Don’t Hang The Wedding DJ Just Yet

conga.jpgThere was a short squib in yesterday’s Times Online about the decline and fall of the wedding DJ, that institution who passes out the foam Statue of Liberty hats and introduces the bride and her dad’s first dance, in favor of new-technology solutions like the iPod and pre-burned CD-Rs. The piece is, frankly, kind of dopey–is the writer being “ironic”? are there really people who refer to themselves as “Gaz”?–but we figured it would be a great opportunity to check in on the state of the wedding-music scene with our friend Julia Factorial, a DJ who occasionally spins at nuptials. After the jump, an IM interview where she shares her thoughts on the continued importance of the wedding DJ and why an all-Sabbath cocktail hour just might work.

mauraidolator: read this.
xshredheadx: oh man. that’s so sad
mauraidolator: sad how?
xshredheadx: well i mean, to say that the ipod is killing the dj–i wouldn’t want the one described in the article either.
mauraidolator: that’s what i was thinking!
xshredheadx: there is a balance
xshredheadx: one that i was hoping they’d get to in the article
mauraidolator: i just feel like the trend toward ipods (or cd-rs! which i used to dj a friend’s wedding a few years ago, and which i think was really the start of this trend) is part of a rebellion against paying up the nose for a one-size-fits-all solution
mauraidolator: what do you think?
xshredheadx: i say the actual dj is still very necessary
xshredheadx: one of the things i try and get across to couples is that they can’t really dictate the PERFECT PLAYLIST
xshredheadx: it’s impossible, no matter how smart they think they are
xshredheadx: a lot of couples i’ve talked to have tried to micromanage their playlist beyond any level of cheese
xshredheadx: i think they invite these people to their wedding and don’t want them to have a good time
xshredheadx: it’s like…
xshredheadx: i think that couples are so focused on THIS BEING THEIR BIG DAY
xshredheadx: and that everything will be their way or the highway
xshredheadx: i had a bride tell me straight out i wasn’t allowed to play anything her mother requested. just to spite her … you know, like no bob seger or whatever
xshredheadx: but is that mother of the bride coughing up some dough for this BIG DAY? you bet.
xshredheadx: i think modern brides and grooms can be pretty self centered in that respect
xshredheadx: when i sense this vibe from people i don’t take the gig
xshredheadx: that being said, i’ve seen the most fucked up shit work in ways i never though it would
xshredheadx: for example: one couple wanted their cocktail hour to be strictly smiths and morrissey…
xshredheadx: and it wasn’t terrible. it actually worked nicely …
xshredheadx: because it wasn’t at this high-focus time. it was just the cocktail hour
xshredheadx: that’s when i try to get people to highly specialize their night
mauraidolator: but if it had been an all-smiths dance party …
xshredheadx: oh man. terrible
xshredheadx: one other thing–the specialty thing only works when the family is 100% behind it
xshredheadx: i had a couple who wanted nothing but hard rock early on–sabbath, pentagram, that stuff.
mauraidolator: whoa
mauraidolator: sabbath??
xshredheadx: yeah
xshredheadx: it ruled, and the family loved it
mauraidolator: wow. that is awesome
xshredheadx: they were totally cool with it because they knew their daughter and son
xshredheadx: a lot of couples don’t want to do anything traditional anymore
xshredheadx: it’s like they want to get “married” but they don’t want to get MARRIED
xshredheadx: they don’t want the garter belt thing (understandable, kinda weird)
xshredheadx: they don’t want the dollar dance (tacky. i don’t think anyone does this anymore)
xshredheadx: they don’t want the hokey pokey, chicken dance, electric slide (this is totally fine by me, i don’t play these songs.)
xshredheadx: no achy breaky, fine fine fine
xshredheadx: but now, i’ve had people start to say things like,
xshredheadx: i don’t want to dance with my mom.
xshredheadx: i don’t want to dance with my dad.
xshredheadx: i don’t want to announce the cake cutting.
xshredheadx: i don’t want to be announced.
xshredheadx: it’s like–jesus, do you still want people to show up?
xshredheadx: do you still want gifts?
xshredheadx: do you still want to party your ass off?
mauraidolator: right.
xshredheadx: i mean COME ON
xshredheadx: it’s ok to get all freaky with the music
xshredheadx: to be honest, most families won’t even notice
xshredheadx: but the one thing your grandma wants more than anything is
xshredheadx: to see you dance with your husband/wife
xshredheadx: to see you cut the fucking cake
xshredheadx: and so, you should plan those should do those things because to be honest, they aren’t cheesy
xshredheadx: they’re sentimental and PART OF THE WHOLE DEAL
xshredheadx: those are the photo ops, those are the things people stick around for
mauraidolator: so do you think that the personalization craze is just getting out of control, and that everyone basically wants to be a delicate fucking snowflake?
xshredheadx: sometimes.
xshredheadx: people get so wrapped round the axle about their event, they forget what makes weddings fun
mauraidolator: any final thoughts?
xshredheadx: here goes: an ipod doesn’t see your grandma and grandpa sneak away during dinner and dance out on the patio to the strains of some dorsey brothers hit.
xshredheadx: oh man. this sounds so cheesy
xshredheadx: but you know what i mean. all the perfect planning doesn’t make up for someone being there to interpret a mood or to help make a mood happen
xshredheadx: and i also think people take their cues from the person spinning music
xshredheadx: nobody wants to look at a piece of plastic and dance with it
xshredheadx: (unless it’s a jonathan richman record. but that’s a whole other story)
xshredheadx: they want to see a person up there, selecting songs for them. at least, that’s the response that i’ve gotten.

Digital kills the wedding DJ… you’ll be sorry [Times Online, via TDS]
[Photo via Manamanah]

  • PengIn

    If there’s no dj, who are me and my drunk friends going to bribe to play “White Wedding” during dinner?

  • Ned Raggett

    My favorite wedding song moment remains the day my cousin George got married — his wife Pilar is the youngest of the kids in her family, so she already was an aunt several times over thanks to older siblings. Their wedding dance was to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” (admittedly that wasn’t selected by the DJ but he did a great job throughout), and it was a lovely sentimental highlight of course — but made all the better by all of Pilar’s young nieces (age range from about 4 to 7 or 8 years old) seeing their auntie Pilar dancing and deciding to join them by doing a ring-around-the-rosie around them. You can’t plan something like that, ever.

  • Ned Raggett

    Meanwhile, from the original article’s comment section:

    Carol – your article is highly offensive to professional mobile dj’s who I can assure you do not have “tinny sound systems” and “flashing lights”!! I think somewhere you have been extremely misinformed about the services that a professional mobile dj offers.

    They certainly don’t turn up for a gig in jeans!

    Tracey, Shoreham-by-Sea, England

    Another pernicious stereotype destroyed!

  • SBJ

    I was the DJ at a makeup artist friend’s wedding two years ago. She had me play Cat Power’s cover of Sea Of Love for their first dance together. She walked down the isle to Iron & Wine’s cover of Such Great Heights. It was fantastic, really beautiful. When I played Like A Virgin, she and her bridesmaids had A BLAST ON THE DANCE FLOOR. They brought me cake and kept my champagne glass full and they were happy. It was happy.

  • Al Shipley

    I just got engaged and one of the first decisions we made about the wedding was to have an iPod or playlist instead of a DJ. My brother was a wedding DJ for a while, I know how cookie-cutter their selection is and I just don’t see the point of paying more to have less control, especially since, as the groom, music and food are kind of the 2 only things I’ll be as active as the bride about choosing.

    That being said, this post is helpful in illustrating the pitfalls of the iPod approach. I’m definitely going to lean heavy on classic rock/pop/R&B (which will be easy since I love a lot of songs in those categories) and stay relatively populist and predictably romantic with my song selections, along with the occasional indie rock or hip hop that won’t bore or scare the older/younger family members. And maybe for the dance portion I will load up a playlist of reliable party-starters and have a friend take requests and play DJ. But ultimately it’ll just be about picking the stuff we like and not compromising with anything we don’t.

  • the rich girls are weeping

    Well it can’t be all bad if people are still talking about this — there was a similar article in the WSJ around this time last year; I posted about it, even.

  • madktdisease

    Oh, so much I can say on this subject. My husband is a dj who does the occasional non-cheesetastic wedding. No games, no chicken dance, but dancy music that everyone can enjoy, and not just top-40.

    Our wedding was awesome, music-wise. My bridal procession was The La’s – There She Goes, and husband’s was Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies. They’re both about drugs, but who cares. They fit well and my family didn’t know the difference, and my friends know we just really like the songs. We had freestyle and some 80′s, but nothing over the top cheesy. My mother was freaking thinking we’d play all this random obscureness that family would hate since he’s a dj, but it was all pop. The only cheesy song I caved on was the Time Warp, but the pictures were awesome and the old people loved it.

    Our first wedding DJ bolted on us after he got our request list a week before the event (we’d hounded him for months) and handed the wedding off to someone else who, thank GOD, had all our music and had a blast playing it.

  • Diglett

    Smiths/Morrissey cocktail hour? That’s maybe the most fucking genius thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, I’m doing City Hall and Dairy Queen, but that will be my alternate universe fantasy.

  • PeachBeach

    Can I have xshredheadx’s DJ handle so I can make sure not to hire her to DJ my wedding? Seem’s like she’s somehow gotten the idea that my wedding is HER big day. I mean, wtf? I plan to hire a friend who is an excellent DJ because he knows when to listen to the mood of the event and also when to listen to the fucking people who hire him.

  • iantenna

    no amount of technology can replace the mariachi band.

  • DeeJayQueue

    I was just in my friends’ wedding party a month or so ago. He’s a graphic designer and she’s an English teacher. He designed and printed mix CDs as table gifts. The DJ played cuts from the CD over the course of the night. The wedding party was announced to “Hot for Teacher” (So full of win). The DJ played the old standbys, bob seger, tecnotronic, C&C music factory, etc. as well as Glen Miller, some 50s pop, etc.

    The main thing to consider here is that you’ve got 3 distinct age groups at weddings, sometimes 4 or 5. That’s a tough crowd to spin for and hit all the bases without landing a clunker on at least a few people. You play some old Patsy Cline for the parents/grandparents and the tweens/teens/kids aren’t even going to know what’s going on, but put on Sexyback and all the adults sit down. It’s tough.

    If I were ever able to marry, I’d probably want a pretty hip DJ, and I’d work with him instead of dictating which songs to play when, just put in some suggestions.

  • Anonymous

    Every DJ’s argument against the itunes wedding that I’ve heard has been the same: “We’re the only ones who can INTERPRET the MOOD” – if that’s the case, why has every wedding I’ve been to in the last year had the EXACT SAME PLAYLIST? Was EVERYONE in the mood to hear “YMCA,” “I Will Survive,” and “Hot, Hot Hot?” If so I can put those on the playlist myself, thanks.

  • MameDennis

    Amen, Peachbeach!

    Isn’t it lucky that all these couples have a professional DJ to let them know what they *actually* want to hear. (Guess what–it’s “Celebration”–THREE TIMES!!)

    This made me utterly determined to go the iPod route. Or, better yet, go to Vegas.

  • SBJ

    It’s so gross to hear what dipshits DJs can be! I would never dream of dictating a regular club night that way, much less a freaking wedding.

  • Mr. Kim Gordons Panties

    Screw that. I’m hiring a band if I ever knot up. DJs are awful and play the same crap at every wedding but an iPod is no better b/c it screams that you’re cheap. My buddy hired a Polynesian Elvis impersonator for his nups and the guy is supposed to be awesome. Can’t wait.

  • Rob Murphy

    I used to work for a DJ service and have played numerous “special events” such as birthdays, anniversaries, holiday parties, etc., and yes, several weddings. I was “trained” to play weddings by exactly that DJ [Gaz, or whatever his name was] who was discussed in that piece. Yes, some of his antics were too cheesy for my more-laid-back style, but he was very experienced, and he did know how to make the event fun and lively for everyone.

    The only wedding I ever played by myself came after I left that service and went independent. It was my best female friend’s wedding. She’s somewhat of a control-freak when it comes to any “event” she’s putting together, and she asked me to play the wedding because she knew I would give her exactly what she wanted. I told her if she wanted to she literally could program the whole playlist — I knew how the event would break down time-wise, and I was able to estimate how many songs she could have during cocktails, dinner, and dancing. So she did put together a list of must-plays, please-plays, DON’T-plays, and general discretional guidelines on requests. I think every song I played save 3 or 4 came from her lists of must-plays and please-plays. Sure, she could have copied that to a CD-R or an iPod, but she appreciated having me there “as a professional” who could handle the announcements and field the requests — and also to look like that “person” who was “selecting” music to “create a mood” [which I was doing, of course]. Oh yeah, she and her now-husband have musical tastes [jazz-and-vocal-standards and 70's-and-80's-pop-dance-canon] that fit perfectly with the crowd [late-30's and older], and everyone had a great time.

    Rambling, I know. I guess my point is, every wedding, and every couple, are different, and sometimes the cheesy DJ is what works best, and sometimes the pre-recorded playlist is what works best, and lots of times what works best is somewhere in between.

  • xshredheadx

    To clarify, when I said the Smiths / Morrissey cocktail hour was
    “fucked up” I meant that in the most “Right on!” of ways possible. It
    is my pleasure to spin for my clients (the majority of whom are
    friends, and are not of the variety mentioned above. As stated, I don’t
    take the job if I don’t see a good fit.) In the end, it is the bride
    and groom’s big day for them to plan as they see fit. If they ask for
    suggestions, I let them know what has worked in the past or what
    hasn’t. It’s up to them to decide. Hopefully they plan an event that
    their family and friends will cherish for many many years. Best of luck
    to any of you out there planning your big day!

  • Feh Am Legend

    @PeachBeach: Granted I got lost in the haze of the IM chat, but that’s not the vibe I got. But amen to your approach.

    No matter how top anyone’s music taste may be, the be-your-own-dj approach is always a serious gamble. First, an iPod is gonna sound like ass cranked through a reasonably decent PA, so those cool limewire snagged bluegrass love tunes are gonna sound like a 3rd generation cassette held up to a microphone. And there’s no way to burn a mix that can gauge a crowd. And if Uncle Joe wants to listen to a big band tune – not the Cherry Poppin’ Voodoo Zippers or Sun Ra – or your Aunt’s best friend wants to whoop it up to some overplayed disco hit, why not let them feel like they had a good time? You can still have your special moment to the Garden State soundtrack or the Bad Seeds or whatever, but people need to give up some control. *It’s your wedding* – everyone is already paying attention to you.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s all about communication. Don’t just go with the first guy you find, take the time to interview them (as you would with a photographer or a caterer, etc.). I talked to three before finding one who seemed to understand what we were looking for. Plus, you give him a list of requirements and a list of “absolutely nots” and go from there. It’s pretty unrealistic to think you don’t have family and friends who would like to hear a request and a little bit delusional to think that you are capable of planning a perfect four hours of music. I’m sure you love your taste, but consider there will be other people there. Besides, who’s going to man the iPod? That can lead to fighting, needless fast forwarding, and ultimately chaos.

  • PeachBeach

    “Garden State soundtrack or the Bad Seeds or whatever” Eew, dude. No but I see what you’re saying. Trying to micromanage every last thing that happens is a bad way to go, for sure.

  • Anonymous

    @digitallofi: I think people get a little crazy with this “What if Aunt Martha wants to hear Frank Sinatra” argument. Yes of course you have to plan a list that takes into account a variety of time frames and tastes. Beyond doing what you can in that area, if Uncle Joe wants to hear Tommy Dorsey or my Aunt’s best friend wants to hear “I Will Survive”, they can just simmer down and have another drink. Yes I’m going to say it – It’s MY wedding, and I’m paying a buttload for it – I’d like to enjoy the music. That doesn’t mean I don’t take others into account, just that I choose music from those genres that I’m not sick to death of or that I actually like. If the music is danceable and people like to dance, they will.

    And again, if DJs are so flexible about Uncle Joe’s big band requests, why is it that the only big band tune I ever hear at weddings is “In the Mood?”

  • Chris Molanphy

    @PeachBeach: It may not be the DJ’s day, but technically it’s not “your day” either – Miss Manners or any etiquette coach would tell you it’s actually your guests’ day. As a bride/groom, you’re basically the host of a massive party with an array of guests you want to make happy. Express yourself, yes. Don’t be generic, sure.

    But tell xshredheadx to go jump in a lake because she’s trying to triangulate between your tastes (which should be paramount, yes) and your guests’? That’s a sign that someone’s fallen prey to the Wedding-Industrial Complex – and the worst of the last quarter-century’s selfish, “It’s Your DAY!!!” hype.

    DHMBIB has exactly the right idea. I’d hire him (her?) in a heartbeat.

    Having already done this, however, I won’t be needing a wedding DJ. We hired a good one in ’04 from Philadelphia’s No Macarena, told him generally what to play and what to avoid at all costs, and left him the hell alone. Here’s a pre-wedding blog post; comment #10 is my postmortem.

    P.S. to @KimGordonsPanties: I’ve heard great wedding bands, but they’re way more expensive than DJs, esp. the good ones who won’t murder “Love Shack.”

  • Ned Raggett

    It may not be the DJ’s day, but technically it’s not “your day” either – Miss Manners or any etiquette coach would tell you it’s actually your guests’ day.

    I’m eloping. (Now to find someone to elope with.)

  • goldsoundz

    The easiest way to make everyone happy is to play lots of soul. No one outside of a Klan wedding is going to complain about pumping the Stax and Motown classics.

  • PeachBeach

    @dennisobell: Uh, if weddings were about the guests or ANYONE besides the bride & groom then why don’t the guest’s pick the bridesmaid dresses, their own seating arrangements, what to bring as gifts instead of picking from a registry as well as the music? C’mon. Maybe it’s about everyone, but it’s an event to celebrate the bride & groom coming together in holy matrimony. They actually say that in most Christian wedding vows. So why the heck are people getting all defensive if, as the bride, I want to hear certain songs on the dancefloor that are meaningful to me and the groom?

  • PeachBeach

    @goldsoundz: Amen!

  • the rich girls are weeping

    @iantenna: word up. mariachis all the way, people.

  • PengIn

    @goldsoundz: I would welcome you to test your theory out here in the midwest. I’ll be in the car with the motor running.

  • Juancho

    @PeachBeach: The wedding ceremony is about the couple. The reception is for the guests.

  • Chris Molanphy

    @Juancho: Ding!DingDing! Thank you.

  • Cos

    @PengIn: I’ve been to several weddings in white, suburban Chicago and they’ve all been quite heavy on the Motown. Ever heard of a movie called “The Commitments”?

  • jesspgh

    I agree, goldsoundz. All soul and some funk for good measure is the way to go.

  • Silverfuture

    @DeeJayQueue: If you’re trying to please all of the different age groups at any particular wedding, it’s really not that hard. All you need is Jive Bunny’s “Swing the Mood” or whatever it’s called. You get the swing, the fifties music, and a mash-up all rolled into one. How can that be wrong?

  • PengIn

    @Cos: Suburban Chicago is hardly the midwest I’m talking about. Come on down to Bloomington, IL and points south.

  • mike a

    For my wedding, my wife and I had a low-key jazz trio play. Everyone was happy. It augmented the casually-elegant atmosphere we were shooting for, was cheaper than a cover band, and eliminated the generational problems with programming mix CDs or hiring a DJ.

  • Trackback

    This is how we do it This week, a weirdly snarky little Times piece and an Idolator follow-up both wondered about the plight of the wedding DJ; a Wall Street Journal article did the same thing a year ago.