‘Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything have in common’. Sarah Dessen.
Think about your walk down the aisle. Your first dance. Letting loose at the after-party. All the time in-between. The signature soundtrack for your wedding day will consist of carefree and happy tunes, romantic music, and special songs.
Music can evoke powerful emotions and whisk everyone to a very special place.
But how do you feel when trying to listen to your favourite song on a skipping CD or radio with static? What about that awkward silence in a restaurant when the music suddenly stops?
You should think not just about the soundtrack itself, but also how music is delivered. There is a bit of a science to projecting sound in larger spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Special equipment will have to be procured, and experts may need to be consulted.
Enter a DJ.
If you thought that a DJ is just a guy or gal that presses ‘play’, you should keep reading.
Job description of a DJ.
#1. Supply top-of-the-line sound equipment.
If you are trying to do that yourself, you will need to do the following:
- rent public announcement speakers, designed to carry the sound across large spaces, with a built-in amplifier, plus speaker stands to ensure that the sound travels at the right height;
- rent source mixer (the device which will accept input from your iPod or laptop and your microphone);
- rent wireless microphones;
- rent any extension cords and power strips that you may need;
- rent any lights or special effects to add colour and movement to the dance floor.
- have the rental facility (such as a music store or a DJ) walk you through each cable and input, test it, and ensure that it will be compatible with your iPod or laptop;
- bring it to the venue on the day of the wedding, assemble everything in a way that optimizes the sound volume throughout the venue (which will depend on the acoustics and the shape of the room), ensure all equipment blends into the background and does not stand out in the pictures, and secure all cords and cables with a special stage tape that does not leave behind sticky residue.
- at the end of the night, disassemble the equipment and return it back to the renting facility the following morning.
It’s not free – plus, it’s a lot of work. Worse, because of the multitude of inputs and cables, there are many ways to screw it up, rendering the entire system inoperable. Finally, equipment can suddenly break, and you will be stuck without a back-up. A professional DJ should have back-ups for every eventuality – an extra laptop, extra batteries for all equipment in case the power goes out, etc.
Having great equipment is half the battle. Knowing how to use it is the other half. A professional will know how to avoid interference from other electronics and feedback from the speakers. They will ensure that, while not in use, microphones are turned off, so they don’t pick up noises like wind, cough, or steps on a hardwood floor.
#2. Supply the music.
A DJ has a collection of music which is licensed for public performance, and they know their music. We often don’t think about the language and the content of our favorite songs – but it is the job of the DJ to look up the lyrics, find clean ‘radio edits’ of songs with explicit language or use editing software to edit out the inappropriate content, and thus ensure that children and older generations feel comfortable at your wedding. Note that a ‘radio clean’ song may still have inappropriate lyrics.
In addition, a DJ can use the editing software to change the songs for a special occasion. For example, they may be able to extend the instrumental part of a song and superimpose your vows for your ‘first dance’ song.
#3. Use the music to create the right energy in the room.
Note that the above did not say ‘press play’.
There is a special art to playing music during special moments – the fading out of the previous song, silence, gentle start, and increasing volume as required. Everyone is listening – imagine getting that wrong!
When it comes to the after-party, how long the people stay, and how much they enjoy themselves, is not an accident – but a direct result of how good your DJ was.
Interestingly, a DJ who rocks in a night club may not necessarily have the right skills to entertain a wedding crowd. Why? Your wedding guests will be mostly people who don’t go to clubs. And if you think about it, nightclubs generally only cater to young dance music fans, and tend to play music of the same style over and over again. Moreover, nightclubs condition their patrons to special remixes of popular songs.
Instead, here’s what a great wedding DJ will do for your crowd. They will play older songs. People will always get excited about an older song, because it carries memories. They will play songs of a popular music style or period for a short time, connect with the fans of that style, and then switch to a slightly different style – also fun and popular – for a while. Give some folks an opportunity to grab a drink and cool down, and others a chance to shine on the dance floor. They will try to make sure that there is never too long of a period during which someone hasn’t heard something they like. They will play easily recognizable, radio versions of the songs. They will get to know the crowd and their tastes by inconspicuously throwing out a few specific songs to test out the audience’s reactions.
A good DJ is not a human jukebox. Don’t try to feed them a list of songs to play, in the order stipulated. Here’s a DJ’s advice on how to work with a professional DJ to create a playlist.
Have a short list of ‘must play’ songs – try to keep it to 20 or 30 – for the social part of the evening and the dancing. Keep in mind that three hours of dancing can only fit, on average, 45 songs. That’s not a lot, and they shouldn’t be all the same style – that just gets tiring. A skilled DJ knows how to make those 45 songs count – but only if you don’t overload them with ‘must play’ songs. Put the rest of your favorite songs on your ‘please play’ list. These songs will be included among others, as time permits and the mood of the crowd requires.
Now, sometimes guests will approach the DJ with song requests, and – you know it – hearing those requested songs will make their evening that much better. If there are some popular songs that you dislike, put them on your ‘only if they beg’ list, and ask the DJ to play it only if they receive more than one request for it. Classics are classics for a reason. If however you have some songs that absolutely cannot make it to your wedding… like a special ex-girlfriend song… add it to a ‘never play’ list, and ask your DJ to accidentally forget that tune at home.
#4. Being an MC.
Absent an MC, the DJ is often asked to make announcements. Now, this is not just pressing buttons, this is a whole different ball game – it’s a mixture of show business and event coordination, and it requires tact and sensitivity – read MC Services page to find out if your candidate can do that.
If there is anything you’re trying to do on your wedding day that involves technology, such as a presentation, a video, or a conference call with grandma – let your DJ know. They know a thing or two about technology, and can provide good advice.
How do you choose a good DJ?
From the extended job description above, consider which aspects of a professional DJ are most important to you, and ensure that they meet them. For example:
- Ask them about their equipment and emergency preparedness protocols.
- Ask to see a picture of their setup from another wedding.
- Describe your guests’ demographics and ask them for a sample suggested playlist.
- Ask for references.
Some of the ideas above have been borrowed from Mark Imperial’s book The Ultimate Wedding Reception.