To iPod or Not to iPod – What’s Best for Your Wedding?


If you're like a lot of cost-conscious couples planning a wedding reception, perhaps you've heard the buzz about putting on an iPod wedding. Here's all you need to make it happen. If you don't have the full setup, it can all be rented for $200-$400.

Mixer Plug your iPod into it. Then, the person who stays with the mixer and runs it all night long can balance the volume levels. Otherwise, you'll hear one song at ear-splitting volume, and the next song practically silent. It's highly unlikely that all of the music you loaded onto your iPod is balanced to the same audio output level. And an iPod doesn't automatically self-correct.

Microphone For your announcements.

Microphone Cable To plug your microphone into the Mixer.

Mixer-to-Amplifier Cables To plug your mixer into your amplifier. Be sure they're properly attenuated, or all of the music will sound distorted.

Amplifer, Speakers, Speaker Stands and Speaker Cables Your iPod has barely enough power to feed your ear buds. If you want all of your guests to hear the music, you'll have to amplify it. And even the world's cheapest DJ uses minimum 12" speakers. Don't expect to use the overhead speakers in your banquet hall. Even if they work, most banquet facilities won't commit contractually to having a sound engineer on duty all evening to balance the volume levels. And most halls don't have a full back-up sound system if their in-house sound system suddenly fails.

Backup Equipment If any of the above items fails (with the exception of the microphone), you have no music. You can try to call the rental company for a replacement. But they may not be open until 9 o'clock the next morning. And most companies that rent you a full iPod sound system, and set it up, don't put a full backup system in place. So even if they agree to rush to your reception to fix a broken piece of equipment, your party will be dead by the time they get there. A full set of backup rental equipment, on site, costs another $200-$400.

Liability Insurance Professional DJs always carry it, just in case Grandma trips over a cable and breaks her hip, or your little nephew gets too playful and knocks a speaker over, and it falls on one of your guests. And don't forget, if you're serving alcohol, some of your guests are going to be less than coordinated by the end of the evening. Equipment rental companies don't provide insurance, so you have to buy it yourself. The cheapest single-day liability policy costs about $200. If you're not insured, and a guest gets injured, you may spend the rest of your lives paying off a huge damage settlement.

All the Right Music Remember, your guests aren't there, just to dance to your favorite music. You'll want enough of a cross-section of their favorite dance music to please all of them, not just a handful of your closest friends. Unfortunately, there's no way to guess the musical tastes of everyone in the room. And if you guess wrong, most of your guests will sit on their hands for a few minutes, and leave early with memories of a boring party.

Other Requirements
1. Someone to pick up all of the equipment, take it to the reception site, set it up, and run a sound check before the reception. This may be a good friend who has agreed to miss your wedding ceremony, to be your sound man. Remember, he's probably doing it as a giant favor to you; so if he does a bad job, you can't criticize him without jeopardizing your friendship.
2. Someone to do the announcements -- preferably someone who knows his way around a microphone. Most people grab the mic and walk directly in front of the speakers, setting off an ear-piercing squeal of feedback. And they think the way to stop it is to put their hand over the microphone -- causing even more feedback. An MC with some professional experience would be a real plus.
3. Someone to break down the equipment at the end of the night and take it back to the rental company the next day. Banquet halls won't let you leave the equipment on site. And even if they do, it's not insured. So if someone steals it, you have to buy the rental company a full set of replacement equipment -- between $1500 and $2500.

Final Considerations
"The Gap"
Remember, most of the songs on your iPod gradually fade out at the end, leaving anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds of dead silence between songs. Silence empties a dance floor like nothing else. And a sequence of song-silence-song-silence, etc. won't generate any momentum or energy to keep people dancing.

Where'd Everybody Go? Also, an iPod doesn't take requests, and it doesn't automatically change music when it senses an empty dance floor. And a song that can fill a dance floor at 11pm, may leave it completely empty at 9pm. A professional DJ has the experience to know what songs to play, and when. A random selection of iPod songs can't read a crowd and respond. So if your guests don't like the music you've pre-programmed, the dancing will last only a few minutes, and the party will die. But if all you're looking for is some nice background music for quiet conversation, an iPod will serve you well.

Dancing vs. Listening If you plan to use an iPod, and ask your guests in advance for their requests, remember to ask them what songs they would actually dance to, not just what songs they like to listen to. There's an awful lot of great concert music that can empty a dance floor in a split-second. An experienced professional DJ knows the difference between a dance song and a listening song.

Do Your Homework You can learn more about iPod weddings by simply Googling "iPod Wedding." You'll find an eye-opening video of one couple's experience with an iPod wedding reception. You'll also find several sites with comment boards, where people who have tried iPods, or plan to, share their thoughts. One common argument is that amateur DJs play all of their favorite music, and try to be the center of attention. A professional DJ asks you what music you want, honors your wishes, and presents himself with class.

People who dislike DJs in general, and who can't say "DJ" without saying "cheesy," are usually those who went to the wedding of a friend who hired a bargain-basement DJ to save a few dollars. And when he did a horrible job, the guests didn't just think, "don't hire that guy." They thought, "don't hire any DJ. They're all awful." If you want a DJ who isn't cheesy, look for one that's rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau; or read a DJ's reviews on sites like Wedding Wire.

The truth is, a professional DJ adds a new level of class and professionalism to the occasion, keeps the reception moving at a steady pace, has the flexibilty to change the music to keep the dance floor full, and keeps the photographer, videographer and caterer informed of all important moments during the evening (so, for example, your photographer doesn't miss your first dance because he's out having a smoke). He is your best line of defense against the party guest who insists on breaking up a successful dance set to play a totally inappropriate song that brings the party to a crashing halt. And he adds countless touches that make the entire evening a great success and a wonderful memory.

Your Signature Event If you're looking to make a statement to your families and friends about who you are, and how far you've come, there is no substitute for a professional DJ. But not everyone has the financial resources for a full reception, and the iPod provides people of modest means with an alternative.

As long as you understand the requirements and risks above, and you have someone who will work full-time for the evening as an amateur MC, and you're fully insured, and you're willing to risk that your guests won't like your song selection, or you just don't want any dancing, an iPod may work for you, and perhaps even save you $100 or more. Only you can decide whether that's enough of a savings to justify the many hours of extra work you'll need to do. You may come to the conclusion that a professional DJ isn't so expensive after all.
Posted by Jay Congdon is President of Fourth Estate Audio Inc., a professional Chicago Wedding DJ entertainment company.

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