How to power a tent Wedding Reception

Outdoor weddings are wonderful……..when planned properly. For some reason however I’ve had a lot more conversations lately with brides-to-be regarding outdoor events and, more specifically, some of the pitfalls of tent setups. I thought it deserved some attention so here goes. (WARNING: Boring techie stuff follows but stick with me, this stuff is important)

We do a lot of tent events and I have to be honest, I usually pull onto the property, cringing because I don’t know what I’m up against (power-wise). Let’s cover some basic dos and don’ts for powering a tent-based Wedding Reception. For a visual, here’s an event we did in Manchester, back in March, 2012.

Power Requirements
A typical circuit is 15-20 amps or 2000 watts. An amp is roughly 100 watts. It’s important that you always calculate what’s needed, then make sure there’s twice as much power available as required. Here’s a breakdown of items that we often see on tent events:

  • DJ sound gear - 10 amps
  • Tent lights (par64, incandescent-style) - 5 amps per light (2-6 needed)
  • Perimeter lighting (LED, 20 fixtures) - 2 amps
  • Dance lighting (LED) - 2 amps
  • Dance lighting (non-LED) - 10 amps
  • Leko lights (pattern gobos) - 5 amps each (1-2 used)
  • Coffee makers - 10 amps each
  • Food warmers - 10 amps each

As you can see, it adds up quickly. The setup above is fairly modest and uses three full circuits. On the pictures included, our DJ setup included sound, dance-floor effects lighting, 20 perimeter uplights, and 2 Lekos (the gobo pattern at the top of the tent). And that doesn’t even count catering or the Photobooth.

Here’s a shot from an event we did in June, 2012. This included sound, dance lighting, 20 perimeter lights (hung from the roof-line of the tent), dance lighting and the tent company hung 6, Par64 incandescent cans. These units alone were 500 watts each, or 3000 watts (2 circuits). This entire setup ran off 3 circuits with a generator on-site as backup, in case of failure. By the way, side note here, if you’re doing Uplighting (colored perimeter lights), be sure and have the Uplighting contractor coordinate with the tent company. In this case the tent company had too many lights and used yellow gels, which clashed and washed out the gorgeous red Uplighting the bride had requested.

There are two ways to get power to a tent setup; land power or generator. Let’s cover generators first.


Generators come in two varieties; inverter and non-inverter. Here’s a non-inverter style:


In short, DO NOT USE THIS TYPE! It’s okay for incandescent lights, coffee makers, etc. but DJ gear (computers, audio, controllers) will go nuts. You do want your entire first dance song to play without stopping, right? Keep in mind also that these smaller generators only have about a 3-4 hour runtime. There’s nothing worse than having a couple hundred of your closest friends standing in total darkness while dad is out trying to re-fuel and restart the generator. And that’s not even to talk about the fact that this probably won’t even be enough to power the entire setup either.

If you’re going to use a generator, rent a multi-circuit, inverter-style, pull-behind generator. that has at least 8-10 hours of runtime between fueling. It should look something like this:

In the Nashville area Art’s Pancake Rent-All is a good source. You’ll want something that has a fuel tank large enough to power your entire event at full load for twice as long as you’re planning for. These pull-behind units typically will have a break-out panel (multiple circuits) and a couple hundred feet of cabling with it. This lets you put the generator out of ear-shot of your guests and puts the power where it’s needed (without a bunch of extension cords).

Land Power
Wherever possible, we always recommend land power to be used as it’s more reliable but you need to be aware of extension cords. Never run more than a couple hundred feet of extension cords and never use anything less than 10 or 12-gauge wires. If you pull 16 or 18-gauge cable (the common orange extension cords you use for the weed trimmer) that far, the voltage will drop and that’s what burns up electrical gear of all kinds.  Bear in mind that you’ll need multiple circuits and no, you can just put a multi-strip on the end to power everything in the tent. If you’re doing it right, the extension cables should remain cool. If you’re overloading them, they’ll get hot and that usually means the circuit will fail at some point during the evening (remember that guest in the dark pic?).

One other little “gotcha”. Getting proper voltage at the end of the line is important. After everything has been wired up, use a volt meter to make certain you have the right voltage. Good voltage is anywhere between 115 and 124 volts. If your tent power is dipping below that, you may be in for trouble. This is often caused by using too-light gauge or too-long extension cords.

Uplighting (another “gotcha”)
As a side note, I wanted to address something specific to Uplighting issues. There are two ways to do perimeter lighting on tents. Hang the fixtures at the tent roof-line and shoot the color onto the roof or use sidewalls on the tent and paint the walls from the ground up.

In the case where sidewalls are being used, be sure to stake the walls into the ground. First off, it keeps rain off the lighting fixtures (we lost a fixture due to rain on the purple job above) and it keeps the color hitting where it’s suppose to.

Drainage Issues
You need to be careful when selecting the location for your tent. Of course, you’ll want a good, flat surface but something most people miss is drainage. Be sure and survey the area just after a heavy rainstorm. Is there water running through the area where you want to put the tent? Pick someplace else to put it. Water running through your tent not only makes for muddy shoes (and unhappy guests) but it can also be dangerous if you have electrical cables running across it as well. Better safe than sorry.

If you’ve made it this far and are still awake, congratulations! You are in the minority that is doing diligence and that is the first rule of pulling off a successful outdoor event. If all this techie mumbo-jumbo is confusing, don’t worry. It is for most people. That’s what you hire the pros to help you with. If there are any questions we can ever answer for you, even if we’re not doing your event, please call or email anytime. We’re always here to help.

We are NOT a licensed electrician and make no claims to such expertise. The article above is offered in the spirit of helpful advice, from the DJ’s perspective. We recommend you seek the advice of a competent, licensed professional for your electrical wiring needs. 

Nashville Wedding DJ, Uplighting and Photobooth Service

Top 6 Ways To Get Them Dancing

If you know anyone who is getting married soon, please pass this along. What I’m about to share with you is ultra-top-secret and has been passed down through the “Secret DJ Society” for centuries. Okay, maybe just a wee bit dramatic but seriously, getting their guests to loosen up and enjoy themselves is a major concern that we hear from Brides. Below is a list of “Top 6” tips that will help make any Wedding Reception a success.

#6: Setting The Tone
Setting the tone is key to a successful event. From the moment your guests walk in, their sense of sights and sounds will tell them what kind of evening to expect and what kind of job you did in preparation. Pleasant music should be playing as they arrive and this is where decor comes into play. The DJ area should be neat and clean with no loose wires or junk strewn about. Lighting effects such as Uplighting, Monograms, or Star System Lasers are what we use to get that “tilt back effect” as guests arrive. When their eyes light up and I see them pause and point around the room, then I know that the chances for a stellar event just went up.

#5: Pacing Your Event

There is always a rhythm to any event and there’s a time and place for every part of the evening to unfold. Once you’ve made your Grand Entrance and done your First Dance, sit back, relax and drink it all in. Go with the flow and let it develop. We typically recommend the following order of events to start off; Cocktail hour, Grand Entrance, First Dance (use the energy of the GE for your FD), then dinner.

By the time we’ve reached open dance set, some Brides get nervous if they don’t see their dance floor fill instantly. Here again, realize there’s a pace involved which is affected by how out-going (or conservative) your guests are, whether they actually enjoy dancing, the weather, etc. A great DJ will work the room and find what gets response and what doesn’t. Some parties start with a bang but the majority ramp up to a crescendo. A truly great DJ won’t get rattled by non-response but will continue to needle and prod a crowd patiently, until they get what they’re after.

#4: Choose The Right Material

Trust your DJ. You hired the best, right? Some of the hardest gigs that we work are the ones where we have a client who gives us five or six pages of song requests, then can’t understand why their guests aren’t dancing to their “Ultra-Alternative-Rock mix”. We call this a “Want to DJ by proxy” client.

We ask our clients for a list of 10-15 songs that they really like. From this, we can tell where you are, musically, and will steer the evening in that direction while encouraging your guests to become involved with their own requests. Guest requests are the glue that makes them “stick” at your event. It makes them feel a part of creating the event and is vital to making it all work. Yes, this is your special day but remember also that your special day wouldn’t be so special without your guests being a part of it.

#3: Mix It Up
A lot of DJs like to do the “generational thing”. Big mistake. It takes too long to get the party started and that often causes guests to start bailing early. We use what I call “The Rule of Rotating Fours”. We usually start the open dance set with an Anniversary Dance. As soon as that is over, we’ll hit a 70s funk piece (it lets the parent know the music won’t just be for the young people), followed by mainstream Dance/Hip-Hop material. From there we’ll flip genres and time periods in 4-song blocks. The idea is to tap every person in the room within 4 songs. What we’ve found is Grandma is cool with Ludacris or Gaga as long as there’s something she likes within a few songs. The twenty-somethings also will put up with a few older selections as long as they have something cool coming up shortly.

The other part is psychological. People are motivated by change, especially when it’s something they didn’t quite expect. A good example of this is where we’ll be in the middle of a strong Dance segment (“Wobble”, “Dougie” etc.) and drop something like “Rocky Top” right in the middle. You’d think the Hip-Hop crowd would leave the floor but what often happens is hands fly into the air, everyone screams and the energy level goes through the roof. I often joke that my job is to keep them confused. It might sound strange but it works.

#2: Communicate

Spend some time communicating with your DJ. Let them know about your guests in advance; age ranges, musical preferences, religious status, etc. This is why we ask to do a final read-through, on the phone or in person, the week before your event. It’s also why we give you two different Song Request links on your Online Planner. One is for you, our client. The other is a voting system for your guests. The latter helps you to “build a buzz” around your event and to make more people feel a part of the process.

Most weddings have a very wide range of ages but if your guests are primarily 50+, that’s an important bit of info that we need in pre-planning. If your guests are non-drinkers then we need to structure the evening differently; perhaps using more interactive games to get the desired participation. Yes, a great DJ can change things on the fly but proper planning is important.

#1: Lead The Way

We sometimes have clients that say “I’m not a dancer, but I really want my guests to dance.” Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The simple fact is that your guests are always watching you, the Bride, and will take their cues from you and your groom. If you hit the floor, they’ll hit the floor. If you stand around and visit, they’ll stand around and visit. If you won’t dance at your own wedding it’s magnitudes-harder to motivate your guests to do so without you.


I hope you find the above list helpful. While there’s never a way to guarantee your event (anybody who promises you otherwise is lying to get the gig), if you’ll follow the advice given, it does work. If you have any questions, even if you’re not a client, please feel free to give us a call or email anytime. We want you to succeed and to have your Special Day to be everything you hoped for.

About The Author

Ryan Photography, DJ & Lighting is Nashville’s premiere party entertainment service. Our team of Photographers and DJs and support personnel provide the ultimate in DJ, Emcee, Lighting and PhotoCenter service for many of the area’s most discerning clients.

Nashville Wedding Photography, DJ & Lighting

Event Pacing – The key to the “Magic”

I have to admit it always tickles me to hear the sales pitch of DJs who proclaim about how it’s their “sparkling personality” or “mic skills” that make an evening special for their guests. Sorry, I beg to differ.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a simpleton (an under-statement) but I believe a great event is designed and executed. It does not just “happen magically”, at least on a consistent basis. Sure, there are a million little tid-bits of tricks and stunts we pull to control, influence and steer but at the end of the evening, the event pace is what makes it all come together.

Start with a Timeline of Events

The first goal we have is to build a good timeline of events. Grand Entrance, Dinner, First Dance, etc. Now I know that some DJs are strict “by the schedule” guys/gals but with our crews, we use the timeline as a “game plan”and that game plan revolves around (in the case of Weddings) the Bride, and to a lesser part, the Groom. Before each event change, we check in with the Bride/Groom and see if they’re ready. If not, do a time shift. If they are, notify the other vendors (to give them time to get in place), and do it. For our timeline builder, we use a custom-designed, web-based system to get timeline events from the client. Everything is online, centralized, and in the case of an emergency, anyone else in the organization can step in and execute the program, exactly as our client requested it. Once the timeline is built (with a phone consult the last week to go over details), we get into the meat of how to put it all together.

Break it into Segments

I remember from my musician days at The Grand Ole Opry where several artists told me, “Rick, always give them something different”. We use that concept today in how we time and run our events. It seems to work. The most basic rule is “No segment longer than 20-30 minutes maximum” (possible exception of dinner). We humans are funny creatures with short attention spans that must be constantly prodded and re-directed. Run anything too long, it’s boring. Run it too short, it’s piece-meal. This is also an argument to not just stack things together (First dance, parent dances, cake) to “get them out of the way”. No, put each element into its own time frame and use that to re-focus and re-center your room’s attention at every turn.

Patience is a Virtue

The other element of a well-run event is patience. You have to realize, the event’s energy has an ebb and flow, much like waves crashing on the shoreline at the beach. I’ve seen so many Brides worry themselves silly because their floor wasn’t slammed in the first 15 minutes. Slow down, be patient. This is the time where we’re testing the waters and gauging reactions from your guests. You’ll see a lot of musical change-ups (remember our “Rule of Rotating Fours“) and a good DJ is sitting there, silently, behind the console, and carefully observing, planning for when and how he’s going to “drop the hammer” and kick it into overdrive. Remember, you want to start strong, and finish strong.

While some DJs like to claim “I’m the party starter”, most parties are going to start on their own and if the guy on the mic tries to push it prematurely, it usually annoys the guests more than entertains them.

The DJ-by-Proxy Bride

Another thing that often can trip up a successful evening falls squarely at the feet of Mr. Steve Jobs and a little device called an iPod. Let’s face it, we’ve all got a million songs and it makes everyone think they’re a DJ who can easily write out a slamming mix that will have the house jumping. I have to admit that I cringe anytime I get that dreaded 60-song playlist (yes, we’ll do it, if that’s what you want) where the client has picked out every single song, and in the order they want them played. Big, BIG mistake. The smartest advice I can give is to give your DJ about 10-15 of your personal favorites. A good DJ can take that list and can tell within a few seconds where you are (musically-speaking) and will know how to angle the evening to make it work for you. Let the professional you’ve hired do what you’ve paid them to do. They have a method and a plan, you just enjoy the evening because I assure you it will go by quickly.


I hope you find something helpful above. Setting the tone and controlling the pace, not too fast and not too slow, works and it works consistently (alcohol or not). I wish you well in planning your very special day.

Would you like more info on our services and how we can benefit your event?

About The Author

Ryan Photography, DJ & Lighting is Nashville’s premiere party entertainment service. Our team of Photographers and DJs provide the ultimate in DJ, Emcee, Lighting and PhotoCenter service for many of the area’s most discerning clients.

Nashville Wedding Photography, DJ & Lighting –

4 Secrets to the Perfect Wedding Reception

I meet regularly with brides (and grooms) to be and the most common comment I hear is “This is the first time we’ve done this.” This is usually followed up by an hour of machine-gun-style tips and suggestions (from me) but I realize that sometimes it’s a lot to take in and digest. I’d like to use this blog to share those ideas and concepts and hopefully help you to make the right decisions on how to structure YOUR special day.

#1 Planning

There simply is no substitute for proper planning. The diligence you do here will pay off in a smoothly-run event but even more importantly, it will pay off in putting your mind at ease and to understand better what to expect. It’s always best to write out a Timeline of Events for your wedding and it’s almost always a good idea to employ someone you can trust to help you in this process, ideally someone who has experience with this.

Now keep in mind, a Timeline of Events is a game plan. It’s quite likely that your event will not follow the script exactly but that written timeline will give your vendors a clearer picture of how you want things to go and it will also give you peace of mind that all the details are taken care of, letting you actually enjoy the evening instead of worrying about it.

#2 Start Strong, Finish Strong

The moment your guests walk into your Wedding Reception is perhaps the most crucial of the entire evening. They should be greeted by soft (dimmed) lighting and quiet, beautiful music. This is also where uplighting comes into play. The goal is that you want them to pause in the doorway and tilt their heads back in order to take it all in. We call it the “tilt back effect”. Anytime we see this, I know we’re off to a good start.

The second strong start you want is the Grand Entrance, or the introduction of the Bridal Party. This is THE moment of your arrival. Even if you’re the shy type who doesn’t want to be the center of attention, understand that this evening is also about your guests. A great Grand Entrance is another great way to set the tone and raise the expectations of your guests. When you raise the energy level here, it pays off throughout the evening. Finally, make sure you have a strong, and definite exit. Without a definite exit, guests end up “sneaking out” and that dampens their perception of your event and how great it was.

#3 Room Focus Events

Most wedding receptions follow the same general format but I see a wide variety in how the special events are handled. One of the biggest mistakes I see made is when things like First Dance, Parent Dances and Cake are stacked up, back-to-back. The comment usually is “We’re going to get those out of the way.” BIG mistake. These special events are traditional elements of any good wedding celebration and we term those “Room Focus Events”.

We recommend that you spread RFEs throughout the evening. It’s always best to spread these events at 20-30 minute intervals, throughout the evening. First, it keeps your guests entertained but it also works to re-center the group’s attention and holding their attention will pay off in holding them longer at the event itself.

#4 Let it Unfold Naturally

Your Wedding Reception is a huge event in the life of a young lady. You plan and plan and plan and every detail must be perfect and especially so if you’re a micro-manager type. No matter how detailed your plans may be, you must keep in mind that your event involves people and the one constant about dealing with people is that there are no constants. Each Wedding Reception is different and has its own ebb and flow of energy and this just isn’t something you control. You have to let it unfold, naturally. Do your diligence and planning up-front but when it comes to the day-of, sit back and take it all in. Don’t let some small, un-planned event take away your joy and ruin your memories.


I trust that you find something in this blog that will be helpful in planning for your own special day. Enjoy it all.

Would you like more info on our services and how we can benefit your event?

About The Author

Ryan Photography, DJ & Lighting is Nashville’s premiere party entertainment service. We would be honored to be part of your very special occasion.

Nashville Photography, DJ, Lighting and Photo Booth Service