I came across this question from a few different individuals; “What does a DJ actually do at a wedding?” For those that aren’t familiar with professional wedding DJs it may seem all they do is push a button and play music. Now I can’t speak for all Wedding DJs, and yes there are a number of DJ’s that do weddings that do not do the following and ultimately can sour the experience for many brides and grooms.
While planning music is one of the core functions of the DJ, there is so much more that goes on. Many times the Wedding DJ stands in as pseudo-Wedding Coordinator if the couple has not hired one or if the venue does not provide one. Many times they are also the sound engineer managing all the critical sound and passing that off to other vendors like the videographer.
I would like to give you a glimpse of what I do as part of my Wedding DJ services for my clients, and to some people’s surprise, a DJ starts to prepare for a wedding well before the actual wedding. In fact, it starts on the very first contact.
Getting To Know You
One of the very first things I do when meeting with a new couple is to figure out what exactly you are looking for. What kind of music do you like? Do you want lighting? Would you like to dance on a cloud for your first dance? What interesting things have you experienced at other weddings? All of this information becomes the foundation of determining the things you want, and don’t want, from your wedding.
I then quote you a price and will patiently wait (and gently nag) for you to select your DJ.
Learning The Nitty-Gritty
While the first phase of the discussions gives the DJ a glimpse into what you are looking for, once you get closer to your wedding date the details need to be fleshed out. Typically about 60 days out from your wedding I have a series of forms that will get filled that help me guide some of the key elements of your wedding, from the pronunciation of your wedding party guests to if you are going to have a bouquet toss. I have to admit, the list can be a bit tedious for some, but it’s very important for me to know all the ins and outs so I can help ensure that you have a great night of entertainment.
It is also around this time that I will start to reach out to the venue to find any specifics and guidance. If I am unfamiliar with the location I’ll typically plan a trip to the site to determine things like establishing a line of communication with the venue, equipment placement and if there are any issues with some of the details discussed thus far. I will also reach out to the vendors like the photographer and videographer if I have not corresponded with them in the past to begin our collaboration for your wedding.
Sometimes, More Planning Meetings
So while some planning meetings can be “done in one” the truth is changes happen all the time. Head counts can force changes to the floor plans, musical selections might be altered to accommodate a group of people, you may decide to enhance your experience that you didn’t plan before, the list can go on. I always reach out to my couples 30 days out to see what has changed, and what hasn’t, and see if more formal meetings are required.
It’s at this time that I want the couple to lock in their special songs just in case it takes a while to procure anything. There are times I have literally ordered vinyl from Europe for a first dance where I could not obtain a copy otherwise. So if you have an odd song I suggest getting it in by this time so I can procure it.
Preparing For Your Special Day
Usually the week prior I begin to lock things in place. I go over the details again and again, and if there is a question about a detail that I don’t have an answer to, I am not afraid to ask. I want to make sure that your day is as stress free as possible! I establish all your special songs in specific “crates” of music, clone my hard drive, and make another copy to a USB thumb drive so I have multiple copies of music to play on just in case. I go over all my equipment to make sure nothing is missing. I send the vendors and the venue some of the information I gather so they have a baseline document to work off of. There is a surprising amount of “little things” that I have to check off my list before your wedding day comes.
The Day Arrives
When the wedding day arrives, for many DJs it means workout time and it’s no different for me. I am a solo-run DJ business which means I put all my equipment in my van, drive, unload, setup, test, perform, breakdown, drive home, and unload. If you are doing a ceremony as well I have not one but two separate systems to setup and configure. Once setup and everything is tested out to my satisfaction then the real fun begins.
Playing Well With Others
There are many DJs that are in it for the ego, the adrenaline rush, the need to control everything. For a quality wedding DJ, that ego is checked out. There is no room for conflicting personalities. Everyone needs to be working as a team, supporting each other where needed. This means working with the venue to ensure all the critical points on the timeline are met. This means notifying the photographer and videographer when things are about to happen so they don’t miss a shot. This means if a change in plans happens that you can work that into the timeline to ensure nothing is missed.
The “Clutch Shot”
Making sure nothing goes wrong is always on a DJs mind and for good reason. A photographer can have a bad photo but there are literally hundreds of great shots to choose from, a florist can have a wilted flower or two but it may be overlooked by the remaining stunning assortments, a caterer can have a bad plate of food, but the hundred or more other plates are exquisite; but if something fails with with the DJ especially at those critical moments all bets are off. A Wedding DJ does not get a second chance and they must react at a moment’s notice. If a microphone cuts out a backup is at the ready. A song fails to play and another copy of it is a click away. A tremendous amount of care for your event is given by the DJ to ensure that your entertainment goes as flawlessly as possible.
Managing the Evening
After the vows are taken, the casual conversation of cocktail is concluded, once the last bites are eaten and the last speeches are made then it’s the DJ’s time to shine to play a great set of dance music based off all the discussions you had prior, trying to cross different age groups and styles to make everyone feel included. I take a lot of pride in my knowledge of music and my ability to seamlessly blend, transition, and mix track into track.
For those that have seen the club or party DJ in action I have to tell you, the whole arrangement and vibe is different. The mechanics can be totally different in trying to build up a crowd because after spending two, three, or more hours of not dancing, some people want to jump right into a big dance set. Also knowing how to read a crowd and having an eclectic music background is a must. In one night you could go from club hits, to country, to EDM, to old school Hip Hop, 80s op, 90s House; and as a DJ you have to have a pretty intimate knowledge of that diversity. But the goal is still the same, getting people dancing hard, picking songs that make a guest look at you with amazement; that look on their face at that moment is priceless.
Before you know it the night is wrapping up. The whirlwind of months if not years of planning has drawn to a close. The last songs are played. For the DJ it’s time to pack up and head on home. It’s been a long day but I sure feel damn good that everyone had a great night.
So what does a DJ do? Well the above paragraphs explains quite a bit, there are still even more details that are too mundane to go over. On average I spend about 15-30 hours per wedding “all in” depending on the size and requirements. This also leads into the reasoning on why a professional wedding DJ costs more than a couple hundred dollars.
I hope this can give you a greater level of appreciation of how involved the Wedding DJ is at a wedding.
April 17, 2017 Note: This article was originally published on October 14th, 2015 and I have made a few tweaks to the content to keep everything current and relevant.
Author Biography: Lou Paris of Paris Creative
Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres. Coincidentally Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background.