We all know the stereotype of the wedding DJ - decked out in a cheap, ill-fitting tux, playing nothing but five-year-old top 40 hits (and poorly mixed, at that), talking in an affected 1970s game show announcer voice while trying unsuccessfully to get everyone to do the Electric Slide.
Unfortunately, as most of you will have experienced, the stereotype is based in reality - many wedding DJs, to put it bluntly, just plain suck.
But chances are, if you let people know you're a real, honest-to-goodness DJ, the question will inevitably arise: "Do you do weddings?"
And if you're smart, you'll immediately say yes - even if you've never played a wedding and never considered it. For a non-sucky DJ (that's you), weddings are an ideal way to improve your technical and artistic skills, build your reputation, increase the number and variety of gigs on your calendar, and get paid good money for it. Not a bad deal at all.
Here's why you should consider being a wedding DJ.
You'll get paid
Sure, it's great to spin trance tracks alone in your basement, impressing your 78 Mixcloud followers with your hottest set. It's even better to keep your friend's house party going full-blast long after the sun has come up, or warming up the happy hour crowd at a local bar or college hangout. Playing great music and getting people to dance is, for most of us, its own reward.
But unless you have a residency at a high-volume club, or you're already working the pro circuit, chances are you're having a lot of fun playing music, but you're not making a lot of money. And here's a little secret - there's a lot of money to be had playing music. You can make a nice living (or at least make enough extra cash in one gig to buy that fancy new four-deck controller you've been fetishising over). You can even do it in times like ours when the global economy is circling the drain.
Because without fail, until the end of time, human beings will fall in love... and a large number of those starry-eyed couples will want to spend an inordinate amount of money to throw the biggest and most expensive party of their lives. Parties that in almost every case require music and dancing.
That's where you come in. Do you want that money, or would rather someone else - maybe the cheeseball in the cheap tux - take it instead?
You'll get better, faster
Being a DJ is much more than technical spinning skills (see 10 Commandments For Better Digital DJing, #1). A successful DJ shares the same qualities as all successful entertainers - polished interpersonal skills, proven technical ability, effective marketing - but uniquely and most importantly, he or she possesses an instinctive understanding of how to work a crowd and how to play precisely the right song at precisely the right time.
You don't develop that instinct mixing alone at home. You get it by raw experience. And the good news is, wherever you live, all around you, all year long, there are opportunities to gain that experience, and to get paid very well for that essential on-the-job education.
If you want to be taken seriously as a DJ, you need to play live, for real living, breathing humans. And the best schooling you can get is not found on YouTube, or expensive online mixing courses, or in getting a bunch of Likes on your Facebook page. The best schooling you can get is not found on YouTube, or expensive online mixing courses, or in getting a bunch of Likes on your Facebook page.
It's playing for crowds of fifty to three-hundred, aged 3 to 103, from every social strata, with musical preferences ranging from The Hokey Pokey to Eric Clapton to Skrillex, many or most of them drunk, but all of them itching to burn off their roast beef and mashed potatoes dancing nonstop until the event manager tells you to pull the plug.
You, their DJ, are responsible for facilitating their good time. Your music and MC skills will make the wedding a party they'll always remember, or prematurely end it in an embarrassingly painful bore-fest.
It's a big responsibility, but fortunately, it's not really that hard. The wedding-goers want to dance - it's expected. They're like big, drooling kindergarteners and eager to act like doofuses on the dance floor. And they're much more forgiving than club crowds (trust me) and primed by booze to dance to almost anything you will play. And once you get good at weddings, you'll have the confidence to play anywhere - clubs, bars, corporate parties, cruise ships, bar/bat mitzvahs, festivals, radio stations... you name it.
You'll have gained the skills and the know-how to play a wide variety of music for any and every audience. It's a school of hard-knocks, but the in-the-trenches, on-the-job education is unbeatable - and it will make you a true professional.
You'll get a proper musical education
If you listen to progressive house, and only progressive house, and despise every other form of music, you'll never make a good wedding DJ (you won't make a good DJ, period, but that's another discussion for another time). Being a wedding DJ requires that you understand and appreciate all genres of music - from Bach to Johnny Cash to 50s rock classics, jazz standards, Motown, 70s disco, 80s new wave, schmaltzy pop ballads, all the way to the latest top 10 Beatport tracks.
You don't have to like it all - but you have to understand who likes it. Being a wedding DJ will broaden your musical knowledge by necessity. And unless you're really closed-minded, you'll discover some gems among genres you may have never listened to. You'll actually like some of the music you've ignored, and understand why a song was a hit in 1942, '52, '62, '72, '82, '92, '2002, or what's likely to still be burning up the dance floor in 2012. You'll know music, not just a tiny slice of music.
You'll be your own boss
If you're a good wedding DJ, you'll soon find yourself in demand. Many of my gigs lead to others (weddings are usually full of engaged and soon-to-be wedded couples), so you should always have a pocket full of business cards. Though you might need to rent your equipment at first, in just a few gigs you can make enough money to buy a high-quality mobile setup. Then the rest is up to you - the more you put into marketing yourself, the bigger your income can get.
Alternatively, you have the option of only doing a few weddings a year, when you feel like it or when you need some spare change. For a few hours of your time, that $1,000 or more can sure come in handy.
So now I've hopefully convinced you that whatever your DJing aspirations, playing weddings can be a smart move, next time I'll explain what it takes to get started as a 21st century digital wedding DJ.
• Michael M. Hughes is a DJ, writer, and performer. He's currently the resident DJ at the Baltimore Get Down and has played more than a hundred weddings and numerous private and corporate events. He's compiling his hard-won wisdom in an upcoming guide for digital wedding DJs, which will be available from Digital DJ Tips.
Do you earn part or all of your DJ income from wedding DJing? Have you ever DJed a wedding with good or bad results? Or would you never consider doing this type of gig? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.