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Personalized Music: iPods and mp3s

Martha Stewart Weddings, 2008

Music is a key element to most receptions, and deejays and bands have a new option to contend with -- the mp3 player.

Using a digital player at your wedding offers several advantages over a deejay or band:

1. Cost: All you need is an MP3 player (actually, a few), some decent speakers, and a good ear.

2. Control: You play what you want when you want to hear it.

3. No deejay or band: Fewer people to worry about being on time and behaving professionally.

Is It for You?
You have to first make sure it's going to work with your reception space. Is the wedding being held at your uncle's farmhouse for 60 guests? Or at a gilded hotel accommodating 400? Some planners recommend using digital players only for casual and intimate gatherings, since formal and large affairs almost always need the spectacle of a live band.

Choosing the MP3 route, though, doesn't mean you have to forgo live music completely. Many couples opt to have both at their reception. For example, you can break out the player for drinks and dinner but hire a band for the dancing portion of the evening.

New York City planner Elizabeth Allen uses digital music strictly for cocktail hours and after-parties: "It's a great way to create a loungey vibe." For the dinner and dancing, she prefers a band or deejay. "They connect with the crowd and can read the mood," says Allen. "If something has to shift, they can do it quickly."

What Music Do I Play?
Aim for a wide-ranging lineup so that all guests can enjoy the music.

If you decide to download your own playlist, spend some time thinking about your audience. Although songs by Sonic Youth and R.E.M. might thrill the old-college-friends crowd, they'll fall on deaf ears, so to speak, when it comes to your parents' generation.

Matthew Newell, who married in Knoxville, Tennessee, in May 2007, included '50s and '60s doo-wop. "The songs meant a lot to my wife and me," he says, "and I knew many of them had been first-dance songs for some of the guests." (Save your favorite songs that may be inappropriate at the reception for an after-party, where you can be more eccentric with your choices.)

Enlist Some Help
One more way to guarantee your guests will enjoy the music is to involve them in the selection process. Arthur Fournier, founder of Strange Magic Inc., a music consultancy firm in Manhattan, once worked with a bride who even included a song-request line on her R.S.V.P. card. Brilliant!

As for the length of the playlists, a good rule of thumb, says Allen, is to add at least an extra half-hour of songs to each phase of the reception.

"If, say, an hour has been allotted for cocktails, I'll provide music for an hour and a half," she says. "You just can't control how long people linger."

Once your lists have been nailed down, you'll most likely need to do a little tinkering and double-check that no song is either too loud or too soft. Most digital files are recorded at varying volumes, but there are software programs you can purchase to fix this.

"Editing systems such as iVolume can eliminate volume discrepancies and cut off intros and outros," says Jeremy Abrams, managing director of Audio-stiles, a company that customizes music for weddings and other events. "They are easy to use, and they produce a smooth, professional sound."

What Do I Need?
Even more crucial to achieving easy listening is having proper sound equipment at the reception site. You can work with the venue's existing systems, or piggyback on the setups provided by the band or deejay that you're bringing in for other parts of the event. If the location lacks suitable equipment, consult with a sound expert to see what is needed and schedule a dry run on location before the big day.

But no matter how perfect your playlists or how awesome your speakers, you cannot expect to simply press play and walk away. You'll need someone -- preferably a trusted friend -- to man the MP3 player, making sure it's working properly and providing musical cues to guests so they know when to sit for dinner or watch the cake cutting. "You must have someone in charge," says Allen, "to essentially take the place of a band or deejay -- reading the crowd and making adjustments to manage the flow of the party."

And a word to the wise: Gadgets can wig out. If a digital player freezes or breaks, a party can quickly come to a grinding halt. "For every wedding, I always have the playlists on two or three players," says Fournier. "I also bring extra batteries and wall chargers, which mimic actual wall outlets." In the end, the effort you put in will seem like nothing when you're grooving to exactly what you want to hear.

Send It with Them
And that playlist you toiled over? It can have a second life: Download choice selections from the list to MP3 players you can give to members of your wedding party. (Just keep in mind that you'll have to pay for each downloaded song.) Then inscribe each device with the recipient's name and the wedding date for a customized gift befitting your most customized wedding. We guarantee it'll be music to their ears.

Do you want stand-out music at your wedding? Check out our eclectic playlists, sure to impress even your music-snob friends.

For the Cocktail Hour
"I Only Have Eyes for You," Billie Holiday
"How Deep Is Your Love," The Bird and the Bee
"Tupelo Honey," Cassandra Wilson
"It's Wonderful," Ella Fitzgerald
"Soledad," Jorge Drexler
"In a Sentimental Mood," John Coltrane
"Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart," Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross
"I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl," Nikka Costa
"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," Shelby Lynne

For the Dinner
"The Weight," Aretha Franklin
"Wind Cries Mary," Jamie Cullum
"Don't Speak," Leela James
"Easy," The Commodores
"All at Sea," Jamie Cullum
"Shelter," Ray LaMontagne
"This Must Be the Place (NaiveMelody)," Talking Heads
"Across the Universe," Rufus Wainwright
"Closer," Travis
"The Look of Love," Dusty Springfield
"More Than This," Roxy Music

For Your First Dance
"Sea of Love," Cat Power
"Thank You," Lizz Wright
"Northern Sky," Nick Drake
"Brighter Than Sunshine," Aqualung
"In Your Eyes," Jeffrey Gaines
"Somersault," Zero 7
"Isn't It Romantic?," Tony Bennett
"A Case of You," Joni Mitchell
"You're the Best Thing," The Style Council
"Baby, Now That I've Found You," Alison Krauss
"Here Comes the Sun," Nina Simone

For the Father/Daughter Dance
"Maybe I'm Amazed," Jem
"Sweet Pea," Amos Lee
"In My Life," The Beatles
"Isn't She Lovely," Stevie Wonder
"I Can See Clearly Now," Jimmy Cliff
"A Song for You," Gram Parsons
"To Sir with Love," Al Green
"The Wind," Cat Stevens
"Have You Met Miss Jones (Swing When Version)," Robbie Williams

For Boogie Time
"Heart of Glass," Blondie
"Let's Stick Together," Bryan Ferry
"Mercy," Duffy
"What'd I Say," Ray Charles
"Ring of Fire," Johnny Cash
"Some Kind of Wonderful," Joss Stone
"Modern Love," David Bowie
"I Only Have Eyes for You," The Flamingos
"Valerie," Mark Ronson with Amy Winehouse
"Twistin' the Night Away," Sam Cooke
"('Til) I Kissed You," The Everly Brothers

For the After-Party
"If You Find Yourself Caught in Love," Belle & Sebastian
"Who the Cap Fit," Bob Marley
"Sirenes de la Fete," Brazilian Girls
"Following," Chungking
"Beautiful World," Colin Hay
"Heartbeats," Jose Gonzalez
"Cupid," Jack Johnson
"Karmacoma," Massive Attack
"Je T'aime Moi Nnon Plus," Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin
"Little Black Sandals," Sia