Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
Confessions of a wedding DJ
What's really going on in the mind of the guy at the turntable?
Even though nobody ever requested it, Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" became a staple of most every wedding DJ set I played last summer.
The rock classic by the Motor City Man is undeniably great, but it's hardly wedding fare. It's been suggested that my penchant for playing the tune at weddings might be a subtle, maybe even subconscious jab at the institution of marriage—a stranglehold is a form of bond, after all. However, on further reflection, maybe I am the one in bondage—at least by way of my own slavish greed.
Wedding DJs earn roughly five times as much as their club and lounge counterparts, but must endure the necessity, litany and banality of requests. Or perhaps I was the Nuge's strangler, if not betrayer of the true faith, suffocating any hope of helping a larger, less-initiated audience develop a better understanding of actual DJ culture.
Clearly, many deep thoughts run through your head when you're gritting your teeth and swallowing your pride while trying to shut out the insipid caterwaul of PSY's sadly ubiquitous "Gangnam Style."
For many people, weddings often represent the only time they are exposed to DJs. They make no distinction between mobile deejay service workmen and the more underground, put-your-hands-in-the-air heroes of club culture. To them, all DJs are the same. But being a good wedding DJ depends more on providing strong customer service than talent or taste. While mixing in fun, appropriate selections is important at weddings, playing to the crowd via requests in a timely and effective manner is essential (grinning like a dolt while you play said requests also goes with the territory).
Unfortunately, not everyone at a wedding is altogether conscious of programming fundamentals. This includes the bride and groom who sometimes demand club bangers before many of their guests have laid down their dessert forks. Your big day shouldn't come at the expense of people like your grandparents, aunts and uncles who will be disinclined to dance if the music is too hard too soon.
They might even leave early. Ideally, the bigger dance numbers should be played later in the evening.
Certified wedding planner Amy Maier with Head Over Heels Weddings and Event Planning says the bridal party should also lead by example to ensure a packed dance floor.
"The bride and groom shouldn't expect the DJ to create a party atmosphere if they aren't willing to participate and dance. If they don't, then no one else will," Maier says. "At one of my weddings, the bride and her very intoxicated bridesmaids were screaming at the DJ and telling him what songs to play and in what order. He was about 30 seconds from packing up and I literally begged him to stay. Of course, neither the couple nor the wedding party was on the dance floor once, despite him playing every song they asked for."
Preparing a detailed playlist for the DJ before the reception is another way to ensure the happy couple and, hopefully, their guests will like what they hear. This list should likewise include music you do not want to hear. The "Macarena" and the "Chicken Dance" are often on no-play lists, but it's worth considering that kids love shaking their groove thing to both songs. Preparation is key (most quality wedding planners and mobile DJ services provide questionnaires in advance), but it's also important to simply let the DJ work.
"A good DJ will read the crowd and determine what music is best," says wedding and event planner Caitlin McElhone. "Just as you are trusting the planner, florist or caterer to make expert decisions based on your wedding needs, it's important to remember the DJ is also a professional. It's fine to supply a few 'must-play' favourites and special requests, but let the DJ work their magic to get the crowd going."
And if the dance floor is rocking, Maier adds, don't come a knocking. "Go with the flow. If people are dancing, don't stop the party. I see many couples who have a packed dance floor and then have the DJ stop everything to play the shoe game."
Part of the preparation process to ensure DJ success should include research. Check out reviews and testimonials online or ask your married friends which DJ or service they hired and enjoyed. Wedding planners can also recommend reputable DJ companies they have worked with before. It's worth noting that good club DJs don't always make good wedding DJs. House music all night long might work wonders at the after hours, for example, but it will leave wedding guests wanting to hear "Cadillac Ranch" on the sidelines. A good wedding DJ will have an ear for plurality.
"Anyone can rent speakers, lighting, purchase some music and call themselves a DJ," says Dan Sinclair, a 16-year veteran and owner of Baseline Services. "But do they have experience? Are they using professional equipment? Do they have a business licence? Do they carry insurance? Do they run their business out of an office or their home? What happens if the equipment malfunctions? Best advice: hire a professional DJ company."
Finally, one question DJs at lounges, clubs, raves and the like generally don't want to hear is whether we take requests. Honestly, most of us hate being asked. After we've told you no (based on either artistic principle or the fact that some us still play vinyl records and physically can't accommodate all comers) some of us may curse your stupidity as you skulk back to your friends to complain about "that asshole DJ." If you can remember to confine your requests to weddings only, then we'll all live happily ever after.
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