Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kick Out the Jams

Jason here again for another guest-post. Today's topic is one of my personal favorites: music. To say I'm a "music guy" is an understatement -- music is my personal hobby, my geeky obsession, and until recently, my career (I worked at a major record label until I was axed by the most recent round of layoffs). So when it came to divvying up who would "own" which portion of the wedding, there was no question about who would tackle the tunes.

There was, however, some serious disagreement about *how* those tunes would be played. Neither of us really wanted a live band, but the question of DJ-vs-iPod caused friction. B's budget concerns led her to consider anything more elaborate than an iPod as too expensive. To me, that concept came across as unthinkable. A good party has a vibe that ebbs, flows, and shifts according to a number of different variables (mood, setting, formality, participants' age, energy level, and degree of intoxication, just to name a few). A "set it and forget it" playlist is fine for a gathering of friends at home, but a big event like a wedding benefits greatly from a live human monitoring the vibe and choosing the music accordingly. I understood the cost benefits of supplying our own music, but if we tried to go too DIY, I would drive myself crazy making tweaks to the playlist every 20 minutes. I attended a friend's wedding where the music was pumped from his MacBook into a stereo system...he asked me to assist with DJ duties, and I only spent about an hour total enjoying the reception because I was constantly running over to the computer to adjust the tracklist. I can't help it, it's just my nature.

I began researching DJs and was dismayed by some of my findings. Not only were all the available DJs very expensive, but I read horror stories of DJs hijacking the wedding, ignoring the bride & grooms' requests, and being extremely corny. Conscious of these pitfalls, I began to give the iPod option some serious consideration. After delving into several articles about the pros and cons of a playlist-powered reception, I started to envision a solution that would work for both me and B. I could create several playlists for the different phases of the party, like so:
  • light music for cocktails (including a lot of the emotionally-resonant songs from our relationship that aren't exactlu dance-worthy)
  • all-ages dance-floor classics (i.e. "Twist & Shout") to get people moving
  • popular club hits (Beyonce, Justin, Lady Gaga) to keep the vibe alive
  • old-school hip-hop/R&B for our twenty- and thirty-something friends to rock with
  • end-of-night drunken sing-alongs like "Don't Stop Believing" for last call
This allows us to switch the tunes to match the vibe while ensuring that our preferred songs get played. Still, I wanna be out on the floor enjoying my wedding day, not monitoring the playlists every hour. So... our plan is to hire an assistant/low-level DJ to run the playlists at a reduced rate.  They'll essentially use my carefully crafted playlists (saves them on pre-wedding labor) but they can also monitor the feel of the room and shake things up a bit, if the need arises. 

I've found some DJs who are willing to make an arrangement like this -- every good DJ has an assistant on-deck and, given the poor economy, they'll take partial work over no work. I don't know exactly what this plan will cost us yet, but it's much less labor-intensive than having a premier DJ choosing tracks all night, so I'm sure we can negotiate a good deal.

This way, everybody wins. I get to geek out over song-picking but not worry about day-of monitoring. B (and I) have one less budget concern to cope with. And we both get a little peace of mind. Just like the "traditional or nontraditional" trap, the "iPod or DJ" dichotomy proves to be a false choice, and is easily resolved with a little out-of-the-box thinking. What are your thoughts on this topic? I'd love to hear from you readers if you've encountered any weddings with interesting or unusual music set-ups. Suggestions of all-time favorite reception songs are encouraged as well. Bring it on!


  1. This is a really interesting solution - a true compromise between iPod and DJ. For us personally, a great DJ was key, and we splurged to get one that knew our venue, prided himself on being classy rather than corny, and was willing to follow our guidelines and stay in the background without hijacking the show. The biggest problem I had with the iPod route is that a DJ does more than play music: he acts as the emcee for the reception, guiding guests to gather around for the first dance and the father-daughter dance, announcing the newlyweds as they enter the room, etc. I don't want to be the one yelling, "Come here everyone, I'm doing the first dance now!" or worry about when to do the cake-cutting, anniversary dance, toasts, and other big moments.

  2. Great solution, this will be better than having to check the playlist the whole time.

  3. Great idea with the multiple play lists. We're asking a friend to monitor the playlist, and I hope he can switch when appropriate but still enjoy the reception. We might borrow this idea to make things easier. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Oh man, this is one of my favorite topics. My husband and I had the same debate when we were planning our own wedding. I wanted a DJ because I had seen firsthand what the lack of a DJ could do to a reception, while my husband wanted to plug in our iPod becuase we are kinda music snobs and we didn't want anyone playing the Chicken Dance at our wedding, damnit. But after going to a friend's wedding that did the iPod thing he quickly conceeded because the party had no flow, there were awkard silences and there wasn't ONE person in charge of it.

    But it wasn't just about the music. What you said about a party's ebb and flow is spot on, but that pertains to the flow of a reception even when it isn't time for dancing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a reception where there's all this awkward silence as a poor DJ calls someone up to give a speech but doesn't play music in the background while they're walking up so you have 100+ people in a room just staring in silence. Total buzzkill. Happens all the time with iPods too.

    We got really super duper lucky in finding a DJ who was respectful of our wishes and didn't play stuff we didn't want to hear, but also had a great way of commanding the flow of the reception without being the star of it AT ALL. Not once did he speak into the mic unecessarily. He didn't sing over any of the songs (I've seen that happen MANY times - a lot of DJs think of wedddings as their own personal karaoke parties), do any cheesey games, or anything like that.

    He also didn't have a lot of our favorite music becuase we listen to a lot of indie music. So, we sent him hundreds of songs that we loved that would either make good cocktail/eating hour music or would be great for dancing. He listened to all of it and dropped it all in at the most appropriate times. We had likeminded firends coming up to us all night ravign about the music, but our non-music snob friends also had a great time because we had a full-out dance party. The dude knew how to get people to dance. It was a perfect mix of good pop music and our favorite stuff.

    I HIGHLY RECOMMEND hiring a DJ and getting one who understands your hesitations and is willing to work with you on your music selection.

  5. Thanks for posting this! we had this debate too, and despite the fact that we booked a super cool dj, we're still kind of torn about it. we're getting married in may. i think this is a good solution. you definitely want someone manning that ipod who can read the crowd and knows how to keep the flow going.

  6. I like your compromise idea. It sounds like a good choice for you two, since music is something that is really important to you. I had an ipod reception and it was perfect for us for a few reasons:

    -We had a small wedding in a small venue, there would not have been much room for a DJ and that kind of high energy emceeing wouldn't have really fit in.

    -Our guests were not big dancers. There just weren't going to be that many people on the dance floor no matter what we did, and we were ok with that. Our dancefloor area was in a little room off to the side of where people were eating, so we kind of did our own thing in there while the non-dancers mingled in the dinner room. They actually told me they appreciated the dancing being a little removed because they didn't have to talk over loud music.

    We did have a few ipod mishaps when people tried to mess with the playlist, but I was still happy with the results.

    My favorite part is that I still have all those playlists and can listen to them whenever I want!

  7. Fantastic idea. I was thinking about having an ipod but another person there would be perfect.

  8. We're gonna do the compromise thing too. Our wedding venue just doesn't suit a DJ but I also want control over the music. We were at a wedding in Sept and people started messing with the iPod and then it went downhill. But you know, even at that, the wedding was still awesome and everyone had a great time--so big picture--everything works out. All the same I'm putting a BIG sign on the iPod/laptop saying DO NOT TOUCH!! We're also having a keeper of the iPod who will kind of keep his eye on it.

  9. Heidi R - can you share your awesome DJ's name please? He sounds amazing!

  10. wahooo a music man! my hubby is totally a music buff...the knowledge he possesses is CRAZY! but it IS one of the first things i noticed about him. :)

    this is a great idea! and i see you hired michael - well, that will just be RAD!

    so yeah, i'd really love to feature you lovebirds' wedding if you would be interested! y'all are TOO cute!


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