As the end of the wedding season 2008 is moving in on us, I felt it was time for another installment of Wedding Dreams & Nightmares. This is about mistakes brides make and they could have prevented if only they had listened... And because there is so much to dish about, this is a series. Last time we wrote about hairstylists from hell and also interviewed the fabulous hairstylist from heaven, Ashley Riddle.
No other wedding vendor sees everything that the photographer sees. We are there all day ~ from the make-up in the morning thru the clearing of the tables at the end of the night. Photographers seriously have the inside scoop on other wedding vendors. Oh -- and we have the pictures to back it up. : )
Today, we're groovin to the beat. Today's topic is disc jockeys.
In doing the research for this blog, I noticed there really isn't much out there to guide brides (or other folks shopping for a DJ) on how to hire a DJ or what questions to ask. Being a photographer, we're accustomed to clients showing up with lengthy lists of "must-ask" questions from the Knot designed specifically to help brides interview potential shooters. In one hour online, I couldn't find any such list for DJs. What gives with that? I can tell you firsthand, there are some incredible Dream DJs out there ~ and some downright disgraceful Derelict DJs, too.
What is so bad, you ask? How could playing music get screwed up? Well, try this one on: We were at a wedding where the DJ took off his shirt (bare chest - hairy belly and all) and starting spanking the bride's bottom in the middle of the dance floor. Nathaniel & I exchanged glances... just waiting for the groom or the bride's dad to start throwing punches. Flip to an elegant wedding at the Belvedere. Very posh, very upscale. And when it was time for the bride and groom to cut the cake, the DJ puts on "My Humps" by the Black-Eyed Peas. He hadn't even noticed the couple had started cutting the cake. You should see the photos of their faces and the faces of folks behind them.
These are just a few offerings from our archives of the many Derelict DJs we have had the bad luck of working with.
Enter John Paul Berry. He is a DREAM DJ. John Paul is the vice president of Absolute Entertainment and has been in the DJ business for more than a decade. We love working with him. He stopped by this afternoon and I interviewed him for this blog. (Thanks for your time, John Paul!)
"People come in and ask me if I have blow-up toys and props, if I talk into the mike through songs or jump into all the pictures and my only comment is 'Who are these people?' " he said.
According to John Paul, all of his clients have a pre-conceived notion of what they are looking for in a DJ. Do you want a party-starter? Do you want someone who isn't going to talk at all? What's your fit?
"My style is to be more of a coordinator at the wedding," he said. "I am running the reception and creating a customized event where the music itself will be a reflection of the bride and groom to their guests. That's what keeps it interesting for me. If I had to roll out the same canned set of songs for 60 weddings a year, it would be boring."
John Paul does the booking for not just his own shows, but also many of the other DJs that are employed at Absolute Entertainment. When someone is shopping for a DJ, he says the right fit is important, and you should insist on a face-to-face meeting at some point in the planning process.
Because shopping for a DJ is a new concept to me, as well as to most brides, I asked what people should be looking for. It’s clear there are no standards to go by, and it’s difficult to know what someone’s style is like from a website or phone call.
“It’s hard to say how you can know a good DJ from a bad one, because there are DJs out there who are just going through the motions,” he said. “A lot of DJs are meeting clients at coffee shops or bookstores with their laptop and it’s really hard to get a feel for their style in that scenario. You have to wonder if you’re comparing apples to apples when you’re meeting with people.”
John Paul always does a live mixing demo at his office when he meets with people. He thinks it’s an ideal way for clients to see him in action and get a feel for how he plays music. And because DJing it his full time business, John Paul devotes a good deal of time to keeping up with technology and new trends.
“We’re getting more into wireless systems now, and the lighting we can offer is great, too. I just saw pictures from a wedding where they used our dance floor lights and it looked very chic and sexy,” he said.
Talented DJs are in high demand in the wedding, party and corporate worlds ~ so even though magazines say 4 to 6 months before the Big Day is the ideal time to book a DJ, you should not wait if you want to get a Dream DJ like John Paul. During busy months, like May, June, September and October, good DJs can book a year or more in advance for Saturday nights. For example, John Paul booked two of his weddings for October 2009 in August of 2008. If your wedding is during an off-month/off-day, you may have a little more flexibility and still may be able to get a great DJ 4 to 6 months before your event.
One of the most common things associated with wedding DJs is the play list. We’ve been at weddings where brides were so strict with the play list that songs were looped two times and no requests from guests were allowed. Needless to say, that’s not fun for anyone but the bride.
John Paul suggests that requiring too strict of a play list is like handcuffing the DJ.
“What happens if the song doesn't fit the audience? I like to have a play list, I tell my brides I’ll use it as a guide. I tell them circle things you like, put stars next to songs you love and cross out the ones you hate.”
The don’t-play list is more important to him, he said, than the do-play list.
“Based on my experience, I can know what the couple will like. But this is the United States, the melting pot of the world. I need to be able to make everyone happy and play the music the guests will respond to. It’s important never to tell a guest that the bride thinks their song request is lame or corny. If a guest makes a request on the bride’s don’t play list, I allow them to make another selection off the bride’s favorite list,” he explained.
Because America is a melting pot, many DJs are faced with blending cultures at an event. This takes experience, finesse and education to pull off. And we’ve seen inexperienced DJs totally flop at this very thing. At weddings where there was a meeting of two cultures and one was exotic, like Turkish or Vietnamese, a DJ who can’t successfully balance both traditions will not keep the guests engaged.
“At (Absolute) we love doing multi-cultural events. It’s an exciting challenge to put together a reception that will truly please everyone,” said John Paul. “ Saying ‘I’ll play some Latin music’ is about as descriptive as saying ‘I’ll play some American music.’ What does that mean? American music is as different as country to metal. It’s not different in other cultures. You can’t stereotype it by saying ‘Oh, Latin music – sure, I’ll play some Ricky Martin.’ ”
Our final question to John Paul and one of the worst things we’ve seen at weddings… iPods. Nathaniel & I have been to several weddings this year where there was no entertainment of any kind but an iPod plugged into a dock with speakers. Inevitably, no one dances or gets into the reception at all. Frequently, guests leave early.
“An iPod wedding is one of the worst things you can do,” he agrees. “What happens is that it’s difficult to manage playlist, your iPod doesn’t make announcements or run your party for you. You just can't predict the people at any reception. Every wedding, every crowd is different.”
In closing, you must find a Dream DJ for your wedding. Do it for yourself, do it for your guests, do it so your grandma is not subjected to "My Humps" when you cut your wedding cake. Find someone you trust, someone you feel in tune with. Someone who will take care of you and your event.
“A good DJ will go far beyond playing songs from a list. They will meet and exceed your expectations,” John Paul said. “I spend the time before an event and do the work so I can really get into the couple's world. I treat each event like the special day that it is for the couple and their families.”
You can find John Paul, as well as his awesome colleagues, Ken and Jason at Absolute Entertainment. They are all three Dream DJs and their company is based in Linthicum. We also adore Chris at Beat2Beat, who is based out of Catonsville.