Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cheap wedding music in NYC: The iPod wedding

When H and I sat down and talked about a wedding scenario that would include more than just the two of us and two witnesses, we came up with two music scenarios

1) an informal backyard wedding with bonfire and sing along (we have a lot of musician friends and sing along are a big thing in my family)

2) an informal wedding in NYC entirely d.j.'d by an ipod, with a karaoke after-party.

We couldn't pursue option 1) for many reasons so we proceeded with option 2).

Bands v deejay v iPod

My father is a blues musician. He has been in bands, more or less, my entire life. I grew up knowing how hard a working musician works to get relatively little pay. I realize that unless most small time bands pick up the occasional wedding, they are at the mercy of the bar gig. Bar gigs come fraught with people skimming off the cover,rock-bottom per-hour pay and various house policies that can hit a band where it hurts. Knowing all of this, and having great sympathy for small-time bands throughout NYC, I chose my iPod. Why? The average cost of a NYC-area event band, at the time they we were looking, runs between 3-6k on a Saturday.

With the decision to not hire live musicians came a new anxiety. "People won't dance". Crowds respond to bands very differently than to canned music.I had recently been to several weddings that were deejayed fairly well and still, no one was really dancing. The minimum cost of deejay in this city is 2K, on Saturday the cost is considerably higher than that. At over 1/4 of our budget, we decided a deejay wasn't worth it.

There might be some cheaper live music options out there. I just didn't find them.

...but how will people dance?

Between reminding us of an iPod's inability to anticipate and react to a crowd, and the machine's 1-2 second delay between songs a few guests insisted that people would want to and would not be able to dance. We resolved these anxieties by simply not providing specified dancing time. We programmed music that people might spontaneously dance to (something that frequently happens at our house parties), and provided them space, but did not declare and after-food dance time. That alleviated our dancing concerns immediately.

People did spontaneously dance, so it all worked out.

Playlists for each event

We knew we wanted a mix of happy songs that our friends and families really liked. This meant, really, a mix of the quirky and classic. We pulled a lot from Motown, musicals, friends playlists, and my Dad's set list. Turns out, we had a lotof the music already. We banned the following:

a) break up songs (sorry Adele. I like 21, though)
b) songs about knowing the bride when she rocked and rolled
c) this might sound strange - but we did not include songs that we dislike....something that bands have discouraged me from doing the past "your guests will like it". Maybe, but I'm the one who will remember it. Frankly, there are plenty of other songs on the list that they like and they get to program karaoke.

With that, we broke the songs into four playlists

1) Welcome/after-food mingling playlist - this list included our happy, slightly louder music, interspersed with songs that people might want to dance to

2) Eating music - slightly quieter, but bouncy music suitable for eating and chatting

3) First dance - our friends asked for a first dance

4) Mother-son dance - because we knew that H's mother would really, really want this.

Since we didn't have a procession down an aisle, we didn't play music during the wedding ceremony or have wedding ceremony playlists.

We made back-ups and a checklist

My iPod had all of the playlists. We couldn't afford to duplicate the songs in total, so H downloaded the first dance and mother-son dance songs onto his iPod. We made a checklist of things we needed to bring to the restaurant and double checked it on the way out the door the morning of the wedding. We decided that if my iPod kicked it, or was lost we would revert to the restaurant's canned music. We heard a little bit of the the restaurant's music as we left. Turns out, the restaurant and H and I had fairly similar taste.

As a tip, bringing your laptop as a back up is always a good plan. My laptop has my dissertation on it, so it stayed at home :)


The restaurant had a dedicated sound system for our floor of the restaurant. About a week ahead of the wedding, the events coordinator and I had an email exchange to block out the wedding hour by hour. I gave him the playlist names and the times to switch from one playlist to another. He gave the list to the General Manager and she and the service staff flipped the music on and off as planned.

The restaurant staff was under strict instructions to not let anyone else touch the iPod. Our potential nightmare scenario for an iPod deejayed wedding were

1) in a drunken or nervous fit, a highly opinionated guest would start flipping through songs as they pleased, and disrupt the other guests
2) the iPod would be stolen. Frankly, this latter point really wasn't a major concern, but it's the sort of thing parents tell their kids to be cautious about.

As it turns out, no one wanted to flip through the iPod, so it all worked out.

People danced

Yup. The upshot is, people danced and had a fantastic time. H and I had been concerned that the music would play to a cold room after brunch, so we told a few friends of ours how the day would be organized and asked them to dance if they felt like it. Turns out, we probably didn't need to ask at all. A late brunch, a drink on the way into the restaurant and wine over eggs led to lots of people kicking off their shoes and dancing when they recognized songs. Since our friends and families had made song recommendations, everyone heard songs they knew and loved.

All in all, everyone had a lot of fun. Even if we had had a much larger budget, I would still use my iPod to deejay.

photo credit: Shaun Baker Photography

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