21 Things the DJ at a Wedding WON'T Tell You (but really, really wants to)

The day after Independence Day, I was hard at work as the DJ for a wedding reception in downtown St. Louis. The day gave me a taste of a fairly unique crowd -- the bride and groom were in their early 30s, their parents in the mid-to-late 50s. Of course, there were friends and family members, and friends of the parents, and there were also about 40 kids under 16 in attendance. About 200 in all.

Whenever I work a wedding, I go the extra mile as often as I can. I greet people when they enter the room or the venue, and I'm always dressed in a tuxedo unless my clients specifically tell me not to. If people need to know where the gift table, cake table, restrooms, photo booth, or other amenities are, I keep that information in mind so I can tell them. Then during dinner, I walk table to table and let people know that I'm open to dance requests, and I will take them down if they have one in mind. In other words, I do things other DJs won't do because I want to be remembered by the people in attendance. If I'm remembered, I'll get more bookings. More bookings, more money.

The table-to-table request hunt is one of those things that most DJs don't do, and it's one of the reasons people are impressed with me -- most people have never seen it before. I'll admit, this can be potentially dangerous, because there are always the smart-asses, the blowhards, and the jokesters that ask for asinine songs, such as Skynyrd's "Free Bird", Billy Idol's "White Wedding", Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold", and of course, Iron Butterfly's "In a Gadda da Vida".

As if I've never heard these requests before, and oh my Lord, that's hil-AAARRRRR-ious, sir, how DO you come up with such wit?

Other times, I'll get sincere requests that people think others will dance to simply because they like it themselves, but that generally clear the dance floor.
Sisqo's "Thong Song", which is always requested by an early 30-something smug-faced guy who ends up dancing to nothing that night.
Billy Ray's "Achy Breaky Heart".
"Royals" by Lorde.
The dreadful "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Better Midler.

This night, my table request routine was the start of an interesting conversation in the vein of the latter category of songs.

I approached a table where several people, a few years younger than I, and pseudo-hipster looking, were seated and conversing. I asked if they had any songs in mind they would like to dance to, and one gentleman to my right with funky clear-rimmed glasses said, "Yeah. 'Meeting in the Ladies' Room'."

I thought this was a joke, so I played it off like one. "Actually, I'm not going in there for anything tonight, but we can meet over in the photo booth."
The man looked at me with all seriousness and said, "No, that's the song."
"That's the name of the song?" I said.
"Yeah."
"'Meeting in the Ladies' Room'?"
"Right," he answered.

There are still times I'm schooled on obscure or long-forgotten songs I didn't know the titles of, but this one didn't ring a bell at all, and I told the gentleman that. "It's a good dance song," he said, which I can NEVER take as objective truth when someone tells me about a song I've never heard before.  But I wrote the song down, and said I'd look it up.

"Anything else?" I asked.
"Yeah," chimed in the same man. "Vibeology."
"Vibeology," I repeated, eyebrows raised in surprise. This one I knew, but I hadn't it since I was in high school, probably because the Paula Abdul song has no staying power. Also probably because Paula Abdul had become more of a joke since her stint on American Idol. As a result, her music doesn't get requested by anybody.
"Yes," he said.
"Okay, I don't think we have that one, but I'll check it out."
"You should play it," he said. "It's a good song."
That's debatable, I thought.

Throughout the night, I got a lot of requests that spanned several genres, from Motown to country, EDM and back again. There was no shortage of suggestions, especially from the under 16 crowd. I did my best to play a variety of styles. With one or two exceptions, every song I played was a request, and every song got people on the dance floor. I checked in with the bride & groom a couple times to see if they were doing okay, and to see if there were any songs they hadn't heard yet that they wanted me to play. They were enjoying themselves, and everyone else seemed to be having fun, also. No complaints.

Fast forward to Monday morning.

I received an email from our offices that had been forwarded to me with the subject line "Forward to Zack 'Attack'". That's my DJ name. And no, I didn't steal it from Saved By the Bell, so knock it off. But the staff member that forwarded it to me simply wrote "SEE BELOW" and nothing else.  So I read the email...
Hey there!
The bride - born 1981.
The groom - born 1981.
Most of the friends, same age. Most of the family, same age or older.
"Meeting in the Ladies Room" by Klymaxx, released 1984, peaked at #4.
"Vibeology" by Paula Abdul, released 1991, peaked at #16 on hot 100 but
#1 on dance charts and internationally.
These are not obscure tracks. These are the songs of our generation.
Don't take requests if you can't handle ones for top charting tracks from
the prime era of the guests. When you left our table we were all saying "I
guess we should have asked for Katy Perry, Lady GaGa or "Thriller"." Was a
real bummer.
xoxo
The reception that night ended at 11:00 p.m. This email was sent to my company's office at 11:51 p.m. Looks like someone's feelings were definitely hurt.

I knew who the email was from without even having to research it, but of course, I researched it. Turns out this guy has a YouTube channel with several of his videos on there. He claims to be a comedian, but I don't think he's a typical comic, and most of what I saw on a couple of his videos wasn't something I found very funny. Interesting, just not funny. He did mention in one of his videos that he was gay, and from what I've experienced, many gays and lesbians who have a significant social life enjoy music that most straight people do not (this is a blanket generalization, by the way, and knowingly does not apply to EVERY gay person out there). So I didn't really feel bad for not playing his requests.

I also didn't feel bad because I didn't get any other requests in that vein. Sometimes you have to weed out the odd requests and go with the ones that will work for most people.

Now, normally, if a guest makes a complaint, I'm not really concerned about it. They were invited there to share in the celebration of 2 lives starting a new marriage, and their food and drink were paid for. But just because the bride & groom and their families thought to invite them doesn't mean they have any kind of final say in how the evening goes. Still, the guy took the time to write, and even though he was slightly snarky in his email, I thought it would be a good idea to respond in the most pragmatic manner possible.
I'm sorry I wasn't able to play your requests this weekend. My job as a DJ is to feel out the temperature of the entire room, of the guests as a collective, and determine from what's getting people on the dance floor -- as well as the requests I've been given from my clients and the guests throughout the evening -- what songs would be the best to play throughout the night. 
My surprised initial reaction when you gave me your requests was grounded in experience. I am indeed familiar with the Paula Abdul song -- I was in high school when it was released, and I remember it disappeared from the pop charts pretty quickly. And even though I grew up as a child of the '80s, I have to admit I'd never heard the Klymaxx song, as I generally didn't listen to R&B radio from the 1980s. In my 19+ years of experience as a DJ, I've learned that there are certain songs that tend not to work with most crowds unless several people are requesting something similar. I wish I could tell you that "Vibeology" and "Meeting in the Ladies' Room" are popular requests with a lot of the crowds I work with, but they're not. I also wish I could tell you that I received a lot of requests for songs or genres that were similar to what you had asked for, but I didn't. In fact, Saturday night was the first time I'd been asked to play either of those songs since I started as a DJ in 1995.
I'm sorry you felt ignored because I didn't play the songs you'd asked for, but that honestly wasn't my intent. There were about 2 dozen other requests that I also didn't have time to play that night.  There were even songs people asked for that I knew would not be great dance songs, so I played some of them during dinner. In fact, every song I played once the dance floor opened, with the exception of maybe 1 or 2, was a request from someone in that room, including [the bride and groom]. Due to our time restrictions, there were some great dance tunes and very popular songs I simply didn't have time to play. Also, I always give priority to requests given to me from the bride & groom, their parents, and members of the wedding party -- if they ask for it, one way or another, I'm going to find a way to play it, because the event centers around them.
My barometer for how well the evening is going is based on two things: 1.) Is the dance floor moving, and are people responding to what's being played?, and 2.) Are my clients having a great time? By those two measures, the evening was going very well, and they told me as such more than once before the night was over. If you had approached me at some point to reiterate your request, as people often do, I could have downloaded the songs to play them for you, as they are not in our company catalog. There are times people ask for songs because they only want to hear them, not because they want to dance to them, and sometimes badgering the DJ lets us know that they really want to dance to what they'd asked for. That can work out in your favor.
Again, I'm very sorry I couldn't accommodate your request Saturday night. There's always a part of me that feels bad when I can't play a song someone has asked for, and it doesn't matter if it's someone my age, a grandparent, or a 10-year-old kid. Sometimes you have more requests given to you than you have time in the night to play them. I hope you'll accept my apology, and I also hope you'll keep in mind in the future that if a DJ hasn't played your request, there may be a legitimate reason for it, and that it's nothing personal -- just part of doing the job. 
Thanks for your time, "Charlie". Have a great day.
...and of course, my email signature includes my cell number and the fact that I'm a #1 ranked DJ in the Greater St. Louis area, and have received the Most Valuable DJ Award both in 2008 and 2013. Because of course, I had to show my hand and rake in the pot.

Here's the thing -- I really didn't need to respond to his email. It wasn't up to "Charlie" whether or not the bride and groom were satisfied, and my performance wasn't judged on his opinion of me. But everything I wrote in my response was absolutely true.

However, my response required a lot of editing. I figured it wouldn't do either of us any good to refute his claims, as I didn't want to start an email argument. So I was very specific on what I should and shouldn't say in my response.

For instance, I didn't say in my response that I never played any Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or "Thriller" during the night, as sure as he and the others at his table were that I would.

I didn't say that he had his information wrong about the Klymaxx song, even though he did -- while it peaked at #4, it was on the R&B charts only. The Billboard Hot 100 saw it go only as high as #59.

I didn't say that he got his information wrong about the Paula Abdul song, either -- it never hit #1 on any international or dance charts, according to Wikipedia. #3 in Canada, and #2 on the Billboard Hot Dance MaxiSingles Sales chart (which is not airplay), but not #1.

I didn't say that the Klymaxx song was released in 1984 (when the bride and groom were 3) and that the Paula Abdul song was released in 1992 (when the bride and groom were 11). I also didn't point out that music someone would call "the songs of a generation" are usually identified by when that generation is in their teenage and young adult years. I'm embarrassed about some of the music I used to like when I was 3, and I didn't have the best taste when I was 11, either. But I wouldn't consider "She" by The Monkees a song owned by my generation simply because I loved it when I was 3.

I didn't say that these tracks were, indeed, obscure. All I would have had to do was play them, and everyone in the room that night would have verified for me how obscure they are. By not dancing.

Of course, that led me to write a response that I would NOT send to someone who complained.  However, since you're all on my side already (at least I hope you are), I'd like to let you in on a few things we DJs know that you don't.

What follows is a list of things that DJs would LOVE to tell you in person, but we won't because you might see them as rude. They're really not meant to be, but sometimes sarcasm is in the ear of the beholder. So while my tongue is firmlyin cheek, understand that everything I'm saying here is absolutely, 100% true.

=====================================================

Dear Treasured Wedding Guests,

Hello! I'm Zach, your DJ, and I want you to have a good time. I really do. My performance isn't set in stone before I get to the venue; instead, I look at the type of people that are present that night.  I notice what you're wearing, how you're speaking, who you're sitting with, and whether or not you have children with you. I use that information to determine how best to communicate with everyone, both on the mic and on the dance floor. And my job is to keep that dance floor moving. If you give me a song that I think is going to kill the dance floor, I'm not going to play it. And I'll apologize to you for not playing it, but here's a secret ... lean in close ...

I really shouldn't have to.

Still, you're not in my shoes, so I'll let you in on a few more secrets we DJs would like for you to know.

1. When I ask for requests, I'm looking for dance music. Please don't give me a request for a song if you're not going to dance to it. In fact, I specifically ask people, "Is there anything that you would like to dance to tonight?" If they give me a song that's not a good dance song, I point-blank ask them if they plan on dancing to their request. Seriously, guys, I'm there to get people to dance. I'll even ask a bride and groom about this if they request a song that has a history of killing the dance floor (sometimes they like it in an ironic sense, or it's an inside joke with everyone in their family).

2. The majority of songs available to me are dictated by a company catalog. Our source of current music only includes songs that are in the top 10 on the pop charts, or in the top 5 on the genre charts. There's a reason for that, and it's simple: PEOPLE WON'T DANCE TO MUSIC THEY DON'T KNOW. Also, all the songs are singles -- I don't have specific albums. Please don't be shocked if I don't have "I don't know what it's called, but it's track 9 on the last Lana Del Rey album". By the way, see #1 for Lana Del Rey songs.

3. I will never play streaming music off the internet or from your smart phone. Some DJs will, but I sincerely care about the quality of sound in the music I play, and too many of the songs out there in the internets are low-quality files, and low-quality files sound even worse when amplified. If there's a chance the song could stutter from being streamed, or if the audio file is low quality, I'm not going to play it.

4. If you want the microphone to sing along to a song, please A) know the song well enough to sing it from memory, and B) don't be tone deaf. I don't care what you do at Karaoke, but I do know that if people wanted to listen to you doing the Karaoke Squawk, they wouldn't be attending a wedding.

5. When I ask what you would like to dance to, please don't say "Music." I swear to God and everything holy that I will turn it around on your smart butt and tell you I'm out of music, and that I'll need you to sing for everyone's entertainment that night.
You're not funny. Stop.

6. If you see me on the mic making an announcement to the crowd, don't come up and start a conversation with me. Please wait until I'm done addressing the crowd. I DO see you and I WILL give you my attention once I'm finished speaking, but if you try to interrupt me while I'm on the mic, that's rude.

7. "Can you play it next?" No. Unless I already have that song queued up -- holy cow, our minds are like, connected and stuff! --  I can't play it next. When I'm playing a song, I'm thinking 2 or 3 songs ahead, so the next song has already been selected and queued.

8. Know the name of the song you want to request, or at least who it's by. I have a database I can search, but if you don't know the name of the song or the name of the artist, I may not be able to help you.

9. "Play something I can dance to!" This line infuriates me because I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU CAN DANCE TO. Personally, there's very little that I can't dance to, and I'm a fat white boy, so you're going to have to be much more specific. And please don't tell me you don't know what you want. Would you tell a bartender, "Make me something I can drink!"? No, you wouldn't. Bartenders take drink orders, I take music requests. Tell me what you want -- if you can't come up with a song you like to dance to, don't approach my table.

10. Control your children. Seriously. I'm not the type of person that thinks children shouldn't be allowed at weddings, but please train your kid to behave well in social settings like this. Some kids are a treat to entertain and interact with. But if your kid comes behind my table and wants to get into everything, I'm going to quickly usher him out because I have all kinds of stuff he can trip over and hurt himself on back here. That's your kid, not mine -- please act like it.

11. If I haven't played your request yet, please don't come up to me and say "You haven't played my song," because it's likely I don't remember which song is yours out of the 50 requests I've been given that night. Remind me of what song it was, and if I plan on playing it. Don't ask me how long it will be before I play it (unless you have to run to the restroom, which is totally legit), don't ask me to play it next, and don't tell me I'm a horrible DJ if I can't give you a absolute yes or no on whether or not I'll be able to play it. Then you're being rude.

12. Don't ask to look at my songlist. First of all, my database has about 10,000 songs, so you could be looking at it for an hour, and I need access that list because I'm working. Secondly, I've learned that when people ask to see the songlist, it's because they either don't know or don't like what's currently being played, and they want to hear something familiar to them. In other words, they're song shopping. 99% of the time, the song they end up picking is one that very few other people know, and therefore, nobody will dance to. Including the person who asked me for it.

13. If your request has a special meaning or significance to the group as a whole, or to the guests of honor, please lead with that information. I never play "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler unless the clients ask for it as a Spotlight Dance, so one night when I was asked to play it, I responded that it might not get played. It wasn't until late in the night, when the same person had asked me for it 3 more times, that she finally explained it was the favorite song of a family member that had passed away recently, and they had all planned on dancing to it at the wedding that night. She could have saved herself a lot of time by telling me that up front, and when she finally told me, I made it happen. It came off as a nice tribute, and the bride even thanked me afterwards and admitted she'd forgotten to ask me to play that song.

14. If you tell me you're getting ready to leave, that doesn't spur me to play your request sooner. Planning a playlist on the fly isn't as simple as picking a song and pressing play -- a lot of thought goes into it. Assuming your request is a great dance song, I have to consider what I've just played, what people have been dancing to, what song I want to play to close out the current set before slowing things down, and what songs I want to use to transition to that point. The song you asked for might not fit in that window. And let's be honest -- if I play your song RIGHT NOW, you may not dance, but you'll still leave.

15. Don't assume you can make an impromptu toast, unless you're the bride's or groom's parents. In fact, I always ask my clients in our pre-wedding meeting, "Is there anyone you can think of who should not be given the microphone under any circumstances?" This, I've found through experience with inebriated guests, is a very necessary question.

16. A DJ's greatest enemy is TIME. Let me lay out the math -- I can play 20 3-minute songs in one hour, or 15 4-minute songs in that same amount of time. That means in a 2-hour span of time, I can only play about 30-40 songs. That kind of sucks when someone wants to hear "Tiny Dancer" (6 minutes) or "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" (8 minutes), because those songs take up pretty big chunks of time, and I might have to put aside something that someone else wants to hear because I'm playing your song. Don't get me wrong -- I'll play your song if it will work for the crowd, but the longer it is, the fewer songs I can play throughout the night.

17. When I've played my last song of the night, don't start chanting "One more song! One more song!" If the party is going really well, I would love nothing more than to keep it going for you.  However, I have a contract that says I end at a specific time, and most venues will not let the DJ play past their end time. In fact, there are some venues that will turn up all the lights and cut the DJ's power if he goes even one minute over the scheduled end time. So if my contract says I play until 11:00 p.m., I time my music selection so that I end RIGHT AT 11:00 p.m. I'm not performing a concert, and I can't play an encore. So when you start in with the One More Song chant, and I have to say "No," it kind of makes me look like a douchebag, through no fault of my own. If you want me to play longer, there is a way to make that happen -- get permission from the venue to extend the party, pay them whatever their fee is to extend, then pay me my overtime fee -- up front. Otherwise, I'm done when my contract says I'm done.

18. Sometimes we have to compete with other entertainment. While having a variety of entertainment is great for the guests, it can be a frustration for us DJs. Photo booths have grown in popularity over the last couple years, but they pull people away from the dance floor, especially if they're located in another room. Even having the bar in another room can mean death to the dance floor. Keeping the dance floor full becomes more of a challenge in these situations, but that also means that if you make a request for a dance song, then get in line for the photo booth or to get a drink, your song might get played while you're in line. Which leads me to...

19. Don't ask me to repeat a song I've already played because you were outside smoking, in line for the photo booth, or in the bathroom. I try to play songs that people have requested when I know they're in the room, but it's hard to keep all those requests straight when there are 350 people around. And if I tell you I've played it, don't get argumentative with me and try to tell me I haven't. Trust me, I've been keeping track.

20. There are times I will have WAY more requests than I have time to play in an evening. On one hand, it's great because that gives me a lot of songs to work with. But on the other hand, it sucks because that means I have to figure out which songs aren't going to do better on the dance floor than others. That also means it is entirely possible I won't have enough time to play your song.

21. There are always exceptions to everything, but they are made at my discretion. For instance, this list is directed to wedding GUESTS, not brides & grooms and their parents, grandparents, or members of the wedding party. If the bride asks me to play a song right away because their grandparents are leaving, and it's their anniversary, then by all means, I'm going to call an audible and make it happen. But I won't do that for just anyone.

Finally, please remember this:
My clients are my #1 priority. As they should be.
Everything and everyone else, including you, is a very distant second.

I said it before, I want you to have a great time, and I want you to be able to dance to the songs you want to hear, because I want everyone to walk away happy that night. But my first focus is my clients, and if it comes down to your requests versus their requests, I'm taking care of my clients first.

After all, they're the ones writing the check.

There Is No Box.
Zach

Comments

  1. Jan Campbell (Mundo/Zabriski)Jul 18, 2014, 1:56:00 PM

    WELL WRITTEN, WELL SAID. APPRECIATED ALL YOU DID FOR OUR DAUGHTER'S WEDDING IT WAS A BLAST! HAVEN'T DANCED THAT MUCH IN A LONG LONG TIME.

    ReplyDelete

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