An iTunes jockey instead of a wedding DJ?
April 27, 2008 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Instead of getting a DJ for our wedding, I'm thinking of hiring an iTunes operator -- someone with some knowledge of music and iTunes who can fire up pre-created playlists at the right time, adjust sound levels, troubleshoot problems etc. Has anyone tried this? Any tips? (And does anyone know anyone in the Wilmington NC area who might be interested in such a gig?)
posted by davidfg to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could use a wireless remote and a laptop hooked up to a sound system and DYI.
posted by JJ86 at 1:10 PM on April 27, 2008

Best answer: I understand where you're coming from, but I don't think iTunes makes DJs obsolete. The role of the DJ is not just to play tracks - it's to read the crowd and engage them. It might sound ridiculous (since wedding DJs usually have a cheesy reputation), but it takes a lot of experience to be able to do this well, to appeal to different generations - usually in different states of intoxication - and get them going.

In a former life I made DVDs of people's weddings/ receptions, and it's clear to see when things have been too pre-planned; the guests are *bored*. I guess this highlights the conflict which is what the couple want isn't necessarily what the guests want. And if the guests aren't rockin', well, you're going to be fast forwarding through that section of your wedding video.

So I'm championing the (good) wedding DJ - and for fuck's sake: who wants to dance to a goddamned laptop?
posted by forallmankind at 1:11 PM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Echoing forallmankind ... the DJ isn't just serving up music but is reading the crowd and keeping the music in sync with the need and vibe. A preset playlist doesn't really work very well.

There may also be a question of the kit .. getting the sound levels right take both hardware and wetware (i.e. thought and understanding.)

I used to DJ many years back ... cheesy but it can make or break a party.
posted by airplain at 1:20 PM on April 27, 2008

My husband gave someone an Otto server as a wedding present to use instead of a DJ. That way, guests were able to "make requests" even though the basic flow of music was there, much more adaptable and fun than a straight playlist. I guess the software is called Calliope now.
posted by Gucky at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2008

Agreeing with the above, a good DJ does a lot more than just press the play button on an iTunes playlist - it's all about matching the music to the crowd, timing things well, making sure that all of the diverse groups at the wedding get to enjoy some music they like, and reading the audience well.

But a laptop is great for this - a laptop and a decent supply of music is far more portable than LPs or CDs and the equipment you'd use for mixing them. Don't use iTunes, though - instead try something like DJ 1800 that's designed for DJing. I've been to several weddings where that's what the wedding DJ has used, and it's been great.
posted by siskin at 1:39 PM on April 27, 2008

There are iPod-capable DJs. I have heard of some who keep four or five iPods available and will switch as needed.
posted by megatherium at 1:43 PM on April 27, 2008

If you go through with your (ill-advised, imo) plan, you'll want to double check to make sure that the venue has payed the requisite licensing fees to ASCAP/BMI to allow you to play the music yourselves in the first place.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:05 PM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also a note in favor of the DJ option: some wedding venues won't allow you to play music otherwise. DJs (should) have public performance rights already in possession for the music they play. Although a wedding generally is not a public performance (unless you like to invite random people you've never met to your's), some venues are paranoid about potential lawsuits and the like.
posted by saeculorum at 2:09 PM on April 27, 2008

Unless I've overlooked something fundamental in iTunes, there's no way to be gracefully spontaneous with it. Party Shuffle is about as close as Apple comes to providing that functionality, and it's nowhere near as flexible is it would need to be. And as has already been said, you really do want more than pre-programmed playlists for this.

So I suppose my answer would be: sure do the iTunes thing if your wedding is going to be a low-key casual, unprofessional backyard affair, and the music is pretty much background music. If, on the other hand, you're striving for something approaching polish, you really ought to get someone who is experienced at DJing. While they may well bring a hard drive instead of milk crates, they will not be using iTunes. I say this as someone who eschews expensive over-produced weddings, but really, if you think there's value in having a carefully constructed soundscape, then you've got to know there's a definite downside to having awkward musical silences and jarring transitions and whatnot, which is what your iTunes jockey would provide.
posted by mumkin at 2:13 PM on April 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all for the good feedback. Part of the issue is that we're a little snobby when it comes to music and are, frankly, a little scared of the kinds of things most wedding DJs are likely to play. It seems dumb, not to mention potentially controversial, to pay a real DJ and then tell him exactly what to spin -- although, as noted above, a real DJ has obvious benefits in terms of keeping an eye on crowd reaction, pacing things etc. So we're a little torn. (I'm also open to suggestions for cool DJs in the Wilmington area.)

The wedding is in a private backyard so music licenses are, I hope, not an issue.
posted by davidfg at 2:25 PM on April 27, 2008

Well here's the thing, unless you're wedding is in Williamsburg and someone like Girl Talk is in the audience, they'll most likely want to hear that fucking Umbrella song and maybe that new Madonna single. Not that there are incredible DJs who can read an audience and play a mix of new, obscure and pop with complete aplomb (like Mark Ronson), I really doubt you'll be able to find them.

I say this as someone who just got done with doing something similar. I had a friend getting married so the more musically inclined of us started six months in advance on making the mix. We got a copy of Adobe Audition to cut up songs and we mixed them in real time with Audio Mulch. We more or less had a set track list but we could do real time mixing so if one song went over like crazy we could follow it up with something similar. In my opinion the mix was fucking amazing. In the opinion of the countless bridesmaid friends and moms and dads and kids? Well let us say our Justice / Elvis Costello mix wasn't quite appreciated. We kept getting requests for that damn "Big Butts" song and any top 40 in the last 2 years.

I think the best thing to do is setup a kiosk so the kiddos can select their shitty music, but have it so that your selections override it (say every 2-3 songs, or by force if necessary). The idea is the crowd likes to have fun and be engaged. I say this with a heavy heart, but weddings are the last place to showcase any sort of music snobbery. The audience is just way to diverse for that.
posted by geoff. at 2:42 PM on April 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

It seems dumb, not to mention potentially controversial, to pay a real DJ and then tell him exactly what to spin

I wouldn't tell him exactly what songs to play in what order, but I think it'd be dumb to hire a DJ and not tell him what you want played. Make a list of songs you'd like played and give it to him. Make it clear that you'll do this ahead of time, versus springing it on him when he shows up at the wedding.

And then, stop caring. He might deviate from the list a little bit if he thinks it's best. (If you want this, tell him it's okay!) I can't imagine that a DJ with any hope of ever getting a job again is going to show up to your wedding and start blaring gangsta rap (unless it's what you wanted?), so if he deviates from your list a little, it's probably because he knows better what'll go over well.

And then, once he's got his list and has been hired, forget the whole thing. It's the most important day of your life, not a time to worry about music selection.
posted by fogster at 2:46 PM on April 27, 2008

Best answer: We did this with our wedding. We were getting our music likes/dislikes together, and it turned out that most DJ's we talked to did not appreciate being handed a list of 40 songs that they were not to play under any circumstances - we didn't want any Achy Breaky Hearting or Macarenaing or You Know You Make Me Want To Shouting at our wedding. So, we decided to do it ourselves, and our ipod wedding went off without a hitch. We didn't even hire a "professional" - we just had my cousin run the ipod Here's what we did:

1. We had specific playlists for each event during the wedding - a "pre-wedding mix" playlist, a "processional" playlist, a "recessional" playlist, a "first toast" playlist, a "first dance" playlist, etc. Each "playlist" generally only contained one song, except the "pre-wedding" mix which contained about an hour's worth of music for when people were milling about before the ceremony. Specific playlists make it easy for the ipod operator to know what to do when.

2. For the main part of the reception, my wife and I built a "reception dance music" playlist - we just went through each of our ipod playlists and picked about three hours' worth of music, then weeded it down from there to a total of about 3.5 hours - which is about how long we calculated we'd have the hall for once the dancing started. Then, when it's time for the reception to start, fire up the "reception dance music" playlist on shuffle and let it roll.

I say this with a heavy heart, but weddings are the last place to showcase any sort of music snobbery.

Disagree. Not to the point of playing only obscure bands, but what we did was we went pretty heavily "back catalog" - a lot of old Prince, a lot of old R&B, a lot of stuff that people could dance to and enjoy but that was not the flavor of this month. And we also threw in some Pipettes and stuff like that, which people liked but didn't recognize. The important thing is not the artist, it's the rhythm. Just make sure you have a good mix of stuff people can dance to, sprinkled with a few artists people recognize, and beyond that it doesn't matter what kind of stuff gets played, really.
posted by pdb at 3:00 PM on April 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

We had a DJ at our wedding and we were REALLY concerned that it was going to be cheesy (and when we saw the guy that the place had sent, we were even more scared, what with his dorky vest and haircut). But it actually ended up being completely awesome. I had laid down the law with the DJ service previously. We had sent in a list of songs/genres we wanted played and they responded saying "well, we don't think people at weddings like all these songs even though they are cool". I told them that I knew who we had invited to the wedding and that included a lot of people who were musicians (including the bride and groom) and other people with strong tastes in music and if they played Top 40 all night, it would be a bust.

The guy stayed extremely close to our requests and we ended up having the reception run an hour longer than planned because people were dancing and having fun. He didn't play any silly chicken dance songs and the only time he deviated was when someone specifically made a request (which was perfectly fine with me). He even played a song from my husband's old band, which was a great "reunion moment" for all the former members there.

So, to sum up because I know it seems like I didn't really answer your question, I was all ready to have a knowledgeable friend of ours run iTunes and have it be low-key and casual and non-dorky, but this meant that all friends got to have fun and we didn't have to worry at all and in fact, we were pleasantly surprised. You just need to remember that you are paying this person and come to an understanding.
posted by stefnet at 3:13 PM on April 27, 2008

Just make sure you have a good mix of stuff people can dance to, sprinkled with a few artists people recognize, and beyond that it doesn't matter what kind of stuff gets played, really.

This is true... iPod or DJ. Just one more note: the DJ we got played "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths as one of our slow dance songs and a LOT of people danced to it, including older relatives that focused only on the beat and the violins and not the double-decker bus or truck smashing into anyone.
posted by stefnet at 3:17 PM on April 27, 2008

I say Bah! to the anti-iPod Wedding crowd. I'm planning on doing this for my bash, and I've heard lots of success stories (also, it ends up being a lot cheaper).

pdb's advice sounds great - designate a trusted groomsman, bridesmaid, family member, or other friend to start the playlists and keep an eye out for problems.
posted by muddgirl at 3:55 PM on April 27, 2008

I am not a DJ & will not claim the skill that is involved in being a good one. That said, I did play the music at a wedding for some friends of mine. All we had available was iTunes so that's what we used (luckily we had a decent sound system to work with).

I knew their musical tastes from having given them mixes over the years & did something similar to pdb above. I put together a group of playlists ranging over a variety of styles & moods. Then I set up a master playlist & began adding songs or groups/series of songs as seemed appropriate. I just kept near the computer & made adjustments as the party went on. People seemed to enjoy the set quite a bit & danced all around. I had a number of compliments & requests for the playlists. I had fun too. Nothing like playing music for people & watching them respond - it's great.
posted by jammy at 4:02 PM on April 27, 2008

I would like to echo pdb's comment (and jammy's). We did this for our wedding, in 2000, when Napster Ruled the Earth. We had the specific songs picked out (groom-mother, bride-dad, first dance, etc.), then I went through and carefully put together about 2 hours worth of dancing music for the reception, as a starter, and had a bunch more on standby.

I have pretty mainstream tastes, so it tended toward the Motown/old rock 'n roll/80s anyway - not much different than what a DJ would have played. There was no Macarena or Electric Slide, and it went over VERY well. We did have some requests, and I or one of my groomsmen were able to queue that song up (if we had it), just by dragging it up in the rotation.

Towards the end of the evening, it turned into a free-for-all, but by that time, the older folks had retired to the patio or gone home. Those who didn't actually did enjoy dancing to Music:Response by the Chemical Brothers, and other big-beat hits of the day. (ah 1998, how I miss you so...)

I have seen this go over not-as-well when the bride and groom had more eclectic tastes. I'm sure they liked all the KMFDM, but it cleared out the room pretty quickly. And I have seen DJs succeed, and fail horribly. But please don't let the naysayers in the thread discourage you from doing this. Just realize that IF you do have rather more eclectic tastes, throw some popular stuff in there too. Yes, it's your day, but you do also have a responsibility to your guests (otherwise you'd be eloping!)
posted by rhys at 5:58 PM on April 27, 2008

We're going the iPod route with my upcoming wedding. We're having something small, approximately 50 people, in a breathtaking destination setting. The outdoor view will be the big selling point, and we're looking at music as more of a background item, rather than running a large dance floor with throbbing music all night. There will be a few dances, of course, but we feel having playlists of what we want is vastly more important than a DJ putting on the latest Mariah Carey crap when he feels it's right. I've been to too many weddings where brides and grooms were upset with DJ choices and obnoxious, inappropriate banter blasted out above the guests.

None of this is to minimize the talent of DJs or the art of being a DJ. I've spent many sleepless nights in clubs dancing without stop thanks to awesome DJs. We just feel this is the way to go. Apple has an ingenious interface on those little things. It should be easy enough to pause tunes when we want. Good luck to you and best wishes on your wedding.
posted by Lucy2Times at 6:00 PM on April 27, 2008

Friends of mine did somethng similar but hired a big wurlitzer CD jukebox that they then filled up with compilation CD's that they made (and they had me make for them). Then guests went up and chose the tunes from the bif jukebox they wanted to dance to but the only choice they had was songs that the bride and groom wanted to hear themselves so everybody was happy.
posted by merocet at 8:55 PM on April 27, 2008

What kind of wedding are you having? My husband and I DJd our own wedding via compiled CDs. Because we are DJs we were able to put together a suitable mix for dinner, then towards later evening - but we did not have dancing so there was no need to adjust the music flow significantly throughout the evening.

We made 6 discs that lasted the whole night. A few of our friends asked for copies later because they liked what we chose :)

It worked for us because of the style of our wedding (low key, no speeches or dancing, ceremony in a park) and because we had some DJing experience. The money saved and not having to listen to music I (or my guests) didn't like was also a plus.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:19 AM on April 28, 2008

WeddingJack covered the idea that you could hire a local indie radio DJ to mix up tunes that aren't cliches....

"Two Turn Tables and a DJ that Doesn't Suck" @
posted by geoffbart at 10:07 AM on April 28, 2008

Oh NYC? Check out Pop Shop which was started by Colleen Crumbcake who does a show on EVR. I think she started it for things like this so people like you could hire good djs and good djs can find people like you. In any case definitely check it out.
posted by geoff. at 11:25 AM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone -- I'm now leaning towards a real DJ so I can put the whole thing in someone else's hands. Now I just gotta find one...

Also thanks for reminding me why Metafilter is the online community I would spend time in if I spent time in online communities. Refreshingly idiot-free!
posted by davidfg at 9:11 PM on May 5, 2008

Response by poster: The end of the story: Through extensive googling I found DJ Sergio, possibly the only cool wedding DJ in Wilmington -- not really a wedding DJ, but he agreed to do ours, and everyone danced and had a good time, and I was glad I wasn't futzing with a laptop.
posted by davidfg at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2009

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