Matt and I decided to DJ our own wedding reception with an iPod for several reasons:
- A $2,000 budget does not leave much room to hire a band or even a DJ.
- We've been annoyed with DJs at wedding receptions in the past*.
- Matt loves music and was excited about the opportunity to pick all the songs.
- We thought that eliminating as many wedding vendors as possible would help eliminate a lot of the stress of wedding planning. We would have to do less searching, less interviewing, less haggling, less following-up, less worrying about their reliability.
However, DJing our own wedding was no walk in the park. It took careful planning and follow-through. Here's the step-by-step process we went through (plus a few things I wish we would have done):
- Figure out a way to project the sound professionally. I love dancing and wanted our wedding reception to evolve into a thumping, jumping, full-blown p-a-r-t-y. However, I worried that with anything less than professional sound equipment we would have trouble corralling enough energy and interest for true, get-down dancing. In the process of researching options for renting such equipment, we realized that we had a friend in a band. Matt contacted him, and Nick agreed to let us borrow his stuff for the night. He also volunteered to be in charge of transporting it, setting it up, and breaking it down. There are lots of rental companies out there, plus lots of amateur musicians have really nice equipment. Also, a post on Craigslist might turn up some interesting leads.
- Create separate play lists. Once the speaker situation was settled, Matt got to work with creating the play lists. He created a pre-ceremony play list (since a quartet was also not in the budget), a post-ceremony play list, a dinner play list, and a dance party play list. I think coming up with play lists is one of the most difficult parts, but there's no right or wrong answer to the question of what to play. We started with the music we liked and thought about which specific songs would create the kind of ambiance we were going for. We used music we already had in our iTunes library, as well as the website Hypem or Elbows to download songs we didn't have already. There are lots of free resources out there that include lists of suggested songs.
- Match the arc of the evening to the arc of the music. One of the reasons why DJs are a potentially appealing option is because they can be skilled at matching music to the mood and using the music to further shape the mood. With the absence of such an omnipotent observer, you have to take matters into your own hands by anticipating the arc of the evening and creating songs that align with that arc. For example, we started our dinner mix with relaxing yet upbeat music. By the time we wanted the dancing to start, we switched it up. We decided to start with a few classic, popular dance tunes to get people out on the floor early. We also folded slow songs into the mix to give people time to rest. The good news is that you don't have to stress out too much about this process because you can always advance to different songs throughout the evening, if needed, to match the energy of the crowd.
- Plan way more music than you think you need and bring a back-up iPod. It's better to be safe than sorry. We created really long play lists and then brought a back-up iPod in case something went wrong. We made sure to write these items on our centralized "To Bring" list, so we didn't forget them in the stress of packing.
- Plan any intros or transitions. We wanted someone to introduce our "first dance," so we asked Nick to do the honors. After that, we didn't think it was necessary to include any other transitions. However, you could easily insert your own transitions by creating your own mp3's (such as "This song goes out to Grandma.")
- Clearly establish roles and responsibilities in advance. Who is responsible for bringing the speakers? What time will they bring them? Where exactly will they need to be set up? How many outlets are required? Will any additional cords need to be provided? Who is bringing the iPod? And the back-up? What time should the music start? Who presses the play button? Answering these questions (and any others) will ensure smooth execution.
- When you've planned everything, let go and completely immerse yourself in the moment. You don't want your wedding to fly by, and you don't want to be a stress ball. Once you've planned everything that is in your control, surrender to the universe and truly experience the sheer loveliness of bringing together your nearest and dearest to witness and celebrate your commitment. Even if there is a major snafu, trust that someone will figure out a solution and it will all work out in the end. It might even interject some good comic relief and provide everyone with something to remember. Case in point: the power went out at my friends' wedding, and some of her former students banded together and started singing. It was very moving and memorable.
Overall, we were really pleased with our DIY iPod wedding reception. The dance party was a blast. The money we saved (and diverted toward a down payment two days after our wedding weekend) was definitely worth it. Plus, we had a great experience working with our friend, Nick, and he seemed to feel even more connected to the experience because he played an integral role in it.
However, here are some things I wish we would have done:
- Get really, really good dance songs. We had some good dance songs, but most of the music we listen to is not dance-inspiring. I wish we would have gathered more really classic songs (I'm thinking back to my middle school days in the rollerskating rinks). If we had known about programs that let you download other people's music libraries, that would have been a really good option for getting good music for free.
- Get suggestions from friends. I love the trend of asking friends and family to request songs on their RSVPs. We could have easily done this with our online RSVPs, but it didn't occur to us. I think it's a fun way to build community and connection.
- Decide what your policy is for touching the iPod. Matt and I didn't figure out our policy before the wedding, and we ended up having a particular friend who didn't like our choice in music. She tried to use our iPod to achieve her own musical agenda during the reception. In retrospect, I wish we would have secured the iPod beneath a sheet of paper (with edges taped down) that read, "Please respect our wishes and keep away from the iPod." It could be fun to let your guests interact with the iPod if you decide that's what you want, but for us, it ended up feeling really scattered when our friend would change the music and we would change it back.
I wholeheartedly recommend the DIY iPod wedding reception route for a variety of reasons, and I would love to hear your suggestions and questions in the comment section!
*I am in no way suggesting that all DJs are annoying. In fact, there seem to be really cool ones out there.