Wedding planners pit iPods against live deejays

BERKELEY, Calif. -- If video killed the radio star, will the iPod take out the DJ? Not quite, but if wedding-planning message boards are any indication, more and more people are considering the cheap and convenient alternative to hired entertainment at weddings and other events.

Adam Love and his wife, Jennifer, were looking at trying to keep their costs down and their ceremony intimate when they decided to use an iPod for their reception in 2005. They created a five-hour playlist and found that the celebration turned more into a social affair than a dance party -- just the way they liked it.

"We had a lot of folks from out of town and there were those I went to college with, so it was more about getting together to talk and get reacquainted rather than highlighting a band or DJ," said Adam Love, who now lives in Berkeley.

"If the music isn't something you expect to be the centerpiece of the wedding, it's just an easy, less expensive way to handle (your event)."

Finances are a big part of the increasing popularity of MP3 players as a DJ alternative. Hired DJ services can come in anywhere between $600 to more than $1,000, depending on his or her experience and equipment. Even with an Apple iPod (ranging from $149 to $350 depending on the gigabytes), people have had to rent speaker equipment that can average $100. For a live band, costs can climb into the thousands.

Still, some say an iPod can't replace a human who has the ability to maintain pace and read a crowd's mood to keep the dance floor alive and know when to bust out the chicken dance. Couple that with other perks including a top-notch speaker system and a catalog of music outside of iTunes boundaries and you've gone from background music to a party.

"(IPods are) nice because it does save money and they're able to play songs they choose, but you don't have the DJ there to keep the flow of things, so it's almost like you need an emcee to direct the crowd and get people on the dance floor kind of thing," said Alanna Grossnickle, event coordinator at Garre Winery in Livermore.

Drax, executive director and president of the American DJ Association of the 1,500-member association, agrees.

"An iPod is music, and what brides really want is an eloquent spokesperson that can represent them at their event in front of family and friends to create a once-in-a-lifetime, memorable experience," Drax said "We work in harmony (with photographers) to craft deeply powerful, poignant memories for friends and family where they feel that they've experienced something that was unique," Drax said. "The Kodak catches the moment -- it's the DJ's job to create it."

Meanwhile, some businesses are working to make sure that prospective clients have an option. The sound system at Garre's event center has led to an increase in iPod use for special events such as company and holiday parties, and birthdays.

And it's not just happening at special receptions. Some bars and clubs have taken to using iPods in between jukebox sets to maintain an ambience, while hot spots such as Walnut Creek's Spoontonic Lounge hold special nights where patrons can create their own iPod playlists.

Walnut Creek native Erin Bristow and her husband, Marcus Roll, decided to take their music into their own hands. When they began planning their wedding in September, they initially considered hiring a DJ, but as the months passed and plans were set, they decided it would be easier to cut out as many vendors as possible, including a DJ.

"In the end, we decided that it would be fine to do it ourselves," said Bristow, 23. "It's been a fun project to make this playlist for us anyway, to think of songs we love and some songs that we haven't listened to in years, and we had fun doing this together."

Bristow, who married Saturday in a smaller ceremony in Berkeley, set up a Web site where guests recommended songs for the event. The bride said it helped bring guests into the fold more.

"We've had a really good time doing all the planning and I think that comes from not having to worry about so many things at one time," like juggling too many vendors, Bristow said. "Getting married is stressful, but planning a wedding should be fun."

Still, Spoontonic owner Jeffrey Sun admits that his iPod can never replace two turntables and a microphone.

"DJs still bring in the crowds," he said. "There's definitely an art to DJ-ing. There's an actual talent required for making music flow that only a DJ can do."
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