To iPod or Not?

Pre-Recording Your Own Wedding Reception Music

What You Should Know…

written by Dave Hastings, CPDJA National President.

If you are planning on using an i-Pod, computer, or "burned" CD compilations to play music at an event, there are a lot of factors to consider as this process is not as easy as you might think. 

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself about what you are about to do:

1. How much importance does the musical end of your celebration mean to you?

2. What is your time worth?

3. How about the time of your family and friends?

4. Do you want your guests to dance?

Here are some things to think about when you're holding an event and you're planning on providing your own music. More than one professional Event Planner has said that your choice of entertainment can make or break your event.

“Arts & Parts”

A good friend and long time professional Disc Jockey associate, Mr. Ed McMurtry came up with a way to simplify what a Disc Jockey actually provides. He defined it as the “Arts” & “Parts” concept.

A professional Disc Jockey actually combines the “Arts” of event planning, music preparation & programming, party flow, etc. along with the “Parts” or mechanical factors - equipment, technical knowledge, copyright licensing, delivery and removal, liability insurance, etc. Let's look at the “Parts” first.

The Mechanics of Your Event…”The Parts”

Have you considered ALL of the mechanical costs? Many people are under the impression that you just download a few tunes and throw them on their MP3 player, rent some sound “gear” and away you go. But it’s not that simple. Here are some things you might not have considered:

Before The Party

If you’re going to do it yourself, and your event is anywhere but in a "private venue", you will need a "Single Event" copyright license from the Audio Visual Licensing Agency (AVLA).

The licensing fee at the time of this writing, is $50.00 + H.S.T. to cover one system. 

Please note that even with a single event license, there are certain music restrictions involved.

We highly recommend you “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. A back-up system on site can save your event. Your back up system will need it's own separate license. This is another $50.00 + H.S.T. fee.

Did you know that many halls are now insisting on seeing your AVLA license before you're even allowed to bring equipment into their venue? They are doing this to protect their operating status. 

If they allow an illegal act to happen in their hall, including using copyrighted music without license in a public venue, a legal situation might occur that could jeopardize their liquor license which would seriously jeopardize their business.

If you’re planning on doing this all yourself, make sure that you advise your venue, as they may have a certain restriction on the use of unlicensed and/or uninsured non-professionals.

You should also be aware of the fact that illegal copying of copyrighted musical material is a serious offense and the penalties are surprisingly frightening. The AVLA has Event Inspectors that regularly check for compliance by looking for active licenses in venues right across Canada.

If your DJ is a CPDJA Pro or Primary Member, their membership includes the necessary licensing to play copyrighted musical material at your event.

Music Preparation. Fail to Plan - Plan to Fail!

Part of your professional Disc Jockey’s fee includes the cost and the many hours of preparation necessary to find the right music. It takes a large amount of time to find, organize, and prepare enough music to cover the average 6:00 to 1:00 am time period. Depending upon the types of music you want to play, and what it takes to source and obtain the songs – it can take 3 to 4 hours of your time to prepare a single finished hour of music. 7 hours of finished music can take 21 to 28 hours of your time.

You also have to keep in mind that you’ll have as many different ideas regarding the “perfect music mix” - as you’ll have guests in attendance. You now have to prepare your music with all of the age groups and musical styles in mind. Have you considered the time it takes to do the research all of the necessary styles of music to play for everyone? If you play only your favourites, you run the risk of alienating your guests.

Sound Equipment Preparation

If you’re going to do it yourself, you had best spend some time talking to your potential equipment supplier so they can recommend the right equipment for you. I highly recommend that your “music person” knows how to hook it up, operate it and troubleshoot the equipment should there be a problem or if someone hits the wrong button. Sound systems can be very complex and don’t fall into the “One Size Fits All” category.

Professional Disc Jockeys know how to set up, operate and customize their sound system to the number of guests, room acoustics, etc. and will adjust their equipment/speaker size accordingly. This way, they compliment your event, not overpower it.

Picking up and Delivering the Equipment…

Setting up your music and equipment takes considerable time and effort. 

A professional Disc Jockey not only provides all of the equipment, but they set it up before and remove it after the event. The heavy lifting doesn't become the "job" of a guest or members of your wedding party. 

If your venue limits when you can access the hall, this might mean that the people doing the set up on your behalf may not be able to attend your wedding ceremony if the times overlap.

If you've ever been to a busy rental counter at an audio company - it can be quite a wait! Many companies provide this equipment on a "first come, first served" basis and will not reserve equipment in advance. This could potentially mean that you might not get the equipment you want. (Not a good thing to find out on the Wedding Day.)

What if all they have left at the rental counter by the time you get there are speakers designed for a group of 1000 people? I worked with a rental company for 2 years. I’ve watched it happen. What is your back up plan if the only equipment they have left is now too big to fit into the car? Where are you going to put it when it gets to the hall? Did you plan enough space?

What About Back-Up Equipment? What Is Your Plan?

Do you have a full set of back up equipment on site - ready to go? Professional Disc Jockeys know the importance of back up gear! If you rent equipment and something stops working during the party, you may not have access to your rental company. Remember, they close at 6:00 pm on a Saturday night. In most cases, the party is just getting started at 6:00 pm. What do you do now for the next 7 hours? All it takes is to have the headphone jack break or someone to drop/damage the i-Pod or Laptop and your event is now in big trouble because you've lost your music. You could avoid this problem by using more time and money to set up a full music/equipment backup system.

Personal MP3 players are not designed to be used in professional applications. Little headphone jacks can also be very fragile. If your music system “freezes up” – and it’s your only source of music, what’s your plan? What if it happens during your first dance? 

If you don't have someone with proper experience in troubleshooting technical issues, you could end up with a dozen people standing around "guessing" at what the problem might be. Now you've created a memory that becomes something people don't forget about your Wedding Day. Do you want to take that chance with your event?

Operating the System at the Party... The “Un-trained DJ”

Hiring an experienced, properly trained, professional Disc Jockey for your event makes it so that all of your guests get a chance to enjoy the party. No one is "stuck" operating the sound equipment. If you've been designated the "music person" before, you already know it's not as "easy" as it looks. It's actually hard work!

First, you move the equipment into your vehicle from the rental company. You then move it again from your car into the hall.

 Besides the heavy lifting, most people don't consider the fact that if someone doesn't like your pre-selected music, if there is a request, if a volume adjustment is required, or if someone wants to use the microphone, the "music person" has to physically be there to operate the equipment which pulls them away from being a "guest" at your reception. They’ve just become the “un-trained DJ” because the equipment does not operate itself.

Songs are also often recorded at different volumes. If you don't watch and adjust the volume control, your music can come out too loud or too quiet when the song changes. This is why many professional DJ's don't like to leave their equipment, as they need to be close by to make the necessary adjustments.

 In many cases, this also affects the "music persons" partner's enjoyment at the event as well as they now have lost their dance partner! My wife, who calls herself a "DJ Widow”, can tell you all about this one.

Packing Up, Returning the Equipment and Preventing Theft

Unfortunately, the “music person’s” job is nowhere near finished when the music stops. They can forget about going to the “after party” as there is still work to do.

 Even though they may be tired, the equipment must now be disconnected and repacked into the protective road cases. All of the wiring needs to be re-wrapped and everything has to be moved and repacked into their vehicle. That's equipment move number three. Hopefully, they don’t damage their interior in the process. By now it’s 2:00 am in the morning and they’re still not finished.

The Party Is Over – Now What Do They Do with the Equipment?

Many rental companies close at 6:00 pm on a Saturday and are not open after 9:00 pm during the week. Locations that are open on Sundays often only offer a limited time window for the equipment return. 

If you can't bring the equipment back immediately after the party, the equipment has to be loaded into a sober persons vehicle, driven to a secure location, unloaded and locked up. If your counting, that's move number four.

The next morning, it’s time for load number five from your “secure lock up” back into the car. Now they drive back to the rental company, unload it for the final time back into the building, making sure that it’s back within the return rental companies “time window”. If you return the equipment late, you’re now looking at late fees that could end up doubling your cost.

They have now had to move the equipment a total of 6 separate times and this has now become a two day job. This could also mean that the person stuck with this job may not be able to come to the brunch/get together the next day because they have to return the equipment at a particular time.

If you fail to return ALL of the equipment, you get the bill. A forgotten microphone cable can cost you $50.00, depending upon the length. Forget a wireless microphone -and you can be out as much as $1200.00.

Security & Insurance

Don’t leave the music equipment in the car unattended. There is more than one DJ who can tell you about how they lost their equipment and music this way. You had better check to see if your insurance covers the theft of professional Audio equipment as many home policies exclude coverage on commercial equipment.

If the equipment is stolen, you are now also responsible for the full replacement cost of the equipment with the rental company. This could be thousands of dollars.

Have you considered liability insurance costs? I know of a situation where the metal corner of a speaker hit the fancy all-glass door at a hall and shattered it. The client got the $7000.00 bill to replace the door. If you're rental equipment falls over and hurts someone, or causes a fire and damages the hall, are you prepared?

Your venue has the right to insist on proof of Liability Insurance. CPDJA Primary & Pro Level Members carry a $2,000,000.00 policy - just in case.

The “Arts” – Your Professional DJ Does More Than Just Play Music!

Event Planning and Party Flow

An experienced professional Disc Jockey will go through your time line and provide planning tips and numerous other benefits and ideas that you may not have considered. Remember, a party that “starts and stops” too often will lose momentum. Your professional DJ can make suggestions regarding the party flow of your event to keep things moving smoothly.

They often make recommendations regarding other suppliers that can save you both time and money as they have experienced the work of other companies first hand.

Did you know that there are now a few professional Disc Jockeys that are now also trained as professionally Certified Wedding Planners with the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada (W.P.I.C.C.)? They can be a huge help when it comes to working with all of the aspects of your day.

Playing the Right Music

Due to the dynamics of scale, entertaining a small audience is considerably more challenging to play than a large group. If only 10% of your 50 person audience likes a particular style of music - that only puts 5 people on the dance floor. This type of response doesn't tend to generate much excitement.

Professional Disc Jockeys have the necessary experience to work with both large and small audiences and understand that you’re Grandparents probably won’t dance to the same music as your high school friends. They are very aware of the music and rhythm of the room. They are prepared with the right equipment and multiple music sources so they can switch songs seamlessly to work with party flow in split seconds notice.

It is not uncommon for a professional DJ to change what they are about to play within seconds of the end of the current song because the energy in the room has changed. Your pre-programmed single source MP3 player just can’t do this – no matter how much you prepare in advance.

"A Body in Motion - Stays in Motion"

This law of physics is also one of the cornerstones of the professional DJ Industry. The right combination of music will keep your guests on the dance floor, however, if you stop the crowd by playing a song that clears the floor or if there are gaps between songs it takes twice the energy to get people re-involved with the party.

Have you ever wondered why a professional Disc Jockey carries a massive music collection and equipment that can play as many as 4 songs all at one time?

A professional DJ knows better than to try and "guess" what people want to hear. That's why they carry thousands of songs ranging from dance classics to the biggest hits on the radio. The odds of creating the “perfect” playlist completely in advance of the party are virtually impossible. If this could be accomplished with the same degree of success, don't you think professional DJ's wouldn't rather spend their weekends with their family and friends - and just send out an MP3 Player?

Pre-programming a playlist on a personal MP3 player doesn't offer the same ability... sorry.

Personality... The “Art” of Vocal Presentation

It’s worth the investment in time to discuss how much interaction you would like to see happen between the audience and your professional DJ. This also gives your professional DJ a better idea of the "feel" you want them to project.

Personality and proper microphone technique can have a huge impact on the success of your event because it can keep your party in motion and improve the energy. This is why it’s important to meet your actual DJ well in advance of your event. Once a professional DJ has an understanding of the music style and level of interaction, they can be a true credit to your affair.

If you’re worried about the DJ playing the “wrong” music – then prepare a “Do” and “Don’t” play list. If you want a DJ to take a more “background” than “foreground” presence, then discuss it with them. Just remember that in order to work with the flow of your occasion; they will need some flexibility to work with your guests to create your idea of a great party.

In many cases, your “music person” is a trusted family member of close friend. As your “Un-trained DJ” – they are going to be working for you well before the party starts until well after all of the other guests who have enjoyed your wedding have gone home.

In Summary

When you consider all of the actual costs, large amounts of time, licensing, insurance, and the level of inconvenience for your friends or family, doesn't it pay to have a professional DJ working for you?

All the best with your Wedding Planning!


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