man playing guitar music during wedding cocktail hour

Wedding Cocktail Hour Music: The Complete Guide

Nov 24, 2021
By Wedding Spot

While cocktail hour planning tends to get put off by many engaged couples, this event has the potential to be a spirited and memorable experience for everyone at the wedding. The boozy break provides wedding guests with a chance to take a breather, have a drink, grab a light snack, and groove to some wedding cocktail hour music before the party really gets started. It’s a time when folks are able to freely mingle, catch up with friends and family, and get excited for what’s to come. Being so, choosing the right music for cocktail hour is an important part of the planning process.

If you’re looking for help choosing the right wedding cocktail hour music, look no further. In this blog post, we take a deep dive into cocktail hour music as a whole, provide ideas and examples, answer frequently asked questions, and much more.

The complete guide to wedding cocktail hour music

In the world of modern weddings, there is no “right way” to do things. As traditions evolve and new wedding trends arise, engaged couples have more freedom than ever when it comes to wedding planning. One sure-fire way to wow your wedding guests is with musical entertainment — even during cocktail hour.

Is it necessary to have music during cocktail hour?

While there is no rule stating that your wedding cocktail hour should be accompanied by background music, we like to consider it an important part of the event. Adding cocktail hour to the wedding’s order of events can help guests seamlessly transition from ceremony to reception. Playing music during cocktail hour can help prevent awkward silences during the transition, as well as give guests a common topic of conversation to help break the ice: the music.

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Take advantage of the music you select and use it to help set the stage for what’s to come. Need to re-energize your guests? Offer espresso martinis and energy-boosting small bites partnered with peppy background tunes. Setting the tone for a formal reception afterward? Sophisticated cocktails and classical music can add an air of elegance to black-tie weddings.

Choosing the right cocktail hour music for your wedding

Before booking a band, hiring a DJ, paying a deposit, or signing a contract to confirm your wedding entertainment, take a few wedding details into account.

1. What is your venue like?

WIll cocktail hour be held at the same venue as the ceremony, or in a different location? Do you have space to accommodate a live band? Do they have musicians or a DJ they partner with to offer discounted rates?

Picking the right type of wedding venue in the early stages of planning can make all the difference moving forward. Ask about restrictions, potential fees, and even recommendations for music when touring venues. Don’t be afraid to ask venue representatives for their advice or opinion regarding cocktail hour music, as they will know what works well in the space.

2. Does your wedding have a theme?

If you’re planning a themed wedding, incorporate the theme into cocktail hour as well as other larger wedding events. While cocktail hour music doesn’t need to be obviously thematic, keeping the unique wedding theme present throughout all of the wedding events really helps set the mood and capture the magic.

For example, a Great Gatsby-themed wedding might have a Roaring 20s playlist going in the background of cocktail hour, while a Happy Potter-themed wedding may have music from, well, Harry Potter. Spend some time with your partner researching musicians and styles that fit your theme. In addition to being helpful, it’s a wonderful way for couples to stay connected during the potentially stressful planning season.

3. How long would you like the cocktail “hour” to last?

There’s no wedding law that dictates cocktail hour needs to last exactly one hour; it’s more of a general guideline. What does your wedding timeline look like?

Give yourself ample time for what needs to get done, but always keep the comfort of your guests in mind. If you need longer than an hour to transition from ceremony to reception, consider giving your guests a break between the ceremony and cocktail hour. Just make sure that you provide transportation and specific timeline details to help ensure guests make it back in time.

4. What mood would you like to set for cocktail hour?

Are you preparing guests for an elegant and formal sit-down dinner, or a rip-roaring good time to remember? Would you like guests to mingle and engage in meaningful conversations during this time, or do you want to get them amped up for dancing and wedding lawn games after? Use cocktail hour to help set the mood to match the reception to come.

Is it better to play live or recorded music during cocktail hour?

1. Live music

If you’ve already hired musicians or a band to play live music at the reception, it’s worth looking into the costs of extending their performance to include cocktail hour as well. Some musicians charge a flat fee, while others charge per hour, so discuss any potential fee changes with the band well in advance.

Hiring a band just to play cocktail hour may come with a hefty price tag for such a short event. While live music is ideal when possible, paying performance fees, transportation costs, or a deposit may be difficult for couples on a tight budget. If you’re already married to having live music (pun intended), consider hiring a single classical musician to save on the cost of hiring an entire band.

2. Hiring a DJ

According to, hiring a DJ for cocktail hour services costs an average of $125/hour. If you’re already planning to hire a DJ for the reception, consider requesting their services for cocktail hour as well. Many DJs are open to offering a discounted rate for longer bookings.

Should your DJ need to transport, set up, or break down equipment, they may charge additional fees. Most career DJs provide their own equipment, and include any applicable fees in their quoted rate, but it’s a good idea to double-check ahead of the big day.

3. Using a pre-selected cocktail hour playlist

The most affordable option for wedding cocktail hour music is a good ol’ pre-recorded playlist. Connect iTunes, Spotify, or another playlist-friendly music application to the venue’s sound system, and you’re all set. If your venue doesn’t have a system available, it’s no biggie! Blast your playlist on Bluetooth-enabled party speakers instead.

25 wedding cocktail hour song ideas

Cultivating a pre-recorded cocktail hour playlist for your big day is a low-cost wedding entertainment idea for engaged couples. Creating a playlist gives couples the opportunity to select very specific music, which is especially important for themed weddings. The below song ideas also work well with DJs and bands as well, so your options really are endless.

Instrumental covers for cocktail hour

Don’t be afraid of adding a few lyric-free love songs to your cocktail hour playlist. After all, good music is an instrumental part of the wedding experience.

1. Allie Returns. Composed by Aaron Zigman for the movie adaption of The Notebook, this soothing instrumental is an ideal choice for gently transitioning guests into cocktail hour.

2. Ordinary People. John Legend’s instrumental rendition of his hit love song provides upbeat background music for mingling party-goers.

3. Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Costantino Carraro arranged one of The Lion King’s most noteworthy numbers for piano. Relaxing and romantic, this song will melt the hearts of your wedding guests.

4. Marry Me. Talk about topical! It’s no surprise that many couples choose to include an instrumental version of Train’s hit in their wedding cocktail hour music selection.

5. Higher Love. The Vitamin String Quartet is famous for covering a wide variety of music with only string instruments. Play this cover of the Steve Winwood original, or choose from many of the Quartet’s other covers, to add an air of elegance and sophistication to cocktail hour.

Pop songs to play during cocktail hour

If you’re looking for upbeat and cheerful songs coupled with a bit of romance, sprinkle a few beloved pop hits into your wedding cocktail hour music mix.

6. Thinking Out Loud. Add this Ed Sheeren chart-topper to your cocktail hour playlist if you’d like to tell your wedding guests, “we found love right where we are.”

7. Just the Way You Are. This delightful doo-wop by Bruno Mars lends melodic background music to any cocktail hour.

8. I’m Yours. No wedding is complete without a dash of Jason Mraz’s legendary positivity. Cheerful and sunny, this song is an excellent addition to your cocktail hour music, especially if you’re hosting outside during splendid weather.

9. Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It’s Queen. Need we say more?

10. Time After Time. Round your pop-inspired playlist with this Cyndi Lauper mega-hit from 1983. Add it to your wedding cocktail hour music, and celebrate the fact that true love is never lost.

Cocktail hour country hits

If you opt for a country music cocktail hour playlist, you’ll have a large catalog to choose from. Consider starting with some classic country love songs before transitioning to more “party-appropriate” country hits that signal the start of the reception.

11. It’s Your Love. One of country legend Tim McGraw’s most popular songs, not only is this song a beautiful ballad of commitment and romance, it’s a duet! Sung by McGraw and his long-time wife and fellow country superstar, Faith Hill, this number is beloved by country fans everywhere.

12. She’s Everything. Released on Brad Paisley’s 2005 album Time Well Wasted, this song was originally penned by songwriter Wil Nance. While Nance wrote the lyrics with his wife, Holly, in mind, Paisley ended up reworking a few of Nance’s original lines to better fit his relationship to wife Kimberly Williams Paisley. How romantic!

13. Forever and Ever, Amen. Withstanding the test of time, this Randy Travis hit won CMA’s Single of the Year award upon its release in 1987. With a hook that ends in “Amen,” this song makes picture-perfect background music at a country music cocktail hour.

14. Chicken Fried. Give your wedding guests a head’s up that the reception will be starting soon by switching up your country cocktail hour playlist. Country fans and critics alike can agree that this Zac Brown Band show-stopper is sure to get the party started.

15. Wagon Wheel. Part of the quintessential country music canon, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel is the ideal sing-along song to tell your guests it’s time to kick off the reception.

Romantic ballads for cocktail hour

Are you the kind of couple that enjoys a little theatre? Add a few of these well-known lyrical sensations to your cocktail hour playlist to encourage guests to sing along.

16. I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). A power-ballad to top all power-ballads, this number is considered to be Meatloaf’s “comeback song.” True to rock opera fashion, guests are sure to join in and sing after the song’s iconic piano intro fades.

17. I Will Always Love You. Whitney Houston proved that she was a force to be reckoned with when she covered Dolly Parton’s 1973 country hit for the 1992 movie, The Bodyguard. Guests are sure to join in and sing along — just watch out for that high note!

18. Make You Feel My Love. Choose the original Bob Dylan version, Garth Brooks’ performance at the 1999 CMAs, or Adele’s powerhouse 2008 cover. Regardless of which track you include, you can’t lose with this heartbreakingly beautiful ballad.

19. Islands in the Stream. While this song was written by the Bee Gees, they did not record it until much later. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, country music legends, recorded and released the song in 1982. CMT dubbed the masterpiece, “the number one greatest country duet of all time” in 2005.

20. Can’t Help Falling in Love. Although it has been covered by a multitude of incredible musicians, nothing beats the original 1961 version of this iconic Elvis anthem.

Classic wedding favorites to play during cocktail hour

When you think of traditional wedding favorites, what songs come to mind? Find five of our all-time favorite wedding jams below.

21. Baby Love. With a fabulous beat and catchy hook, this song by The Supremes is a great addition to any cocktail hour playlist, especially for fans of Motown.

22. Beyond the Sea. Popularized when Bobby Darin recorded and released an English version in 1959, Beyond the Sea is actually a translated version of La Mer, a French song from the 1940s. Frank Sinatra’s cover is a fantastic choice as well!

23. Ain’t That a Kick in the Head. This 1960 Dean Martin hit has been included in wedding music for over 60 years! With opening lyrics that boast, “How lucky can one guy be? I kissed her and she kissed me” — could this song be a better hit for cocktail hour?

24. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy. Just as a wedding is meant to celebrate love and unity, this 1968 number by Blood, Sweat & Tears gushes with gratitude and joy.

25. Kiss On My List. A cheerful tune with an upbeat rhythm, this 1980 Hall & Oates ditty is sure to have your wedding guest bopping along with the beat.

Put this wedding cocktail hour music guide to use!

Whether you choose to play country music, Top 40 pop hits, R&B, classical instruments, or a mix of everything, it will undoubtedly be difficult to please all of your guests. At the end of the day, it’s your day, so play whatever music makes you happy.

Want even more wedding music inspiration? Check out our list of 127 of the most fun wedding songs, as well as 31 unique songs to walk down the aisle to and 65 unique first dance songs for every type of couple.

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Wedding Spot

Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.