Maybe you feel that your club gig is constantly short changing you: You may have heard that the wedding industry has lots of money to offer, and I can tell you there is much truth to that. Or maybe you just want a change of scenery. I used to be a former club and radio DJ. I took a decade-plus long break and missed spinning music to a crowd, but I knew that the same old club routine would be a virtual dead end. That’s when I decided to start my wedding DJ business, and within just two years of operation it was flourishing.
There are some significant differences between rocking a club crowd and a wedding venue dancefloor that one has to consider before taking the plunge. In this article, I’ll introduce you to a couple of them so you can decide whether or not DJing weddings is for you.
A preface before we go forward: This article is written for those that have some DJ experience. No matter what setting you play in, you need to have a bit of musical knowledge, some ability to mix songs together, and be at least comfortable with the platform you’re DJing on, whether it’s Serato, Traktor, CDJs or even vinyl. The professional wedding industry is not the place where you would want to begin your DJ journey.
Solo or team member?
If you decide to step into the world of wedding DJs, you have to decide if you want to do this on your own or if you want to join an established DJ business. If you don’t feel like you can get your “sea legs” right away, then maybe starting off with an existing multi-op (a mobile DJ company that hires many DJs) is the best way forward. You may also be mentored by some existing DJs in the industry and gain practical real world experience in the process.
If you decide to throw caution to the wind and start on your own, be forewarned: You’re going to need to think about the “long game” as the first couple years will be a struggle. The investment in equipment, music, advertisements, and even just pacing yourself while still trying to take on more gigs are gruelling challenges. I could spend days talking about the business aspects of this, but that will be for another article.
You are no longer just a DJ
One of the first big realities of being a wedding DJ is that DJing is just one component of a larger service. The couple is hiring you for your expertise not just song selection and mixing, but in how you can interact with the venue and other vendors.
Being able to manage the timeline for the night is one of the critical aspects of being a wedding DJ, and making sure that the venue and vendors are all in sync is just as important. You don’t want to start off, say, a special dance without the photographers and videographers ready, or you don’t want to kick off the cake cutting song without knowing that everything is prepared first.
And let’s not forget, as a wedding DJ you’re going to have to spend time preparing for someone else’s special day. This can sometimes mean lots of hours and even days of planning with the couple and on your own to ensure that all the particulars are managed, that you have all their must-play songs, and that you’re familiar with the day’s programme flow.
Should you MC?
Many DJs double up as the MC. I fit into this category, and I can tell you there some technical elements that you need to overcome. For instance, you need proper mic skills to get the crowd’s attention from behind the DJ’s booth, and you’ll also need to be on your toes when cueing music and fading in and out of tunes at just the right time.
Sometimes you’ll be playing 15 songs, all while calling out names of guests during the party, all within a span of a few minutes! Make no mistake: DJing weddings is no cakewalk, it’s nerve wracking. Remember there are no second chances, no redo, and no rewind button, so if you don’t feel you can work under this sort of pressure you may not want to MC.
Sometimes wedding DJs don’t have to worry about these things I mentioned. Maybe you’ll work for a multi-op and they’ll handle all the event particulars leading up to the wedding. Or maybe you’ll have an MC right beside you handling all mic duties. Maybe the couple you’re DJing for hired a bonafide wedding planner. In that, case count your blessings and spin away.
But at least in my experience, in over 75% of all my weddings I’m acting as a pseudo-coordinator in some capacity. If you do the same, my single best advice is to take notes and stay organised. Calling up and retaining information you have learned between your interactions with couples, vendors, and venues will be critical in having a successful event, and you can take that information and repeat most of the elements and continue to have many successful weddings down the line.
Just remember that every wedding is unique and requires your full focus and attention. Here more than in any other DJing environment, being adaptable and versatile greatly increases your chances for success.
What? I still have to DJ?
Once you accept the idea that DJing may not be the only thing you do as a wedding DJ, reality strikes that you still are the DJ, and you still have to mix great music. There are a few major blocks of music to consider: Ceremony, cocktail, introductions, dinner, and dance.
For some weddings, you may have to break up your dance sets into multiple parts, say in-between introductions and dinner you have a small dance set to get the crowd in the mood. Typically, each block has a bit of a different vibe: For instance, classical at a ceremony, jazzy at a cocktail, soulful at dinner, and action packed for dance.
Being a wedding DJ is an entirely different beast than playing at a club. I remember back in the days when I spun vinyl in the 80s and 90s that you would put together a few crates of your best singles, your surprises, and your little creative pieces to make your set unique. You would typically build up your crowd to a crescendo and hit them with the heavy hitters for the rest of the night.
When you step into the realm of being a wedding DJ you have to remind yourself first and foremost that you are being hired by the couple to be their DJ. They will have specific songs they want to hear and some artists and even entire genres that they don’t. The rub is the crowd may not always be in sync with what the couple wants, so trying to strike the right balance of songs can be very nerve wracking to say the least.
You will also get many, many requests, and they will come from every possible genre, style, and decade. So this means that the days of having a nice tight set with some extra songs “just in case” are out the window. Your library will need to be extensive (say from the 1950s to today) and your willingness to play songs you dislike will be tested.
While some DJs see this as being merely a “jukebox”, as such a task goes against their artistic creativity, being a wedding DJ means the ego must be shown the door. It requires a great amount of skill to mix around different genres and time periods, all while keeping the right vibe and hoping your song selection keeps people on the dancefloor.
One recent wedding I performed at had the couple wanting no hip-hop or tracks past the year 2000, preferring 80s freestyle, disco, and classic R&B. Now you would think this might be a pretty easy set to spin, but the crowd was complaining that they wanted newer stuff (EDM, chart music), hip-hop, and basically a whole bunch of songs that the couple explicitly did not want.
The dancing crowd was pretty light being a Sunday and given the parameters of the playlist, so what do you do? You can go to the couple to see if they will relax their constraints, but if not you should remain focused that the couple is your client, not the crowd. The couple was extremely happy, and in the end that is all that matters.
Becoming a wedding DJ presents some unique challenges that to a club or bar DJ could be a bit of a shock at first. But with the right temperament, that person can have a pretty lucrative and rewarding experience, turning a passion into a successful business and fulfilling career.
• Lou Paris is the owner of Paris Creative, a wedding DJ service in the Hudson Valley of NY. Check out his website.