How to hire a wedding DJ: Tips from DJ Robot E. Lee

You’re not into a live band, really, and you want something more curated and finessed than an iPod playlist. You’re in DJ world now, baby! But you can’t go in blind. Here are the things you need to know, by RVA favorite DJ Robot E. Lee (aka RVANews author Phil Williams).

Photo by: Mark Martucci Photography

You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but here we go anyway: whether you hire a band, a DJ, or plug in an iPod, music can make or break a wedding. The morning after you tie the knot, when your guests wake up hungover in their hotel beds and they say “Wow, that was a great wedding,” I would argue that’s due in large part to whomever you choose for your wedding DJ (and probably also your bartenders).

I’ve been behind the turntables at weddings for many years, and I’m here to offer some tips on how to get the most out of your wedding DJ.

Match the DJ with your needs.

Despite the classic wedding DJ stereotype, there really is a lot of variety out there. Usually, when I hear someone complain about the music at their wedding, it comes down to the fact that what they wanted and what they bought were two different things. Before you start calling around, talk as a couple about what you’re looking for. Something low-key and simple? Crazy lights and a fog machine? Access to every song in history or just a well-curated playlist? Asking some basic initial questions and getting a sense of the DJ’s style will help you make sure you’re on the same page. The #1 best way to find a great DJ is to look back on the great dance parties at weddings you’ve attended over the years–and hire the guy/gal who provided the soundtrack.

As a DJ and human being, I only have the power to be in one place at a time.

Think about where and when you want music.

As you’re touring venues, be mindful of where you’re going to want music playing. Some wedding venues are complicated–this is the ceremony field, over here is the cocktail hour gazebo, 100 yards away is the reception SuperBarn™. As a DJ and human being, I only have the power to be in one place at a time. You may need to get creative with iPod playlists, live musicians, or renting some extra speakers if this is important to you. Your DJ can work with you on these things, but can’t bend space time to move a full rig from location to location in the middle of your wedding.

An informed DJ is a happy DJ.

At a wedding, the two documents that I live by are the timeline of events and the list that tells me how to pronounce all the names in your bridal party. The more accurate these two documents are, the happier everyone will be. I can always adjust on the fly if the father of the bride gives a twenty-minute toast or if there’s a surprise garter toss, but the more detail I have, the better. This is one of those situations where a wedding planner (or at least someone assigned to keep things moving on time) can help. I can’t get up and leave the DJ table for too long and don’t want to interrupt your big day to ask if we should wait to do the cake cutting.

Twenty years later, no one will remember the specific songs you played at your wedding, but they will remember that you put on an epic dance party.

Always remember the dance party.

One of the most fun tasks of wedding planning is putting together a list of songs you want to be played on your big night. Outside the context of the event itself, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in all the songs that have special meaning in your relationship or family favorites–my one piece of advice regarding these songs is to ask yourself “Is anyone going to dance to this?” I’ve seen songs on the bride and groom’s “must play” list clear a dance floor in seconds. One easy solution is to play most of those meaningful and important songs during dinner and save one or two slow jams for the dance party itself. The rest of the songs should be chosen solely for their ability to get your friends and family dancing like crazy.

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Be super clear about your special songs.

The most magical part of the night for you is also the scariest part for your wedding DJ. Your first dance and the dances with your parents are moments you will remember forever–and we really don’t want to screw that up. During a wedding years ago, the groom and his mother had choreographed a special dance for their song, but neglected to tell me that their dance started a full minute into the song they requested. With the groom’s mom looking at me in confusion thinking I had messed everything up, it was easily the longest minute of my entire life. So make sure your DJ knows any intricacies of your special songs–is there a particular version of it you want played? Do you want to fade out at a certain time? Make sure you tell your DJ!

Please, please warn me if Uncle Bob is going to drink too many scotch and sodas and ask to use my microphone.

Anticipate Uncle Bob and his weirdo requests.

Every wedding has an Uncle Bob. He wants to hear some really obscure disco song and will be really disappointed if I don’t have it. Or maybe Uncle Bob really wants to hear “Who Let The Dogs Out?” but you expressly don’t want it played. A newer version of Uncle Bob that has emerged is someone who requests you play some obscure song, looks confused when you don’t have it, and then asks me to plug in their phone and play it from there. Without drawing a schematic of how my DJ rig works, just trust me that it’s a little more complicated than that–and even if it wasn’t, I’m going to tell them it’s too complicated anyway. How you can help me with Uncle Bob is to warn me in advance about any weird requests or provide me a “do not play” song list. Then, when I refuse to play the Hokey Pokey, I have a very valid excuse. Also, please, please warn me if Uncle Bob is going to drink too many scotch and sodas and ask to use my microphone. The more I know, the better I can protect the awesomeness of your wedding.

Take care of your DJ (and he will take care of you).

Wedding tipping protocol is confusing and exhausting. I get it. If you want to tip me, by all means, feel free to do so. I will remember your wedding fondly and think you’re an amazing person. But it’s not 100% necessary in my opinion. In terms of creature comforts during the event itself, talk to your caterer and make sure I can get a plate of food or a slice of cake. If someone can grab me a drink from the bar, even better! Those little details go a long way.

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Phil Williams

In addition to being an amateur Civil War enthusiast, Phil is a musician, beard owner, dance party enthusiast, blogger, technology geek, and spends whatever time is left over working in the advertising industry. He can also be found DJing around RVA as his alter-ego Robot E. Lee.

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