6 Essentials For DJing At Weddings

Wedding DJing

Get the mix of skills right and there's money to be made from DJing at weddings. Pic: Mixing Maryland

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").

Microphone

If you're scared of using the microphone, it's something you should practise, because you're going to need to use it when DJing weddings.

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.

Having a backup system is essential for the wedding DJ.

Having a backup system is essential for the wedding DJ.

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.

6. Adaptability

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.

Wedding DJing

You need to be flexible and adaptable to keep a wedding dancefloor happy. Pic: Wedding Window

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.

Comments

  1. That’s a mighty fine summary, Mr. Hughes. Nice job!

  2. Great article. Solid advice for mobile DJs.

    A lot of this can transfer even to other types of DJs.

  3. We (me and the other guy in our epic DJ collective) got our first wedding gig (as DJs) coming up in a few weeks, and since we usually only play Balkan electro, world bass, that kind of stuff under the name Disco Petrol we chose the name “DJs lök & stök” witch is swedish for something like “DJs cheesy & rowdy”. This is part of our way to get in the mood: it’s not going to be like the usual gigs, there will be requests, and yes, there will be Lady Gaga. Just suck it up and have fun with it, try some new mixing techniques, do crazy shout outs on the mic, act out your inner doucebag! (Within limits of course!)

    • Great name! I would be wary of being *too* crazy, unless that’s the vibe the couple have requested. Feel out the crowd—it may be better to be more understated than wild and crazy.

      And if there is dinner and cocktails before the dancing, that’s when you can play some jazz, old pop standards, and more mellow fare before ramping up to the dance music. Make sure you have the songs you know people will request in your region. They get mad if you don’t have them :-)

  4. great article, looking forward to that guide. Weddings vary a lot between cultures so its a totally different format between a latin weddind and a european or american wedding. Would like to know what are the most popular line dancing tracks used, ballads, etc for weddings up north. Here in latin america is less protocol and more partying, quick toast, eat and fill up the dance floor with some merengue, bachata, salsa, reggaeton and depending on the crowd some EDM.

    Hopefully you guys can share a must have list of common wedding themes in the US.

    • DJ Fernandough says:

      i agree! being latin myself and into latin genres i enjoy all that a lot; except for the abbundance of older songs latino weddings aren’t much different than a latin club or latin night at any club

    • In the US, it varies from region to region, so it’s hard to specify—line dances ranged from Boot Scootin’ Boogie for country audiences to Electric Slide/Cha Cha Slide, Macarena, and Bootie Call for most crowds. I don’t do many line dances anymore (they’re not popular in my market), but back in the day when I did multiple weddings every month I got requests for them all the time. And I grew to loathe the songs, though I always enjoyed watching people having fun.

      Google “line dances” and you can see videos of the most popular ones.

  5. Great article, much improved over the anyone with a pulse can dj a wedding article last time….

    The problem i have is “No Macarena no matter who requests it” being considered unreasonable!!! they are paying you and how hard is it to say to a guest im sorry I forgot to bring that track! this is their wedding not yours…

    • that came off bitchy, sorry… Good Wedding DJ’s are more musical catering with technical djing skills to make a wide variety of music intertwine in a way that is inviting, fun, cool and in good taste. The Customer is always right, a sad bride isn’t worth a happy guest who got to hear the macarena. Ask the bride and groom if it is a “dont play” or a “only play if requested song”.

      Just my experience..150+ weddings, with club gigs, house parties, and corporate events as well…

      • Andrew—

        No worries. The first article in this series was meant more to encourage DJs to consider weddings, not to suggest *every* DJ could or should do them. But I can understand that it came across a bit too emphatic to some.

        As for the “No Macarena” type admonitions from the couple, it’s a topic I will address in-depth in the future. But simply: I agree with you. At the same time, I make sure to explain to the couple that *someone* might request something they can’t stand (Macarena, Electric Slide, Booty Call, etc.) but it also happens to be a wedding staple. The person requesting the song (a cute little cousin, perhaps, or maybe the groom’s favorite aunt who hasn’t danced to anything all night) LOVES that song. And they know that every DJ has it because, well, he HAS to have it. That puts me, as a DJ, in a difficult situation. “I’ll tell them YOU have asked me not to play it,” is what I tell the couple. “Then they will ask YOU why YOU won’t let me play it.”

        I also explain that, although it is *their* wedding, the guests expect a good time. Aunt Ida might be waiting all night to dance to “We are Family” with all of her sisters. Is it really going to ruin the bride and groom’s night to listen to a song they might hate, but will fill the dance floor with happy relatives?

        That’s why I said you’re an educator as well as an employee. 95% of the time the couple will agree—”Oh, I see. Yeah, whatever, if someone asks for it, just go ahead and play it.” You need to reassure them that the general vibe of the music will suit their taste, while also helping them understand why they might want to be flexible with requests.

        But if they absolutely, positively insist “No Macarena,” I honor their wish. They’re signing the check.

    • Beckster D says:

      I had to laugh about this one, having done a wedding several years ago where the family requested me basically to play nothing but Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble (and a few other standards). You can imagine how old that got after the first hour. Nobody seemed to be really enjoying themselves. After about another half hour, I decided to gradually fire up the dance tunes, and the place erupted. I saw the bride start to walk over to me, but someone grabbed her hand and started dancing. Her father, who is a friend of mine, just stared in amazement with the comment something like “I can’t believe people are enjoying this”. HIS mom was dancing to YMCA. He started smiling as well.

      Afterwards, I was prepared for the worst from the bride, but she told me what a wonderful job I had done, and that everybody had such a great time.

      Her younger sister is next . .

  6. Great article although you are preaching just common sense if you done a few weddings ;)

    And you are forgetting one … You need basic knowledge of everything with a power cable and a gigbag full of splitter cables, spare cables end all sorts of male/female connectors.

    Every wedding someone will arrive with a PC and a beamer which has to connect on the soundsystem. Cables to connect … he what do you need cabling for that. How will you power that beamer in the middle of the room … ohhhw didn’t think about that do you have a long power cable.
    Eeeuhm Mr dj do you have a spare power cable I forgot the one of the beamer. Seems like this portable isn’t working with the beamer … Of course sir, you do not use a Mac, you use windows you have got to hit function F5 to get it working. Pffff it’s to small. No problem sir … right click preferences bla bla.

    Hey mr dj we propared an act for the couple we have a synth with us, can we connect to the sound system … no problemo dude just give me your RCA connections … while handing over the midi cable here you go … Sorry sir, you need the the big single plug, like the one on my headphone. Oh I don’t have that one with me.

    … and so on.

  7. Is there a thread available that discusses where one can access the music necessary to handle a wedding gig? Is it necessary to have all the hits from the 1940’s to 2011?

    • I’m not aware of a thread on that subject, but it’s not necessary to have an enormous collection. I have probably 20 or so 1940s standards, a bunch of 50s rock, jazzy pop, and ballads, and classics from every decade. Your best bet is to find some lists of top tracks from the decade or years in question (Billboard is good for that) and trust your ears.

      Find an Internet radio station that plays music from a particular era and jot down the songs that click with you.

      Greatest hits and themed collections are an excellent resource—you can find hits from various decades or themed anthologies to fill any niche.

      You’ll find songs that work well and you’ll use them all the time. For instance, I always play Peggy Lee’s “Fever” for cocktails/dinner, along with some Sinatra, Mel Tormé, Louis Prima, Nat King Cole, and the like. I always get appreciative nods from the older folks, who are often neglected when DJs play only newer music.

  8. I just did four weddings in july. I use to hate djing at weddings…. And now its one of my favorites gigs… It pays well and people came to eat, drink and dance. They just wanna a have a good time. I like the fact that in weddings the event have diferent moods and moments, so you have moments where the music its jazz or cocktail music.. Then the party starts, then its dinner mellow music then you take charge again with the music, then they have “el ramo, la liga” where u can have fun with what u play, and the stars all over. All of this pauses let you jump start the party. I dj in Puerto Rico so I have a lots of genres i can choose from when i play. Djing at Weddings use to be boring, now they are fun. You have to got the music people are always requesting diferents things and in this type of gig you have to play it. Even you tube from an iphone have save me once or twice when looking for a song, its not ideal but gets the job done. Work with the coordinator, for example tell them to dim the lights after dinner… Etc.
    Hey free drinks, food and music, and your gettind paid!!!

  9. dj kevin s says:

    As a party and wedding dj in NYC (US), I completely agree with your article. I have my club persona, and the fun wedding guy. Always scope the venue also, so you can hedge the right equipment in the van

  10. Dj kevin s says:

    … Have the right equipment in the van, even before you get there and have to mucK around with EQ… good luck

  11. Excellent article. Very good summary of what you need to become a Wedding DJ. There is certainly good money in being a mobile DJ at a wedding, as long as your professional and a skilled DJ.

  12. Lars Melger says:

    Adaptability is a big deal. I’ve been a DJ for some really weird weddings. Some of them are fun and I’ve had a good time learning more about different music cultures. I really like Greek and Jewish weddings.

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