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How to DJ a wedding

All great marriages start with a great DJ

  • Words: Marcus K. Dowling | In association with POM
  • 26 July 2021

The art of DJing a wedding has almost nothing in common with the skills required to DJ in a nightclub or bar setting. Yes, there are people in a venue, and often they’re even drinking. But the idea of toddlers drooling on themselves and grandparents eventually nodding off to sleep as Cardi B’s trap beats blare at the end of a two-hour set is a world away from main stage festival mayhem. However, for many DJs, the need to balance smashing bashment gigs with playing Frank Sinatra tunes for 60-somethings while Marcia Griffiths’ 'Electric Slide' qualifies as a peak-time banger keeps them sustainable.

Baltimore, Maryland resident James Nasty has produced tracks that have been co-signed by festival-beloved party-starting DJs worldwide. He’s also twice been voted the “Best DJ In a Club” in the Baltimore City Paper. His broad set of unique experiences in his dozen years behind the decks means he's expertly equipped to share tips on how to best go about DJing a wedding reception.

​Nail THE FIRST DANCE

The first dance, followed by the “father/daughter” and “mother/son” dances, kicks off the set. Often this will be pre-chosen by the happy couple, so the best advice is stick to the plan and don't curveball the dancefloor with a gabber edit of Etta James. It will be seem a lot less funny when an angry bride is launching heels in your direction, despite how wild the toddlers are moving. If it's left down to you, the best bet is going gentle and romantic, let the couple indulge in the warm embrace of a slow dance, before you turn the dial up to hot with ensuing selections.

But note, for as much as these are typically slow Monster Ballads - I’ve used Extreme’s 1991 hair metal anthem 'More Than Words' on more than a few occasions - there are also those people who are like to switch up the tradition.

James Nasty recalls: “I once DJ'ed a wedding ceremony and reception based around the theme of UGK and Outkast’s ‘International Players Anthem’. When the couple told me their idea, I laughed. Yes, the song’s video is at a wedding, but, the song itself (which includes a groom being asked to reconsider marriage, while at the altar), well, it’s not describing exactly the best wedding. But, I was hired to do a job,” Nasty says with a smile in his voice. “I found a club edit of the UGK track by Cobra Krames and spun into it after the original’s open. The couple slow-danced to Andre 3000 and Pimp C, then everyone hit the floor. I don’t think anyone, save me, listened to the lyrics, but wow. What a party.”

The power of ​SLOW JAMS

Epic slow jams after the first dance have a place. Ultimately, they’re the social lubricant that helps people in the bridal party - who could be socially awkward or meeting for the first time at the wedding - together in the spirit of love. They, after all, may also be wanting to make a 'love connection'. Once the vows and ceremony are out the way, focusing on new love stories is fair game. Building to those songs is essential, though. Play them too early, and you'll either have terribly awkward first-date style fumbles occurring that sterilise the vibe for the rest of the evening, or on the flip side if they're too effective, clear half the dancefloor as people slip off to more private settings and have the bride and groom wondering why they haven't seen their best man and maid of honour since the desserts were cleared. Best timing is several drinks rounds down and after dropping a slow grind-inspiring pop song / culturally important song / timeless classic, hit 'em with a slow jam. You’re guaranteed salaciously inspired, then oftentimes quite satisfied, groomsmen and bridesmaids or partner supporters. In any successful wedding DJ’s fondest remembrances, this tactic never fails.

​KEEP THE DANCEFLOOR GOING

“Read the room and always think fast,” says Nasty advising how to not clear a dancefloor. He adds, “[Legendary house DJ] Karizma once told me that the best idea is always to stay three tracks ahead of the room. This is also the best way to give a slightly false, yet quite effective, excuse for that gaggle of drunk aunts and cousins who are angry - after multiple requests - that Ke$ha’s 'Timber' or Chumbawumba’s 'Tubthumping' are indeed on the way in the midst of your golden oldies set. “It’s coming ‘right up,’” followed by a simple show of a Serato search should stave of the thrusted iPhone notes demands for, well, at least three songs.

Be flexible

There’s no “one size fits all” strategy to successfully DJing a wedding reception. However, understanding that foremost the customer is always right is essential. Finding a small yet significant place to make those safe yet spectacular personal additions shows that you uniquely care about how this particular couple wishes to express their love. And you know what they say: all great marriages start with a great wedding DJ.

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