre-Ceremony

In general this is usually 30 minutes long and there are no rights or wrongs on the musical styles you can do. I’ve literally played everything from classical, jazz, ambient, yacht rock, hip hop, soul, and sometimes a complete mix of of all genres and decades. Just be mindful that you’ll likely not hear most of this because of all the prep you’ll be doing to walk down the aisle.

Ceremony

Sometimes it’s instrumental, sometimes, it’s acoustic, there are even times you may hire a live band to work in tandem with your DJ, who is now the sound engineer for your big moment. Yep a DJ that is focused on a quality ceremony experience is going to mic up the officiant, and at least the primary person of the couple. And in many times both couples are miced up. It depends on the criticality of what is being captured for the day, especially if a videographer is involved. Generally you will select a processional song for the wedding party, one or both of the couple, and then a recessional. However there are many times other special songs can be selected for the moment.

Ceremonies can be super short, or can be a marathon. In general 20 minutes seems to be a pretty solid number to reference.

Cocktail

Sometimes it’s 60 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes, sometimes even 2 hours. However long it is you and your guests are going to be enjoying some great hors d’oeuvres and excellent music. This can be an extension of your pre-ceremony vibes, or something unique.

Grand Entrance

Be it just the couple, the wedding party, the extended wedding party, or more, the Grand Entrance can be a combination of fun and funny. Most of my couples tend to be on the smaller size of groupings, sometimes just having maybe the Best Man, Maid of Honor, and many have even opted to just themselves. There is no wrong answer here! The only thing I always suggest is to not “burn” through some great dance songs since a DJ never likes to play a song twice.

The First Dance

There are so many songs to choose from, so many ways to approach a first dance. You can go fast or slow, you can incorporate a medley of songs or just play a minute of two of one and invite everyone onto the dance floor.

The First Dance Segment

This is one of the big highlights of my ebb-and-flow wedding timeline, let’s get a short dance segment started off! This allows people to shake the cobwebs from the day. With this timeline format your guests spend three hours from arriving and now they can let loose a bit. This also allows for some classic cuts that maybe you don’t want later in the day but the older crowd can appreciate. These segments can be 10 minutes and sometimes they can last for an hour depending on the energy you’d like. Average I would say is 20 minutes.

Get Our Eating On

Let’s get to the main courses! Now depending on crowd size, the serving style (main multi-course, family, buffet, large hors d’oeuvres; whatever the food it’s time to enjoy. Some dinner segments can be as short as 30 minutes, but average more like 50-75 minutes.

Vendors Should Eat Too

If possible coordinate with your caterers to see if the vendors can eat early on, because they have a lot of work to do ahead. Many caterers tend to feed their vendors later in the process which can mean a mad rush to get to the next milestone.

Speeches

Occasionally if there is a big toasting groups some toasters may be placed at the beginning of dinner, middle of dinner, or at the end. But I have found if you are talking just a few people that speeches at the end is a good balance of timing. You should remind your toasters of any time constraints you’d like and your DJ will give them some tips on microphone handling.

Special Dances

Finding those special songs to dance with your parents, guardians, or other special loved ones can sometimes be overwhelming. Just like with your first dance you can elect to shorten them up, or even not have them at all.

Open Dance Floor

The dance floor is where the real magic happens. Your DJ becomes a musical mind reader, gauging the crowd and playing tracks that keep the energy alive. From Motown classics to current chart-toppers and everything in between. A quality DJ will help to go over the finer details of the genres and periods of music that are must haves, loves, likes, and ones you’d like to stay away from.

Getting Rare: Bouquet and Garter Toss

While this is becoming rarer and rarer, if you go this route you have the opportunity to inject some fun into the night. From squishmallows to tug-of-war, you can put a unique spin on this tradition.

Cake Cutting. Focus Or Not?

I won’t lie, focus on cake cutting is a 50/50 proposition. Some couples just want a photo opportunity while others would like some more focus and lead up to the cake cutting. As always there is no right or wrong. Some cake cutting can happen earlier in the night at some locations. This helps with the timing of serving desserts. There are some traditions, like in the South, that has the cake cutting all the way up right after the grand entrance.

Last Dance

Before you know it, we’ve reached the end of the night. The proverbial exclamation point on the end. Would you rather end on a higher energy song or mellow out to something slow or maybe even a singalong.

Conclusion: The Art of the Wedding Timeline

In wrapping up, remember that timing is everything. The above wedding timeline is but one option to explore for your evening, but I can’t stress enough that proper planning with your DJ and other selected vendors goes a long way to be able to truly enjoy your evening.

DJ Lou Paris

Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres and became a wedding DJ in 2012. Coincidentally, Lou is also a successful 25+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou’s background or inquire about my DJ services.