DJing your own wedding is a great way to save money, and it allows you control of your reception playlist. Yet a DJ does a lot more than just push play, and if you don't plan ahead, you might end up with poor sound, the wrong songs, or technical difficulties!
What You'll Need to DIY DJ Your Wedding
Obviously, you'll need a reliable digital player such as an iPod capable of holding enough music. I recommend that you have a playlist that is an hour or two longer than the length of your reception, which will allow you to start the music before guests arrive and have backup songs.
You'll also need a good speaker system, a mixing console, a microphone (either wireless or with a long enough cable), and a cable to connect the Mp3 player – most likely a mini-stereo to dual RCA (male) cord, depending on your mixing console.
Test It Out
This might seem obvious, but you'll want to leave plenty of time to test out your system and speakers. You may need a different kind of cable, or your digital player might not play well with others. Rental equipment has been known to fail, and you'll need time to get a replacement delivered. Static, feedback, poor sound balance, and low volume are just a few of the problems you might encounter. If your venue does weddings regularly, chances are they can walk you through the DIY DJ setup, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Have a Backup Plan and a Backup Backup Plan
Along with your main digital player and its power cable, it's a good idea to bring a second digital player or a laptop - all loaded with your music.
You'll also want to have on hand the name of an equipment rental company who does last minute deliveries. In case no one is dancing and you need to switch directions, you'll want that extra hour or two of music mentioned above. Odds are, you won't need any of your backups, but the cliché of "it's better to be safe than sorry" is especially true in this case.
Prevent "Guest DJs"
There's always that one guest who doesn't like what's playing and tries to change things up. Instead of bombarding a regular DJ with requests, she'll be trying to hit shuffle on your playlist, or even switch the cable to her own device. But you can prepare for this bad wedding guest. First, ask for music requests, either on your wedding website or on your reply cards with a line like "Name some artists or songs you're hoping to hear at our reception" or "What songs are sure to get you dancing?" Hearing a favorite song might satisfy a would-be guest DJ, but in case it doesn't, you should have a sound manager or "freejay" who can guard and hit play for any special songs. When the freejay inevitably needs to take a break, hide your device under a taped-down piece of paper that says, "We've chosen our wedding playlist carefully. Please don't touch the iPod!"
Make a Music Plan and Checklist
Make sure you've got a song for every special moment in your wedding, from the first dance to the last one. Here's a wedding reception music plan, which will make sure you know which song should be played and when. Load these key pieces of music onto a separate playlist, ready to cue when necessary, or use an app like MyWeddingDJ.
Crossfade and Cut
One of the most important things that a DJ does is create transitions between songs. Six seconds of silence might not sound like much, but it's certainly enough to kill a mood and empty a dance floor. You might also have a favorite tune with a long intro or an extended ending that just won't work. Fortunately, there are DIY DJ solutions to these problems. Some models of iPods allow gapless playback. You can also use iTunes to both crossfade and cut songs, and DJ apps like Virtual DJ or My Wedding DJ can help you with advanced techniques.
Music that sounds plenty loud in an empty room will be a mere whisper when it competes with a hundred people chatting and laughing. Even if they are completely silent, their bodies alone will absorb sound. Your space may already have a speaker set-up, but be sure to test it out.
Many have older speakers that don't operate well at loud volumes, or which may need to be supplemented with additional woofers and speakers. You can rent a basic set-up of an amp and some speakers for about $100 in many areas of the US.
Play Crowd Pleasers and Music That Will Get Them Dancing
As soon as I posted my Do Not Play List, I started to hear complaints from professional DJs that these were the best songs to fill a dance floor. While I agree that you can use the Chicken Dance or the Electric Slide to bring out some shy folks, there are better and less cheesy ways: Wedding Music To Get Guests Dancing. One of the prime reasons to DIY DJ is that you can control what gets played and avoid the cheese, but I think we can all agree that your wedding is not a time to play only death metal or emo music. You need to think about your guests as well as yourselves.
Don't Rely on an Internet Connection
Streaming music services like Spotify or MOG are great for personal listening, but they can cause big problems at a wedding. If the internet connection goes out or resets, you'll be left without music. Instead, use offline music sources.
Reconsider Hiring a Professional DJ
So all these tips might leave you feeling more prepared. But they could also be overwhelming -- suddenly the simple DIY DJ isn't as simple as you thought. Once you add up the cost of renting equipment and purchasing songs, and the time you'll spend making playlists and getting prepared, you may decide that it's worth it to go pro. To save money, you could consider using a DIY setup for the cocktail hour, and a pro for the reception.