In my last blog article, I discussed the “Wedding DJ Opportunity” and why DJs should consider performing in this niche. In this second installment, I will walk you through the important steps necessary to produce memorable wedding performances.
Before breaking down things that you should be doing, listed below are the four biggest performance-related complaints against wedding DJs. Keep these critiques in mind as you prepare for your events:
- The DJ was Obnoxious and Cheesy. A fun and witty DJ entertainer is an asset to a wedding reception. An over-the-top, obnoxious emcee that craves constant attention is not.
- The DJ Played the Music Too Loud. When guests cannot hear one another speaking at the dinner table, the music is too loud. Later in the evening it’s expected that the DJ will pump up the volume. It’s a wedding reception, not a Dubstep concert!
- Inappropriate Music Programming. A wedding reception is a celebration that combines romance with fun. For most weddings, raunchy bar Rock and explicit Hip-Hop is not appropriate. Similarly, most guests will not enjoy four hours of pounding “four on the floor” club music. Rookie DJs who are not well-versed in music history may flounder when they can’t program appropriately for guests who range in age from 8 to 80.
- The DJ Ignored My Playlist. Couples typically prepare a list of “must play” and “play if possible songs.” Many also provide a “do not play” list. Yet, some DJs ignore these client preferences and resort to their preferred set lists and canned routines.
The Pre-Wedding Consultation
I recommend meeting with couples in-person about one month prior to the wedding to review all of their music and entertainment choices. Prior to this meeting, DJs should provide clients a wedding reception planner that allows them to select special songs (like the First Dance, Father-Daughter Dance and Cake Cutting) and also pick songs for dancing later on. There should also be a section to list the members of the bridal party lineup (with phonetic pronunciations) who will be announced into the reception party by the emcee. Regarding wedding reception planners, either develop these from scratch on your own or purchase pre-made forms (hard copy or online) from sources like Pro Mobile DJ or DJ Intelligence
When meeting with a couple, before going into the specific details, I like to inquire about their big picture view. Music is a highly personal experience and you need to have a detailed understanding of your clients’ tastes and expectations. Questions to ask include:
- "What kind of musical atmosphere do you prefer at your wedding reception?" Examples: elegant, understated, modern, romantic, high-energy, indie, dancey, club-like
- "What is the preferred emcee style for your wedding reception?" Examples: classic and slightly understated, with clear professional announcements and motivation only as needed, minimal announcements, interactive, chatty, high-energy, “over-the-top”
- "What are your favorable danceable music genres?"
- "What are your least favorite music genres?"
- "How do you feel about line dancing at your wedding?" Examples: The Cha-Cha Slide, The Wobble, The Cupid Shuffle
- "Overall, is it more important that the DJ executes your entire musical playlist or keeps guests dancing?"
For a comprehensive list of appropriate wedding music, click on my Wedding Music Master Class.
Nailing the Grand Entrance Announcements
The first time that guests will hear your voice on the microphone is for the grand entrance, so you’d better make a great first impression. I like to get guests attention with a phrase like:
“Attention Family and Friends, could I please have your attention?”
Then, I will provide a quick welcome speech such as:
“Welcome everybody to the Old York Country Club. My name is DJ Gregg from Ambient DJ Service and I will be your DJ and Emcee for the evening. How is everybody feeling tonight?”
Assuming that you are working the event solo, you will need to both DJ and Emcee the event. I recommend leaving your DJ booth and making your opening announcements from the dance floor where you can get more personal with guests and make eye contact. With the aid of a wireless microphone, DJs are no longer chained to their mixing board. Working on the other side of the DJ booth (on the dance floor) truly opens up a new world of possibilities, and I strongly recommend it. Out on the dance floor, smile and be confident. Before speaking, take a deep breath and relax.
When it’s time to start reading the names of the bridal party, I will make a statement such as:
“And now there’s some very important people who I would like to welcome to the party. If I could please direct your attention to the double doors at the far end of the room.”
At this point, you can return to the DJ booth and begin playing the grand entrance music as you announce bridal party members into the room. When it’s time to announce the bride and groom, ask guests to rise from their chairs, and then dramatically announce the newlyweds into the room with a phrase like:
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor and privilege to welcome in their social debut, the new Mr. and Mrs. Barack and Michelle Obama!”
I recommend using a clear and professional voice tone with good inflection, but avoiding that big announcer voice that most people dislike.
As the applause dies down from the entrance of the bride and groom, you as the emcee will announce the couple’s traditional first dance together as husband and wife. This will likely be followed by formalities like parent dances, a blessing, and toasts to the bride and groom. As the emcee, you will continue to be in the spotlight as you set up these moments and hopefully deliver smooth transitions...
The Importance of Smooth Transitions
As the emcee, one of your important jobs is to keep the wedding reception program running smoothly, telling guests what is happening and what will happen next. Absent smooth transitions and a command of the room, the wedding will feel disorganized and reflect poorly upon you. Extended dead air is your enemy as it will suck energy from the room and leave guests wondering what they are supposed to do next.
I recommend using scripts that help you navigate each step of the reception. For example, after the toast, I will say something like,
“Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our opening ceremony. Your salads will be served shortly. Please enjoy your table conversations, and we’ll be opening up the dance floor in a little while.”
The music mix should also transition smoothly to match the various events of the reception. During appetizer courses, the music should be softer so that guests may enjoy their conversations. In between meal courses, increase the volume and introduce some mid-energy dance sets to get some guests dancing or at least tapping their feet. Some of my favorite opening dance sets include 80s music, Reggae, Disco, Motown or mid-tempo Pop music. I generally recommend reserving the higher BPM dance material for after dinner.
On the East Coast1, it’s customary to open the dance floor prior to the main course. Ideally, you can pack the dance floor and get the energy level very high before reluctantly having to kill the dance floor so that the main course can be served. A great opening dance session sets the tone for even greater things to come later in the evening and demonstrates that you are an awesome DJ!
For the entrees, let guests enjoy their fancy dinners with softer dinner music. After dinner, re-open the dance floor and get the party rocking! Now’s the time to introduce the high energy fare or break the ice with a popular wedding line dance. Every so often, slow things down by playing a ballad or two. The older adult guests in particular will enjoy these moments. A skilled wedding DJ will make all wedding guests feel special by playing music that they enjoy.
Ending on a High Note
As a wedding DJ, acing the grand entrance and opening segment of formal dances is a must. The following, also very important, segment to master is that of the strong finish. Your clients and guests may judge the success of the wedding based upon how they felt at the end of the evening.
Some possible memorable endings to shoot for include:
- A giant circle of guests on the dance floor performing a group sing-a-long to a song like "Sweet Caroline"
- A fist-pumping club anthem to something like Pitbull or Martin Garrix
- A wedding ballad classic like Etta James’ “At Last”
- Having the bride and groom be in the middle of a giant circle of guests on the dance floor. The Emcee then asks the newlyweds to go around the circle with each guest giving them their choice of a hug, handshake, or high-five.
During the final song, Emcees should make announcements during the instrumental break in the song. For example, now is the time to be congratulating the couple, wishing them well on their honeymoon to sunny Hawaii, or coordinating a giant group photo. Make your presence known so that guests will realize that you were a huge reason for the success of the wedding and will receive accolades like, “Best DJ ever!”
Banquet halls generally discourage playing past the end time, but be ready with a short encore song if necessary. Thereafter, it’s time to end the party. Remember the proverbial law of show business, “Always leave them wanting more.” At this time, don’t be surprised by the wave of guests requesting your business card.
Communication Skills Versus DJ Skills
There are a lot of moving parts to a wedding. To succeed, you need to have great communication skills, great people skills, and be aware of your surroundings. At events, pay very close attention to the dance floor action and the demeanor of the bride and groom. Be prepared to solve problems and put out a fire or two during a typical wedding reception.
Even if you’re working solo, with the aid of a wireless microphone it’s easy to leave the DJ booth to interact with guests or strike up conversations. My experience is that people remember a great personality. Be friendly and personable. Don’t be that DJ who just sits back in the booth looking cool. A DJ who mixes well and keeps the dance floor hot is important, but not nearly as memorable as a wedding DJ who personally engages his or her audience.
For more information about how you can become an accomplished wedding DJ, check out my book The Bride’s Guide to Selecting the Perfect Wedding DJ available on Amazon in both hard copy and e-book format.
1. [Let us know what other regional wedding customs you know of in the comments below.]^
Gregg Hollmann, aka DJ Gregg Ambient, is an author, blogger and full-time mobile DJ with a specialty in weddings. Connect with him on Instagram at @AmbientDJs or at his website.