B&H Wedding Guide: Do-It-Yourself DJ Systems

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One way you can offset the overall cost of a wedding is this: take on the task of providing the music yourself. Obviously, creating a do-it-yourself wedding DJ system will require a bit more effort on your part. This guide will explain the basics of what you need to do, point out the many pitfalls, and give you some creative ideas that can spice up your event. 

The Song List

One of the most important jobs you need to do is to create the song list for the day's events. You need to figure out exactly which songs will be played at the wedding. You also need to determine the order in which they’ll be played and when they will be played. Most weddings are comprised of a ceremony, followed by a reception, which includes a cocktail hour, dinner and dancing. If the average song is around three minutes in length, you’ll need a minimum of 120 songs to get you through the ceremony and subsequent celebration. Once the list of songs is compiled, you need to acquire all of the music and organize it for your playback system.

The Playback System

You’ll have to choose a device to play music at the wedding. The most common way to do this is with a media player, a tablet or a laptop. It’s strongly advisable to have the wedding music loaded onto more than one playback device, as a safety backup. Another way to go is to burn CDs so you can play the songs through a CD player. No matter what playback system you end up using, it’s a smart idea to always have a backup. If you’re playing CDs, have a back-up CD player and duplicate discs at the ready. If you’re doing the laptop thing, maybe have a separate MP3 player loaded with the wedding music ready to go in the event that the computer breaks down.

The Sound System

Some wedding venues come with an included sound system, while others do not. If your venue comes with a sound system, be sure to ask if a qualified person will be present on the day of the wedding to help you set up and operate the equipment. It’s very important to do a test run before the day of the wedding. Go to the wedding venue, set up and run the sound system with your playback device and give it a listen. This way you can make sure it’s going to work, and you’ll have a solid idea of what it’s going to sound like.

If your wedding venue doesn’t have an included sound system, you’re going to need to provide one yourself. The good news is that such PA systems aren’t terribly expensive. A basic PA system consists of the music playback device, an audio mixer and a pair of powered speakers. Decent-quality powered speakers, like the Behringer B208D, are well within reach on a limited budget, and will provide ample sound coverage (especially when more than one is used).

One of the tricks of having good sound coverage at an event is by raising the speakers up to ear level. The most common way to do this is by using speaker stands like the On-Stage SS-7730. You have to make sure that the speakers you’re using have speaker stand mounting holes built into them. B&H sells pre-configured kits that include a powered speaker, a speaker stand and an audio cable, like this one, which includes the ever-popular Mackie SRM450v2 powered speaker. Pick up a pair of these and a mixer and your wedding soundtrack will sound great.

If you don’t buy a B&H Kit, don’t forget to also purchase the appropriate cables to connect your speakers to your mixer. The specific kind of cables that you need can vary depending on what kind of inputs your powered speakers have and what kind of outputs are on your mixer. However, the most common cable used to serve this purpose would be a ¼” male TRS to XLR male cable.   

Making Announcements with a Microphone

If you want to make announcements during the wedding (such as introducing the couple, announcing the first dance, giving speeches, etc.) you’re going to need a microphone (in addition to the other sound equipment). The trouble with making announcements through a microphone and a loudspeaker is that you run the risk of experiencing loud feedback. Feedback occurs when the microphone picks up the sound of the speaker. Sound travels into the microphone and instantly gets amplified and sent out through the speakers and continues in this loop. The result is a loud, ear-splitting squeal.

If you think you can handle running a live mic on your wedding night, it’s fairly easy to add one to your PA system. You need to make a point of buying a mixer that features an XLR microphone input. If you have a mic input on your mixer, adding a mic is as simple as picking out a microphone and a mic cable, and plugging it in.

We strongly recommend purchasing a handheld microphone that includes an ON/OFF switch. Don’t assume that all microphones have an ON/OFF switch. In fact, many microphones don’t have them. The reason why having an ON/OFF switch directly on the mic is a good idea is that it’s easier to kill the feedback if the person holding the mic can just turn it off. If you plan on using a microphone, you should definitely make a point of testing it through your PA system before the wedding.

Using Wireless Microphones

The freedom a wireless microphone provides is desirable at weddings. It’s nice to be able to pass around the microphone for toasts and speeches, without having to fuss with a cable. However, the same dangers exist for experiencing feedback with wireless mics, and you have to be mindful of additional issues.

The airwaves are busier today than they’ve ever been. It’s likely that many of the guests at your wedding will be carrying and using smartphones and other wireless devices of their own, so you need to be aware of potential interference issues. Should you encounter interference during the wedding, someone besides the bride and groom needs to be familiar enough with your wireless system to be able to remedy the situation. This usually requires adjusting the channel on which the wireless system is operating, so the person who takes the responsibility of running the sound system should read the manual that comes with the wireless mic.

Wireless transmitters need batteries in order to operate. It’s a smart idea to have extra batteries on hand during the wedding. It’s also advisable to use Lithium batteries, as they last much longer than alkaline or rechargeable batteries. In the event that you encounter catastrophic problems with your wireless mic, it’s a good idea to have a wired handheld mic at the ready as a backup.   

Using Microphones in the Ceremony

Running live microphones during a wedding ceremony can be tricky, especially if inexperienced people are operating the sound system. You need to be really careful not to create feedback. This is a setting that needs to be as peaceful and serene as possible, and nothing spoils that like a loud feedback squeal.

The kind of microphone you use can really help you keep feedback at a minimum. Unfortunately, using small clip-on lavalier microphones is usually a bad idea, especially if the person operating the equipment is inexperienced. The problem is that the lavalier mic is usually placed several inches away from the speaking person’s mouth. You need to really crank up the PA system in order to hear the mic, and it’s really easy to create feedback when the PA is turned up so high.

A much better solution is to use a handheld microphone. Your best bet is to have the wedding officiant hold a handheld microphone. However, some people don’t want the visual presence of a microphone in the ceremony. The only other option is to use a headset microphone, which some people also find to be visually unappealing. 

Spice Things Up with Video Projection

If you’re comfortable using video-editing software and you have time to commit to creating a multimedia project for the wedding, you may want to consider making a video-based song mix. The basic idea is to burn a DVD and use a DVD player as your playback device. You can connect the DVD player to the sound system, so it will serve the same purpose a CD player would. You can also connect the DVD player’s video output to a projector, so you can have a visual show to accompany your music.

It’s up to you to choose the material you use in your video projection. It can be something as simple as a slideshow of photos, or something as elaborate as full-blown custom music videos that you create. Obviously, this requires a bit more elbow grease on your part, but it could end up being a big hit at the wedding.

Boogie Down with some Disco Lights

People love to cut loose on the dance floor at weddings, and having a few disco lights can really draw people in. The good news about dance lights is that they’re pretty easy to use. We sell disco lights at B&H which have sound sensors built into them. The sound sensors react to changes in the music, and automatically come up with a light show that’s in sync with the music.

LEDs are a good option for dance lights. They run cool, so you don’t have to worry about anyone touching them and burning their hands, and they’re pretty affordable.

Hopefully, we've given you some ideas about how you’ll approach your wedding DJ system. If you have any questions about wedding sound systems, please visit the B&H SuperStore in New York or speak with a sales professional, either on the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or via Live Chat.

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Being your own wedding DJ might save on costs, but I wouldn't trust myself with something like that. Not to mention I'd rather just leave that job to someone else than have to worry about it on top of everything else. Still the advice is great! 

That would be great! I don't really have the money for a wedding DJ right now, it would be best if I could just DJ myself. I'll have to talk to my fiance and see what he thinks!

Great! I have learnt quite a few things from this post. As a Wedding DJ i have been looking out for some new ideas and fortunately, i found something important here. Thanks a lot.

So its the BIGGEST day of your lives &  you can not afford a DJ ...Why ?
(Over Budget on other Wedding Details - Simply Cut Back )

If you hire Disco Equipment, Are you or your guests qualified to use it ?
(What if it breaks down, What if a wedding guest is injuried by equipment)

Who selects the music playlist for the big day, The Groom, Bride or Guests?
(An Ipod or Mp3 player can not read a crowd & create an atmosphere)
 

You do not want your BIG day to end in an emotional disaster ...Hire a Pro Dj 

There’s no doubt that professional wedding DJ’s provide a very valuable service. Great wedding DJ’s have a unique combination of technical skills, people skills, and most importantly, they can adapt to any situation and make the event a better experience for all.

I agree. It's likely a wise move for most people to cut back on other wedding expenses so they can afford to hire a professional DJ. However, we created this article for those who are curious about doing it themselves, and if you read closely, you'll see that I made a point of not sugarcoating the process.

Professional DJs are hardworking people with real talents. As long as human beings continue to fall in love and tie the knot, there will be jobs for professional wedding DJs. This article simply provides information for people who are researching alternatives.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 

The other problem with DJs is that if you don't live in a major city (we are 600kms from our closest city and our closest city is Perth in Australia) you a limitied in what DJ's are around, we have been to a couple of events recently and the DJ just didn't do a good job. Infact one played the same song 3 times and cleared the dance floor at least twice.  

So yes a professional DJ is great if you can get one.

Sam,
Excellent article. May I link this article on my dj website? I feel it illustrates well the time and monetary investment it takes to DIY DJ. Not in a bad way. It lays out the facts and lets he or she decide if they want to take on that additional responsibility.
Regards,
Aaron

I've been a professional wedding DJ for over 17 years and have seen many trends come and go. When I started DJs were carrying huge heavy cases filled with CDs (the more you had the more professional you were). Now the majority of DJs carry labtops with the trend moving towards tablets. I've seen chocolate fountians replaced with photobooths. When I started it was all about putting on a show for the bride and groom with props, leading line dances and interacting with the crowd. Now it's about creating a multimedia spectacle using the latest technology (uplighting, slideshows, the newest LED lighting.

As trends have continued to change and morph, I've seen more and more brides and grooms choosing to do an IPOD wedding (as we like to call it). Even though this sounds like a great idea on one's pocketbook there are many things to concider.

1. Rental Gear - When you are renting equipment it tends to be either low quality, highly used, a dj's backup gear or all 3. Highly used rental gear tends to have issues and if you don't know how to problem solve issues (which a trained DJ should know how to do) then you are asking for problems.

2. Reading a crowd - No electronic equipment (no matter how advanced) can read where a crowd is going or what they want to hear. I did a wedding years ago where this was the case. The bride wanted me to play 2 mixed CDs that her friend had created. I asked the bride to label the songs on the CDs so I could choose when to pay the songs. The bride wanted me to put them in an just push play. Even though the music was what the bride and groom loved to listen to, no one else did. The dance floor was dead until the last hour when the bride finally decided to let me take the wheel. At that point the floor was packed.

3. Control - This is always a touchy issue. Brides and Grooms see their wedding day as the most important day of their lives. With this thought deeply ingrained in our culture, many brides want to have complete control over every aspect of their wedding day. This includes the music. Brides and grooms feel they could do a much better job djing their wedding then hiring a professional. I like to use an analogy to illistrate how hiring a professional DJ is a better idea then an IPOD. Imagine going to an expensive resturant (or any any resturant for that matter). You open your menu, find what you want to eat and place your order with the waiter/waitress. Do you then go in the back and make the food yourself? No. You let the professional cook who has been trained to prepare your meal to your specifications do their job to create a beautiful meal for you.

4. Flow - When it comes to weddings there is a definate flow to an evening. It's not just about the dance music. There's also the cocktail hour, grand introductions, toasts, dinner, cake cutting, etc. If you don't have someone there who knows how these events flow together and how to relay that information to the other vendors (photographer, videographer, banquet facility, etc) then your night will skip along hap-hazardly. As a bride and groom you are already under a boat load of stress. Why add to it by trying to figure out what is supposed to happen next.

There are many other issues that come to mind but these are the biggest issues one should think about when deciding on weither to have a IPOD wedding or a real dj. For most it all boils down to money and I completely understand that. We are all thinking about our pocket books today. But (as we say all the time in the industry) you will get what you pay for. If you want to spend $150 on a dj you will get a $150 dj. If you pay for a $100 IPOD wedding then you will get a $100 IPOD wedding. If you spend $800 on a professional dj you will get a $800 professional DJ.

We aren't looking for a DJ per say, but just background music, thus I was researching necessary equipment. This was a bit out of reach for my personal needs, however, a great article. Any of those who ridicule such a great outline of DIY are negating personal feelings of the couple, therefore, probably not really in it for their happiness and just the money.

I find it amusing that you assume ANY couple looking at this would have all, or even ANY of the things on your list.

1. I'm using fake flowers and I put them all together MYSELF, because I can't afford to pay a florist for real ones.
2. I won't be having "crudités," because I'm making the food for my wedding MYSELF.
3. I WILL be arriving in my own car and leaving in my own car, because I can't afford a limo.
4. My guests will be sitting in either the hideous grey, plastic bucket seats that come with the venue or folding plastic chairs, because I can't afford chair covers.
5. The only people having champagne at my wedding will be my soon-to-be husband and I.
6. I had to dig VERY deep to find a cheap historic hall that only comes with chairs and tables. No "fancy Country Club" for me.
7. We're having cupcakes that people can take home if they don't feel like eating them at the wedding, because they're cheaper than a huge, fancy wedding cake. AND a lot of people pay for the ONE layer that they'll be cutting into and buy a cheap sheet cake of the same flavor to serve to the guests, because it's a good way to cut that cost.

So, PLEASE, think about what the couple is going through and what their finances might be like before you say anything so ignorant.

While there is a great deal of good information on DIY DJing your wedding, I think this article really points out why most people would be better off letting someone else provide to music/PA.

Speakers are one example. The article mentions having them at 'ear level.' OK, so do you know how to safely set up a speaker and stand? Is the placement out of trip and knockover range?

What's the impedance of the speaker? Do you know what impedance is and what it takes to match your system? What about power rating? A 1000W amp will blow a 100W speaker in an instant while a 100W AMP will not be very loud into a 1000W speaker.

Sure you can buy a system, but then what? how do you run it? What happens if there are problems? DIY music is OK for the couple that only wants MUZAK for the cocktail or dinner hour, but if there's going to be any dancing or announcements/toasts with PA involved, there needs to be someone running it.

As I said; great article, but most people will need to get a DJ or band for any kind of 'party' style reception.

ProfessionalDJ's (Michigan) comment was spot-on. Yes, I realize the article is providing enough information to be a DIY discjockey. Here's the problem: Purchasing the equipment listed will cost far more than hiring a professional DJ. Plus, an experienced DJ will not only be able to accommodate the wedding party with their requests, but will have and know the songs that guests want to hear. ...songs that are often over-looked in the planning stages.

A couple will spend money on a professional photographer, church, hall, catering, flowers and apparel. Why skimp on the entertainment? It is akin to B&H marketing professional cameras to amateur photographers, then relying on the amateurs to take the same quality photos that are supposed to last a lifetime. Please, B&H, don't undercut the businesses of professional photographers and DJs that are your regular customers by giving the false hope that DIY'ers will produce comparable results.

This is why our entertainment field is so over-saturated and ruined. I've been DJing since I was 10 years old, and have been DJing for 10 years, and I've already spent about $15k on equipment upgrades, repairs, and modifications. Do you, the consumer, understand how much thought and effort is put into MCing or organizing the flow of a wedding? You're going to put an iPad in place of a professional, with a toy mixer attached, and expect that to work out for you? Really? With speakers big enough for a small bedroom, made with poor quality components? Now now, you should know better if you've ever been to a proper wedding before.

I don't charge a ridiculous sum for weddings at all, and yet I meet with my clients, sit down with them, get an idea for their vision of their wedding (I do a lot of architectural lighting that goes with the decor + the venue) and make sure that everything is perfect to the T. It's not as simple as plugging in an iPad to some computer speakers.

Add in the equipment maintenance, the years of experience, the song selection (not just a playlist, but reading the audience and mixing seamlessly on the fly), making room for any discrepancies, etc... that only a professional DJ or production company would be able to do.

Maybe DJs should run an article telling potential Brides and Grooms that they don't need to hire a professional Wedding Photographer. Instead they should use their Camera phones and save on that expense.

While we are at it, maybe B & H can also tell the potential Couples that they can go on Ebay and get gear cheap. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

This is an topic better suited for the DIY bedroom DJs not a suggestion for Couples that can risk ruining their wedding.

I disagree with many of the DJ comments here - it depends what type and size of wedding you are having.

Our wedding will be informal with 50 people attending. There will be no speeches and no formal sit-down meal, there will be a buffet. We have hired a social club with a dancefloor. I will have back-up systems to ensure that there is music, even if the main system stops working. I have compiled a playlist of over 6 hours worth of songs, all crowd-friendly music ranging from 60's pop to current hits. I have considered the type of music to be played at certain times (older favourites earlier on, current hits later in the night). I've hired lighting and sound equipment at £100 for everything from a local company - the cheapest local DJ is £400 a night.

The main argument against having a DJ is this: they will be in control of the music that is played and not you. Even if you give a list of preferred songs to a DJ, they will still play songs they believe is right for the occasion/crowd, songs you may hate. For example, I will happily dance to anything by Beyonce but would leave the dancefloor in disgust if any Rihanna was played - to a DJ, there is no difference in terms of genre between these two artists. This is just one example out of hundreds according to my personal taste, I'm passionate about music and would not want to leave the music decisions up to a stranger. I also live in a small town with very limited choice of DJ's. If you don't care what music is played, then hiring a DJ would be better/easier.

DJ's are right to highlight the fact that providing music for a wedding is not just as simple as "plugging in an iPod". However, with thorough preparation and planning, it is possible to DJ your own wedding successfully, I have chosen to do this after much thought and planning.

Hiring a DJ is no guarantee that the type of music played will be enjoyable.

Jeez, people are sensitive. Where is the official Rule Book for weddings? Oh that's right, there isn't one. I have a very specific list of songs I want at my wedding because it's MY WEDDING, and I'm confident most of the songs will be appreciated by my guests. I'm also wearing a blue dress instead of white, and I'm not having a wedding party because it's a pain in the ass. Most songs I've heard DJs play at weddings are what I would personally consider cliche and not at all on my top 100 list. There is NOTHING WRONG with doing WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT yourself. Yes, some people do have friends photograph their weddings, or make the food themselves, out of financial necessity or for other reasons. Don't make someone feel bad because they dare to have a wedding that doesn't look like everyone else's cookie cutter wedding. Maybe my sound system won't be as fancy as a professional's, but I'd rather play MY music out of an old cell phone than hear some generic music that has no meaning to me out of huge concert speakers.

I'm not criticizing DJs at all, most of whom are great at what they do, and if that's what you want and can afford, go for it. I'm criticizing people who try to tell other people what's okay to do at their own damn wedding.