Recently, I got married, and everything went better than we could have imagined! The dance floor was full from the start, and we think all our guests had a ton of fun. It turned out great, but we really had no idea what we were getting into when we decided we didn’t need a DJ. Here’s a few things to remember, if your budget can’t allow for, or you just don’t feel like you need a DJ:

It sounds really simple: you both need to pick out songs, prioritize them into similar groups, decide what order you want them in, and then just build a flow between the songs. The playlists we decided we needed were:

  • pre-ceremony (20 minutes, Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz)
  • processional (canon in D, why mess with a classic?)
  • recessional (Ray Lamontagne, You Are The Best Thing)
  • cocktail hour (1 hour, modern songs that are difficult to dance to)
  • dinner (1.5 hours, music from 1950s-today – nobody hates Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Etta James, etc.)
  • first dance (Ed Sheeran, Thinking Out Loud)
  • dance 1 (1.5 hours, stuff everyone loves: Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas, Pharrell Williams, Bruno Mars, T. Swift)
  • cake cutting (Sugar sugar, When you say nothing at all, Lips like sugar, I can’t help myself (sugar pie, honey bunch)
  • Parent-child dance (Eric Clapton, Wonderful Tonight)
  • dance 2 (1.5 hours high-energy top 40, 90s pop and some goofy stuff that was requested by friends)
  • last dance (1 song, Closing Time)

First, we made a huge list of songs that we liked, roughly organized into the above playlists. Then we highlighted the songs that we absolutely needed to have. When we couldn’t think of anything else, we asked friends and family for their suggestions. Some people are better at picking songs for particular sections. After that, a great resource to use is Spotify playlists, to add songs that are similar to your playlists.

Then, we organized the music into playlists. This involved a lot of listening to the actual playlists, and then moving songs between lists. We pared down the lists over a few weeks, and finally sorted out the order we wanted the music. A really good ratio is to put four fast songs between slower songs.

The last part involved a lot more work. In order to not need a DJ to move between the songs, we had to trim and mix each song. This was a HUGE job that we definitely underestimated, it seriously takes about 24 hours of work depending on the size of the list. Our aim was to cut long intros and create smooth transitions between the songs. There are a lot of programs that you can use. Creating transitions that work depends on the playlist, the more similar the songs are, the easier it is to match up the beat. We decided that only the dance playlists needed to be mixed to flow together. We let dinner and cocktail playlists just play songs normally.

Once you have your playlists take care of, you need to decide who is going to change between them and who is doing your announcements. We have one outgoing friend who was happy to play MC for the wedding, and my husband’s best friend was in charge of starting and stopping the playlists. The person who is in charge of your playlists should give your MC a heads up when the last song on one playlist comes up, so that the changeover can happen while the MC is talking.

If you decide that you, too, do not need a DJ, here are some tips:

  1. Start early. It’s a big job that is fun if you’re not stressed about it. It’s awful when you’re feeling the pressure. It takes a while to collect the music, getting ahold of the songs isn’t always a breeze, and mixing the music can take forever. Give yourself enough time to get the job done without a lot of stress.
  2. Delegate. This is a great place to get people involved with your wedding. We had a lot of help picking songs and putting them in order.
  3. Remember that this probably isn’t the time to show off your good taste in music. Weddings are a top-40 game. Play a lot of crowd pleasers. Now is not the time to show off your sophisticated taste in unknown artists.
  4. Don’t be afraid to play a few “inside joke” songs. As long as you keep most guests engaged most of the time, it’s totally okay to throw in a few songs that are wacky, just make sure it’s not a whole playlist of weird shit. (and a note on profanity: we tried to keep it pretty clean since my parents are pretty straight laced, and I think our good-faith effort to keep it squeaky clean early in the reception balanced out the songs that just couldn’t possibly be radio-edited that came later in the night)
  5. Remember that your playlist times will shrink as you trim and mix your music. We cut our Dance 1 by about 1/3 and our Dance 2 by about 1/2 in the mixing process.
  6. Try to trim your songs to about 2:30 each. Obviously there are going to be some longer and some shorter (I think our shortest was 1:00 and our longest was 4:30), but that’s about how long you want to dance to each song without feeling like the music is jumping around or that it’s going on forever.
  7. Put your most important songs toward the beginnings of playlists. Stuff happens and schedules run late. Songs at the beginnings of playlists are pretty much guaranteed to be played, but whoever is doing your music might end up just skipping some stuff at the end of a list in order to move to the next one on time. My mom is still grumbling that the Chicken Dance was skipped…
  8. Consider having a DJ. We had a fun putting together our music and I really don’t think there’s any way a DJ could have topped it. But be honest with yourself about whether or not the work of putting the lists together appeals to you, because if it doesn’t, paying someone else to do it is probably worth the cost. It’s absolutely understandable that if this isn’t your thing, you’d want to pay someone $1000 to not have to deal with it.
  9. Tell your photographer what songs are important. One benefit of putting together your own music is that you know exactly which songs are important and you can let your photographer know ahead of time. Some examples might include parents’ first dance song, etc.

All that said, we’re really happy we decided we didn’t need a DJ! The process gave a lot of people an opportunity to contribute, so everyone walked away feeling like they had really made the wedding a success. Plus we got to hear all of our favorite songs, do all our favorite dances, and just generally went into it knowing we’d have a great time!

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