What should a wedding DJ do?

wedding DJ

Weddings are a celebration of two individuals coming together out of love. Great weddings, however, are so much more.

A great wedding has everything to do with the events surrounding the betrothed. It’s about the food, the open bar, the setting, and of course, the music.

Most great weddings culminate in the joyous, and sometimes frantic, dancing of everyone from children to grandparents. The wedding DJ is a focal point of a good wedding dance party, but how do you be the best wedding DJ you can be?

For those that aren’t familiar with professional wedding DJs, it may seem all they do is push a button and play music. Planning and playing back music is one of the core functions of the DJ; there is so much more that goes on. The Wedding DJ is your entertainment coordinator, and many times the wedding DJ stands in as pseudo-Wedding Coordinator. So what does a wedding do? To some people’s surprise, a wedding DJ starts to prepare well before the actual wedding day. It starts with the very first contact.

Now I can’t speak for all wedding DJs, and yes there are a number of DJs that do weddings that do not do the following and can sour the experience for many couples. I’d love to give you a glimpse of what I do as part of my wedding DJ services for my clients.

Looking for wedding DJ’s? Look no further, Vines of the Yarra Valley has you covered. 

Getting To Know You

One of the very first things I do when meeting with a new couple is figuring out what exactly you are looking for. What kind of music do you like? Do you want to light? Would you like to dance on a cloud for your first dance? What interesting things have you experienced at other weddings? All of this information becomes the foundation for determining the things you want, and don’t want, from your wedding.

I then quote you a price and will patiently wait (and gently nag) for you to select your DJ.

DJ playing music

Learning The Nitty-Gritty

While the first phase of the discussions gives the DJ a glimpse into what you are looking for. Once you get closer to your wedding date, the details need to be fleshed out. Typically about 60 days out from your wedding I have a series of forms that will get filled that help me guide some of the key elements of your wedding; from the pronunciation of your wedding party guests to if you are going to have a bouquet toss. I have to admit, and the list can be a bit tedious for some. But it’s very important for me to know all the ins and outs so I can help ensure that you have a great night of entertainment.

It is also around this time that I will start to reach out to the venue to find any guidance. If I am unfamiliar with the location, I’ll typically plan a trip to the site to determine things like establishing a line of communication with the venue. Equipment placement can be critical for some locations, so that has to be noted. I will also reach out to the vendors like the photographer and videographer to begin our collaboration for your wedding.

Sometimes, More Planning Meetings

So while some planning meetings can be “done in one” the truth is elements of the wedding change all the time. Headcount changes can force changes to the floor plans. Musical selections might be altered to accommodate a group of people. You may decide to enhance your experience that you didn’t plan before, the list can go on. I always reach out to my couples 30 days out to see what has changed, and what hasn’t, and see if more formal meetings are required.

It’s at this time that I want the couple to lock in their special songs just in case it takes a while to procure anything. There are times I have ordered vinyl from Europe for a first dance where I could not obtain a copy otherwise. So if you have an odd song, I suggest getting it in by this time so that I can procure it.

Preparing For Your Special Day

Usually, the week prior, I begin to lock things in place. I go over the details again and again, and if there is a question about a detail that I don’t have an answer to, I am not afraid to ask. I want to make sure that your day is as stress-free as possible! Establishing all your special songs in specific “crates” of music. Cloning my hard drive, so I have multiple copies of music to play on. I go over all my equipment to make sure nothing is missing. I send the vendors and the venue some of the information I gather. There is a surprising amount of “little things” that I have to check off before your wedding day comes.

The Day Arrives

When the wedding day arrives, for many DJs, it means workout time, and it’s no different for me. I am a solo-run DJ business which means I put all my equipment in my van, drive, unload, setup, test, perform, breakdown, drive home, and unload. If you are doing a ceremony as well, I have not one but two separate systems to setup and configure. Once set up and everything is tested out, the real fun begins.

Playing Well With Others

There are many DJs that are in it for the ego, the adrenaline rush, the need to control everything. For a quality wedding DJ, that ego is checked out. There is no room for conflicting personalities. Everyone needs to be working as a team, supporting each other where needed. This means working with the venue to ensure all the critical points on the timeline are met. Or they are notifying the photographer and videographer when things are about to happen, so they don’t miss a shot. If a change in plans happens that you can work that into the timeline to ensure nothing is missed. Line everyone up for introductions and conveying any special instructions to make sure everything goes as planned.

The “Clutch Shot”

Making sure nothing goes wrong is always on a DJ’s mind and for a good reason. A photographer can have a bad photo, but there are hundreds of great shots to choose from. Florists can have a wilted flower or two, but the remaining stunning assortments may overlook it. Caterers can have a bad plate of food, but the hundred or more other plates are exquisite. But if something fails with the DJ, especially at those critical moments, all bets are off. A wedding DJ does not get a second chance, and they must react at a moment’s notice. If a microphone cuts out a backup is at the ready. A song fails to play, and another copy of it is a click away. A tremendous amount of care for your event is given by the DJ to ensure that your entertainment goes as flawlessly as possible.

Managing the Evening

After the vows are taken, the casual conversation of the cocktail is concluded, the last bites are eaten, and the last speeches are made, then it’s the DJ’s time to shine. I was playing a great set of dance music based on all the discussions you had prior and trying to cross different age groups and styles to make everyone feel included. I take a lot of pride in my knowledge of music and my ability to blend track into track seamlessly.

A Different Vibe every time

For those that have seen the club or party DJ in action, I have to tell you, the whole arrangement and vibe is different. The mechanics can be different in trying to build up a crowd because after spending two, three, or more hours of not dancing, some people want to jump right into a big dance set. Also knowing how to read a crowd and having an eclectic music background is a must. In one night you could go from club hits to country, to EDM, to old school Hip Hop, 80s op, 90s House; and as a DJ you have to have a pretty intimate knowledge of that diversity. But the goal is still the same, getting people dancing hard, picking songs that make a guest look at you with amazement; that look on their face at that moment is priceless.

Before you know it, the night is wrapping up. The whirlwind of months if not years of planning has drawn to a close. The very last songs are played. For the DJ, it’s time to pack up and head on home. It’s been a long day, but I sure feel damn good that everyone had a great night.

Check out our exclusive list of Wedding DJ’s to help you celebrate your special night. 

Secrets of Great Wedding DJs

Eighty-five per cent of guests need to know the song.

DJs get off on the deep cuts, but weddings aren’t the place for B-sides (or for DJs getting off, really). Even slightly less popular songs by famous artists will fall flat, so you can’t count on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” to start anything.

Songs work best when they transcend generations.

It can be hard to find common ground between an 8-year-old kid and an 80-year-old aunt, but these intersections are the surest of wedding sure shots. “Gold Digger” is a perfect example because it features a Ray Charles sample for the older folks and the younger crowd would enjoy the vocals from that guy who knocked up Kim Kardashian.

The genre should change with nearly every song.

The last thing a wedding DJ wants to do is give guests a reason to request a song. By quickly moving through genres and time periods, you cast a wide net, have the best shot at maintaining a critical mass and create a shield against complaints. Some DJs subscribe to this philosophy so adamantly that they organize their music libraries by decade.

The greater good is more important than any individual (except the bride)

The goal is to have as many people on the dance floor as possible. This becomes complicated when dealing with diverse demographics because while a string of Motown songs might bring older couples onto the floor, they could cause you to lose the younger crowd who think Smokey Robinson is a trap producer.

The bride is the most important person on the dance floor.

If she’s not feeling it, you’re doing something wrong. If she is feeling it, you’re immune to any criticism.

Inviting guests up during the parents’ dances stacks the deck.

Three minutes of father/daughter dancing can seem like an eternity. A pro DJ move is to ask the bride’s permission to invite others onto the dance floor toward the end of the song. It cuts the tension, but more importantly, gives the DJ a more crowded dance floor with which to get the action started.

Opening with a fast song isn’t a good idea.

After the formal dances, it’s intuitive to start the party with a banger, but no matter what you play, no one wants to be first to a dance floor. Along the same lines of the parents’ song gambit, the pro move is to open with a slow dance to prime the floor.

Slow songs are a reset button.

Slow songs work to freshen the crowd if a floor is losing momentum, as someone’s wife or girlfriend will always force them to dance against their will to “Unchained Melody.”

Older folks loosen up the easiest but tire the fastest.

“Going out dancing” used to mean more than just pausing between sips of vodka Red Bull to dry-hump a stranger. Nostalgia for sockhops and formal dances and fully functional kneecaps aren’t as prevalent in younger generations. Hence, a good wedding DJ understands that this older crowd is itching for a chance to cut loose like back in the day. The flip of this is that older crowds will tire out quicker, so it’s important to play to them early in the night. 

Knowing the mom’s favourite song is an ace in the hole.

A good DJ knows the bride and groom’s favourite dance songs, but a great DJ knows their parents’ too. Pro tip: it is probably the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Watching the people who aren’t dancing is crucial.

It’s just as important to keep an eye on the wallflowers as the party animals. If there’s one demographic that’s not having fun, it’s a DJ’s responsibility to pull them onto the dance floor by any means necessary.

Lighting is important

If a space is too bright, people won’t dance. This holds in almost every DJ situation, and a wedding is no exception. You want a space to be as dark as possible, with the exception of a few rotating coloured LEDs to create a sense of movement.

Requests are accepted… reluctantly.

Weddings are one situation where DJs are forced to honour requests, but most suggestions tend to be self-centred and detrimental to the dance-floor as a whole. If there’s one day that’s not about you, it’s this one. So before asking for a polka or something off Tha Carter III, consider the effect that it will have on the other guests. The DJ’s primary responsibility to the bride and groom is to protect the vibe, no matter how badly the groom’s brother wants to prove that he raps “A Milli.”

There are a million tricks to dodge bad requests.

The best we heard was to send the requester to the bride for approval.

DJs hate to play requests off your phone.

Requests are much less likely to be honoured if they need to be streamed off a phone, as any self-respecting DJ is untrusting of crackly YouTube rips and LTE networks.

They usually don’t play dirty versions.

Most every pop song has a radio edit version with the curse words removed. Even if the bride and groom request the dirty version, it’s not worth upsetting Uncle Rick.

Being yourself on the microphone pays off.

Most people are terrified of speaking on a microphone, which makes the stereotype of the cheese-dick wedding DJ even more loathsome. When it’s necessary to work the mic, a little honesty and self-deprecation go a long way toward keeping a crowd on your side.

Guests notice when DJs don’t match the keys of songs.

Lining up the tempos of two songs so that they transition seamlessly is DJing 101, but playing songs in complementary musical key signatures is tougher. Even if guests don’t know anything about music theory, they can tell when it sounds like someone’s slamming their hand on a piano versus playing a chord. 

There’s always a backup plan.

If a DJ is playing a song that he’s not 100% confident in, you best believe he’s got another hit ready to mix in seconds later should it flop.

A two-hour dance set should be the minimum.

Depending on how much your guests like to dance and the pacing of your wedding, two hours should be the bare minimum. Anything less and even the best DJ is going to have a hard time pacing their set.

Announcing the last song is key.

People want to know that it’s their last chance to get down, but more importantly, it undercuts “one more song” chants. DJs hate these because the stop time isn’t up to them: most venues have time cutoffs so that the staff can pack up and head home. You’re likely also upsetting the bride and groom because most DJs have expensive overtime clauses in their contracts.

Not every crowd likes to dance.

It’s a dirty secret, but some crowds aren’t crazy about dancing, so contrary to popular belief, not every wedding features a grandmother twirling her bra above her head to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

Check out our post on What should I expect from a wedding DJ?

You get what you pay for

A good DJ is like a sports car. In a wedding context, you may not be able to use all their horsepower, but what’s under the hood is still important. Skills like beat matching and deeper musical knowledge aren’t as crucial, but they’ll still make a seasoned DJ stand out from an amateur who insists on the “Chicken Dance.” The dirty version.

All of the planning, scheduling, hosting, technical work, and room reading is nothing without the final piece of the puzzle: professionalism.

What sets a professional wedding DJ apart from a layperson comes down to more than a nice set of speakers. Only a pro can confidently handle transitions between songs, announce the cake cutting, and figure out which ’70’s song will get Grandma off her feet.

While your wedding day should be filled with excitement, it’s also a time of great stress and anxiety. A great wedding DJ knows this too and works to help reduce the bridal couple’s stress by arriving ahead of schedule, taking care of the venue and helping your guests have a good time. With a good DJ, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything after the ceremony except having fun and enjoying your new marriage.

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