At Slate today, Lowen Liu asks a very sensible question: Why are we still hiring people to provide music for our weddings?
“Your DJ is an artist — and trying to box his immense talent into a hotel ballroom or country club dining hall on a random Saturday night is tantamount to putting a wild horse in chains. So set him free. Because there is another way. And it is as follows:
1. Collect several hours of your favorite dance songs on an MP3 player, say the popular over-the-counter brand known as iPod.
2. Play them at your wedding.
… If success is so certain (and nearly free, beyond time and energy), you may wonder, why doesn’t everyone have an iPod wedding? Because tradition is a formidable foe, and because the inexpensive can unfairly be associated with the declasse. Don’t succumb to these pressures! The iPod wedding was not even possible just over a decade ago — the practice is still elbowing its way into the mainstream. But your chance to join the future is now.“
It’s a compelling theory. Indeed, I embraced this theory — right up to the point where we got married.
We were very excited about doing an iPod wedding. We found an app that would let the audience be the DJ, requesting songs, up-voting and down-voting selections in the queue. So why did we end up hiring an emergency DJ a month before the wedding? Because of the one factor that Liu doesn’t mention: the audio equipment.
Our venue assured us that it had top-notch audio equipment we could hook into. But I was nervous, because there had been a few issues with other aspects of the management. So I nagged my husband, who is an A/V nut, to stop by and check out the system, and even though he suspected this was evidence of latent Bridezilla tendencies, he arranged to check it out three weeks before the wedding. He arrived home looking just a trifle gray.
“That’s not going to work,” he said grimly. It turned out that the venue had excellent audio facilities … for running microphones at a conference. Not for playing music to 135 of our closest friends.
A big room — the kind of room you have a wedding in — cannot be filled with music by a couple of home theater speakers; it needs pretty powerful audio equipment. You can rent that sort of setup, and that’s what we almost did; rental costs a lot less than a DJ. But then the groomsmen would have had to spend part of our wedding day picking up the speakers, taking them to the venue and wiring them up. That sounds entirely reasonable when you are not putting on a wedding, but by the time you are actually down to mapping out the day, “Let’s add yet another three-hour task to the schedule” sounds something like “Has your mother had a nervous breakdown yet? Because she’s about to.” Plus, then we — or someone we dragooned — would have to unwire the speakers at the end of the event, put them in a vehicle and make sure they went back to the vendor the next day.
With 11 days to go, we hired a DJ. He was great. He didn’t play the “Chicken Dance.” He did play “Lisztomania,” and every other song we requested. Most important, he, not we, set up and broke down all the equipment. He brought backup equipment in case something failed. And if that happened (as far as I know, it didn’t), he, not we, was in charge of dealing with it. He also spared one of our friends from having to oversee the playlist and announcements.
Now, that was four years ago. I’m sure lots of places will deliver equipment, test it, set it up and take it away at the end of the night. And more and more venues are installing systems that work directly with iPods.
But if you’re at yet another wedding, wondering why they’ve got that lame DJ instead of an awesome custom playlist, this is probably why: because when you’re putting on the most complicated event in your life, it is worth a whole lot to make some of the moving parts someone else’s responsibility.