A good wedding DJ will keep your big day rolling and your dance floor moving. But if you hire one, you can also get back $1,000 or more. You can host your own wedding for a fraction of the cost without sacrificing the flow or the dance party. All you need is a playlist, a sound system and some planning.

Brian Zimmerman and his wife Amy put together the music for their December 2013 wedding in just a few days.

“Music is such a big part of our everyday lives, so it was easy to curate a lot. We already spend so much time on it,” says Brian Zimmerman.

Not a music lover? Take a few weeks to research and curate a playlist — because nobody wants to download and organize songs the night before their wedding. Use these tips to become your own wedding DJ.

The facility

1. Rent a sound system

Your Bluetooth speaker might work well at home, but it doesn’t deliver enough sound for a wedding — especially if your event is outdoors. If your venue doesn’t have a sound system, rent one.

Brandon Stiles, founder of Uptown Down Entertainment in Atlanta and author of How to DJ Your Own Wedding, suggests the following setup:

  • Two 12 inch speakers with stands
  • A microphone
  • A laptop or music player (your own)

Renting equipment from a music store like Guitar Center or Sam Ash will set you back $75 to $150 a day, plus a refundable deposit.

2. Appoint a master of ceremonies

Ask a friend or family member to help you get the music started and make important announcements—like when dinner is served or when it’s time for the first dance.

Set your MC up for success. Make sure they know the schedule for the day and can get comfortable with your playlists and sound system ahead of the wedding day.

3. Perform a dry run

A missing cable. A bad microphone. audio feedback. Any of these problems can mess up your music plans. Meet her a day or two before the wedding rather than an hour or two beforehand.

This is where a dry run comes into play. Set everything up as if it were the main event and run through the different parts of your day – pre-ceremony music, ceremony readings, etc. Your officiant and MC have the opportunity to practice, and so do you. You have time to solve any problems that arise.

The playlist

4. Create mini playlists

Your wedding day is made up of many moments – some big, some small – that you want to set to music. Create separate playlists for each of these moments, clearly labeling them and arranging them in chronological order to ensure your MC hits the right tunes at the right time.

Here are a few moments that might justify a playlist of their own:

  • Seated music before the ceremony
  • Procession (parents, bridal party)
  • procession (bride)
  • recession
  • cocktails and dinner
  • first dance
  • Parent dances (father/daughter, mother/son)
  • General reception

5. Select crowd favourites

Brian and Amy Zimmerman dance to DIY music at their wedding. (Photo by Kelley Squires)

You and your partner may love thrash metal, but Slayer isn’t for everyone. So save Raining Blood for the after party and stick with crowd favorites during the reception.

“What people call quintessential wedding songs — Motown, Stevie Wonder — they became quintessential for a reason: They have universal appeal,” says Stiles. “When you play heavy metal, not everyone is going to get up and dance.”

Not sure where to start? Stiles recommends searching for the top 100 dance songs, picking popular tunes from different decades to delight guests young and old alike.

That doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate a few lesser-known favorites. The Zimmermans have included tunes from indie and folk artists such as Spoon, Cloud Cult and David Gray in their reception playlist.

“We wanted obscure, fun music that people could relate to,” says Brian Zimmerman of their intimate reception at the Gennett Mansion in Richmond, Indiana. “We wanted people to hear something they like and connect with a new artist.”

6. Go premium, download everything

You don’t want your first dance to be interrupted by a Target ad or a choppy internet connection. Go for a premium music service that offers ad-free offline listening. Then download everything and save it on your music player.

Spotify Premium and Apple Music both cost $9.99 per month, with generous promotions for new subscribers. Both services allow you to crossfade tracks – a handy DJ trick to avoid dead air between songs. Apple Music also lets you trim songs (via iTunes) so your guests can groove to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” minus the nearly minute-long guitar solo at the end.

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Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]


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