The Engaged Life #3: How to pick your Wedding DJ

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Church @ Downtown Fullerton – circa 2011

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s article. This week I attempt to tackle how to pick your wedding DJ. While I said I had a fair amount of experience with photography, DJing is something that I have even more experience with. For those that don’t know me personally, I had a decade long career of DJing before retiring around 3 years ago or so. I started as a hobbyist and quickly became a mobile DJ shortly thereafter. I gigged throughout my entire college career, doing both private events and clubs/bars whenever I had the chance. With the way the music landscape was changing, and the fact that I was never too keen on becoming a full-time producer, I ended up deciding that DJing wasn’t a career that could sustain me financially in the long run. While I still have a decent amount of my equipment because I still enjoy it as a hobby, I’ve considered myself retired and stopped taking gigs around 3-4 years ago.

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Tapas Bar @ Newport – circa 2008

The most important takeaway is that although my career ended in the digital age, my foundation was in the analog. I’m not sure how old the readership of this article will be, but I was a DJ during the tail end of the vinyl era, where people still carried crates of vinyl records to each and every gig. To say that DJing is something that I’m passionate about is an understatement. I started during a time where the skill and cost barriers to entry were staggeringly high. Even if you could afford the equipment, it would take you months before you really knew how to use it. There was no “sync” button at the time (not even on CDJs) and literally everything was manually controlled. Special effect units were costly and unwieldy, so most of what sets each DJ apart was their personal skill level.

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Note the USPS crate of vinyl records on the left. OneBeLo Show @ UCI Bren Events Center – circa 2005

I’m giving you an abridged background on DJing because I want to emphasize the level of expectation you should have of your DJ. The sad truth is that DJing has become a saturated market. Anyone with $200 can become a “DJ.” The wedding DJ market has been struck the hardest, much like the wedding photography market. Why? Because it pays the most and the clientele typically doesn’t know much about DJing or photography. Of course, I don’t expect that everyone should know everything with regards to either of those skill sets, but the fact that a majority of people either don’t care or don’t want to learn is why both of these industries are rife with amateurs trying to make a quick buck. #endofrant

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Proof Bar (Get Down OC) @ Downtown Santa Ana – Circa 2009

So here are my steps to successfully book your DJ:

Step 1. Ask what genre are they most comfortable and have the most experience with.

  • DJing Hip Hop and DJing EDM are 2 entirely different skill sets. I love House, especially Deep House, but I HATE DJing it, or rather DJing House “correctly.” EDM has an emphasis on long, smooth transitions that should be undetectable under the flow of the set. Hip Hop has an emphasis on comparatively quick, creative transitions meant to somewhat surprise the listener and maintain a higher energy level.
  • Make sure the DJ you go with is comfortable with the genre you want to play most of the night. If you feel like you’ll have a lot of music requests that don’t fall into the more common genres for DJing, I would err towards a Hip Hop DJ. They will have more transitions up their sleeves to get in and out of songs in a pinch.

Step 2. Find out if they have a way of either downloading requests or getting it on vinyl or CD.

  • Instead of asking what equipment they’ll be bringing, ask how they will be playing any special requests you may have.
  • It’s YOUR responsibility to let the DJ know of your song requests, but it’s HIS/HER responsibility to figure out how to get it played. Make sure they’re able to follow through with this responsibility before booking.

Step 3. Do they MC or work regularly with an MC?

  • The MC/DJ dynamic is something that is often overlooked. Having worked with a number of different MCs, sometimes I clicked with them and sometimes I didn’t. Some of these people were even my personal friends. Just because you’re friends, doesn’t mean you have performance chemistry.
  • Your MC (along with the DJ) is in charge of keeping the schedule moving and energy levels up. You may have a wedding planner, but your MC and DJ are in charge of executing the schedule once the reception starts. Do not underestimate the importance of this aspect of your event.
  • Use this opportunity to find out how many people they have on staff for your event. Ideally, the MC and DJ combo will work to support each other, but it’s not uncommon for a DJ to have an assistant. FEED YOUR VENDORS, DON’T BE A DICK.

Step 4. In the event that you’ve never heard them perform, do they have a mixtape that you can listen to?

  • This should give you an idea of their skill level in a closed environment. If they can put together a cohesive set that you enjoy listening to, you can at least know that they’re at least competent or have an ear for it.
  • FIND OUT HOW THEY MADE THE MIXTAPE. Anybody can go into Audacity, Garageband, or Ableton and make a sick mixtape with enough time. Make sure their mixtape was recorded live. This will help you find out if they know how to perform.
  • I would highly advise against going with any DJ that doesn’t have a mixtape readily available. They don’t NEED a website. A DJ is a performer, as long as he/she has their work somewhere, their head is in the right place. I’d much rather book a DJ with no website but dope mixtape, than one with a really nice website but shitty/no mixtape.

Step 5. If your venue has no uplighting or lighting effects for the dance floor, see if the DJ can provide this.

  • Lighting can make the difference between making your reception feel like a formal gala or a fun party. If you want to set the tone that your wedding is a merry celebration, you’re going to want some sort of lighting solution.
  • A well-placed moving stage light or par light can make a huge impact on the perception of your dance floor. You don’t need a truss system to achieve this effect.

Step 6. Have a talk with your DJ. See how long they’ve been doing it. Find out why they got into it. Befriend your DJ.

  • I guess this point can be applied to any vendor, but DJing is a particularly thankless job. I used to refer to us as the “unsung heroes of the dance floor.” Most people don’t recognize a good DJ until they hear a bad one. That’s part of the job. A good DJ will figure out how to get you on the dance floor and keep you there, all whilst never alerting you of his/her presence.
  • Finding out if your DJ is truly passionate about their work is a reflection on how much work they’ll put in to your event. It isn’t like photography or videography, where the work can be archived and enjoyed anywhere. The performance is it. Your DJ needs to be in it for the artform, or they’ll never progress.

Step 7. Winning

This should give you a rough outline for you to follow if you’ve never had to book a DJ or don’t know anything about it. Here are a few recommendations from me to help you get started.

DJ Wrex – My wedding DJ of choice. He’s a fellow DJ I met years ago while I was in the Hip Hop scene and he was working booths to start Acrylick Clothing. He was always one step above me. When I was doing house parties, he was doing bars. When I started doing bars, he did clubs. When I did clubs, he was on Power 106. I was already super familiar with his work, but his mixtape page is exactly what I meant in Step 4. He’s also worked tirelessly to become a one stop shop with his connections in the industry. If you want a pink elephant for your wedding, Wrex knows how to get it.

DJ Buddy – Chances are,  you’ve been to a DJ Buddy wedding. While Wrex has immense DJ prowess, Buddy is the jack of all trades. If you want your DJ to also be your MC, this is the easiest decision you can make.

DJ Roial1 – Roial1 is another personal friend of mine. I became a fan of his at More Fire Mondays in Riverside, but didn’t ultimately befriend him until he became a resident at Florentine’s Bar in Downtown Fullerton a little over 10 years ago. Admittedly, he is more of a club DJ by profession, but he still does weddings by request. He rocks parties for a living, need I say more?

Once again, I have to say that I’m not getting paid to promote any of these guys. These just happen to be the guys that I would enjoy sharing tables with (in DJ-speak that means working the same gig).

If you have anything you want to add, comment below! Or, if you have any questions or need more help, hit me up at therelationshipodcast@gmail.com.

-Drey  // DJ Indoe

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