Not to mention the importance of flower arrangements or an expertly roasted pork tenderloin, but at the end of the day, few things are as important to the wedding experience as the DJ. Except maybe the bride.
To find out the secrets that make grannies like millennials and millennials like grannies dance, we asked an anonymous group of seasoned wedding DJs about the strategies they use to keep the dance floor moving. Read on and you’ll learn why the bride likely hates your “one more song” singing.
Wikimedia / Jobas
85 percent of the guests have to know the song
DJs get out with the deep cuts, but weddings aren’t the place for B-sides (or for DJs who really get out). Even slightly less popular songs by famous artists will fall flat, so you can’t rely on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin ‘Something” to actually start something.
Songs work best when they cross generations
Finding a common denominator between an 8-year-old kid and an 80-year-old aunt can be difficult, but these hybrids are the safest wedding photos. “Gold Digger” is a perfect example because it has a Ray Charles sample for the older folks and the younger audience would enjoy the vocals of the guy who blew Kim Kardashian away.
The genre should change with almost every song
The last thing a wedding DJ wants is to give their guests a reason to request a song. By moving quickly through genres and time periods, you are casting a wide web, the best chance of maintaining a critical mass, and creating a shield against discomfort. Some DJs are so adamant about this philosophy that they organize their music libraries after decades.
The common good is more important than any individual (except the bride)
The aim is to have as many people as possible on the dance floor. This gets complicated when dealing with different demographics because while a number of Motown songs could bring older couples to the ground, they could cause you to lose the younger crowd that Smokey Robinson thinks is a trap producer.
Flickr / John Hope
The bride is the most important person on the dance floor
If she doesn’t feel it, you are doing something wrong. When she senses it, you are immune to criticism.
Inviting guests during the parents’ dances stacks the deck
Three minutes of father-daughter dance can seem like an eternity. A professional DJ platoon consists of asking the bride’s permission to invite others onto the dance floor towards the end of the song. It reduces the tension, but more importantly, gives the DJ a more crowded dance floor to start the action with.
Opening up with a quick song is not a good idea
After the formal dances, it’s intuitive to start the party with a bang, but no matter what you’re playing, no one wants to be the first on the dance floor. Based on the parents’ song gambit, the pro move consists of starting with a slow dance to prepare the ground.
Slow songs are a reset button
Slow songs refresh the audience when a floor loses momentum, as someone’s wife or girlfriend always forces them to dance to “Unchained Melody” against their will.Flickr / Mike Lewis
Older people are the easiest to loosen up, but the quickest to tire
“Dancing out” used to mean more than just pausing between sips of Red Bull Vodka to dry off a stranger. Nostalgia for sock shops and formal dances and fully functional kneecaps aren’t as prevalent among younger generations, so a good wedding DJ understands that this older audience craves a chance to relax like they used to. The downside of this is that older viewers get tired faster, so it’s important to play for them early at night.
Knowing your mother’s favorite song is an ace in the hole
A good DJ knows the couple’s favorite dance songs, but a good DJ also knows their parents’ songs. Pro tip: It’s probably the “Cupid Shuffle”.
Watching the people who aren’t dancing is crucial
Keeping an eye on the wallflowers is just as important as keeping an eye on the party animals. If there is a target audience that is not having fun, it is a DJ’s responsibility to use whatever means necessary to get them onto the dance floor.
Lighting is important
If a room is too bright, people don’t dance. This is true in almost every DJ situation, and a wedding is no exception. You want a room to be as dark as possible, with the exception of some rotating colored LEDs that create a sense of movement.Flickr / Jim Larrison
Inquiries are accepted … reluctantly
Weddings are a situation where DJs are forced to grant requests, but most proposals tend to be self-centered and detrimental to the dance floor as a whole. If there’s a day that it’s not about you, this is it. So before you ask for a polka or something from Tha Carter III, think about the effect it will have on the other guests. The DJ’s primary responsibility to the bride and groom is to keep the mood safe, no matter how hard the groom’s brother wants to prove that he is rapping “A Milli”.
There are a million tricks you can use to dodge bad requests
The best we heard was sending the requester to the bride for approval.
DJs hate playing requests from your phone
Requests are considered far less likely to have to be streamed from a phone, as any self-respecting DJ is suspicious of crackling YouTube rips and LTE networks.
They don’t usually play dirty versions
Almost every pop song has a radio edit version with the swear words removed. Even if the newlyweds demand the dirty version, it’s not worth pissing off Uncle Rick.Flickr / Tony Alter
It pays to be yourself at the microphone
Most people are scared to speak over a microphone, which makes the cheese tail wedding DJ stereotype even more hideous. When there is a need to work on the microphone, a little honesty and self-deprecation go a long way in keeping a lot on your side.
Guests notice when DJs don’t match the keys of the songs
Stringing the tempos of two songs together for a seamless transition is DJing 101, but playing songs in complementary keys is more difficult. Even if guests have no clue about music theory, they can tell when it sounds like someone is hitting a hand on a piano or playing a chord.
There is always a backup plan
If a DJ is playing a song they are not 100% convinced of, the best thing to do is to believe they have another hit ready to be mixed up in seconds later in case it flops.
A two hour dance set should be the minimum
Depending on how much your guests love to dance and how tall your wedding is, two hours should be the bare minimum. Everything else and even the best DJ will have a hard time walking their set.Flickr / John Hope
Announcing the last song is key
People want to know that this is their last chance to come down, but more importantly, it undermines “one more song” chants. DJs hate these because the stop time isn’t up to them: most venues have time limits so the staff can pack and go home. You’re likely to upset the newlyweds too, as most DJs have expensive overtime clauses in their contracts.
Not every audience likes to dance
It’s a dirty secret, but some crowds just aren’t crazy about dancing, so contrary to popular belief, not every wedding features a grandmother twisting her bra over her head in the black eyed peas “I Gotta Feeling”.
You get what you pay for
A good DJ is like a sports car. You may not get all of the horsepower in a wedding context, but what’s under the hood matters nonetheless. Skills like beat matching and deeper musical knowledge aren’t as critical, but they will still set a seasoned DJ apart from an amateur who insists on the “chicken dance”. The dirty version.
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Dan Gentile works for Thrillist. He has put on multiple weddings and hopes his customers get what they paid for. Follow him on Earth, Wind & Fire at @Dannosphere.