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How to DJ Your Own Wedding

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No Budget for a DJ? No Problem. Skipping a DJ at your wedding is one way that couples choose to save money. But before you plug in your iPod and set of speakers, see what you could be missing.

dj your own wedding
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As with just about everything else involved in a traditional wedding, professional DJs are expensive. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it– the entertainment can make or break your reception!

For example, a good DJ can read the flow of the party and choose the appropriate songs for the mood or 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. Many couples decide to DIY DJ for many reasons:

  • A decent DJ could be a good 10% of the total wedding budget
  • They may not need anyone to make announcements
  • Perhaps the venue is small and a big DJ setup could overwhelm the space
  • They don’t listen to “Top 40” songs and would rather have total control over the playlist

There are a ton of reasons to hire a professional DJ, but if you simply can’t swing it for whatever reason, there are ways to pull it off yourself. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to pull this off!

Being Your Own Wedding DJ: A step-by-step guide to DJing your own wedding

Step one: Decide how you will play the music

First, what software/playlist app will you use? Choose the app from which to play the music. Apple Music and Spotify are both popular choices as they have unlimited streaming options for around $10/mo.

With these services, you essentially have access to pretty much any song you can think of. They are available on both 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!

Use Appropriate Equipment

Next, what sort of amplification system will you use to play the music? A good wedding DJ doesn’t only play music– they also set up their professional equipment, monitor the sound levels, and ensures that everyone can hear properly.

Look into places that rent out sound systems or consider buying one if you think you may re-use it. Alternatively, ask around your family and friends to see if anyone has the equipment you can borrow. (Surely someone knows somebody who is in a band, right?)

Cordless, Bluetooth Party Speaker from ION. Get it on Amazon

Lastly, you’ll need to find someone willing to hit “play” for you on the day of the wedding. Select a point person to fill in as a stand-in wedding DJ.

Step two: Collect the music to create your playlist

Spend your engagement period by collecting songs you like that are “must plays” at your reception. Consider creating a few different playlists that you can add songs to whenever you hear something that sticks out.

Pro tip: Spotify has tons of pre-made playlists that are great for inspiration! They may help you to find some good songs you may not have otherwise thought of. The best thing about being your own wedding DJ is that you have full control– meaning you can include that quirky song that reminds you of your spouse-to-be that’s never hit the mainstream radio airwaves.

Song Selection for Your Wedding Playlist

You may be tempted to pick songs that only you and your best friend know. Hey, it’s your wedding. But you don’t want to alienate people and cause them to leave the dance floor. Once those people leave, it’s harder to get them back.

Music is a great way to set the tone for your event. Putting together multiple playlists (potentially, there could be different playlists for the processional, recessional, ceremony, introductions, dance floor, and more) can be a lot of work, but it also gives you complete control over the mood of each moment. It’s a lot of work up front, but putting together your own customized playlist sets up a framework of how the evening will run–and saves you from the dreaded Chicken Dance!

Think of your wedding playlist as an outline, like you would put together for a presentation. Creating the outline can be a lot of work, but it helps your presentation go smoothly when it counts. Plan ahead, and you’ve got yourself the outline for an awesome day.

Start with 4 major playlists and decide 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: Royals by Lorde
  • Dinner: Chill, music to eat, have conversations, and give toasts to.
    Example: Do You Realize? by The Flaming Lips
  • Dancing: Dance music, of course! Have you ever been to a wedding that didn’t have any slow songs or any “let’s go re-fill our drinks” songs? You were probably on that dance floor all night! If you don’t want a marathon night of dancing, pepper in some “break” songs.
    Examples: Lots of Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson, with a little Adele mixed in
Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.09.54 AM
All the various wedding playlists, in the order they’ll be played

Step three: Prune your playlist

After several months of adding music to the various playlists, you may find you have way too many songs! Now it’s time to prune your “dance” playlist down to 3ish hours in length.

Tips for pruning your playlist:

  • Set aside time for a playlist party with your partner
  • Create scorecards labeled 1, 2, and 3.
  • 1= ”meh” 2= ”ok, sure” and 3= ”YAS!”
  • Play each song to get the vibe, and then each of you rates the song.
  • Songs that get a total of 5 or 6 points go into the final playlist.
  • Any songs with a 2 or 3 get deleted.
  • Songs with a 4 can be left on the original playlist in case you need them as filler.

Hopefully, you’ll have the perfect amount of songs with your top-rated selections. This *should* result in playlists full of only songs you both love!

Knowing What Songs to Avoid

Typically, hardcore rap, heavy metal, and country music can skew too far in a direction away from the mainstream (unless your audience is full of juggalos, in which case blaring Insane Clown Posse is a good move). There’s a reason why genres like soul and R&B work so well. Everyone can dance to Marvin Gaye. That’s a fact. Other safe picks include classic rock and Whitney Houston.

Some couples ask people to suggest songs on their invitation, which is an easy way to source crowd favorites. There are also lots of lists online about popular wedding songs that everyone will love.

If you’re going to choose songs that people don’t know, make sure they’re danceable. I remember getting down to some indie songs with my parents. Not because they love to dance to anything, but because the beat worked for everyone. A friend of mine even commented that even when she didn’t know the songs, she still felt like dancing to them.

Step four: Arrange the music like a pro wedding dj

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.

Create Smooth Transitions

If you’re using a smartphone, iPod, or Computer, make sure your songs flow. There’s a simple way to cut down how much time there is in between songs, minimizing any awkward lag. (Don’t forget to use the “Crossfade” option so that there aren’t 5-10 second gaps of silence between all the songs!)

If you’re going to DJ your own wedding, you’ll want to assemble your playlist like a professional. What you’re looking for with the order is just a good flow. Playing three Michael Jackson songs in a row isn’t the best idea in terms of flow. You’ll also want to consider the flow between musical genres (especially important if you and your partner have different musical tastes!)

A good idea is to listen to your playlists in their entirety to see how the order feels and tweak as needed. Be careful to not have a song that ends in a busy way followed by a song that begins in a busy way because it will sound a bit messy on the crossfade.

Finalizing the details

Now that you’ve solidified your four playlists, you can pull out your specific songs for key wedding moments onto their own playlists. Placing these key wedding songs like your first dance, cake cutting, garter toss, etc onto their own playlist makes it easy for your DJ stand-in to know what’s next. Your DIY DJ will be able to walk over, double click on the next playlist, and get back to the party. Organizing everything to DJ your own wedding can be a time-consuming project, but also a fun one, and the cost-savings definitely pays off if you’re in a pinch.

Step 5: Getting Organized to DJ Your Own Wedding

Without a DJ, make sure that you’ve figured out other logistics. Some wedding DJs also act as the MC during dinner and set up music for your ceremony. Other professionals also include a lighting package in addition to the sound equipment in their fees. If you’re planning to DJ your own wedding, you’ll need to make sure all these bases are covered.

What will you do about lighting and sound amplification? Who will announce the bridal party during dinner? What about calling everyone’s attention when it’s time for the first dance? Who will announce last call? It’s one thing to rely on a friend, but choose someone reliable (and who won’t be downing shots when he’s supposed to be announcing the garter toss).

If you need more insight and advice, check out this wedding budget tip on being your own wedding DJ.

How are you going about your wedding reception music? Would you consider DJing your own wedding?


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