How To Be Your Own Wedding DJ

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Nothing beats live music at a wedding ceremony and reception, but sometimes it's just not an economic reality. A professional DJ is a good alternative, but they can also be expensive. I think you see where I’m going with this. I’m about to tell you that you might be a candidate for a do-it-yourself iPod/laptop DJ’ed wedding. And if you are, the dance floor will be packed all night by following these tips...

It's a controversial topic, but I can say with some confidence that if you're prepared to put in time planning your soundtrack, are willing to forgo (or prefer to do without) a hammy ringleader, and accept the possibility that the end result might not be 100% perfect, you can still keep your wedding dancefloor full of revelers and save $1,000 or more.

Saving money isn’t the only reason to go DIY with your wedding music, however. Some of us just like to be in control of each and every song played for guests. Music sets the tone for an event and showcases your personal style. You can pull this off, if you want to. Consider these tech tips and tricks for taking on musical duties for your wedding.

You Still Need A Human Touch
Some people value the master-of-ceremonies appeal of a traditional DJ (introducing the bride and groom as well as their wedding party, telling cheesy stories, orchestrating toasts, motivating people to get up out of their chairs, etc.). 

I do not.

If you’re going the DIY route, find your most boisterous friend to grab the mic and have them direct the action. But a laptop or media player cannot run itself. You need what my fiance and I call a “Music Monitor.” This is a responsible, tech-savvy friend to whom we will pay a small sum to ensure the speakers remain connected, the proper songs come on from the proper playlist in the proper order (no “shuffle” allowed at well-orchestrated DIY DJ weddings).

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The Music Monitor will also have to bounce opinionated guests away from the laptop or iPod: no song suggestions during the party, please (that’s why we’re asking guests for song suggestions before the wedding via our wedding website).This friend will not get to enjoy himself 100% of the time during the wedding, which is why we’re paying him for his trouble. But he won’t have to man the music all night, though. Several of our playlists (cocktail hour, dinner hour, dance set) will be more than an hour long, so he can get his boogie on, too.

Get Your Hands On Some Hardware
The wedding music can be controlled with either an iPod/MP3-player or a laptop. It might make sense to use an iPod for the ceremony, and then to set up a full-fledged laptop station for the reception. Either way, you’ll need a pair of powered PA speakers on stands. You don’t want your music to fall flat—your guests can only feel immersed by your playlist only if the speakers can get loud enough.

If you're fortunate, you may know a friend/musician who will let you borrow their loud speakers. Otherwise you’ll have to rent them. Ours were about $300. The rental company should set them up and break them down. Our package also includes a simple wired microphone (make sure to get one with an on/off switch!). The officiant will use this during the ceremony, and we might make one or two announcements during the reception.

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If you’re using an iPod, you need to find out what kind of jack your speakers use, and get the right cable (stereo mini is what goes into Apple’s iOS devices). If you’re using a laptop (don’t forget the power adapter!), you probably also want a small mixer with a stereo input and output. The mixer controls volume and cross-fading, but also equalizes and modulates the sound (if you’ve got MP3s in iTunes from a variety of sources, they’re not going to sound the same during playback. The mixer creates a more professional, consistent sound.

Both the laptop and and mic can both plug into the mixer, and so can anyone’s random iPod, if you happen to decide you’ve got to have a spur-of-the-moment song addition. If you’re using a laptop, consider bringing an iPod loaded with the same music—just in case the laptop fails. Be sure to bring all the proper shielded cables (1/4 inch, RCA, or XLR), extension cords, and power strips! And don’t use an iPhone with cellular signal: it is sure to create those awful radio interference noises on your speakers and embarrass the heck out of you.

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Playlists
We hope it is obvious you can’t load up iTunes with your personal favorite songs and hit shuffle. That's a great way to kill your party. Think about the different vibes and settings required during your wedding day: pre-ceremony, ceremony, post-ceremony, cocktail hour, pre-dinner, dinner, early evening dancing, late evening dancing (these are just examples). You’ll want to create a playlist for each of these selected moments. Custom, curated playlists are how you will attempt to create the energy that a DJ usually provides. And you’ll want to queue up special songs in their own playlists, to be controlled individually (processional, recessional, first dance, etc.). For the non-dancing reception sets, feel free to let loose with your personal favorites—it doesn’t matter as much what you play during dinner service, for instance. 

But when it comes time to dance, the dance floor will only fill if you’ve stocked your playlist with real dancing music that many people already know. This means something different to every group and generation, so consider including these crowd pleasers during the first hour: big band, jazz standards, hip-hop, 80s pop, and Motown, Motown, Motown (I've never seen another genre appeal to so many diverse party guests at once). Later in the night, when only a handful of your friends are still grooving on the dancefloor, feel free to load up the playlist with your genre-specific favorites. If, on the day of your wedding, you’ve wrongly anticipated the mood for a certain time-block, you can always edit on the fly.

iPod or iPad Sounds Easier Than a Laptop? Try This App

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All the advice we just gave about playlists above has been distilled into a $4.99 iOS app called MyWeddingDJ. The app will even crossfade your songs so there’s no dead air between tracks. It also makes it easy to skip songs, and skip around from playlist to playlist if something needs fixing in the moment. MyWeddingDJ actually makes ordering playlists easier than iTunes itself, though it will only play music already stored in iTunes on your device.

Did you DJ your own wedding? Let us know in the comments what worked for you. And if you believe strongly in the talents of professional DJs, please remember that I do too, but not everyone can afford one. Sometimes, a little ad-hoc imperfection is okay, and reminds guests how much thought and time you put into personalizing your party.

(Images: Flickr user Mikmikko, Flickr user DoNotLick, MyWeddingDJ, ipopmyphoto; Altoproaudio.com, Qscaudio.com)

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