The topic of DIY wedding puts vendors in a rage. The instinctive smirk will quickly give way to sarcastic quips, widening eyes, reddening face. The seven stages of DIY Denial go like this:
- The off-guard reply. “You want to what?”
- Confirmation. “Wait, seriously?”
- First first jab. “I can’t believe you’d even consider that.”
- The prediction. “If your BFF takes the pics, you’re going to miss out the great memories only a pro photog can capture.”
- The horror story. “I know a groom whose best man DJed, got drunk and accidentally left Justin Bieber’s awful song ‘Baby’ on autorepeat and no one could figure out how to turn it off.”
- The guilt trip. “It’s really inconsiderate to ask your family to do something you should be paying for.”
- The veiled parting insult. “It never goes well when people go cheap instead of paying professionals.”
Although I love performing for weddings and have over a decade of experience doing so, I have a bit of a different message.
It’s all about the Benjamins
Look, I get it, weddings are expensive. The average wedding in Phoenix sets back the couple $32,681, a number that continues to increase every year, according to the The Knot Real Weddings Study. That’s pretty rough, given incomes have been stagnant—actually dropped—in real terms over the last decade. Put it together, and weddings are up there with home mortgages and car loans in terms of financial impact. It’s a lot to start your new lives as official, legally sanctioned couples with a fat five figures’ worth of debt.
The biggest costs of a typical wedding are venue at $16,000, catering $71/head (so $7100 for 100 people, say), photographer $2800, flowers $2500, wedding dress $1500, and DJ $1200.
The impulse to save money by having a DIY wedding is totally understandable, if sometimes missing the point.
Do or DIY
Here are some things you can often get away with DIYing (figures from the same study).
Invitations. A pro charges about $450, so if you have a steady hand and a good eye, go for it.
Decor. The crafty can often manage centerpieces, wedding signs, floating candles, photo boards, and party favors. Since decor runs about $2500, this can be helpful.
Officiant. I much prefer to work with pros who have experience running a ceremony. Chances are, they’ll deliver the best experience for the couple, and conduct the ceremony smoothly and without major snafus. The average officiant does the deed for $300. That being said, 40% of weddings in Phoenix are officiated by friends or family.
Wedding Planner. I work with lots of couples who plan their own weddings. They use the internet and personal recommendations (mostly the internet) to find vendors and buy supplies. They might hire a day-of planner to run the wedding or just delegate that responsibility to a family member. The average wedding planner costs $2000.
DIYDJ. In this era of iPhone playlists and inexpensive, if oddly-shaped Bluetooth speakers, many couples opt to forgo the cost and cheesiness of a DJ (I’m not saying DJs are cheesy, it’s just the stereotype!). After all, there’s an app for that.
DIY wedding horror stories
Just like we all slow down to rubber-neck on freeway crashes and get a vicarious thrill from finding the gruesome details of celebrity breakups, this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some epic DIY wedding fails of the past.
For example, the summer wedding in the Hamptons when the couple hired some classical musicians and DIYed a tent to keep the sun off them and their expensive instruments. Nothing says class like a string quartet, playing elegant, tranquil pieces. But Murphy’s Law struck, bringing with it a gust of wind. Since none of the amateurs had thought to tie down the tent with, well, tie-downs, it sailed into the sky and settled onto the lawn in front of the guests right as the ceremony started.
I can imagine the harsh summer sun beating down on the violins and cellos. With personal experience as a guitarist, I can attest to the effects of temperature on musical instruments. In the contract was the requirement of having a tent. The musicians couldn’t stand the heat and made the call to get out of the sun.
At that point, Groomzilla charged down to the musicians and intimidated them into playing for the ceremony. They braved the sun’s rays and did their duty, although the tranquility of the occasion was compromised.
A meal fit for a king (of cannibals)
Katie Tousignant shared a story of DIYing her wedding invitations gone wrong:
“We DIY-ed our wedding invitations, and when I printed the RSVP cards, I gave our guests the option to choose what kind of meal they wanted. The choices were chicken, fish, beef, and child, as in a children’s meal of chicken nuggets and fries. About 20% of our guests took that as we were serving actual children at our wedding, and had a field day with their responses. One guest actually RSVP’d with a picture of Hannibal Lecter photoshopped into a wedding dress.”
Then there’s this:
“It’s not about the money”
Those of us who follow sports are often treated to battles between athletes and owners over pay. The quarterback wants a new contract, maybe, or the pitcher has decided to relocate to a rival team.
“This is about respect,” says the athlete. Or “This is about winning.”
However, a closer examination of the circumstances usually reveals that it was, in fact, about the money. The new team paid more, after all. Or if he wins a holdout situation with his own team and rips up the contract, it’s invariably for more money, not a prominent place in promotional materials or the right to a better parking space.
But while the impulse to DIY is mostly related to money, is it always a good idea to save money?
In my thirteen years or so of performing at weddings, I have played at many venues. Most of them are expensive resorts like the Four Seasons, the Royal Palms, or Montelucia, but I’ve also played in public parks, farms, and even backyards. All weddings are about the couple public committing to each other, but that’s not all. Weddings are a great time for families spread out over the country to come together and catch up. They often serve as reunions for old college buddies or sorority sisters.
They’re also big-time opportunities to show off.
One of the unspoken goals of most couples is for their weddings to measure up to, or exceed those of their peers, whether family or friends. Having a grand wedding is similar to driving a nice car, wearing fashionable clothes, or living in a good ZIP code. The money buys fine things, but the fact that those fine things cost a lot of money is also part of the point.
So, if you have a DIY wedding, you can save a bundle of money, but you are also missing the opportunity to show off.
A DIY DJ can’t measure up to a top-shelf pro and his trailer full of speakers, subwoofers, and uplighting.
A friend officiating the wedding won’t be as polished, skilled, or impressive as a professional officiant.
Your friendor with a DSLR camera isn’t going to create as good of a product as someone with experience.
Having your maid of honor run the show instead of a wedding planner isn’t going to result in the kind of smooth, efficient event many guests expect.
You only DIY once
Well, which stage of DIY denial are we in now? The parting shot! Seriously, though, DIY isn’t going anywhere. A lot of people are simply not interested in showing off. They’re looking for a more grounded, authentic experience. They enjoy customizing their big night to reflect their own personalities and backgrounds. They may be crafty or artistic and want to express it, want to get the most bang for their buck, and focus on what’s going to make them and their guests happy.
I’ve played at many of these events. A lot of times, it’s like an old-fashioned barn building. Family members and close friends all pitch in to make the night a success. A strong community feeling emerges, and a sense of teamwork and camaraderie make for a fun and memorable event. Often vendors can even share in this experience; for example, although I normally play only for the ceremony and cocktail hour, at a recent wedding I also played music all through dinner and brought a mic and sound system for toasts.
Despite all the naysaying and horror stories, I can’t say anything is wrong if a couple chooses to celebrate their marriage in a more laid-back way. Unless you choose to DIY your wedding guitarist, get in touch and see if I can help you at your wedding.