Why Using an iPod to DJ Your Wedding is a Horrible Idea

I’ve read several articles and have been asked a lot of questions regarding the trend of couples deciding to use an iPod instead of a DJ at their wedding reception. I can certainly appreciate the need to cut costs if a couple is struggling to pay for their wedding, but entertainment is quite possibly the worst place to make that cut. So much of the success of a wedding reception is tied directly to both the music being played and the timely, appropriate, and professional announcements made by an experienced emcee – I really can’t comprehend the decision. Why would people even consider doing this?

Budget – Supposedly using an iPod is less expensive than a DJ. Even after purchasing enough music to cover a four to five hour wedding and renting a professional sound system, it will probably cost less than hiring a professional wedding DJ.

Programming Control – Couples that use an iPod have total control over the songs on the playlist, which they generate before the wedding, and the order in which those songs are played. I’ve seen it mentioned that this “makes the music more personal for the bride and groom.”

Not Cheesy – Many couples that choose to use an iPod say they are doing so in order to prevent a “cheesy” wedding DJ from ruining their wedding. They have seen bad wedding DJs in the past, and don’t want to have inflatable instruments, party hats, and overzealous line dance instruction at their wedding.

I can understand the premise of all three of these arguments. All three of them make perfect sense. However, all three of them have simple solutions that don’t involve using an iPod instead of a professional disc jockey at your wedding reception.

Your Vision, Flawlessly Executed

The playlist control argument baffles me a bit. Where are all these DJs coming from that don’t do exactly what you want for your wedding? Even more important, why the heck are people hiring them? When you interview a potential DJ, simply tell them that you plan on submitting a comprehensive playlist for the evening and that they are not to add songs to it, remove songs from it, change the order of the songs, or take requests from your guests. Ensure that he is completely cooperative with this requirement (and if he’s not, keep interviewing until you find someone who is). Congratulations, you’ve just established total control over the music at your wedding. Most professionals, while they may not agree wholeheartedly with this approach, are willing to accommodate it. If they have a problem with this request, there is a very simple solution – DON’T HIRE THEM!

All Wedding DJs Are Not Created Equal

As far as the “cheesy” thing goes, this is another great case for spending the extra money to get exactly what you want. I will concur that using an iPod at your wedding is better than having a really bad DJ. The remedy is to hire a good DJ, not cut out the DJ entirely! There are plenty of non-cheesy wedding DJs out there – I am one of them and I have several DJs that work for me that have the same sophisticated approach and performance philosophy. Search online. Ask your reception site contact. Ask your photographer. Call a wedding planner and ask her if she would be willing to refer you to a good, non-cheesy DJ free of charge. It may take a little work, but you can find a DJ that matches the style you’re looking for.

Flawless Announcements

The single biggest drawback to not using a professional wedding DJ is the lack of a polished, capable emcee for the evening. Does your fiancé’s college buddy have the right balance of intuition and experience to make smooth transitions between the various formalities at your wedding? Does he posses the attention to detail and quick thinking to smooth over an awkward moment by gracefully diverting your guests’ attention to something else? I can tell you that it takes years of experience and hundreds of performances to acquire the confidence and competence to deliver flawless emcee work at a wedding, and chances are that your friend doesn’t have this skill set.

Versatility and Flexibility

Even the best plans sometimes fail miserably. I have had numerous clients over the years that probably would have bet me double my rate that they knew their guests well enough to pick every single song for the evening, in order, and have the dance floor packed all night. Very rarely would they have been they correct. An experienced professional has the ability to “read the crowd,” to sense when it’s beneficial to extend a particular set or to put on a slow song to get the rest of your guests involved. This sense of the “flow” of the evening only comes with the knowledge gained from performing at hundreds of weddings, and is something that would be completely absent if you chose to use an iPod instead of a professional wedding disc jockey. Also, even a music expert can’t always predict in advance which songs your guests will respond favorably to, and the last thing you want to do is break up a full dance floor with an ill-timed slow song (or empty a dance floor filled with happy couples by throwing on a party song at the wrong moment).

Variety is the Spice of Life

If you are passionate about music, your tastes will most likely include music from many different genres. Many of your guests probably feel the same way. A good variety of music makes for a great wedding reception. So, in addition to paying for a rental sound system, you’ll also have to purchase $40-$60 worth of music to make sure everyone is happy. Or, you could always hire a professional DJ – he probably owns all of the music you’ll need for your wedding and will most likely purchase any that he doesn’t.

Beatmixing and the Two-Second Gap

Another factor to consider is an iPod’s inability to beatmix – blending songs together and keeping the beat going from one song to the next. Beatmixing is a tool used religiously by good DJs and is impossible for an iPod to accomplish (plus, it takes a bit of planning ahead to put songs with a similar tempo next to one another in a set). On top of this lack of mixing, an iPod doesn’t have the ability to remove the two-second gap between songs while it plays. Using a laptop instead of an iPod can eliminate this gap, but still doesn’t address the issue of beatmixing (or mixing in general, other than just fading songs together).

Radio-Edited Music

One point I think most couples overlook when considering to use an iPod for their wedding is their access (or lack thereof) to radio-edited versions of popular songs. Online music sources sometimes offer these versions, but not always. In fact, some artists and record companies make edited versions of their songs only available on the CD single in order to force people to find and purchase a separate disc. The majority of professional DJs, on the other hand, subscribe to one or many music update services that mail them CDs (or give them access to mp3’s) of all of the new music about to come out on the radio, fully edited just like the versions you hear on your way home from work. These subscription services are only available to professional DJs, and there is a lengthy process by which one has to prove they are a legitimate DJ and should be given access to promotional copies of music. Is your grandmother going to understand when you explain that you couldn’t find a clean version of that new hip-hop song, but you still wanted to play it?

Your DJ Offers You His Protection

Part of the issue with this “do-it-yourself” attitude is that your guests may think they can do it too. I had one wedding planner tell me that, instead of drawing less attention than a traditional DJ, the iPod DJ setup the couple rented created a bit of a scene when two of the groom’s friends spent the entire night arguing over what to play next. I can attest to the fact that, at practically every wedding I perform for, there is at least one guy that constantly requests terrible music. He needs someone to tell him no, because his taste in music is abysmal and his instincts are even worse. This guy is going to be the one that looks through your iPod (or brings his own) until he finds the worst song possible, and places that song in the worst spot possible, because there is nobody there to tell him to go away. Plus, he’s probably going to find a way to mess things up and you’ll be the one over at the iPod table trying to resurrect your playlist instead of enjoying your reception.

Would Anyone Care for a Lawsuit?

Another factor to consider when making this decision is liability – you may actually be exposing yourself to a lawsuit by using an iPod and a rented sound system. A professional DJ will carry liability insurance that covers him in case one of his speakers falls over and injures someone, or his equipment starts an electrical fire and burns your reception site to the ground. Since you are the one putting the speaker there, and you are the one responsible for the equipment, you are the one who is going to be sued if anything happens. Your homeowners’ policy may cover you in this instance, but the insurance agents I asked about this all told me that the homeowners’ policies they offered would not. You could purchase liability insurance for one day (at a minimum of $200) to make sure you are covered, but is it really worth the trouble?

Murphy’s Law

Even the best equipment will fail at some point, and it’s impossible for you to tell if the sound system you’ve rented has been properly cared for and maintained. If the channel fader block on your rented mixer blows out, do you know how to work around it? Do any of your guests? A professional wedding DJ will have the equipment knowledge to quickly solve any malfunction, or will have backup equipment with him just in case something can’t be fixed. If you don’t feel comfortable troubleshooting professional audio gear and renting a full backup sound system, you may be left without the music on which you’ve been so focused.

Your New Brother-In-Law is Not a Sound Reinforcement Expert

Unless you rent a sound system from a DJ familiar with your reception site and he chooses to give you good advice, chances are you aren’t going to know exactly what equipment to procure. Is a 300-Watt sound system adequate for a 60’ x 100’ ballroom with 120 guests in it? It’s more powerful than your home sound system, but is it enough? What if you are in a room with windows on two sides, a vaulted ceiling and a tile floor? Do you know how to set up the sound system so it doesn’t create an echo chamber? An experienced wedding disc jockey will know how to “tune a room” to get the best sound, and will know how much power is enough to cover your reception site.

You’re Not Saving That Much

Let’s total things up and take a look at how they compare with hiring a professional DJ. First, you had to buy the iPod. Let’s say you already have one or can borrow one from a friend, or you decided to use a laptop to eliminate the gap between songs and borrowed that. But you did have to buy $40 worth of music to complete your playlist. Then you had to rent the sound system – let’s say you went small and only got one capable of 300 watts (my setup is well over 1600 watts, continuous, so this is pretty small) and it cost you $150. You decided to play it safe and rent a second sound system as a backup, in case of an equipment malfunction. You can’t be too careful! That’s $150 x 2, plus the $40 for the music, so we’re up to $340. Wait! You almost forgot to rent a wireless microphone for the toasts and blessing and the welcome speech by the father of the bride. That’s another $75. Now we’re at $415. You don’t want to get sued by anyone, so you decide to buy the cheapest single-day liability insurance coverage you could find, for a mere $200. Total it all up, and you’re more than $600 into this iPod idea, and you still have to ask one of your guests to make your announcements for you. Is it really worth it?

Your Money, Well Spent

None of your guests will remember their meal (unless it’s really bad), your centerpieces, your chairs, your favors, your invitations, your cake (unless it’s really bad), or your bouquet. They certainly won’t remember your wedding pictures or video, because chances are they will never see them. What they will remember, however, is if they had a good time. This, to me, makes the case for spending more money on entertainment and cutting costs somewhere else. My advice is to seek the services of an experienced professional, one that shares your views and will honor your requests. Your guests will thank you, and you will be able to enjoy your wedding reception in the care of someone you trust.

In case you need any more convincing, here is a great video produced by the ADJA with real footage from an actual iPod wedding.

For advice on finding the right DJ for your wedding, see our comprehensive DJ SHOPPING GUIDE™.

Evan Reitmeyer is President of MyDeejay, Inc., a mobile disc jockey company that performs exclusively for weddings in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Northern Virginia metropolitan area. He is also the Founder and President of the Washington, D.C. area chapter of the American Disc Jockey Association (ADJA). He and his company were named by Washingtonian Magazine in 2006 and 2007 as “Among the Area’s Very Best Wedding DJs.”