Monday, February 18, 2008

Wedding Slide Shows

In the last few years just about every wedding reception includes a slide show at some point. Slide shows can be a very entertaining and memorable part of a wedding reception, but I find that more than half the time there are annoying technical glitches that pop up when trying to present the slide show at the reception.

As the DJ I am always involved in the slide show at least from the audio side of things and sometimes to a greater extent. Having seen many technical challenges with wedding slide shows I thought I would list some things I've learned that are good to keep in mind.

- Most slide shows are created using PowerPoint (as opposed to more professional software such as Adobe Premiere etc.). When you insert pictures, audio and video into PowerPoint projects and then run the slid show from the project, PowerPoint looks for all the files wherever you have told it to find them. If any of those files get moved, renamed or deleted by accident, PowerPoint will not be able to find them and your slideshow will not work as expected. Not many people seem to know this, but you can save a PowerPoint project as a PowerPoint presentation (.pps). Just look in the Save As options in PowerPoint. With this option, all the files you have included in your slide show will be compiled into a single file which will run as a presentation on its own. Now when you are ready to show the presentation you don't even have to open PowerPoint. Just click on the .pps file and the slide show runs.

- Another thing often not considered is where to project the presentation from. I can't tell you the number of times I've arrived to a venue to set up and someone comes running up to ask me if they can run the sound for their slide show through my DJ system. The only problem is the projector and laptop are on the other side of the room 150 feet away from my console. I can handle about 50 feet away maximum. So, if you want to run audio for your presentation through the DJ's system you need to think through where you're going to be set up. It's probably best to get a hold of the DJ and coordinate this before the day of the reception.

- If you are running the presentation off your laptop, be sure to deactivate your screensaver and set your computer not to go to sleep. I've seen more than a few presentations end early because the presenter's computer went to sleep and they couldn't wake it up without entering their password.

- PowerPoint doesn't give you the option to fade out an audio track or mix into the next audio track. When you have included frequent changes in music in your PowerPoint presentation, it can get quite annoying to hear one song abruptly ending a third of the way through and another song starting. I would recommend using a third party software such as Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio) or shareware (such as WavePad by NCH Swift Sound) to make fades and other edits to the sound file.

- A great alternative to using PowerPoint is to use Windows Movie Maker that comes free with XP and Vista. This allows you to do just about anything you could do in PowerPoint, plus you can cross fade audio tracks for nice smooth song transitions. It is very easy to use too.

- Wedding slide shows ususaly include lots of scanned photos of the bride and groom growing up. It is a good idea to crop all of your scanned photos to the aspect ratio they will be projected at. I have seen many presentations with all the photos at a 3:4 ratio, then run from a laptop set to a widescreen ratio. This results in distorted or stretched out images.

Anyway... These are a few tips that come to mind from what I have seen in my work as a mobile wedding DJ in the Edmonton, Alberta market. I also produce alot of presentations for my clients through my company Soundsations ( ). To check out a few samples see:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting the balance right

Wow... Last night I Was the DJ for the Hotel MacDonald 2008 staff party in Edmonton. They had a Casino Royal theme. I have disc jockeyed at events with casinos running at the same time as the dance and have usually found that two things happening at once like this can create a challenge in holding peoples interest.

This was not the case last night though. They partied like rock stars right out of the gate. The dance floor was packed from start to finish. I almost had to hide when it was time to stop because they wanted to keep on going. I was also thinking they might be a more conservative crowd, given that the Hotel MacDonald is by far the most prestigious Hotel in Edmonton. When they were naming some of the famous guests they had in 2007, they went on for 5 minutes and could have kept on going and going. I have done numerous weddings at the hotel through my disc jockey company Soundsations ,where budgeting was not even an issue at all for the couple. Of course, the staff and their guests were not reserved in the least.

The other challenge was that a good percentage of their staff are from foreign countries with a lot coming from Latin countries. That's why I titled this blog "keeping the balance right". When you have a mixed culture crowd to this extent, it can become an ugly battle between the various factions of the guests if not handled carefully. I had to make sure I played enough Latin music to make one half of the crowd happy and enough top 40 and so on to satisfy the other half. Also I had to go back and forth at the right rate so neither side had to wait too long and end up felling neglected. Luckily it was a very tolerant group last night, and for the most part they really enjoyed each others music.

When you mix in lots and lots of alcohol though, there's bound to be a few that forget about courtesy and tolerance and start demanding their preferences be played exclusively. This wasn't really a problem with the Hotel MacDonald crowd, but it does happen regularly. Is there anything the DJ can do to avoid this? I don't really think so. While we try to keep things fair and play a bit for everyone, all reasonableness can fly out the window for some when alcohol gets in the mix. Of course, if you appease the drunken too much, they will be back to try and monopolize the music all night, not giving a thought to the other tastes in the group. The DJ has to walk a fine line and it can be a difficult juggling act to try and keep this balance right. There is no formula for how to balance the equation, you just have to go with the feeling coming back at you from the crowd, and the more experienced I get, the more I find I am able to keep the mix right.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Professional Vs. Amateur Disc Jockeys

With easy access to music thanks to file sharing on the Internet and the ability to rent a PA system for a few hundred dollars, it seems as though it might be a good idea to just have cousin Jimmy bring out his laptop and act as the DJ for the wedding. That would definitely save a few bucks. Besides Jimmy really knows his music. Well, in certain situations this might work out, but not using an experienced professional wedding DJ can be very risky.

I have worked as a DJ at well over 500 weddings in the Edmonton area over the last 14 years, and I have been a guest at many weddings were I've had the opportunity to observe other DJ's (professionals and amateurs) at work. Having a professional who really knows how to get people on the dance floor and keep them there will make or break the dance portion of your wedding reception.

More times than not I have seen the amateurs have a really hard time. First of all, no matter haw much music they've downloaded, they just didn't have the selection available to respond to all the musical tastes off the guests and to expand on the music that's really working with a given crowd.

I've also seen amateurs having technical difficulties almost every time. They are using rented equipment that they are not familiar with and generally don't get it hooked up correctly. If they do get that figured out they then have challenges using it all properly.

I think the main reason that a non-professional will fail is that the typical wedding will have a very diverse range of guests varying in age from children to great-grandparents, with musical preferences to match. It takes a lot of learning and experience to figure out what all these different guests will respond positively to and how to keep the balance between them all just right. So even though cousin Jimmy might really know his music it is likely that some factions of the audience will feel he his neglecting them.

I see many couples putting so much thought and planning (and money) into to the catering, decorations, wedding cake, dresses/tuxedos and photography but then trying to cut corners and save money on the dance portion of their reception. A typical wedding dance usually takes up to four hours or more of the reception. This is by far the biggest part of the whole reception, so why neglect it and leave it up to chance with an amateur? Go Pro is my advice.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Soundsations Music Setup

I'm trying out this Picasa Blogging feature to upload some of my DJ photos from a few different weddings I've done recently . Hopefully it works well and I can post a link to here from my Soundsations website so that anyone interested can get an idea what my DJ set up looks like.