How to do an iPod Wedding

You've probably read the articles online and in bridal magazines about how easy it would be to iPod your own wedding and save money by not hiring a DJ. Now you get to have total control over the music and add that personal touch to your big day. As a professional Wedding DJ in Lawrenceville GA, you'd expect me to tell you this is a bad idea and why it's not going to work. I personally love music and can see how appealing it is. You have an iPod full of your favorite music. You've waited until you're at the last of your budget. So where can you cut costs? It's not going to be the gifts you get each other, or your honeymoon. But if you are going to cut costs (or just feel like you can't find a DJ who will customize your wedding) and you are going to do it on your own, at least go in knowing what you are really getting into. Some of those wedding magazines and websites who blindly suggest and encourage this trend make it seem as if it was so easy that the kid down the street that mows your lawn and their dog could do this. Having an iPod wedding is not for everybody, nor is it cheap and easy, and suggesting otherwise is a crude over-simplification. Your friend from work bakes cookies, but you wouldn't think of having her bake, decorate and deliver her first wedding cake at your once in a lifetime event, unless you had a great plan for making sure it happened right. So here are a few pointers to get your plan started, without making some of the most common mistakes.

It's my party

Remember your wedding only happens once, so if you're going to make your dreams come true, you're going to have to think about every aspect of your reception and how you want it to go. Then you'll need the plan to make it work. I'm not going to cover every possible wedding scenario, so let's assume a typical wedding reception of 100 to 150 guests or so in a hotel ballroom here in San Jose.

Remember a wedding DJ typically is more than a jukebox. You're going to need to include several crucially important elements: music, equipment, a timeline of your reception, and someone to pull it off.

Background music for cocktails and dinner is probably the easiest place to start for a “do-it-yourself” iPod DJ. Instrumentals work perfectly here or put in what I like to call "listening music" (you know, your favorite non-dancing, mellow songs.) You'll want to keep a little bit of energy during cocktails as people are mingling and you don't want it too dead. Have fun with it, but remember that your guests are trying to talk during dinner and cocktails. During dinner, start off a little bit easier and build up the energy by increasing the tempo and intensity of the music as the meal progresses. You want to see toes tapping and heads bobbing as your dinner ends and people get ready to start the dancing portion of the event. Be sure you set your playlist with extra songs as this is where many weddings run a little late.

Kiss on my list

First a couple of thoughts about playlists. This could be a potential pitfall. First, decide if you are just going to start a playlist and let it run, or if you want to build several playlists for the event. For example, just like a DJ will design several "sets" depending on how the evening progresses and how the crowd reacts, you can anticipate several scenarios (at least the basic ones) so you can switch playlists as you go. I suggest you look at your timeline to come up with these. Some examples: cocktail hour, grand entrance, dinner, cutting the cake/dessert, first dance, getting people out there in the beginning, after the garter/bouquet toss (or other special events), later night, getting grandma/grandpa up, leaving. You may also decide to make a couple of playlists for different genres, so you could change to the "Old Time Rock and Roll" list and then back to something more contemporary as you needed. Timing is critical here. Remember that weddings are never exactly on time, so leave yourself some buffer.

I remember one bride and groom doing an iPod type wedding (I wasn't there as the DJ.) They had their person who was handling the iPod start their entrance song as they got out of their limo. Unfortunately, it was a long walk up to the entrance of their reception site and right away you could tell that the music was going to run out before they could make it close to the door. As a DJ I would have taken a second version of the song and mixed it in (or looped an appropriate selection, ending right when they got in.) So their friend finally realized (after all he was as excited about watching them come in as everyone else that was attending, so don't blame him) that the song had ended (and the next one started). So all we heard was another song starting, an abrupt pause, and then, the first song starting again.

Sitting, waiting, wishing

So, again, leave a buffer. Just in case. Also, for playlists, be sure you set the iPod to "Crossfade Playback". It won't be perfect, but it will help. What that setting does is fade in and out of the songs. You can set the number of seconds of fade in/out. It works well on songs that don't end abruptly, but it does make songs that end "cold" sound a little funny, since you're basically fading them out before they end. Overall, though, the setting will sound the best for most songs. Be sure you listen to your mp3's ahead of time to notice how long the fade is on each song. Sometimes there is silence at the end of certain tracks, especially if you've downloaded them from the web. You can easily use a sound editor to cut that silence out. Especially, try to keep songs that fade out a long time, away from songs that fade in for a long time. It will seem as if the music has stopped. I also suggest using a program called "mp3gain" on all the tracks you're going to use so that the sound levels will be similar. It takes just a minute for each song and that way you won't have to change the volume after every track while you're at enjoying yourself at your wedding. Songs that sound great in your headphones or at home, sometimes don't sound quite the same amplified to some nice loudspeakers on a dance floor.

Another option is to have someone actively changing songs on the iPod. Just be sure they understand how they will have to wait to hit play at the correct time so they don't accidentally change songs in the middle of the one playing. With the iPod, you have to very careful with that as it easy to hit a button you didn't mean to. I've seen it happen all to often. Not really a big deal unless it happens during your first dance or something like that. Although you also don't want to have your buddy do that in middle of someone's favorite song that everybody finally got up to dance to.

Also, about song choices. Weddings are not the place to teach music appreciation. There is a wide variety of people at most typical weddings. Kids to Grandmas, friends to fellow employees, and then there are the people on your parents (or spouse's parents list.) You might like a particular kind of music, but remember they might not share your passion for your favorite band or musical style. Folks tend to respond to music with which they are most familiar. So while it can seem a bit cheesy, if you are hoping to have a hopping dance floor, your safest bets early on are the good old wedding standards, at least until people are warmed up. Then you can start being experimental. Now, that does not mean you have to play the Macarena and the Chicken Dance, but throwing in a few standards for the enjoyment of all your guests will help you ensure that they will stay, having fun, until the very end of your party.

Dance to the music

When you are planning the music, it’s hard to impartially look at your list of songs and see them how others will react to them during your wedding. But just understand that some music that you’d never in a million years choose off of an alphabetically-ordered song list seems completely different as you're playing them to a bunch of happy friends and relatives who have been partying with you an entire event. All of a sudden, the Electric Slide seems like a lot more fun than you would have imagined. If you have a friend running the iPod, hopefully, you can trust them to know when (or if) the time is right. You probably want to set up scenarios in advance so they know what you're expecting. Obviously, if you already have pre-set playlists, try to anticipate when those moments will happen in advance.

The order of the songs is important. You want to make sets of songs that build up in speed, beats=per-minute,and intensity. When it gets to a climax, that's when you change to a different genre or go to a slow song. Watch out for songs with long boring introductions (especially long talking intros that will clear the dance floor). You can easily edit those long awkward intros out with that audio editing software before the party. Also beware of songs that last too long. If a song clears the floor, be ready to fast forward or change playlists; it doesn't make sense to keep playing a song that no one is enjoying.

What you need

As for the right equipment to iPod your wedding, you might consider forgetting about using the iPod itself. It actually kind of sucks for the job. You might try to use iTunes or some other kind of software on a laptop. Some DJ software for the PC that's cheap and easy to use is Rockit Pro DJ ($129). Even iTunes is way easier to search for songs and it allows for much easier changing of playlists on the fly. You'll have less problems with songs getting cutoff in the middle. One thing you may want to keep in mind is that the power in many of these venues may not be "clean." What this means for you is that when you hook up your laptop or iPod to your sound system you may have a buzzing noise. You can also get that noise from the mini connector of the iPod or computer. I usually get rid of it by either adding a "hum eliminator" or an "active DI" (you'll need two or a stereo DI) between the iPod/laptop and your mixer or amplifier. These are not as commonly available from a rental place, but are less than $100 to buy. One last thing here. I've actually seen video of a wedding where they used an iPod Boom box in front of a microphone to get the music to a house system. Please. Don't do it. It's embarrassing.

Breakdown dead ahead

And do yourself a favor - rent a decent sound system. Believe me, the home stereo won’t cut it. One magazine article suggested that hooking into the venue’s sound system might be a good idea. Not! Ceiling speakers are for elevator music. Believe me, if I could avoid carrying expensive speakers and equipment around and just use the house gear, I would. Another important reason for using pro equipment is that you will want to be able to run at least one microphone along with your music for toasts, announcements, etc. So you will need to add a mixing board and get someone who can carry this stuff and hook it up successfully. Many places that rent equipment also will have a guy that can (for a small fee) bring it, hook it up and then come back to take it down. If you do get the guy to come setup and take down, remember that they don't usually hang out and wait for free. So be sure your reception will end in time before the pickup time. Also be sure they have extra time to tear down from the venue. Try to put the equipment close to the dance floor especially if you or one of your friends attending the wedding is going to be hopping back and forth to keep the music going and adjusting the sound so your friends and Grandma are all happy. Make sure you work out a place that works for the equipment and test it out beforehand. The day of the wedding is no time for last-minute fumbling with wires and speakers.

What happens next? Too often, even DJ’s (especially club or radio DJ's) will forget to consider what comes after each scheduled activity. Remember you need to keep the event moving, so have a plan to follow the high points of the wedding to lead people into the next segment. Always think ahead- what happens after that? This is a good place to talk about using a timeline. There's some on this site, but you can make your own. A good wedding planner or DJ always uses one. You're the wedding planner so make one. Also, make sure your iPod volunteer knows how and when to use the mic.

U can't touch this

There are three common things mistakes that happen with the microphone.

  • The biggest is not speaking directly into the microphone. Usually it's either waving the microphone around while talking and the other is holding it too far away from the mouth. A couple of inches is a good rule of thumb, but it depends on the microphone. Ask when you rent it.
  • The second is announcing an event, when not everyone is ready. A professional wedding DJ knows to first line everything up and then announce. And by everything, I mean make sure the photographer/videographer, the caterer, the bride/groom etc. Nothing's worse than announcing the father/daughter dance and dad is out in the bathroom or having a smoke.
  • The last mistake is letting it be Open Mic Night. So make sure you or your MC have something prepared to keep back the unexpected guest singers, toasters, lecturers. It’s all too common for some well-meaning relative, filled with some kind of spirit to want to give an impromptu performance. If the mic is perceived to be up for grabs, or is just sitting there on a stand you will start getting your more talkative friends and relatives holding up dinner or some other part of the event. So have a plan to limit who and when people get on the mic.

Working for the weekend

The reason professional Wedding DJ's charge what they do is because it's a lot more work than you think (and we've only been talking about the bare minimum basics here.) Remember: good wedding DJ’s spend their entire careers learning the in’s and out’s of what makes wedding receptions fun and seamless. They put a lot of time and preparation into their song libraries and equipment upkeep; they've learned how to keep even the most finicky crowds out on the dance floor; they know how to conduct a wedding reception, and they have perfected the art of sounding polished and genuine without seeming rehearsed.

Hopefully, the person you get to run the show has some idea about such things and can handle the music, MC tasks, and light engineering duties. (By the way, don't think it can be you that will run this. Your brain will not be thinking of this during your wedding, believe me.) Choose carefully, as this person will be your voice for the evening and will have to be the kind of generous soul who won’t mind working throughout your entire wedding.

My way

I’d bet that a if you're seriously thinking of taking on all of this work and responsibility, you probably fall into one of two camps. Either you just ran out of your budget or you really just want to try to make the event a lot more personal and you think you can do it better than some stranger.

If it's just the personalization, before you commit yourself (and all your guests) to an iPod plan, take some time to talk to a few DJ’s in your area to see if they are the kind of DJ who will listen to exactly what you want and will customize your wedding reception for you. Find out how willing they are to work with you and see if they have helpful suggestions that will make your day more relaxing, more fun, and more personal.

Maybe you'll find a new friend that you can trust to handle the details of your party - so you can relax and enjoy yourself.