In my last instalment, I discussed why you might want to consider being a wedding DJ. But in order to do the job well, you need to possess some important qualities.
Luckily they're all things you probably already have, or could have with a bit of effort (or money). Being aware of what's expected of you makes it easier for you to go and fill in the gaps relatively easily, and to do the job more confidently.
1. Broad musical knowledge
Sure, you love your EDM. You love flawless mixing, sampling, beat-juggling, and creating new sounds out of old songs. But in order to be a good wedding DJ, you need to understand and appreciate (if not like) every genre of music. Yes, that unfortunately includes horrible "new country", the cheesiest pop fluff hits, mind-numbing line dances, and love ballads so saccharine they can put you in a diabetic coma.
You'll also need to know some classical pieces, especially those associated with weddings (Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachelbel's Canon, and the various wedding precessionals/recessionals). Dinner music is especially important, allowing you to please some of the older folks and those who won't be dancing later on.
Luckily for you, it's easy to find out about all of that material online - a little bit of homework and a few greatest hits collections and you can be ready to DJ for all tastes.
2. A likeable persona
From your initial meeting with the bride-and-groom-to-be, you need to be responsive and attentive to their wishes, but also take charge. The couple will lay out their ideal music mix and structure of the event. Unfortunately, their ideas will sometimes be unrealistic and unwise ("We only want heavy metal all night" or "No Macarena, no matter who requests it").
You need to reassure them that they are in control while also explaining to them the dynamics of pleasing a crowd and the requirements for a successful evening of dancing. You're both an employee and an educator. You're also an MC. You need to get comfortable with a mic. You will be called on to introduce people, to make announcements, and to help choreograph the action.
You need to be likeable, high energy, and fun - but not cheesy (like the previously mentioned bad-tux guy). It's a delicate balance that comes with practice. If your persona comes across as blase or uninterested, why should they even hire you instead of just plugging an iPod into the existing sound system? You need to add enthusiasm and energy in just the right measure, not just play the right tunes.
3. Organisation skills
Weddings can be complicated affairs. Most involve the introduction of the couple and the wedding party (by you), but also include prayers, toasts, special requests, traditional rituals (garter toss, apron dance) and other things you'll need to know how to choreograph and narrate.
Frequently, the bride and groom will lose track of time, and you'll need to remind them (or the caterer/event manager) to stay on track. You are a manager of the scheduled activities and not just the music, so you need to focus on both and not get too caught up worrying about your next track.
4. Foolproof gear with backup
This is a lesson you'll only need to learn once - always have a backup plan for any possible emergency.
When a mobile DJ company sent me to a ritzy wedding gig with bad cables, I discovered the sound coming from the speakers was the equivalent of an old transistor AM radio. I almost fled the scene. There's nothing more excruciating than realising that you - and only you - are responsible for turning someone's wedding into a colossal mess-up.
Amazingly, I managed to get people dancing until an emergency guy could show up with new cables (thanks to a very saintly and understanding couple and their guests) but I never DJ a wedding any more without a complete backup plan. It only takes one time. Believe me.
Thankfully, it's not hard to handle most emergencies (see Pro DJ Secrets For When Everything Goes Dead…). An iPod or iPad can keep the party going until you fix your computer, or even replace it in the worst-case scenario when you laptop turns into a smouldering ruin.
5. The ability to market yourself
Wedding gigs generate future wedding gigs. You're likely to be approached by other couples looking for a fantastic DJ like you for their upcoming wedding. Or someone planning a private or corporate party. Sometimes the event manager at the venue is looking for a high quality and dependable DJ they can recommend (I landed a regular gig that way).
You'll be asked for your business card - so make sure you always have plenty of them. And here's the great part - you've already auditioned by playing a terrific four-hour set and packing the dancefloor, so the selling part is over. Handing over your card usually seals the deal. It's the easiest sales job in the world.
Every wedding presents its own challenges. The drunk guy who keeps demanding "Wonderful Tonight" so he and his wife can slow dance despite the fact that you've got a seriously packed, grooving dance floor. The elderly woman complaining about the volume being too loud and the younger folks asking you to turn it up, and room acoustics turning your sound into an echoing mush.
Because wedding venues and wedding guests are diverse and unpredictable, you need to be flexible and adaptable, making quick decisions on the fly.
And no matter what happens, you need to keep smiling. You need to look like you're having fun even if the event turns chaotic, when the Best Man fractures his arm trying to breakdance, and the bride is in hysterics because someone spilled red wine all over her dress. A good DJ can save a wedding, lifting the vibe and keeping the crowd focused on the primary goal: having fun.
And when Donna Summer belts out the final "Hey hey yeah!" of "Last Dance" and everyone starts applauding for you, it's a damn good feeling. You've taken one of the biggest nights of their lives - maybe the biggest - and made it a resounding success.
• 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.
Have you seen wedding DJs who demonstrate the above skills well (or badly)? Would you consider DJing at weddings - and if not, why not? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.