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Get Sh*t Done: Wedding Music—DIY or DJ?


Breaking down the boogie down

Get Sh*t Done: Wedding Music—DIY or DJ? | A Practical Wedding

Get Sh*t Done: Wedding Music—DIY or DJ? | A Practical Wedding

Dance music: to DIY or not to DIY? To start with, let’s just get something clear. You do not have to have dancing at your wedding. Think about it—I’m sure that you’ve been to some awesome parties in your life that did not have any dancing. A wedding reception is a party. It can be awesome without having dancing.

But you may want dancing! Awesome. There are really three ways to make this happen: self-DJ your wedding (or as it’s popularly known “iPod DJ”), hire a DJ, or hire a band. We’re not going to get into bands today, because they’re in a different ballpark from the other two (however, I will get into them at some point in the future, so if you have questions about live music please feel free to leave them in the comments). So for now, let’s talk about DIYing your music vs. hiring a professional DJ.

Pick One: DJ or iPod

My team and I see equal amounts of both self- and pro-DJed weddings, and what I generally tell our clients if they’re trying to decide between the two is:

  • If one of your top three priorities for your wedding is “completely killer dance party” then go out and get yourselves a really good DJ. Or if you want music, but don’t care to put the time or energy into it? DJ!
  • If you’d like people who want to dance to be able to, and you’d like to dance, but it’s not one of your top priorities? Or if you have VERY strong opinions about music? Start building your playlist.

Obviously there are exceptions. If you have a solid understanding of what you like to dance to, and plan to be shaking your ass (hard) all night long, you’ll be fine if you can’t afford a DJ (Meg’s wedding is a great example of this). However, for the non dance machines among us, DJs can really help make the dance party happen.

DJs have one giant advantage over iPods, which is that they have a huge selection of music at their fingertips and can adjust to the mood of the crowd immediately. A good DJ’s job is to read the crowd and keep them dancing—they have experience doing exactly this, and are able to switch gears seamlessly when it turns out your crowd is more Katy Perry than Rolling Stones (or vice versa). They can also troubleshoot technical issues seamlessly and adjust volume levels between speakers, music, and microphones (for ceremony, toasts, etc.) easily. They can also give you tips on dance floor set up, volume for different phases of the night, and the music flow for a party. They’re there to make the party happen, and the best ones are very, very good at it.

You Picked DJ? How To Hire One

So, how do you hire a good DJ? My favorite “wedding DJs” are actually club DJs who do weddings on the side. They’re all about making people dance, and not so much about embarrassing/cheesy announcements and games. In fact, they’re often relieved when you tell them that the only announcement you’re going to want them to make is for last call at the bar. I have unfortunately seen more than my share of wedding DJs whose announcements make me both cringe and blush, and it takes a lot to make me blush, particularly when I’m not even the one in the center of the dance floor. A good DJ is going to want a “no play” list from the clients, along with a short “must play” list. Then they’ll base the rest of their selections off of what that tells them about your taste in music mixed with their own knowledge of what gets a crowd moving.

You Picked iPod? Let’s Build That Playlist

Now, maybe you have capital “O” Opinions about music. And when you find yourself thinking about a DJ, you find your anxiety rising at the idea that you won’t be able to choose your whole playlist. (Note: do not hire a DJ if you’re going to dictate the entire playlist and the order in which you want things played. It’s a waste of your money and their talent.) Or maybe you just don’t care enough about dancing to spend the money on a DJ. Or maybe there just isn’t money left in your budget to hire a DJ. No worries, and heyyyy playlist. Can you have a rocking dance party without a pro-DJ? For sure—I’ve seen it happen many, many times. We generally call this “iPoding” your wedding, because, let’s face it, iPod has become to MP3 player what escalator is to moving staircase. But any MP3 player, or better yet, laptop, will work. Meg has written about iPoding your wedding before, and you should go check out her tips about music choices and playlist building. Beyond that, there are a few logistical things to keep in mind when going this route:

  • Separate your playlists for each segment of the day. I generally suggest the following: pre-ceremony, processional, recessional, cocktail hour/dinner (you can separate these if you want, but generally they’re similar enough that they can be combined), first dance, and dance party. Separate playlists for ceremony songs in particular is important because it prevents your recessional accidentally starting right at the end of your processional.
  • Remove all non-wedding playlists from the device. This will make it extra easy for whoever’s job it is to hit “play” to find the right thing.
  • Have a backup, and maybe a second backup. Electronics sometimes fail. They sometimes run out of batteries. Power cords sometimes short out. Things sometimes have glasses of champagne spilled on them. Prepare for all of these—if you’re running your music on an iPod, have it backed up on an iPhone. Likewise with a laptop. I always suggest a minimum of two fully charged devices, and their power cords, to be safe. (Editor’s note: Don’t forget, our Emergency Dance Party playlist can be played from any device with streaming capabilities. Just in case!)

Some notes about Spotify and other online music-subscription services: In the last six months we’ve started to see a lot of clients who self-DJ use Spotify Premium and other subscription streaming services for their playlists. So far it’s worked pretty seamlessly, but there are a few things to be aware of if you’re planning to go this route:

  • I recommend buying an MP3 of any ceremony music tracks. Go ahead and pay the dollar for those songs to get real, solid versions that you know won’t space out or skip, and that you can really easily control the volume on. Also, if it’s important enough to be in your ceremony, you’ll probably want to own a copy that you can listen to in the future, no?
  • Pay for a “premium” membership and download your playlists into “offline” mode. Internet connections can be sketchy at many venues, and even if you’re tethering to your phone, do you really want to risk a data connection error midway through Michael Jackson? I didn’t think so.
  • Make sure to test your whole playlist in “offline” mode well before hand. At least with Spotify, some tracks won’t play in this mode (I assume it’s a licensing issue?) which is probably fine, but you don’t want to discover at 10pm the night before your wedding that, say, a third of your playlist won’t work.
  • Share your playlist with a friend or family member who also has a premium subscription, and have them download it to offline mode as well. Backups, backups, backups.

No matter what you choose to do, it’s important to keep in mind the number one rule of weddings: it will depend on your guests. If your guests are a group of people who love to dance? They’re going to dance, even if you weren’t planning on it. If you have a group on your hands who hates to dance? The best DJ or playlist in the world won’t change that. And, my number one pro-tip about getting people to dance at your wedding? Get out there yourselves. The best dance parties I’ve seen at weddings are the ones where the couple never left the floor.

 Photo by Gabriel Harber (APW Sponsor)

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  • M.

    So many things to agree with!

    We aren’t having dancing at our afternoon cocktail-style reception and we have Opinions about music. So that = iPoding! We’re doing all MP3’s from our collection — I don’t trust tech enough to stream anything. I also recommend a test run of whatever sound system you’re using and its placement in the room, so you’re not figuring things out in the moment. We just booked a meeting a few days prior to the ceremony so we can play with the hookups and get the info our music-controller will need.

    Mostly, I appreciate your pro tip about joining in on the fun. We don’t love dance parties (see: above re danceless wedding), but of three weddings we attended this summer, we only danced more than one song at one of them — the one where the bride and groom were KILLING IT on the dancefloor all night. Their enthusiasm was infectious!

  • EF

    Something I’ve found with using spotify to create a playlist is the ability of many people to contribute. I’m probably a little bit too hipster to create a playlist that a majority of people will like, but my bro-of-honour is not, and has pretty excellent taste. Same with a couple of other friends (who aren’t even in the wedding party, just enjoy music). So we set up a collaborative playlist, and it’ll be turned into a few separate ones later. For now, anyone I choose can drop a song right in there, and it’s creating something awesome.

    • Meg Keene

      Ha. I’ve totally warned about the “little too hipster” playlist in the past. I’ve been to the self DJ-ed wedding with the couple with the really artsy taste, where you spend most of the time thinking, “What… is… this song?” For people to dance, they usually need to be like “OMG I LOVE THIS SONG” in the first four bars. If you don’t care about people dancing, you don’t have to worry, but if you do… add some Beyonce.

      Maddie was surprised when she saw our playlist because we generally have pretty eclectic taste, and she was like, “I know all these songs really well?” I told her that was the point. For me, it was about asses on the dance floor, full stop.

      • http://www.alivingspace.com/ Julia | alivingspace

        Definitely agree on the picking music people know part! We self DJ-ed our wedding this summer, and it worked out really well. We packed all our more obscure favorites into the cocktail/dinner playlist (as long as they fit with the right vibe), and then filled the dance playlist with more popular dance music. There were some songs I found on “must play” lists that I just couldn’t do, but we definitely had our fair share of Beyonce in there. One of my favorite memories is watching my slightly crazy aunt dancing amazingly to Kelis’s “Milkshake.” That and singing/yelling along with some hilarious stuff with all our friends. We did throw just a couple songs people probably didn’t know in there towards the beginning because we love them, and we were pretty much the only people dancing to those. Lesson learned.

        • http://www.alivingspace.com/ Julia | alivingspace

          oh, also forgot to add that we wrote about our playlists in a blog post about our reception, including links to google docs with the full playlists, in case anyone is looking for song ideas!
          http://www.alivingspace.com/2013/10/the-wedding-ones-reception-music-and-all.html

        • Jo

          We also had a spot on our wedding website where people could request songs to be included on our playlist, which was not only popular, but meant that people got REALLY excited when “their” song came on at the reception.

  • mimi

    We hired an awesome band, but we put together several playlists ourselves as well. We made playlists for the ceremony, cocktails, dinner, and all of the band’s set breaks (they took 3 breaks of about 30 minutes each I think). Fortunately, my husband also dj’s the occasional wedding, so he was a pro at putting together each playlist. He uses Spotify for his playlists so that he doesn’t have to buy all of the requested songs if he doesn’t have them.

    We took guests’ song requests ahead of time (we had a glosite and made it an RSVP question), so we just incorporated those into wherever they fit in our playlists. That way, my hubby (and our designated friend-dj) didn’t have to spend much time during the wedding besides turning the music on/off.

    Finally, if you’re going to use Spotify or stream music, make sure you will have internet/wifi access at the venue! Otherwise, your playlist may not work!

    • mimi

      Oh and we also spent the whole night on the dance floor ourselves, dancing up a storm with our guests. The right live band definitely helps get people involved, but Elizabeth is right about guests dancing if the happy couple are dancing!

  • MEM

    My groom and I are not big dance people and really have no interest in having a dance party, but the overwhelming consensus of our guests is that they really want one and are super excited to dance. I am so glad that I can just plug in an ipod and don’t have to pay for a DJ but I will need to rent a sound system as our venue is not set up for one. Anyone know how to go about doing that?

    • copper

      Really just google things like, “Audio equipment rental (yourareahere)” until you find someone that works for you. I noticed a lot of companies have “iPod packages” available that are like, two speakers, a receiver, and an iPod cable for $250. That’s what we went with, and the guy who rented it to us showed us how to use it and helped us set up the speakers and everything.

  • Kate

    Has anyone here used Something Downloaded (somethingdownloaded.com)? It looks interesting, but I think it must be a new thing.

    • Laura

      I am definitely going to check this out…

  • Katie Wurman

    Yes, I’d really love a post on hiring a band! How much do they generally cost? What accommodations do I need to provide them? What are the gotchas? Thanks!

    • ART

      don’t be these people: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2hRApdLADA‎

      my FH is in a band that plays weddings and is a professional sound guy and he says this is way less of an exaggeration than it might seem :)

      • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Oh gawd, that makes me cringe (but, I managed bands and worked for clubs before I started Lowe House, so I’d like to think I’m really good at working with musicians at weddings :)

    • Ann

      And also, how do you hire a band if you can’t go to see them live?

  • Adina Marguerite

    Oh man, we had such a strong opinion as to what we wanted our music to be and what we wanted to play when. It was even timed in sections. Unfortunatly, we got ourselves pushed into hiring a DJ (although, not with our money) and he was so obnoxious. Kept pestering us to let him use a mix of his (which was terrible) and totally forgot about playing our ceremony music on time. I think perhaps the lesson to take out of that experience was that we basically wanted a robot to make sure the music kept playing, rather than a human to insert their own opinions and thoughts into it.

  • SuzieQuzie

    Beware! Not all iPods are created equal! I plan to iPod DJ our wedding and I learned that the iPod classic I have does not have crossfade. This makes it so songs can slowly fade out and skip over long, quiet intro/outros. I established all these fades on my dance playlist in iTunes and it abruptly skips on my iPod. I learned that you have to use an iPod Nano to use the crossfade function, so I guess we’ll be dropping $100 on one of those.

    • Meg Keene

      Because of the crossfade issue, we actually used our iTunes playlist on our computer. I don’t think you need to buy a nano, it’s way way easier to DJ off your computer. If something needs to be skipped (like, the person in charge decides, not a random guest), you can manage that easily on the computer, not so much on an iPod.

      • Jo

        A very well-meaning bridesmaid of mine maybe decided she should skip us through a song or two during our reception’s dance party, which may have brought out a little bit of bridezilla in me as I rushed over to stop her from touching our ipod and messing with the order we had very, very carefully crafted…

  • copper

    A couple other things to keep in mind:

    * if you’re planning on using Spotify Premium or similar, check to make sure all the music you love is available. We couldn’t imagine our wedding music without the Beatles, who aren’t available on Spotify, so we paid for our songs. This way we also get to keep our wedding playlists forever.

    * if you are iPod DJing it, think about asking a friend to be your Emcee. There’s some minimal announcing to be done—everybody please make your way to your tables for dinner, tables 1 and 2 can go to the buffet now, and now for the couple’s first dance, etc—and it’s important to make sure you have that covered.

    • Meg Keene

      I just want to chime in and say it was 110% worth the money we paid on songs (which, $50 tops? Not much) to have the playlist forever. It gets busted out on anniversaries pretty regularly, and I’m so glad to have it.

      We also had a friend Emcee for the minimal announcements, really wise.

      • Caroline

        That’s why I was so adamant about budgeting to buy the songs for our playlist. I want to be able to listen to the playlist forever, and not worry about if spotify has been replaced by CoolMusicServiceOf2018.

  • Kendra D

    Our venue requires/comes with a DJ. I’m pretty glad I don’t have to figure anything out. I’ll give a generic “don’t play” list, but honestly, I don’t care what is/isn’t played. If we do any dances, we’ll only be doing a “first” dance and even that feels inauthentic as our ceremony is happening on our 4th wedding anniversary. But, I definitely want to have a fun wedding. I don’t know that everyone will dance, but as long as people are having a good time, I don’t really care.

  • LM

    I love the last reminder about your crowd dancing only if they like dancing. Our friends, my family and my parents’ friends are all big dancers but my husband’s LARGE extended family apparently are not. I had to try really hard not to take it personally (semi-successfully) that a lot of them got nowhere near the dance floor despite my painstakingly assembled playlist. I made playlists for everything and it ended up taking way longer than I thought it would, but I am still glad I did it. It took me back to my mix tape making days.

  • Amie Melnychuk

    We did the ipod.

    We had a friend on guitar doing background ceremony music. Then when cued, he hut play on the theme song from the Hobbit for the guys to walk in to, and the Shire music for the ladies.

    I had created a playlist for the cocktail hour, lovely jazz and such, but it never got played. No one knew it existed even though I told the MCs about it many times.

    I also created a playlist for dinner, clearly labelled Dinner, of the soundtrack to Midnight in Paris, but cocktail music was played instead. No big. But no one could hear speeches because the MCs didn’t check mic volume throughout dinner.

    I spent many nights staying up late creating a kick ass playlist for dancing. It had no rap, it had no techno, it had all the right songs for each group of friends to dance to, at different yimes in the night because I knew when they would be leaving.

    My playlist lasted 6 songs before the more club inclined hijacked it and started taking requests. Next thing you know really dirty songs were playing while my Grandma was still there.

    Eventually the hubs saw how distressed I was and asked our MC to stop taking requests and they went back to the playlist. But by then it was too late, and the timing was off. People complained that the music went lame, and it really hurt.

    Moral is: if you do an ipod or a playlist, make sure the person in charge of it knows your rules and expectations. Let them know if they can skip a song no one seems into, or whether they can add fifty cent before 11 pm.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah. TOTALLY read the post I wrote about it mid wedding. You have to have someone in charge, you have to have a bouncer so no one can get anywhere close to the computer to change things, you have to cross fade your songs, and here is the real key: YOU NEED GOOD AMPLIFICATION. Like, rent it. If you want people to dance, you need a pro sound system. No one busts their ass to a kinda quiet “Put a Ring on It.” We rented the full pro sound system and it was awesome.

      Side note: if you don’t care about dancing, and just want background music, a non-pro sound system (like say, buying an amp) is probably fine.

      • Sarah G

        Yes yes a thousand times yes. I went to a wedding where the venue assured the couple that the venue’s sound system would be fine and it… wasn’t. We literally had to stand next to the speakers to hear the music. Luckily my friend knows musicians, one of whom ran to his studio and got some stuff and brought it over, but it killed the vibe for a good hour. However, that being said — it made us all rally around them and bust out a Super Quiet Dance Party, which in itself was quite memorable, so it’s always good to remember that people love you and it’ll be OK :)

  • Erin Hershey

    I went back and forth on whether to hire a DJ or not. First I thought ‘no’ because I really didn’t want them to talk much (like at all) and I thought I could put together a pretty good playlist myself, so what was the point? But I also didn’t want to have to worry about technical issues, adjusting songs to fit the mood or putting someone in charge of this effort for free, so I ended up hiring a DJ.

    It was a good choice… a professional DJ (who you’ve interviewed ahead of time to make sure they’re not douchey) really does know how to sense the feel of the crowd and adjust accordingly. My DJ ended up playing some songs played that I wouldn’t have played myself (I am SO TIRED of “Don’t Stop Believin”), but to be honest, when he played that song, the ENTIRE WEDDING got onto the dance floor and sang – it’s one of my best memories now because everyone had such a great time. Also, the DJ was able to respond to guest requests (some of which I never would have thought of ahead of time) and that was really fun.

    So if you’re on the fence, I say trust in a professional.

    • Jennie Elliott

      Thanks for this. I’m struggling right now with weather or not to hire a DJ. Money is the issue. We just don`t have a lot of it. Neither my fiancé and I are into music. We don’t even own an ipod. I like to dance so I do want music. But I wouldn’t have a clue what to include on a playlist. I may reconsider and get a DJ or possibly an amateur who’s decent.

  • Denae Brennan

    Great advice! One more important tip I would add is, if you choose to self-DJ, PLEASE designate someone to be in charge of the iPod/laptop (you’ll also need at least a few announcements made), and make sure they are committed to the job. I am a wedding planner and I had some clients recently who spent time putting together 4.5 hours of dancing music to have the groom’s cousin “DJ’ from a laptop, only to have the cousin bail out on duties shortly after hitting play. And when there is no one manning the playlist/device, it’s very easy for guests to take control and hit ‘next’ when they don’t like a song. They ran through the couple’s playlist in the first hour! Then we were scrambling through the iTunes library and hooking up phones to get through the rest of the night (with no connectivity to the internet to download requested music).

    To Elizabeth’s point, this issue had a lot to do with the guests – in my opinion it’s poor etiquette as a wedding guest to feel the need to skip songs when you haven’t asked permission. But guests felt like they were in control with no professional behind the DJ table.

    Also, consider that a professional DJ will provide dance floor lighting. Not a total necessity, but you’d be surprised how much lighting can affect people’s desire (read: ability to let down their inhibitions) to dance. My most successful self-DJ clients had a killer playlist, guests who respected it (easier to manage with their 100-person guest list), and the groom’s father, who was in a band, provided dance floor lighting.

    • Violet

      I totally agree Denae! I asked my wonderful cousin if he would be our emcee and in charge of “protecting” the playlist. He brought the sound equipment from his band, so he knew how loud it needed to be for the size of the room, number of guests, etc. He also happens not to be a big dancer, so I didn’t feel *too* guilty asking him to man the laptop. He took his job Seriously! There was only one incident of a slightly inebriated guest messing with it, but these things will happen. Overall, I don’t think our wedding would’ve been the same without my cousin being so helpful! Our venue handled our lighting, but I’ve been to weddings where it wasn’t, errr, dark enough. It definitely inhibits people from really letting lose.

      • Jo

        If you are going to self DJ, you need to think about sound equipment. Ideally, you know someone in a band who has some. If not, you’re not going to get by with just laptop speakers!!

  • Amy March

    One of my friends asked guests to RSVP with your wedding song and the song you most wanted to hear at their wedding. This single lady loved hearing Put a Ring on it and Teenage Dream at their wedding!

  • emilyg25

    I used Spotify to make our wedding playlists because I have Opinions about music, and also didn’t want to pay for a DJ. If you want people to dance, do keep in mind that people tend to like to dance to radio hits and classics that they know. When making my playlist, I was so smugly pleased by my Fabulous Taste, but some of my weirder choices fell flat when it came time for folks to dance. Fortunately, I didn’t have many and I mied em up, but it was a good lesson.

  • Winny the Elephant

    Ok here’s my dilemma:
    -both sides of my extended family are religious and do not dance nor do they believe dancing is a moral pursuit (about half of the guests fall into this category)
    -hubby’s family will dance but most likely only to classical, ballads and 80s jams (about 40 percent fall into this category)
    -we’re inviting about some of our friends (aged 22-29) who will want to really get down (about 10 percent)
    -I love to dance, my fiancé does not.
    -we have ZERO money left for a DJ and I am totally Opinionated about the music so a DJ is out

    How do we structure our music to cater to everyone? What will happen to my family who does not want to dance? (I’ve heard the board game suggestion but does that really work?) What about our friends?

    I feel like if we play more intergenerationally friendly music at the beginning with booty shaking to come I will totally alienate my friends and they will take off for the nearest bar and start their own afterparty and I will have alienated my extended family. If I play all booty shaking both his family and my family will be alienated.

    HELP

    • Del678

      People who don’t like to dance will just hang out and chat. I had games but no one bothered. Dancers danced, talkers talked. Adults know how to be at a wedding (usually). That’s not to say it won’t work for you. Doesn’t hurt to games it there.

      I would structure you music 4-to-1 with songs as you’ve described. as in 4 ballads/80s/”everyone knows this classic” songs to 1 super-hip tailored song. I was surprised how much my 22-29 hip friends and family were secretly into the classic rock/80sdance stuff. Totally NOT alienated. Just over pack your playlist with extra songs of both genres at the end so you can skip if needed. Regarding conservative family, perhaps make sure your songs are at least conservative in lyrics and maybe put your dance floor to one side (rather than in the centre as at some weddings), and a sofa (maybe games box) or something to the other so they can separate.

      • Winny the Elephant

        Those are really good ideas, especially that 4 to 1 ratio (and definitely with conservative lyrics). Small venue means fixed dance floor right in front of tables but that’s a good idea- I will try and seat them in tables together, furthest from the dance floor. Thank you!

        • Sarah G

          This happened at my cousin’s wedding- the Southern Baptists got up in a group and left when the music started. People knew it was going to happen, and it was fine as far as I could tell. I think it’s great to make accommodations to help everyone feel comfortable and respected, but also remember they are adults and will make their own choices, and that everyone will for the most part act with kindness towards you and not be weird/awkward if they can help it :)

          • Winny the Elephant

            That’s exactly what I don’t want to happen, if they leave that means I’ll lose all of my family not to mention 50% of the total number of guests at 9pm. While I know they will act graciously, they really don’t go to many weddings where there is dancing, I’m not sure that they will be expecting it (no one in my family has ever done it).

            Ultimately it means more to me to have my family there than to have dancing (a realization this discussion has definitely helped me come to). While I love dancing at this point I’m seriously considering just creating a playlist that will allow for some mild couple dancing while not being so loud as to discourage conversation and mingling. Any suggestions?

          • Sharon Gorbacz

            Why don’t you front-load the reception with all of the “must do” like dinner, cake cutting, etc. with some light incidental music going on, then start ramping up with the 80’s stuff for your hubby’s family, and then amp it up even more for the younger friends. If you let them know ahead of time that the dancing comes after the boring stuff, they’ll stick around. :)

    • Laura

      Wait… are we the same person? I was just about to post a question with eerily similar guest/family/us traits.

      • Winny the Elephant

        Well at least we know we’re not alone. I really don’t know what to do about it and you can sympathize that it’s not an easy decision. Let me know if you come up with a solution :s if there’s a solution at all….

        • Laura

          I will let you know what is decided! I have this vision of finding a venue with two rooms…

  • Sakura

    We (read “I”) self-DJd our wedding reception using WinAmp on a laptop so that we could control the cross fading and make distinct playlists. We wanted an all-out dance party but I am SUPER opinionated on music and we were trying to cut costs wherever we could in our budget.

    For our ceremony we used my old iPhone which gets used as a music player these days. It had four playlists; Pre-Ceremony, Bridal Procession, Announcement and Post-Ceremony. Our celebrant hooked it up to his PA system and one of our groomsmen hit play on the right playlist at the appropriate time. Our celebrant also knew what was playing when so he could prompt him.

    For our reception we enlisted the help of three friends, one who controlled the music and two who shared MC duty. We had a Pre-Dinner Drinks, Bridal Party Announcement, Dinner, and Dance Party playlist. Our friend in charge of the music hit play on the right playlist at the right time, turned the music down for announcements to be made and stopped it for speeches. It was really important that we gave our MCs and music controller a detailed schedule of what was happening when so that we didn’t have to be asked all night. The only time we had to worry about the music is when we wanted the last song played so that we could leave and go collapse on our bed!

    Important things I found about putting together a playlist:
    * Do HEAPS of googling for ‘wedding playlist’ there are a lot of great lists of must-haves out there that will help you to start to make a base for your playlist.
    * Remember that there is most likely a bunch of different music tastes through your wedding guest list. Try and include at least a little bit for everyone. We had our first dance song run into a couple of Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble songs and some slower popular 80s and 90s hits to get the older crowd joining in and then slowly built up the pace and ended up with 5 full-on dance tunes before we played our last song of the night.
    * Don’t go nuts on music people won’t know. If they don’t know it they probably won’t dance to it.
    * Have a bit of rise and fall so people who love to dance can take a moment to grab another drink or have a play in the photo booth.
    * Be prepared to spend A LOT of time putting your playlist together, I spent months getting all the music I wanted, paring it down to fit our time frame and then putting it all in order so no one would have to worry about it on the night.
    * Remember that if you make a playlist full of music you love, you aren’t going to want to leave the dance floor and talk to people all night!

    Highlights of the evening: my brother in law and his fiancée doing the lift from Dirty Dancing when we played Time Of My Life as our last song of the evening and everyone going absolutely NUTS to Barbara Streisand.

  • Sewassbe

    What if you WANT someone who will do more MCing? I love to dance, but my fiance does not and he hates being the center of attention, so I wanted our first dance to turn into a snowball dance (where the DJ yells “Snowball!” and everyone on the dance floor breaks up and goes out and grabs more people from the audience – repeat until everyone is on the dance floor – it’s a 1950s-era dance party mixer). I also love couples dancing more than just rocking out, so I want a good mix of stuff. And I want at least a couple of songs to be Scandinavian folk dance tunes (homage to my heritage plus my parents are folk dancers). But I also don’t want some cheesy old dude who is going to play the Chicken Dance and make weird comments or try to be “cool.” We are definitely not “clubbing” sort of people and I hate music that is too loud, despite the fact that I love lots of different types of music. So what’s a girl to do??? I’m totally stuck as to where to even start looking or what sort of questions to ask.

    • Jo

      Try asking one of your other vendors, if you’ve hired any. The point-person at your venue, or your photographer will probably have had lots of experience witnessing local DJ’s and can make recommendations based upon your description.

      • Sewassbe

        Oooh! Photographer is a good idea. We’re probably going with an outdoorish or non-traditional venue (haven’t found a place we can afford yet, so we’ve started looking at places that don’t normally do weddings), so they may not have a point person familiar with wedding folks. But photograher is a great idea, and caterers, too. It’s just hard because we’re sort of traditional in a non-current sort of way. Maybe because we’re historians? Lol.

  • Kait

    We went the no DJ route for our wedding last weekend. We rented two stand alone speakers with stands, and a small mixer from Long and Mcquade’s which came to $53 for the night and were well worth the money spent (we are in ON, Canada). Most guests didn’t even notice that we didn’t have a DJ.

    There was one groomsman who adjusted the playlist as normal and we easily ran everything off our macbook.

    Although we always knew what songs we did and didn’t want music wise, I never considered self dj’ing until I read Meg’s book – so thanks for an idea that worked out so well!

    • Winny the Elephant

      Hi There,

      I know you posted this about three months ago but I’m a London, ON bride and I’ve been looking at Long and Mcquade’s speaker rentals. Can I ask what exactly you rented from them? How did it go? I think self dj is possible but the man is skeptical…

      Thank you!

  • lady brett

    one other note for the capital-o opinionated among us: if you are into music, it is decidedly possible that putting together your playlist could be the single best part of wedding planning, which is pretty worth it too.

  • Mick

    How important is the entertainment? Do you ask the photographer “what if you can’t make it to the wedding?” How about the cake person? Florist? Caterer? Photo-booth person?

  • Staci Nichols

    Unfortunately, this article contains some misinformation….as I’m sure would an article if I, a wedding DJ, were to write about what wedding planners do. Please educate yourselves, brides, as your reception entertainment will make or break your wedding: http://revolutionwed.com/uploads/Wedding_DJ_101_Online_Ebook.pdf

    • Kayjayoh

      Make or break? Doubt it.

      • copper

        At least this one disclosed that she’s a DJ trolling for clients…

  • Kayjayoh

    That’s a terrible article.

  • Anon

    It’s funny that this is on this week because I was just thinking about it. I am so deeply in the self DJ camp. Unless you really aren’t into music or dancing or really just don’t want to think about it, I think self DJ-ing makes so much sense. I was just at a wedding where the bride and groom kept going – “hey- this was on our do not play list… o wait, no, it just sounds exactly like another song on our do not play list.” There is just so much terrible music out there. I think a lot of professional wedding DJs scare people that no one will dance if you don’t hire them, but I have been to lots of non-wedding parties (and now weddings!) where amateur DJs with computers or playlists on ipods kept everyone rocking all night.

    Now, to be fair, my husband is very into music, as are several of our close friends. Hubs put a lot of work into crafting perfect play lists (Horah danced with a combination of tradition and modern klesmer plus Golgo Bordello and other Balkan rock music? Amazing! Got absolutely everyone dancing! and something few DJs could have managed for us.). Self DJ-ing isn’t just a budget option for people who can’t afford to hire someone. Self-DJing lets you be creative and make your wedding music full of the music you and your friends and family love rather than having a few real favorites peppered into the standard mix. It is, however, a lot of work (like a lot of DIY) and so not for everyone.

  • copper

    I think the guests would remember if the bride was a major stress case because she didn’t have the help she needed. I get the idea that you should focus on what’s memorable, but this pitting wedding planners vs. DJs thing isn’t so productive, because everybody has different situations and priorities.

  • Ed Spencer

    I am a DJ that performs at weddings, and no, I’m not trolling for clients nor am I seeking traffic to my blog or anything else. I simply want to agree, and disagree with your comments as someone who also works in the industry to provide some additional thoughts. (Which is why I haven’t used my company name, nor provided any links of any kind below.)

    Rather than go on ad nauseum about the DJ vs. i-Pod vs. band, and my own thoughts on the subject, I will simply say that you’re right. Not every wedding needs a DJ or band. Bands and DJs tend to promote themselves as the center of attention and try to get people to think that without a DJ or band you’ll have a horrible wedding and that’s not always the case. Each option has pros and cons, and it’s about weighing them against the type of wedding you’re having and if they’re a good fit. The first rule so many people miss is that not every wedding needs a DJ, a band, a florist, a wedding planner, photographer, videographer, nor any of the other myriad of wedding professionals available for hire who are talking about how ‘bad’ the wedding will be without them. I’ve attended many weddings that were just beautiful with only one wedding professional – the officiant. And he came from their church. And he was only at the reception as a GUEST.

    I did want to touch on one thing you said though, and I’ll quote it here:

    “They’re all about making people dance, and not so much about embarrassing/cheesy announcements and games. In fact, they’re often relieved when you tell them that the only announcement you’re going to want them to make is for last call at the bar. I have unfortunately seen more than my share of wedding DJs whose announcements make me both cringe and blush, and it takes a lot to make me blush, particularly when I’m not even the one in the center of the dance floor.”

    The problem with this is that speaking on the microphone is the role of the Master of Ceremonies (and announcer to a much lesser extent) and the number of DJs who are qualified and train to be an effective master of ceremonies is so abysmally small it’s ceased to be funny a very long time ago. This is despite the DJs claiming to ‘be’ your ‘MC’ or able to ‘handle announcements’.

    Professional masters of ceremonies would never embarrass you, are eloquent, charming, and use appropriate topical humor. A good master of ceremonies can help to move things along, and to keep your guests involved over the course of the night. They will help to facilitate the fun by creating smooth transitions into and out of the formal elements like the first dance, father daughter, and mother son dances, and yes, even the cake cutting into the other portions of the night – including the dancing and other celebratory aspects of the night.

    While no wedding professional is absolutely necessary at a wedding celebration, confusing the role of a master of ceremonies with that of a DJ is as problematic as confusing the florist with a wedding decorator. The number of people who are very good at both is quite small, while there are those who are good at one or the other.

    If you’d like to discuss this at some point I’ve love to do so, particularly how other cultures handle the role of master of ceremonies and actually separate it from the musical portion of the night completely. Personally I think that this could actually HELP brides who are having larger weddings to consider these roles individually rather than as a ‘package’.

    Just my own .02 worth… and I hope it provides some useful dialogue and thoughts for yourself and your readership.

  • Lisa G

    If you’re using an iPod/ipad, get the app WeddingDJ now. We set up all our playlists in iTunes, then set them up to play through WeddingDJ. The app is helpful because it can fade for you and requires swiping or double selecting to pause, play, or skip a song which virtually assures no accidental touches will disrupt your music. It also progresses between playlists in the order you have them set up. We had a friend run the sound and it was super easy for him to understand how to use the app and work everything.

    One thing about self-DJing – it works best if your venue already has a sound system, or you can borrow one from a friend. If you have to rent a sound system, that’s another vendor you’ll have to deal with and an added expense.