Not to discount the importance of floral arrangements or an expertly roasted pork tenderloin, but at the end of the day, few things are as essential to the wedding experience as the DJ. Except maybe the bride.

Supplying musical lubrication for a multi-generational crowd requires a different skill set than any other type of DJing, so to learn the secrets that make grandmas dance like millennials and millennials dance like grandmas, we interviewed an anonymous group of experienced wedding DJs about the strategies they use to ensure the dance floor keeps moving. Read on and you’ll learn why the bride probably hates your chant for “one more song.”


Eighty-five percent of guests need to know the song

DJs get off on the deep cuts, but weddings aren’t the place for B-sides (or for DJs getting off, really). Even slightly less popular songs by famous artists will fall flat, so you can’t count on Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” to actually start anything.

Songs work best when they transcend generations

It can be hard to find common ground between an 8-year-old kid and an 80-year-old aunt, but these intersections are the surest of wedding sure shots. “Gold Digger” is a perfect example because it features a Ray Charles sample for the older folks and the younger crowd would enjoy the vocals from that guy who knocked up Kim Kardashian.

The genre should change with nearly every song

The last thing a wedding DJ wants to do is give guests reason to request a song. By quickly moving through genres and time periods you cast a wide net, have the best shot at maintaining a critical mass, and create a shield against complaints. Some DJs subscribe to this philosophy so adamantly that they organize their music libraries by decade.

The greater good is more important than any individual (except the bride)

The goal is to have as many people on the dance floor as possible. This becomes complicated when dealing with diverse demographics, because while a string of Motown songs might bring older couples onto the floor, they could cause you to lose the younger crowd who think Smokey Robinson is a trap producer.

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The bride is the most important person on the dance floor

If she’s not feeling it, you’re doing something wrong. If she is feeling it, you’re immune to any criticism.

Inviting guests up during the parents’ dances stacks the deck

Three minutes of father/daughter dancing can seem like an eternity. A per DJ move is to ask the bride’s permission to invite others onto the dance floor toward the end of the song. It cuts the tension, but more importantly gives the DJ a more crowded dance floor with which to get the action started.

Opening with a fast song isn’t a good idea

After the formal dances, it’s intuitive to start the party with a banger, but no matter what you play, no one wants to be first to a dance floor. Along the same lines of the parents’ song gambit, the pro move is to open with a slow dance to prime the floor.

Slow songs are a reset button

Slow songs work to freshen the crowd if a floor is losing momentum, as someone’s wife or girlfriend will always force them to dance against their will to “Unchained Melody.”

Flickr/Mike Lewis

Older folk loosen up the easiest, but tire the fastest

“Going out dancing” used to mean more than just pausing between sips of vodka Red Bull to dry-hump a stranger. Nostalgia for sockhops and formal dances and fully functional kneecaps aren’t as prevalent in younger generations, so a good wedding DJ understands that this older crowd is itching for a chance to cut loose like back in the day. The flip of this is that older crowds will tire out quicker, so it’s important to play to them early in the night.

Knowing the mom’s favorite song is an ace in the hole

A good DJ knows the bride and groom’s favorite dance songs, but a great DJ knows their parents’ too. Pro tip: it’s probably the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Watching the people who aren’t dancing is crucial

It’s just as important to keep an eye on the wallflowers as the party animals. If there’s one demographic that’s not having fun, it’s a DJ’s responsibility to pull them onto the dance floor by any means necessary.

Lighting is important

If a space is too bright, people won’t dance. This holds true in almost every DJ situation, and a wedding is no exception. You want a space to be as dark as possible, with the exception of a few rotating colored LEDs to create a sense of movement.

Flickr/Jim Larrison

Requests are accepted… reluctantly

Weddings are one situation where DJs are forced to honor requests, but most suggestions tend to be self-centered and detrimental to the dance-floor as a whole. If there’s one day that’s not about you, it’s this one. So before asking for a polka or something off Tha Carter III, consider the effect that it will have on the other guests. The DJ’s primary responsibility to the bride and groom is to protect the vibe, no matter how badly the groom’s brother wants to prove that he rap “A Milli.”

There are a million tricks to dodge bad requests

The best we heard was to send the requester to the bride for approval.

DJs hate to play requests off your phone

Requests are much less likely to be honored if they need to be streamed off a phone, as any self-respecting DJ is untrusting of crackly YouTube rips and LTE networks.

They usually don’t play dirty versions

Most every pop song has a radio edit version with the curse words removed. Even if the bride and groom request the dirty version, it’s not worth upsetting Uncle Rick.

Flickr/Tony Alter

Being yourself on the microphone pays off

Most people are terrified of speaking on a microphone, which makes the stereotype of the cheese-dick wedding DJ even more loathsome. When it’s necessary to work the mic, a little honesty and self deprecation goes a long way toward keeping a crowd on your side.

Guests notice when DJs don’t match the keys of songs

Lining up the tempos of two songs so that they transition seamlessly is DJing 101, but playing songs in complementary musical key signatures is tougher. Even if guests don’t know anything about music theory, they can tell when it sounds like someone’s slamming their hand on a piano versus playing a chord.

There’s always a backup plan

If a DJ is playing a song that he’s not 100% confident in, you best believe he’s got another hit ready to mix in seconds later it should flop.

A two-hour dance set should be the minimum

Depending on how much your guests like to dance and the pacing of your wedding, two hours should be the bare minimum. Anything less and even the best DJ is going to have a hard time pacing their set.

Flickr/John Hope

Announcing the last song is key

People want to know that it’s their last chance to get down, but more importantly it undercuts “one more song” chants. DJs hate these because the stop time isn’t up to them: most venues have time cutoffs so that the staff can pack up and head home. You’re likely also upsetting the bride and groom, because most DJs have expensive overtime clauses in their contracts.

Not every crowd 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 twirling her bra above her head to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

You get what you pay for

A good DJ is like a sports car. In a wedding context, you may not be able to use all their horsepower, but what’s under the hood is still important. Skills like beat matching and deeper musical knowledge aren’t as crucial, but they’ll still make a seasoned DJ stand out from an amateur who insists on the “Chicken Dance.” The dirty version.

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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He has DJed several weddings and hopes his clients got what they paid for. Follow him to Earth, Wind & Fire at @Dannosphere.


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