How to DJ Your Own Wedding
As with just about everything else involved in a wedding, DJs are expensive.
A good DJ can read the flow of the party and choose the appropriate songs for the mood or to get people on the dance floor. They can make announcements and come with their own light and smoke shows. However, I’ve heard so many horror stories about DJs that it seems to be that the $300 DJ considered “budget” might not even be worth that. John and I decided to DIY DJ for many reasons:
- A decent DJ could be a good 10% of our wedding budget
- We don’t need anyone to make announcements
- Our party and venue are so small that a DJ could really overwhelm the space
- We don’t listen to “Top 40” songs and would rather have total control over the playlist
Be Your Own Wedding DJ : How to DJ Your Own Wedding
There are a dozen reasons to hire a professional DJ, but this is what is going to work for us and our budget. Here’s how we’re doing it.
• Step one: Decide how you will play the music
What software/playlist app will you use?
First, we had to choose the app from which to play the music. Pandora is out because you can’t make playlists. iTunes was out because we didn’t want to buy every single individual song. (You could, however, check out Apple Music, as they have an unlimited streaming option for $10/mo.)
Then I heard about Spotify. For less than $5/month (student pricing, less than $10/month regular) you can have access to pretty much any song you can think of. It’s available on your computer and phone. And the best part: you can make your playlists available offline!
You could also look into any Smartphone apps that you could use to make a playlist, like The Music Concierge. Choose whichever option works best for you!
What sort of amplification system will you use to play the music?
Then we needed to figure out the sound system. At first we were looking into places that rented out sound systems, but the smallest option we could find was for “parties of about 100 people” and since our party is 1/3 the size of that we thought it would be overkill. What we ended up finding and going with was this:
Bonus #1: It’s got a cheesy little light show thing
Bonus #2: It’s cordless! With Bluetooth! So we can take it to the ceremony site (with the light show off, of course)
Bonus #3: It’s got a ton of great reviews for our-sized parties.
Lastly, we had to find someone willing to hit “play” for us at the wedding. John played iTunes DJ for one of our favorite couple friends’ wedding, so the groom was totally down to return the favor.
• Step two: Collect the music, Create your playlist
John and I have spent the last 6-8 months with various playlists that we’ll add to whenever we hear a good song. Luckily Spotify has tons of pre-made playlists that we listen to. It's given us some awesome inspiration and helped us find some good songs we may not have otherwise thought of.
We started with 4 major playlists and decided on the mood of each one:
- Ceremony: songs without lyrics, potential processional songs. Example: Yo-Yo Ma Cello solos
- Cocktail hour: upbeat, a little bit of dance, fun music. Example: Lorde – Royals
- Dinner: Chill, music to eat, have conversations and give toasts to. Example: The Flaming Lips: Do You Realize?
- Dance: Dance music, of course! We once went to a wedding that didn’t have any slow songs or any “let’s go re-fill our drinks” songs, and we were on that dance floor all night. It was fantastic, and we wanted to do the same with our playlist here. Examples: Lots of Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
• Step three: Prune your playlist
After several months of adding music to the various playlists, we had way too many songs!
We pruned our “dance” playlist from 5 ½ hours to 3 hours very quickly, and our method worked quite well.
Here’s how we pruned our playlist:
- We each had scorecards labeled 1, 2 and 3.
- 1= ”meh” 2= ”ok, sure” and 3= ”YAS!”
- We went through each song, listening to a little bit to get the vibe, and then we’d share our score.
- Songs that got a total of 5 or 6 points went into the final playlist.
- Any songs with a 2 or 3 were deleted.
- Songs with a 4 were left on the original playlist in case we needed them.
We ended up having the perfect amount with our 5’s and 6’s, which has resulted in a dance playlist full of only songs one or both of us love!
• Step four: Arrange the music in order
Once you've got all the songs you need, it's time to put together the perfect wedding reception playlist. Besides collecting the music, this step has been the most time-consuming. We want to make sure each song flows nicely into the next (Don’t forget to use the “Crossfade” option so that there aren’t 5-10 second gaps of silence between all the songs!)
What we’re looking for with the order is just a good flow. Three Michael Jackson songs in a row isn’t the best idea, where flow is concerned.
For an example, in our cocktail hour we have a more modern pop song most of the guests may have heard, followed by a Devendra Banhart song (kind of poppy sound, sung in Spanish), followed by a salsa song. By sandwiching Devendra Banhart in there, the salsa song doesn’t sound like someone suddenly changed playlists.
I’ve been listening to my playlists non-stop to see how the order feels and tweaking things here and there. I’ve also been careful to not have a song that ends in a busy way followed by a song that begins in a busy way because it sounds a bit messy on the crossfade.
Now our four playlists have morphed into several, with key songs (like the first dance song) being on their own playlist. This should make it super easy for our friend to walk over, double click on the next playlist, and get back to the party. It's been a time-consuming project, but also a fun one, and I think it'll pay off!