By: DJ Mike “MadMike” Willis
Okay, so your significant other POPPED THE QUESTION!! You’ve found the perfect venue, and now it’s time to start booking your vendors. Flowers and catering are just as important, but booking a qualified DJ will make your special day a perfect event that your friends and family will remember for years and years!
DJs have developed and evolved tremendously over the past 10 years, so it is important you know what style, age, and quality you are choosing in a DJ. I have personally seen weddings ruined by couples hiring a friend of the family or an amateur DJ to execute their wedding (but that’s a different story). As a career DJ, I know the pitfalls and triumphs you will face in determining the right DJ for your wedding day. Knowing this, I put together the following list to help you on your way.
You want a professional that listens to you so your reception will come off with the tone you want to set and the quality and artistry you would find at the best dance party.
As one of the most respected career DJs in the area, I can help you put together a great reception with a professional so you can party on.
Here are some things I have learned over the years to ease your decision:
About 20 years ago, wedding DJs had a much different style than today. They were usually corny older men with hoola hoops and glitter, who would get out on the dance floor and teach your grandma how to do the chicken dance while he egged-on your groom to throw cake in your face. The ability to mix music was a developing artform that and had not worked itself into weddings. It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that young nightclub-style mixing DJs began focusing on weddings. Prior to this, weddings were lots of fun for the older folks, but certainly not the energy or atmosphere most of todays couples want at their once in a lifetime event. Young DJs were raised with the state-of-the-art equipment and are extremely comfortable with all the techniques you find in the fine clubs. . . from my experience, most older DJs don’t have a fresh style or attitude and their skills and equipment aren’t up to what I would expect and want for my fresh, fun, and modern wedding.
This brings me nicely to my next topic, which is –
- Mixing Ability:
Back in the late 1970s, DJs began learning how to mix two different songs of the same speeds together by matching up their beats per minute (BPMs). DJs could now create seamless transitions between songs, preventing any “dead air” (silent space while the DJ transitions to the next song). This skill quickly became popular among all different types of DJs – except for some reason, most wedding DJs did not pick up on this technique. You would be surprised how many DJs we run into who STILL don’t mix songs but just fade them in and out. You really need a skilled DJ with great mixing talent to build a high-energy dance set and keep the party moving!
You need to make sure your DJ uses decent equipment, and just as importantly, they know how to use it! I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone complain “The Dj at my friends’ wedding played the music so loud during dinner, I couldn’t hear anyone talk,” or “The microphone kept squealing through the speeches.” The education and training on equipment, cables, microphone frequency, and everything else that goes into making a great DJ is virtually always lacking in your cousin who knows how to hook his iPod up to a speaker. With all the sophisticated equipment that goes into making great sound, sometimes things go wrong. A professional DJ with high-quality equipment and the knowledge to use it will quickly get everything back on track. Letting you and your friends keep dancing is far superior to an apology from an amateur with cheap equipment that he can’t operate!
Another important factor in the modern age is the source of the music your DJ uses. While there are still a few DJs who refuse to live in the 21st Century and continue to use their CD collections, here are my pros for using a computer:
– I can download any song at any time
– I can use multiple playback devices
– I have much faster song changing capability
– I can access various control surfaces for mixing
CD DJs will tell you all kinds of stories about how computer DJs have problems, and what if the computer crashes, and blah, blah, blah, but with current technology and sturdy, dependable software, a crash is extremely rare – my ratio is 1 crash in almost 500 gigs. When you consider that any DJ worth his salt will have multiple forms of backup (e.g. iPad/iPod, back-up vinyl , or CDs) you can be sure you don’t have to worry that the party will keep moving.
The very first wedding I DJed was for a friend of the family, and while the music was banging, I had no skills or any idea about how to coordinate with other vendors. I remember going outside the venue and I lined my bridal party up in order, made sure I knew how to say the names, and then I went back inside for the grand parade and introductions. I got to about the third bridesmaid and groomsman and saw a lady running up the side aisle with a bag over her shoulder, muttering curses and dropping things as she ran. It was the photographer, and she was pissed! She asked me in a snippy voice, “Is this your first wedding???? Because it sure feels like it!!” She then proceeded to tell me how the REST of the night would go and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t in charge of everything.
Working with the other vendors is the only way to make sure the night runs smoothly.
A good DJ will make sure:
– That the photographer isn’t in the bathroom or getting a drink when they are ready to announce the first dance.
– That your family is where they should be for the important hallmarks of your special day.
– That the timing is right so you don’t end up having a cold meal.
There are so many different events, nuances, and timing issues during a wedding, and there is no reason for you to have to worry or be concerned about ANY of them. Make sure you choose a DJ who is skilled in event production and coordination and you can relax into your special day knowing everything will go off as you have so carefully planned!
- Planning Tools:
I tell all of my couples that a perfectly executed wedding is 99% planning. Modern Era Weddings uses online planning tools (viadjintelligence.com) that allow us to accommodate all your special needs in a way that all of my DJs will comprehend and understand. Online planning tools allow you to input all your pertinent information so we can customize your event and tailor it to YOUR musical tastes. We offer the options of playlists as well as do-not-play lists. Let me recommend that you always give your DJ a do-not-play list. It helps us understand the discernment in your choice of music.
Also, on our online planning site, is a section on how you would like your DJ to dress – you don’t want the DJ to look out of place from the rest of the guests. We also would like to know your other vendors by name so we might best coordinate for you. The two most important things we really need to have is the list of names of your bridal party spelled phonetically and the overall event timeline. Since many of our couples are not from our area, and as we travel to different parts of the country for events, online planning allows me to be on the same page with the couples in other areas throughout the entire process.
- Back-up personnel:
Okay, so your DJ gets hit by a bus the day before your wedding, and hey, he might be okay in a year or two, but let’s face it – you won’t postpone your wedding because he can’t be there! If you booked Modern Era Weddings, you don’t have to worry for a second. Even if I am in the hospital with three pins in my leg, one of our DJs will print out your online planning tools, be there when we promised, and make sure your wedding is still perfect. Unfortunately, most independent DJs don’t have a “Plan B” and if they get hit by that same bus, you are going to have a very quiet event!
- Is the DJ currently working in the market?
Listen… there are real DJs, and then there are “Yeah, I work for PNC, but DJ on weekends” guys. You want and deserve the best. You want someone who makes their living steeped in the music and nightlife scene. Just as you wouldn’t just tell the florist to pick your flowers or the caterer to choose your menu, you want to HEAR your DJ play live and see how you respond to his style and professionalism. Ask your DJ if there places around the city you can hear them play. At the very least, ask for RAW (unedited, because anyone can make themselves look good via editing) footage of them performing. Narrow down your choices to guys who have steady work in bars and clubs in your area. This means they are popular, in demand, and are constantly using and honing their skills.
A few things that didn’t make my list:
- Reviews – every wedding DJ has reviews, and most of these reviews will be 5 stars. Remember when you were a kid playing sports and everyone got a trophy? Even the person that accidentally scored for the other team? Well, unfortunately DJ reviews are sort of like that. Most couples in the flush of memories of that special day may give 5 stars to a 2-Star DJ (she forgot he played the wrong song for the first dance! Or CHOSE to be kind and overlook it). It’s human nature. Regrettably, this makes the review system (and therefore the precious awards from Wedding Wire, and The Knot) basically useless. There are some horrible DJ companies that get amazing reviews, dispute every negative review to get it offline, and continue to ruin weddings. Look at the lowest review for your DJ company, and see how the company addressed it. DO NOT RELY STRICTLY ON REVIEWS AND AWARDS TO HIRE YOUR DJ. THEY ARE SKEWED AND OFTEN DO NOT REFLECT THE COMPANY’S TRUE TALENT.
- Microphone ability and personality – Knowing how, when, and what to say on the microphone is extremely important to keep your wedding rolling. Watch out for DJs with poor grammar, strange accents, corny jokes, and other nonsense. A good DJ has a friendly and natural vocal quality, and most importantly, realizes the wedding is NOT about him. Sadly, I have seen these DJs ruin weddings by constantly blathering through the reception. A great DJ makes announcements when they are required, plays great music, and is there to make the party perfect.
- Hidden Fees – Many DJ companies will include many hidden fees with their service. Make sure you get a bottom-line number for everything they will be providing.
I look at my job as a professional wedding DJ as one whose main purpose is to try to save people from cheesy, over the top, or poorly skilled disk jockeys. If I have a tendency to be harsh and critical towards these people, it is only because I realize the great importance of making one of the most memorable days of your life as perfect as I can. There may be a market for this kind of wedding that has been the butt of many jokes, movies and anecdotes, and I have even been wrongly booked for them in the past. I played the part for them.
Our clientele is quite different. Our couples are modern, smart, self-assured people who work with us to get precisely what they want to create the perfect day. We want to be their DJ.
Please do not let the guy in the video below DJ your wedding, or you’re going to have a bad time.