In recent times, the wedding DJ has become the staple of the good old Kiwi wedding experience. Yes, live bands are cool, but today’s generation of budding nuptial couples have grown up in an era when the DJ was king — the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Rave culture, club hopping and the bar scene has set the tone for music and dancing, and is now an essential part of the wedding entertainment mix. The DJ is expected to get ’em up and keep ’em up dancing, respond to song requests and make the party.
With the proliferation of music styles and genres, and the accessibility of music to today’s generation of bridal couples, the choice of music for a wedding event is incredibly diverse. Couples, too, are generally very savvy about the sort of music they can see working for their event and wish to express this during the evening — especially at dance time. It’s a badge of honour and speaks to their crowd about who they are and what they’re about, a chance to say ‘this is us’, whether the music playing is by a popular artist, a favourite rock band or the latest top 40 playlist.
Couples these days are eschewing traditional church-style ceremonies in favour of a classic Kiwi-style outdoor setting — public parks, beaches and garden areas — generally in the summer months. Every ceremony needs music, and again, the choice for the formal part of the event has become an expression of personal taste. The church organ playing Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ is out and ‘anything goes’ is in. Bon Jovi, Queen, Metallica — I kid you not.
The role of a DJ at wedding events has broadened as well; aside from the requisite party part of the show, the DJ can fill the gap in the rest of the day too. This includes the aforementioned ceremony, as well as setting the vibe for the canapés as the guests quaff back the champers during the reception. The additional benefit here is that the DJ can provide microphones for use by the MC and guests during speeches — the DJ/stage manager then has a role to ensure a smooth and fluid show, and make sure everything sounds good.
As professional wedding DJs, we’ve had to adapt to suit the modern format of the Kiwi-style wedding and the demands of today’s couples. This means quite an involved level of pre-event planning, detailed song selection for the formal parts of the event, and consultation with the couple to tease out the overall themes and tone of the music. This new breed of couple won’t settle for the former wedding dance staples of ABBA and the ‘Chicken Dance’, that’s for sure.
Couples have the choice to define various parts of the day individually. For instance, the wedding ceremony itself has a certain feel: acoustic performers and unplugged styles work best here. For the canapés, think something a tad more upbeat: tasteful Motown soul hits on a sunny afternoon. Dinner has yet another vibe: more restrained and chilled out, to allow the guests to enjoy their meal. This new format means the DJ is in for the long haul, managing the music and the production for practically the entire day!
When it comes to dance time, modern couples are clear on one thing — they want action, with everyone up and boogying, jazz hands in the air and Uncle Brian doing his, well, Uncle Brian dance. Weddings are multi-generational, so catering to all and sundry and ‘reaching out’ to everybody is the key here. This isn’t an easy task for a DJ to achieve, pleasing up to three generations of people, often with a multi-cultural element. Multiply that out and you have a lot of different sub-groups all demanding entertaining. For the DJ, ‘reading the crowd’ and ‘mixing it up’ is perhaps the best way to satisfy the needs of the many.
If there is one rule to rule them all, it’s this: get the girls on the dance floor — and the oldies. If you’ve got them, everyone else will follow. That means 1970s and 1980s classics, rock ’n’ roll and girly dance music — generally in that order. Don’t forget about the boys though. Once they tear themselves away from the bar, for them it’s all about the rock anthems — we want to see fist-pumping action, brothers-in-arms bawdy singing and mosh-pitting!
With the growth of competition in the hospitality sector, the expectations placed on staff asked by couples to plan their wedding are much higher. Given the fact that the DJ is now being asked to provide a managed service throughout the day, for example, this means much higher levels of engagement with the couple, bridal party, MC and guests. As a DJ, having an affable and approachable manner is essential in maintaining those high levels of service and fulfilling the desires of the couple. This also means flexibility to satisfy special arrangements and features of the event, and, of course, music requests. Lots of music requests.
Gone are the days of the DJ being left alone in the corner to ‘do his thing’. For the DJ to say “Nah, sorry, don’t do requests” or “Yeah, nah, I’m in the mix at the moment” doesn’t cut it. It’s not all about the DJ — the true emphasis is on the guests enjoying themselves, so a true pro will swallow his pride and gladly accept most reasonable requests.
I say ‘reasonable requests’, as the type of songs/styles of music that are requested at a wedding can be wildly diverse and random. Pantera and gangsta rap requests aside, some songs and styles of music are just not for dancing (or appropriate for the crowd). The DJ will use his or her discretion and either play the song later in the evening or suggest an alternative, and if the guest becomes, shall we say, insistent, then a good fall-back response is “the music has been worked out and agreed by the couple beforehand — it’s their choice”. This normally quells any murmurings from discordant guests.
In fact, music requests can be a great source of new inspiration for a DJ as a song may be a floor-filler for a particular segment of the crowd. For instance, an epic rock anthem for the couple’s friends from university days, or a one-hit wonder with special meaning for the guests. This may take the DJ and the party into a whole new realm that the DJ otherwise would not have considered.
By having a wide array of music on hand, reading the crowd and responding immediately to what is happening on the dance floor, a great DJ can satisfy today’s expectation of near-instant gratification. Not only that, but if the DJ can reach into the hearts and minds of the guests and spin up a storm of emotion, those moments make for lasting and enduring memories — the ultimate outcome for any wedding event.
So, we can see that the role of the DJ has changed in relation to the changes of the new generation of couples getting married and the expectations imposed on wedding events due to the ever-wider availability and choice of music out there. We’ve also seen that the format of the modern Kiwi-style wedding now includes a DJ-cum-event manager throughout every part of the day.
Let’s see a band provide all this.
Dean Ward is head wedding crasher for DJs and wedding entertainment specialists The Wedding Crashers (theweddingcrashers.co.nz)