Jessica is passionate about frugality and sticking to a budget. She even helped her mother plan a wedding for 100 guests on a $3000 budget!
I Was a DIY Wedding DJ!
When you're on a tight wedding budget, a DJ can be tough to afford. I recently helped my mom plan her wedding and when she told me her wedding budget was just $3000, I knew we wouldn't be able to afford paying for a DJ. So, we went looking for alternatives. We eventually found a local DJ that rented out equipment for just $200 (about 25% of the cost of an actual DJ). He told us that it was touch screen and we could add all the songs we wanted and have them play in the order we wanted. This was our original plan.
But when my mom's air conditioner broke down a week before her wedding and she was at the limits of her budget, we came up with another plan. I was going to be a DIY wedding DJ using iTunes and my laptop. How did I do it? Keep reading!
DIY DJ Equipment - Should You Use an iPod?
First of all, I would suggest NOT using an iPod. They are a bit clunky to control, they don't fade from song to song (unless something has changed since I got my iPod a few years back), and it's too easy for it to get stolen or broken.
Here is a list of the equipment that I used to DJ my mom's wedding and a few other items I recommend:
Stereo 3.5mm to stereo RCA Y cable connector
- A laptop. This doesn't have to be anything fancy. As long as it can run iTunes, can hold at least 100 songs, and has a headphone jack, you're golden! I used my 6 year old Dell Inspiron E1505 and it worked perfectly!
- CDs or a music collection that you own. The reason I say that you need to own the music is to avoid copyright laws. You can legally play CDs or music you have purchased at a wedding (because it's a private event) but borrowing CDs and playing them at a wedding may be illegal. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know for sure but I would err on the side of caution. If you don't own the songs you want to play, you're going to need to buy them. I suggest the iTunes store or Amazon.com.
- iTunes - this free software is what brings everything together. You can make playlists, crossfade songs, adjust where songs begin and end, and even backup your music onto an MP3 CD.
- Surround sound system. A surround sound system is something that most people own already (or know someone they could borrow from) and they provide enough sound to fill a room. For reference, the reception hall at my mom's wedding was over 2000 square feet and the music was plenty loud!
- A stereo 3.5mm to stereo RCA Y cable connector. That probably sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo but but it's just a simple (and cheap) cable that you use to connect your laptop to the surround sound system. One plug goes into your laptop's headphone jack and the other side goes into the Left and Right inputs on the surround sound system.
- A microphone. You will need this if you plan to make announcements. Try to get a handheld microphone and be sure to disable the "usb plugging in" sound that occurs (HOW TO). An inexpensive microphone is a Rock Band/Guitar Hero mic. They are designed to be used on a game console but you can use them on a PC and they are cheap and easy to find.
Download your FREE Printable "No Requests, Please!" Sign
- Printable "No Requests, Please" Sign
Print this sign and display it in a frame at the DJ booth. You can get a frame at the Dollar Tree for only $1.
Try to set up your playlist so that the music starts back up on a slow dance song to get the older folks back on the dance floor after any special dances (Father-daughter, Dollar Dance, etc). They will likely leave early so try to make sure they get some dancing time in at the beginning of the reception.
Putting It All Together - How to Be a DIY DJ from Start to Finish
Okay so you have all your equipment and all your songs...what now? Here are some easy steps to get you set up and ready to DJ!
- Put all your music into iTunes. This may involve ripping music from CDs or importing downloaded MP3s. If you need help figuring out how to do this, check out the links further down the page under the heading iTunes Essentials.
- Compile your playlists. A good rule of thumb is 2 slow songs and then 3-5 fast songs. If you have a lot of older folks, you might need more slow songs mixed in to get them on the dance floor. Don't forget to crossfade the music!
- Determine when you need to make announcements or special dances (first dance, father-daughter dance, dollar dance, etc.) and make a timeline. Make two copies and keep one in your laptop bag so you won't forget it.
- Listen to your playlist from start to finish. Pay special attention to how the songs fade between each other. You don't want any gaps between songs. If you find any, you can right click the song and go into its properties to change when it ends. This will cause the song to fade into the next one without any gaps.
- Make at least 2 backups of your playlist. You can back the playlist up on CDs, on another laptop, and/or on an iPod/iPhone (so you can transfer it to another computer, if necessary - I do NOT recommend using the iPod/iPhone for the reception).
- Set up all the equipment. Connect the laptop to the surround sound system and make sure it is working properly. Make a note of how to adjust the volume, bass, etc. Don't forget to check that your microphone works and make sure you can hear the mic through the speakers. This may require you to change some settings on your computer.
- Perform a test run. If you are the bride or groom, run through the setup with the person who will be running it. If you are the one running it, play a few songs for the couple so they can make any changes they would like.
- Perform another test run in the reception location. This can be the night before when everyone is decorating or the morning of the wedding. Just make sure all your equipment is working and you know how loud you need to turn the sound up to be heard clearly.
- Arrive at the reception early and get set up. Once the reception starts, you're ready to go!
A good rule of thumb for playlists is 2 slow dance songs and then 3-5 fast dancing songs. Gradually kick up the tempo on the songs until you hit a peak and then drop it down for the slow dance songs. The fast dancers will love the break and the slow dancers will love the chance to get out on the floor.
What do you think about DIY Wedding DJs?
iTunes Essentials - A collection of useful links when building a wedding DJ playlist
- How to Rip a CD - Importing Music CDs to iTunes
iTunes makes it easy for anyone to convert their favorite CDs into digital music files that can be played via computer or iPod. Find out how easy it is to convert your CD collection into music that you can take anywhere.
- How to Create an iTunes Playlist
Playlists can help you make custom song mixes, burn CDs, or sync multiple iPods to the same computer. Here's a quick guide to making and using playlists in iTunes.
- How to Crossfade Songs in iTunes - Remove the Gaps Between Songs
Do you want to know how to remove the gaps of silence between songs in iTunes? This iTunes tutorial will show you how to set up crossfading. You can use crossfading on iTunes to create smooth transitions between songs.
- How to Make an MP3 CD Using iTunes – Burning MP3 Songs to CD
Creating an MP3 CD is a great option to back up your DJ playlist. This iTunes tutorial will show you how to easily make an MP3 CD. WARNING: This backup CD will only work in devices that can read MP3s. Most modern devices do but please doublecheck.
Got a question? Ask it! Got a comment? Leave it! Want me to share my customized playlist? Just ask!
I'll try to respond within 12-24 hours.
© 2013 Jessica
Mary Braddy from Orangeburg on February 12, 2020:
Great article. So much information and I loved it.
Mirta on January 14, 2017:
What a great idea and thanks for all the useful tips. Music is so important for a good party and DJs SOOO expensive. I will be using your idea at our next party
Jessica (author) from Southern Indiana on February 08, 2016:
kiara, you can use any surround sound system that works. Just ask around in your social circle and see if anyone will let you borrow theirs!
kiara on December 07, 2015:
Can someone please reference me to at least which surround system is good to use?
sarah on February 01, 2015:
This is a great guide, thank you! Every one I've seen before this one says to use an ipod and that just seems like such a bad idea since it could easily get stolen or broken. Thanks for a computer based guide!
Mamabyrd from West Texas on September 14, 2013:
Great tips! We couldn't afford a DJ at our wedding so we had a friend hook up a sound system and play CD all night. He did an awesome job!.
CaztyBon on August 01, 2013:
Nice lens! Very informative and useful to people with special events.