Putting the iPod in “I Do”

So there I am laughing at the New York Times for jumping on the DIY wedding music bandwagon so late — it’s 2009, jeez, and even I had an “iPod wedding” — when I decided to search this blog to see what I or my counterpart had written about it. As it turns out, a whole lot of nothing. The closest I came to writing about DIY wedding music was a post about how to organize a wedding playlist in which I totally spaced on replying to a commenter who asked me to share some of my own wedding playlist. Sorry, Nadia!

iPod wedding

To make sure we don’t have any massively jarring gaps here at Manolo for the Brides, I’m going to excerpt some of iDo, since I spend a number of pages in Chapter 14 discussing DIY wedding music and it’s Friday and I don’t feel like reinventing the wheel. Note: More and more people are calling this the iPod wedding, though you can DIY your wedding music with any mp3 player or a laptop.

Search for “iPod wedding” and you’ll come across hundreds of DJs on the warpath. The moment a bride-to-be brings up her choice to ditch the traditional disk jockey in favor of some digital alternative, pro DJs start weighing in. It’s a bad idea, they say. You can’t anticipate what people will want to listen to or read the energy of the room like a real live DJ. Guests will mess around with your playlist when you’re not looking, and the rented sound system will fall over and injure someone who will then slap you with a hefty lawsuit. Your wedding will be an colossal failure!

But there’s really no reason for professional entertainers to get so defensive, because no one is trying to permanently replace DJs and bands with iTunes playlists. The fact is that some people can’t afford either or would rather budget money elsewhere, some people have tastes that are way too eclectic, and some people just don’t care overmuch for the two standard options.

If you’re sold on the idea of an iPod wedding, read some how-tos and learn the basics of live sound so you understand what the challenges are before you rush out and buy or rent anything. Search for “sound reinforcement” or “sound system basics” to find plain English tutorials that will give you a handle on the equipment you’re going to need. You can’t just hook your computer speakers up to some music source and call it a day. First, you need to find out what kind of sound system (i.e. mixer, amp, crossover, EQ, speakers, mics, and cables) your reception venue has. You need to be sure you can go from a headphone jack to whatever kind of sound system is available. Some venues may not even have a PA. And do not neglect to go over your setup with the venue manager ahead of time to make sure the equipment you’re planning to use will work in your reception space so you don’t end up having to send the best man to the local music store for cables on your wedding day. I’d also recommend having back-up mp3 players loaded with your playlists!

When your MP3 or your laptop will be standing in for a wedding disk jockey, it helps to have hundreds of CDs in every possible genre from acid rock to hip hop to new country to reggaeton to zydeco. Those CDs—or folders full of MP3s—will be the raw materials with which you will build your ultimate wedding playlist from the ground up. You may need to borrow some music from friends and download some fresh albums… um, legally, of course. If you’re worried about the dead space between songs, the latest versions of iTunes offer gapless playback and crossfade options so one song will blend into the next. To keep it seamless, try to match tempos so you have slow songs grouped together and fast songs grouped together.

It’s easy to do this using iTunes because you can set up multiple playlists and give them names that will help your music coordinator do their job. What’s that? You don’t have a music coordinator? This’ll probably be your MC—you’re going to have to designate someone to introduce people and announce things like the first dance. The best man is often the most natural choice for this job as he’ll be up on the mic anyway, but your mileage may vary.

The beauty of the iTunes organizational system is that the music coordinator only really has to mess with the music just before or just after they make announcements. Musical categories can include Cocktail Hour, First Dance, Father-Daughter Dance, Mother-Son dance, Meal Music, Pre-Cake Slow Songs, Cake Cutting Song, and Post-Cake Party Songs. Your MC will already be on the mic—and thus close to the sound system—while letting guests know that it’s time to eat or dance or whatever. They can click over to the appropriate playlist while they’re close to the laptop without missing too much of the action. Just make sure to pad the playlists and that you have more than enough music in each category so you don’t accidentally run out of sweet tunes just when guests are starting to boogie.

Now that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

18 Responses to “Putting the iPod in “I Do””

  1. Toni says:

    I am a swing dancer, and have a good friend who is a swing DJ, and offered to pay her plane ticket to the wedding in exchange for manning the DJ “booth.” We played a variety of music, but I knew she would be familiar with the basics of what to do. My husband borrowed audio equipment from his home church (which was not the venue we got married in.)

    I only found this out after the fact, but apparently as my friends were setting up the DJ equipment, there was a “boom” and copious amounts of smoke. A few of my friends spent the entire time during the ceremony at Radio Shack frantically picking up replacement parts. Luckily, all was good to go by the time we arrived at the reception, but I would have been screwed if I didn’t have such amazing and resourceful friends. Bless them for not alerting anyone to the problem, and just quietly fixing it.

    (When we returned the equipment to the church, planning to offer apologies and replacement parts, the pastor said “Oh, that equipment? It’s terribly old, I’m surprised it’s still working! Don’t worry about it.”)

  2. Linda says:

    We had an iPod wedding. A friend of ours has all the DJ equipment so it was an easy choice. I really recommend going this route if you have someone who you can trust to be the MC/be in charge of the playlists & equipment.

  3. TeleriB says:

    We had a boom box wedding. OK, there was an iPod for the entry to the reception and the first dances, and we had a friend cue them. We just used my computer speakers and they were fine for our small and rustic venue.

    Downstairs, (food was upstairs, drinks and dancing were downstairs) we hooked up our stereo – a little boxy thing with speakers about 10″ high by 5″ wide. It had a 5 CD changer. We had 5 mix CDs made ahead of time, and let them play.

    For a small space with no more than eight dancers on the floor at a time, it was fine.

  4. MaryOfDoom says:

    The future Mr. Doom is the drummer for a moderately successful local swing band, and as a result, has access to some pretty rockin’ sound equipment.

    I don’t want to hire the band to play (because I’d rather they showed up and had fun) and when Mr. Doom suggested a DJ, I said to him, “You are in a band. You have sound equipment. I have an iPod. WE ARE SET.”

    Of course, this solution is certainly not for everyone.

  5. Twistie says:

    You know, that ‘traditional DJ’ isn’t exactly a long-standing tradition, either.

    Thirty years ago it was considered a tacky form of budget busting. Twenty years ago it was considered a reasonable option for those who couldn’t afford a band. It’s only been in about the last ten or fifteen years that people have been touting the superiority of DJs over live music (and not in every corner of society, either). So really, the rise of the wedding DJ hasn’t lasted terribly long. It’s not that I grudge DJs a living, it’s just that so many of them insist on playing the damn chicken dance and YMCA even when they’re on the ‘no play’ list.

    I attended a lovely wedding reception a couple years ago where iPods were used for the music. Since the couple was fond of ballroom dancing and had neither the budget nor the room in the facility for a live orchestra, they chose to go the computer route. They even posted the playlist (complete with scheduled breaks and notes as to what sort of dance might be done to each tune) in several areas of the room. Not being good on the technical end of things, I didn’t pay that much attention to how they made it happen, but Mr. Twistie (who Knows All About These Things) seemed impressed with how they handled the sound while I was enraptured by the posted playlists. Everybody danced, and we all had a lovely time.

    Oh, and since the couple had eloped with just a couple family members each for the ceremony, they set up a laptop with a slide show of their wedding ceremony in a corner of the room. There was a simple but plentiful buffet of finger foods, the bride and groom were graciousness itself to all their guests. All in all, it was a delightful afternoon.

  6. Well here’s a DJ’s opinion. We actually offer an iPod Package. I blogged about it when we started offering it. http://colorblindproductions.blogspot.com/search/label/iPod. I, like you, do find it annoying to read the litany of those opposed to it. Just as there are enough weddings for Bands and DJ’s alike, adding iPods to the mix will not cut into the profits of any individual group. It’s a budget minded add on and I think if a person wants to go that route then they should.

  7. Tara says:

    I am completely in favor of the iPod option, but please heed one bit of advice: HAVE BACKUP COPIES! At our wedding, my iPod decided to stop working just in time for the reception. Luckily, the groom had the playlists on his computer, AND we had burned copies to CD as well, just in case. Unluckily, we forgot both backups at the hotel (which was too far away for a quick run to fetch them).

    Our wonderful photographer stepped in to play tunes off her iPhone, which at least gave us a first dance, parent dance, and some background music. (If all else failed, I was prepared to demand an a capella song from the guests so we could have a first dance!) But it was a far cry from the original plan to have everyone getting down to our slaved-over dance mixes.

  8. Fabrisse says:

    I went to a wedding of some SCA friends of mine. They used Jenny-Pluck-Pairs as the opening dance which allowed the bride to dance with the groom, the bridesmaids to dance with the groomsmen. There was a simple waltz for the father/daughter, mother/son dance and then all dancing was open to everyone.

    The MC was perturbed, but it was the who DJ kicked up a huge fuss because they weren’t “doing it right.” The best man finally took the DJ quietly aside, pointed out that virtually everyone at the reception had swords, and recommended that he follow the bride and grooms wishes if he did not want to meet the swords personally.

    The best man got a huge round of applause when he and the DJ came back, at least partially because the volume of music was reduced during the meal so those of us eating could talk to each other.

    MP3 players seem like they would be a huge help for anyone who didn’t want something “traditional.”

  9. Twistie says:

    And that, Fabrisse, is why I have long thought that some weddings are better for a little weaponry…though I’ve read a few stories on Etiquette Hell that prove it’s also sometimes a Very Bad Idea to have sharp things lying around the party.

  10. Fabrisse says:


    It’s PEARS that Jenny plucks.

    Must adhere to “no typing before coffee” rule.

  11. Twistie says:

    Oh Fabrisse, Fabrisse.

    (shakes head sorrowfully)

    Were we not discussing just yesterday the inadvisability of attempting to do anything requiring brain cells PC (ie: pre-caffeination)?

    Or was that just trying to get me to speak civilly?

  12. Margaret says:

    Hehe, try living in Ireland where you have a band after the meal, and then a DJ until the wee small hours! We’re having a band, then IPod for a while, then my fiance and his friends are going to play traditional music to their hearts’ content.

  13. mcmiller says:

    I’ve been to a *lot* of weddings. My mother is a priest, I have 36 cousins and I’ve been in 6 wedding parties. I’ve seen a lot of iPod weddings, mixed tape wedding receptions, no-music wedding receptions, whatever-was-playing-in-the-restaurant wedding receptions… you get the idea. The only severely embarrassing moments I can remember at any of those weddings involved real, live, “qualified” DJs screwing up. Playing Shania Twain’s “Gonna Getcha Good” instead of “Forever and For Always” as the first dance song (for a pregnant bride) was probably the worst wedding faux pas I’ve ever seen.

    It takes a real live person to mess up that badly, and I’d rather shell out $100 for something I can use for years than a couple thousand for a lifetime of regretful memories of yet another DJ playing “Band of Gold” because they can’t be bothered to listen to the lyrics.

  14. Margaret: That sounds absolutely lovely!

    mcmiller: Ahahahaha. I never thought of it that way, but it definitely takes a live human being to totally switch out a song on the fly whereas the worst you’re going to get with a piece of electronic equipment is silence. One is more easily fixable than the other, certainly. (And yeah, that is QUITE the faux pas!)

  15. De says:

    We can’t afford and just don’t like the idea of a DJ – the playlist we’ve come up with is intensely personal…all the songs have a meaning (and all are important) and were chosen for a reason – and I don’t want someone else making the decision of what gets played when.

    Maybe that makes me a control freak :P….

    Our entire event is going to be 70 people *tops* so we’re going to invest in an ipod docking stereo (hooray for useful things), and that’ll be that.

  16. Father of the Bride says:

    As father of the bride I asked the kids what they wanted. No band cause you’re stuck with them the whole night. No cheesy DJ. They had seen too many of them at other weddings (I am sure there are some good ones out there but they didn’t want to go that route). They really wanted the music to be personal and just seem like what they would play if they had people over to their house. So we IPoded it. Worked great. I made two playlists. One for the Opening Music which was for people coming in to the reception hall and into dinner. Then we stopped the music for toasts and cake cutting. Then started another playlist for Dance Music.
    Basically after we exited the ceremony I went into the adjacent reception hall, plugged in my player into the built in sound system the hall had, and set the volume. Done. Stopped it for toasts and cake and then started it again for dancing. Done.

    There is some advice I would like to pass along. Make sure you have a MP3 player that has smart volume. Smart volume is a feature on the MP3 player that allows you to set the volume you want and songs that are over that volume are brought down to that level and songs that are under that volume are increased to that level. You don’t want to fool around with going back and forth setting the volume the whole night. You do need to be prepared to adjust the volume a few times. The reason is that even though you have a player with smart volume you can’t control the noise level of the crowd. When they eat, their mouths are full so they don’t talk so the level may need to come down a little during dinner. Once they finish eating they start to mingle and the volume level will most likely need to be increased some. And if they get a little wild when the dancing starts the volume may have to increase even more. This seemed to be the only thing that having a DJ would fix. So if you want to shell out some dough to have someone adjust the volume a few times during the evening that is your choice.

    If you can find a hall that has the sound system built in that is ideal. For us the Bose speakers were in the ceiling out of the way and the sound quality was very good. The plug in access was in a closet so that it was out of the way and no one that had one too many drinks could fool with the player.

    Another thing is to have a back up player. I did not have to use a backup but had one just in case.

    Bring an AC adapter. Last thing you need is to run out of battery. Most likely you will have to set the volume on your player quite high to play through the sound system. This high volume will drain the battery faster.

    I was a little leery about IPoding the wedding music but it worked out great and a good time was had by all.

  17. Wedding DJ says:

    We used to offer the iPod option, we would setup the equipment, get it running, and let the guests run it. We had so many failures where they ended up having us jump in and fix the mess that it was more trouble than it was worth.

    Your best idea is to find a company that fits your style, has good ratings on sites like weddingwire.com and put your trust in them. Or find a company that will honor your music lists, having someone there makes a big difference. Save yourself the headache and take one more thing off your plate.

  18. DJ Services says:

    It is not a bad to used iPod option to a wedding occasion. But for me, I’d most prefer to hire a band or a live band, because i’d love to watch performing them live and serenade you.