So, you want to be a wedding DJ and you’ve just booked your first gig. Congratulations! At this point, you might be wondering… now what?
One of the big things to remember is that being a wedding DJ is about much more than the music. You’re often asked to play to role of emcee, too, which is an entirely different thing altogether.
The good news is, if all goes well, one wedding can lead to another and, through word of mouth and proper marketing, your business can really take off. In some respects, your first wedding can be the beginning of a long, successful career.
I’m going to assume that, if you’re ready to DJ your first wedding, you’re set for gear and have your client contract and legal stuff all worked out. If you’ve just booked your first client and are feeling a bit overwhelmed with the ins and outs of what you’re actually supposed to do, here are some tips to help you make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
The foundation of a successful event starts long before you ever step foot in the venue. You have to work with your clients to give them the best possible experience. Remember, engaged couples meet with a lot of people during wedding planning – caterers, bakers, florists, photographers. It’s stressful. It’s overwhelming. Try to make their dealings with you as stress-free as possible.
There are a lot of ways to approach this. Some DJs have forms that they ask couples to fill out, others use group chats to share song preferences. If they prefer to communicate by email, oblige them. Try not to add any extra stress. That said, it’s important to make sure you get the answers you need to make the night a success. Ask the questions you need to and clarify when necessary. It’s also a good idea to get everything you discussed written down and verified by the client before the event just to verify that you’re on the same page.
It’s probably a good idea to be upfront with them and tell them it’s your first wedding gig. You might even consider giving them a discounted rate as an incentive to book you but don’t sell yourself short. Tell them about your other experiences DJing so they know you’re not a complete novice but it is professional courtesy to let them know if they’re your first wedding client.
2. Visit the venue ahead of time.
This is really important for a few reasons. First, you’ll see exactly where you’ll be set up so you know if there’s room for all your equipment. If not, you can decide how to proceed. Will you need extra equipment to work with the acoustics of the room? Does the venue have a sound system they require you to use or do you have to provide everything yourself? Will you be near the center of the action so you can keep an eye on everything? Getting a good look at the room tells you a lot and can really help you prepare.
3. Know the schedule.
Typically, a reception goes like this: cocktail hour, the introduction of the wedding party, blessing, toasts, dinner, cake, dancing, first dance, parent dances, dancing, garter and bouquet toss, and more dancing. Some couples change it up a bit, but you can see that events earlier in the reception require you to play more of an emcee role while music and dancing are clustered at the end of the night.
4. Coordinate with other professionals before and during the event.
By this, I mean it’s important to touch base with people like the manager of the venue, videographer, photographer, caterer, and wedding planner and stay in contact after things get rolling. For the even to go smoothly, it really helps if everyone is on the same page. You’ll be the one who knows what’s going on. Photographers and videographers might have a general schedule but the DJ is the one with the mic so it usually falls to you to move things along. By coordinating with everyone else, you’re more likely to give the couple a great experience.
There’s another reason you should try to get along with the people you work weddings with. It’s good for business. If other people in the wedding industry get along with you and like the way you work, there’s a chance they could send you some business your way.
5. Be prepared to share equipment.
It just happens from time to time and, since you’re trying to be a team player, you should just be ready for it. An example of something that happens fairly often is the videographer may ask to use an output line so that they can make a good recording of the speeches. What are you going to say? No? Then what happens is the couple doesn’t have a high-quality recording of the wedding speeches, they blame the videographer, and the videographer blames you for not sharing equipment. Not a good look.
6. Names and titles are important.
Obviously, you need to know the bride, groom, maid or matron of honor, best man, bridesmaids, and groomsmen as well as the ring bearers and flower girls. But don’t forget the mother and father of the bride and groom and any other significant family members, like grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings who aren’t in the wedding party. It helps to make a master list for reference.
7. One of the most important jobs is announcing the entrance of the bridal party.
First, there’s the actual music. Couples have usually thought a lot about this so make sure you consult with them. Sometimes, the bridal party will enter to one song and the bride and groom will enter to another. Couples take this seriously and, in a way, it sets the tone for the night.
Also, it’s really important to get everyone’s name and title right. Consult with the couple about exactly how they want to be introduced. “Introducing the new Mr. and Mrs….” is a pretty standard intro but not all couples want to go that route.
8. Find out if there are any other people at the reception that the couple wants to recognize.
Parents and grandparents of the bride and groom are usually always given special attention, but what about Great Aunt Ida who just turned 101? Cousin Jack, who just returned from an overseas deployment? Any special acknowledgment for guests who traveled from other countries?
9. Is there anything else going on at the reception that you’ll need to announce?
Is there a photo booth for guests? Photo props? Guestbook to sign? Is the bar closing for dinner?
10. Get a lot of input about the music.
No two couples are the same, which you’ll learn pretty quickly. Some love the classic wedding dance hits (think the Electric Slide, Macarena, chicken dance, etc), some hate them. There are couples who are content with providing you only basic rules, such as “no country” or “no hip-hop”. Others have very specific requests, including lists of songs you have to play. Part of being a good wedding DJ is giving the couple what they want. Make sure you have a clear idea of what that is.
11. Remind the couple that the music should please the crowd.
Some people have very specific tastes and want to dictate exactly when you’ll play. It’s helpful to remind them that playing a mixture of genres and styles is the best way to please their guests. After all, great grandma and grandpa might not like the same music as millennial guests who will certainly have different tastes than any baby-boomers. Ultimately, the goal should be for everyone to have a good time.
It’s also a good idea to get permission ahead of time to skip or move on from songs that aren’t doing anything for the atmosphere. If the couple insists on playing their favorite band but no one is dancing or you just feel the room deflate when the music starts to play, you know it’s time to move onto something else. The bride and groom might not. They need to agree that it’s your call when it comes to getting people out on the dance floor again.
12. Clarify whether or not you can take requests.
Let me be clear: you are going to get requests. It’s up to the couple whether or not you can take them. Some will let you play anything their guests ask for, others will ask you to use your discretion about what is and is not appropriate. Occasionally, you’ll be instructed to stick to a carefully curated list. This is pretty restricting but it does take the pressure off you as to how to respond to requests.
13. Get a “do not play” list.
These are songs that you should not play under any circumstances. It could be that the couple just doesn’t like them or they might have bad memories attached to them. For example, you don’t want to play a song that reminds anyone of an ex or someone who has passed away when everyone is supposed to be happily celebrating a new marriage.
14. Make a dedicated playlist for the scheduled, hand-picked songs.
Typically, couples choose specific songs for their entrance, the first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, garter and bouquet toss, and last song. It’s very useful to have these songs ready, in order, so you can play them when it’s time without having to hunt through your library.
15. Get pumped.
You’re basically the entertainment so you need to be energized and enthusiastic. That’s not to say that the newlyweds aren’t everyone’s focus, just that while they’re making their way around the room to greet people, everyone else is chatting amongst themselves waiting to drink, eat, dance, or say hello to the happy couple. You’re their entertainment.
16. Be self-aware.
I know I just told you it’s important to be entertaining but you really have to remember that this isn’t really your show. Don’t try to be a stand-up comedian. Don’t talk too much. Don’t play a character. Just be charming, friendly, and professional.
17. Keep the venue in mind.
A wedding in a barn in the middle of nowhere is much different than one in a posh urban restaurant. How formal are you supposed to be? This applies not only to the words you use and how you speak but what you wear as well. For example, you probably don’t need a tux at a barn wedding. You most likely do for more upscale events.
Make sure you’re able to pronounce everyone’s name correctly. Run through the schedule from beginning to end in your head and try to anticipate anything that can go wrong. The more prepared you are, the smoother the night will go.
19. Continuously monitor the room.
Is there a particular band, group, or genre that clears the dance floor? Has everyone suddenly sat down? What can you do to turn it around? Some good ways to get people dancing are to play a group dance song like the Electric Slide or the Chicken Dance. They’re fun, classic, and it’s a safe bet that some of the guests will dance to them. (Of course, as I mentioned, you should make sure these songs are approved by the couple first. Some people hate these songs.) You can also invite all the couples to the dance floor for a couples’ dance to sort of reset the vibe and get people going again.
One big difference between DJing a wedding and working in a club is the age of the crowd. It’s pretty safe to assume that there aren’t many grandparents or great aunts and uncles at the hottest club in town. At a wedding, though, you have to make every generation happy so throw in some classics from to 50s and 60s, too.
20. Avoid the alcohol.
Yes, there’s probably an open bar but you are at work and you should steer clear of it.
Weddings are long events. From setting up to breaking down your equipment and everything in between, you’re sometimes looking at a twelve hour day. You need food. And water. And comfortable shoes. Take care of yourself.
22. Have business cards available.
If you’re a wedding DJ, you should approach every single job as a chance to get more work. That means do your best, be prepared, and hope for some word of mouth support. If you have business cards available, anyone in the crowd who liked you can easily get in touch to discuss their own events.
Being a successful wedding DJ is no easy task. To be successful, you have to do everything in your power to make the night one that the couple will never forget. This isn’t always easy to do but, hopefully, these tips will help you get there.
Remember, if it’s done well, your first wedding will lead to a second. And a third. And a fourth. And before you know it, you could have a small business that’s thriving. I know, that’s a lot of pressure, but with the right preparation and attitude, it’s definitely within reach.