Wedding Music—DIY or DJ?

Breaking down the boogie down

Get Sh*t Done: Wedding Music—DIY or DJ? | A Practical Wedding (2)

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

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