Should you DJ at your own wedding?
A good wedding DJ will keep your big day flowing and your dance floor moving. But hiring one could also set you back $1,000 or more. You can DJ your own wedding for a fraction of the cost, without sacrificing the flow or the dance party. You just need a playlist, a sound system and some planning.
Brian Zimmerman and his wife, Amy, pulled together the music for their December 2013 wedding in just a few days.
“Music is such a big part of our everyday lives, so it was easy to do a lot of that curating. It’s something that we already spend so much time doing,” Brian Zimmerman says.
Not a music aficionado? Give yourself a few weeks to research and curate a playlist — because no one wants to download and organize songs the night before their wedding. Use these tips to be your own wedding DJ.
Wedding entertainment is a prominent place for couples to cut wedding costs. Why pay for a pricey DJ (or an even more expensive wedding band) when all the songs you could possibly want are right at your fingertips? Thanks to the easy proliferation of mp3 files, music-streaming services, and the excellent sound quality available in small, affordable speakers these days, DIYing your own wedding music seems fairly doable—easy, even. But there are some major considerations you should keep in mind when deciding to DJ your wedding, not to mention some guidelines to follow to make sure the experience is harmonious for everyone (see what we did there?). Read on for our expert tips for how to DJ your own wedding that will have you and your guests keeping the beat all night long.
What You’ll Need to DIY DJ Your Wedding?
You’ll need a reliable digital player such as an iPod capable of holding enough music. We recommend that you have a playlist that is an hour or two longer than the length of your reception, which will allow you to start the music before guests arrive and have backup songs. You’ll also need a good speaker system, a mixing console, a microphone (either wireless or with a long enough cable), and a cable to connect the Mp3 player – most likely a mini-stereo to dual RCA (male) cord, depending on your mixing console.
Test It Out
This might seem obvious, but you’ll want to leave plenty of time to test out your system and speakers. You may need a different kind of cable, or your digital player might not play well with others. Rental equipment has been known to fail, and you’ll need time to get a replacement delivered. Static, feedback, poor sound balance, and low volume are just a few of the problems you might encounter. If your venue does weddings regularly, chances are they can walk you through the DIY DJ setup, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Have a Backup Plan and a Backup Backup Plan
Along with your main digital player and its power cable, it’s a good idea to bring a second digital player or a laptop – all loaded with your music. You’ll also want to have on hand the name of an equipment rental company who does last-minute deliveries. In case no one is dancing, and you need to switch directions, you’ll want that extra hour or two of music mentioned above. Odds are, you won’t need any of your backups, but the cliché of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” is especially true in this case.
Prevent “Guest DJs”
There’s always that one guest who doesn’t like what’s playing and tries to change things up. Instead of bombarding a regular DJ with requests, she’ll be trying to hit shuffle on your playlist, or even switch the cable to her own device. But you can prepare for this bad wedding guest. First, ask for music requests, either on your wedding website or on your reply cards with a line like “Name some artists or songs you’re hoping to hear at our reception” or “What songs are sure to get you dancing?” Hearing a favourite song might satisfy a would-be guest DJ, but in case it doesn’t, you should have a sound manager or “freejay” who can guard and hit play for any special songs. When the freejay inevitably needs to take a break, hide your device under a taped-down piece of paper that says, “We’ve chosen our wedding playlist carefully. Please don’t touch the iPod!”
Make a Music Plan and Checklist
Make sure you’ve got a song for every special moment at your wedding, from the first dance to the last one. Here’s a wedding reception music plan, which will make sure you know which song should be played and when. Load these key pieces of music onto a separate playlist, ready to cue when necessary, or use an app like My Wedding DJ.
Make mini playlists
Your wedding day is made up of lots of moments — some big, some small — that you’ll want set to music. Make separate playlists for each of these moments, label them clearly and arrange them in chronological order to ensure your MC cues up the right tunes at the right time.
What should be the flow of the playlist in DJing my wedding?
Here are a few moments that may warrant their own playlist:
- Pre-ceremony seating music
- Processional (parents, bridal party)
- Processional (bride)
- Cocktails and dinner
- First dance
- Parent dances (father/daughter, mother/son)
And remember: You’re celebrating a partnership, so your wedding music is a democracy. Talk to the person you love, and if they say, “There’s no fucking way we’re playing Frankie Smith’s ‘Double Dutch Bus’ at our reception,” you have to respect that wish begrudgingly.
Here are some thoughts on the wedding’s various music possibilities along with my picks and playlists (sans anything that isn’t on Spotify, natch).
The aisle walk is a good spot for a more popular love song, but as is the case with every single element of your wedding, it should mean something to you. One of my closest friends had a cello and clarinet play “God Only Knows”, which was obviously a slam dunk. The possibilities are endless, so think about a song you’ve both made moon eyes to and go with it.
What We’re Doing: Morgan’s uncle, who’s an excellent guitarist, is doing an instrumental version of The Beatles’ “In My Life”.
Alternate Recommendations: A children’s chorus singing a joyful rendition of Ramones’ “Oh Oh I Love Her So”. “Ram On” on ukulele but with just the whistling part instead of the actual vocals. “Satellite of Love”. You get the idea.
Think of something that sounds happy or at least content. The big moment’s just happened, the officiant’s job is done, and now, something joyous could play while you guys kiss and walk away.
We initially thought about having George Harrison’s version of “If Not For You” play—All Things Must Pass was a very big deal in the early months of our relationship. Then we realized we didn’t want it to be such a Beatle-heavy ceremony.
What We’re Doing: Brian Eno’s “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”. A weird pick, definitely—it’s not really a happy, content, or romantic song. The lyrics are about the narrator’s love leaving him to live in China and get married to someone else. But the melody is joyful and strange, and it makes me think of the coming years of the two of us listening to Taking Tiger Mountain in our living room. (Which is how we both came up with this idea in the first place.) At least for me, that’s what this event is all about: looking ahead toward something wonderful.
Cocktail hour—that spot after the ceremony and before dinner which may or may not involve cocktails—has the loosest criteria of all your wedding playlists. You can build any kind of atmosphere you want: elated, chill, whatever. You’re making a mixtape for however you want to feel after you’ve just gotten married. Maybe you want to pregame your meal with some Jock Jams, and maybe you want something quiet or contemplative.
What We’re Doing: We picked a hodgepodge of songs that invite happy memories for us. Not all of them are “universal” in the way most wedding material should be (the Raincoats’ “Lola” cover) or explicitly about happy subjects (Mutual Benefit’s “Golden Wake”). Still, they’re warm songs that we enjoy a great deal and should generally be conducive to people milling around while eating cheese and crackers.
Go for quiet and unobtrusive. You may not even want music at all, given how much talking will hopefully be taking place. Think quiet ambient or jazz music.
What We’re Doing: We built a progression of sorts. It’s a mixture of early jazz, old French songs, pleasant instrumentals, old country/bluegrass ballads, soul ballads, instrumental tunes, ultimately culminating in Nico, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, and Roxy Music. The prompt I gave myself was “moonlit/smells like a record store”—not sure if that makes total sense on paper.
The first dance is a minefield for clichés, but all that really matters is that you pick a song that means something to both you and you are betrothed. Think about the part of your mutual record collection that isn’t quite as universally heralded. Remember memorable shows you’ve attended together. Find a song that’s struck a chord with both of you.
Early on in the planning process, I suggested that our first dance is to “Small Plane” by Bill Callahan—we’d just seen him in Detroit a week or so before. But ultimately, that’s a song that impacted me more than it did Morgan. The song we picked is one that’s important for both of us.
What We’re Doing: “Rest of Our Lives” by Dum Dum Girls
Dancing With Mom or Dad
Talk it over with your families. Maybe there’s a nice slow song that fits. (My cousin Marc tells me Carole King is a pretty sure deal in this scenario.)
What We’re Doing: This isn’t a tradition that we care about—my mom and Morgan’s dad included—so we’re skipping it.
If you’ve been faced with the task of being your wedding DJ, you’ve probably already scoured dozens of sample playlists at this point. Awesomely, writers will explain why you shouldn’t include “Live Like You Were Dying” or “What’s Going On?”. They’ll include things like “The Cupid Shuffle”, “The Cha Cha Slide”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and so on. There’s a reason for this: Those songs are enormous crowd-pleasers.
Last Song of the Night
Not a requirement, but it’s nice to cool off from the dance portion and let people know that it’s time to get the hell out. The last time I DJ’d a wedding, they ended on “California Stars” by Wilco and Billy Bragg, which is an excellent choice.
What We’re Doing: “Annual Botanical” by the Barbaras, one of the all-time great (and extremely underrated) Memphis garage pop tunes.
Pick crowd pleasers
You and your partner may love thrash metal, but Slayer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. So save “Raining Blood” for the after-party and stick to crowd pleasers during the reception.
“What people call typical wedding songs — Motown, Stevie Wonder — they became typical for a reason: They have universal appeal,” Stiles says. “If you’re playing heavy metal, not everyone is going to stand up and dance.”
Not sure where to start? Stiles recommends searching for the top 100 dance songs and selecting popular tunes from various decades to engage guests both young and old.
That doesn’t mean you can’t slip in a few lesser-known favourites. The Zimmermans included tunes from indie and folk artists like Spoon, Cloud Cult and David Gray on their reception playlist.
Go premium, download everything
You don’t want your first dance interrupted by a Target commercial or a spotty internet connection. Opt for a premium music service that offers ad-free offline listening. Then, download everything and store it on your music player.
Spotify Premium and Apple Music are both $9.99 a month, with generous promotions for new subscribers. Both services let you crossfade tracks — a handy DJ trick to avoid dead air between songs. Apple Music also allows you to trim songs (via iTunes), so your guests can groove to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” minus the nearly minute-long guitar solo at the end.
Crossfade and Cut
One of the most important things that a DJ does is create transitions between songs. Six seconds of silence might not sound like much, but it’s certainly enough to kill a mood and empty a dance floor. You might also have a favourite tune with a long intro or an extended ending that just won’t work. Fortunately, there are DIY DJ solutions to these problems. Some models of iPods allow gapless playback. You can also use iTunes to both crossfade and cut songs, and DJ apps like Virtual DJ or My Wedding DJ can help you with advanced techniques.
Music that sounds plenty loud in an empty room will be a mere whisper when it competes with a hundred people chatting and laughing. Even if they are completely silent, their bodies alone will absorb sound. Your space may already have a speaker setup, but be sure to test it out. Many have older speakers that don’t operate well at loud volumes, or which may need to be supplemented with additional woofers and speakers. You can rent a basic setup of an amp and some speakers for about $100 in many areas of the US.
Play Music That Will Please Crowds
While you can use the Chicken Dance or the Electric Slide to bring out some shy folks, there are better and less cheesy ways to get your guests dancing. One of the prime reasons to DIY DJ is that you can control what gets played and avoid the cheese, but we think we can all agree that your wedding is not a time to play only death metal or emo music. You need to think about your guests as well as yourselves.
Don’t Rely on an Internet Connection
Streaming music services like Spotify or MOG are great for personal listening, but they can cause big problems at a wedding. If the internet connection goes out or resets, you’ll be left without music. Instead, use offline music sources.
What will be my setup as I DJ my own wedding?
Rent a sound system
Your Bluetooth speaker might work great at home, but it won’t pump out sufficient sound for a wedding — especially if your event is outdoors. If your venue doesn’t have a sound system, rent one.
Brandon Stiles, a founder of Uptown Down Entertainment in Atlanta and author of “How to DJ Your Own Wedding,” suggests the following setup:
- Two 12-inch speakers with stands
- A microphone
- A laptop or music player (your own)
Renting equipment from a music store like Guitar Center or Sam Ash will set you back $75-$150 a day, plus a refundable deposit.
Appoint a master of ceremonies
Enlist a friend or family member to help cue the music and make key announcements — like when dinner is served, or it’s time for the first dance.
Set your MC up for success. Make sure they know the day’s timeline and can familiarize themselves with your playlists and sound system before the wedding day.
Do a dry run
A missing cable. A bad mic. Audio feedback. Anyone of these issues can throw a wrench into your music plans. Better to encounter them a day or two before the wedding, rather than an hour or two before.
That’s where a dry run comes in. Set up everything like it’s the main event and run through the various parts of your day — pre-ceremony music, ceremony readings, etc. Your officiant and MC will have a chance to practice, and you’ll have time to address problems that arise.
Why You Shouldn’t DJ Your Own Wedding
Here at BrideBox, we absolutely love the concept of DIY as a way to save money and exercise your creativity, especially when it comes to your wedding. However, sometimes things should be left to the professionals. For example, trying to create and set up your own lighting system may sound like a great way to cut costs, but we all know that hiring a skilled professional would guarantee much better results.
It may seem obvious that you would want a professional company to do your lighting, but what about something like music? Your reception is the time for everyone to relax a bit and let loose on the dance floor. And let’s be honest, we’ve all been to a concert or a party with a DJ and thought to ourselves, “That looks easy. I could do that.” In this day and age, more and more people are taking the DIY approach to music by loading up an iPod or other music player with their favorite tracks and just letting it play throughout the night. But what most people may not realize is that relying on a tiny device to provide such an integral part of your big day opens the door to many potential problems and issues. Here are a few of the undeniable reasons why you shouldn’t DJ your own wedding.
The most common issue with DJing your own wedding is technological difficulties. There are a lot of different components to getting your sound system to work and sound good, and speakers, cords, the sound mixer and the actual music playing device are just a few of the key ones. Any number of technical failures could happen with any of these devices, which would cause you to have no music for your ceremony and reception. In addition to electronics not working at all, electronics are also notorious for not working as they should. Poor sound quality, harsh feedback and extreme differences in volume from song to song are all technical failures that would disrupt the flow of your reception and negatively impact your guests’ experience. All it takes is one faulty cord or an iPod crash to ruin your perfect day.
You forget songs
Picture this: you’re getting down on the dance floor with all of your best friends from every stage of your life when all of a sudden your sorority sister shrieks and asks if you remember that time you went to that dive bar that one time and sang karaoke to that one Michael Jackson song. You all laugh together and reminisce about how awesome that night was. But, you don’t have the song on your playlist! If you had hired a professional DJ or band to play at your wedding, they could have seamlessly introduced the song next, causing extreme excitement and delight for you and your friends.
Reconsider Hiring a Professional DJ
So all these tips might leave you feeling more prepared. But they could also be overwhelming; suddenly, the simple DIY DJ isn’t as simple as you thought. Once you add up the cost of renting equipment and purchasing songs, and the time you’ll spend making playlists and getting prepared, you may decide that it’s worth it to go pro. To save money, you could consider using a DIY setup for the cocktail hour, and a pro for the reception.