Having worked hundreds of receptions, fundraisers, private parties and the like, I have seen every type of song request you could imagine. For the record, I am a dueling piano entertainer, not a DJ, and I market our performance as a “Request-based show.” I believe there is a way to field requests appropriately. I also believe that anyone who makes their living at providing music for parties, events and weddings has a good idea of what songs will keep the party going and what songs will not.
Here’s a trade secret: the professionals (think wedding bands, dj’s and dueling piano players) know what 60-70% of the requests will be before they even arrive to your wedding. I know I will be asked for Brown Eyed Girl, Don’t Stop Believing, Margaritaville, Sweet Caroline, Bob Seger, American Pie, Bohemian Rhapsody, and as of this writing, Call Me Maybe and We Are Young. And yes, I will probably include those songs in my show whether you ask for them or not. As for the other 30-40% of the requests that may or may not come as a surprise, about half of those are useable as party music. The ones that I can use, I do, and everyone is happy, and the guests feel like they have had a part in making the party special with their request. The ones I can’t use, or don’t know how to play, I won’t.
If I get a request for Tom Sawyer by Rush, or The River by Springsteen, for example, that would clearly bring down the vibe of the reception, I would not being doing my job properly by including them in the show. I handle every request with a smile and a “Thank you!” If the requestor returns and wants to know why I haven’t played their song yet, I will usually say that I have a bunch of requests to play before theirs, but that I will try to get to it. If someone comes to me at the end of the event demanding to know why their song didn’t get played, I compliment their choice of request and apologize for not having the time to fit it in.
If you hire professional entertainers or DJ to provide music for your reception, you are hiring them not only for the music they provide, but for their judgment as to what songs to provide and when to provide them. My job as a professional is not to play everyone’s requests; it’s to create an energy that has an overreaching arc that I develop and nurture throughout the course of the night.
This is why I label my dueling piano show as “request driven” and not “all request”. Another tool I’ll use (and a DJ can do something similar) is to play a chorus of the “bad” request in the middle of a mash up of other songs. I may even add a funky baseline to it if it’s a slow ballad, just to keep the energy up. My bottom line is that I will be able to field the vast majority of requests in a way that will make sense in the context of the night. The ones I don’t get to, I don’t get to. It’s not a big deal. If someone tries to make it a big deal, I apologize. But if I’ve kept the party going and people on the dance floor, I have done my job.