How do you hire a wedding DJ?
February 17, 2016 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I need some help knowing how to navigate hiring a DJ for my wedding reception. The difficulty: my fiancee and I are fairly particular about the music we want to hear. Can I just hand a flash drive or a playlist of 100 songs to a DJ and just say "only these songs, nothing else" - is that a thing that happens, or what? Because that's really what I'd like to do, but I'm not sure wedding DJs actually are willing to do that.
posted by koeselitz to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A million years ago, our DJ asked up front for any specific songs that we definitely did or definitely did not want him to play. I don't see why your plan wouldn't be OK as long as you are clear about your expectations.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:17 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wedding DJs are TOTALLY used to this. It's not a big deal at all. It actually makes their job easier. Imagine the couples who're all vague in their instructions and then end up hating the music on the day. You're good.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:25 PM on February 17, 2016

We gave my DJ a list and she played only those. She was great.

I know a bride that said no matter what no electric slide. 3x the DJ played electric slide. Get recommendations.
posted by ReluctantViking at 2:25 PM on February 17, 2016

You can do that. A lot of people do.

That said, if you want a wedding where your guests dance, you're better off finding a DJ whose tastes are similar to your own and you only choose a portion of what is played, but you allow him or her to select a portion of the songs.

This is what we did: we asked around and heard about a DJ who did a regular gig that fit our tastes (in our case, it was a 60s soul and R&B happy hour). Then we chatted with him to discuss what he liked to put on for people to dance to. We gave him about 40 songs that we liked and know that our friends tend to dance to, including a small number of must-plays, and a handful (maybe 10?) of Do Not Plays (no Celebration, no Brick House), but we also kind of let him do his thing to keep the party going. (Been to a lot of weddings where the people thought everyone would dance to their favorite 80s pop songs, and they turned out to be less danceable than expected).

If you don't care about dancing, it's probably fine to select all the songs. But if you or your friends do care about dancing, I recommend finding someone whose tastes align with yours and also giving them a little freedom. I agree about asking around and getting recommendations. People tend to remember the weddings with good/cool music that were also fun.
posted by vunder at 2:34 PM on February 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

We decided we didn't want to risk the electric slide, and didn't need an MC, so we used Spotify as our wedding DJ - It worked out just fine. We had our reception at a restaurant, and just piped the music over their own PA system.

As people said above, most wedding DJ's will happily work with you on this, but I just wanted to mention you have other options.
posted by antimony at 2:36 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

We went the no-DJ route for our low-key wedding, but I have friends who got married about 6 years ago and they said had a great experience with their DJ. They gave him an iPod and he only played the songs they specified. They are not fans of pop music at all and have very specific taste. As I remember, we all had a blast and they didn't have any issues with the music. But yes, definitely get recommendations. Not all of them are respectful of couples' wishes.
posted by onecircleaday at 2:37 PM on February 17, 2016

Antimony said what I was thinking - we didn't have one either, and it worked out fine. Just .02 cents though, it sounds from your question that you do want a DJ.
posted by onecircleaday at 2:38 PM on February 17, 2016

We gave our wedding DJ a playlist, plus a USB stick with the edited version of "Oh, It Is Love" by Hellogoodbye we used for our first dance. He had (or managed to find) copies of all the songs. He didn't get through them all, so at the end of the reception we just told him to skip to the last song, which was meant to be the closer.

So yes, this is something a wedding DJ will definitely do. Why would one not? They want to get paid, and if they are getting paid the same amount for doing less work (i.e. they don't have to read the room and choose songs), you will be one of their easiest customers.
posted by kindall at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2016

Yes you can do this. As a word of caution, I organise a lot of events. I did a ball this weekend and was given a list for the DJ. They were all super "floor filler" songs all agreed by the committee and... nobody danced for 90 minutes. The DJ totally knew what the desired vibe was and when let loose filled the floor for the last 90 minutes.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 PM on February 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

Wedding DJs are definitely willing to do that! We used a company that had a few DJs and we talked to the owner, told him a bit about what kind of music we liked, and they matched us up with a DJ aligned with those tastes. They also used an online form where we could go in and request specific songs for specific times in the night (dinnertime songs, cake cutting song, garter/bouquet toss song, etc) as well as specify any songs or genres we didn't want and any specific songs we did. You could also search their songbook and if they didn't have any of the songs you wanted, you could send them mp3s.
posted by wsquared at 2:44 PM on February 17, 2016

We just hired a sound system and plugged our laptop in with an iTunes playlist. Way better than a DJ. A family member was in charge of queueing up specific songs (first dance etc).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:13 PM on February 17, 2016

Vunder said it all, just nthing that the reason to hire a DJ (vs. renting sound equipment from the venue and popping in your mp3 player) is so that there's a human who can feel the vibe of the room at any given time and pick tracks based on that.

Most people don't venture out onto an empty dance floor for a song they don't know. So if your list doesn't have many cross-generational hits on it, a DJ may be able to mix in a few crowd pleasers that are appropriate to the mood you want to set.
posted by Pearl928 at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to agree with everyone else that yes you can do this, but also to agree with antimony that using Spotify and a laptop (we signed up for the 3-month intro offer to get it for free for the wedding) worked great! We saved a lot of potential DJ money that way, which was nice.

We had one dinner mix and one dance mix, and gathered our tracks from our tastes, from the tastes of huge music nerds we know, and from our guests (we asked each attendee for one song they really liked in their invitations). As the night progressed, if we thought "now would be a really good time for rihanna" or whatevs, we could just change the track ourselves, which was pretty easy to do. No catastrophes ensued, just fun times!

Congrats to you guys!
posted by Greg Nog at 3:47 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not to derail, but... I've been to a lot, lot, LOT of weddings. Many with human DJs, and quite a few with iPod/iTunes/Spotify playlists as a DJ stand-in. The playlist method can work pretty well depending on your group of friends, your musical taste, and what you want. I've seen it work best either with younger crowds who all know each other (and will drink and dance without encouragement), or when the receiption is planned to be low-key and fairly short. However, I've also seen it not work as well. As mentioned before a good DJ knows how to read a crowd, pace things, and encourage people out onto the dance floor. If actually having people stick around and party/dance is important to you, and your friends aren't the type to do that spontaneously, you may want a human DJ.

DJs also serve the purpose of making announcements for things like the couple's entrance, first dance, cake cutting, bouquet toss, etc. A lot of people don't want those things at their wedding, which is totally fine, but if you do, I've found it to be REALLY helpful to have someone who can effectively communicate with a large group of people and get them to participate. This "MC" role is actually more important than the music selection if you want a traditional-style reception with all of the various activities.

One un-DJed wedding I attended kind of had the perfect storm combination of factors. The bride and groom wanted people to stay and dance for hours and they wanted to do all of the traditional "activities" at various times throughout the night. But the attendees ranged from friends in their mid-20s to grandparents in their 80s. Few people knew each other, and none were naturally self-starting partiers. So the music played to an empty dance floor, when the cake was cut no one noticed until it was done, and the whole place cleared out about 45 minutes after the food was served. The couple was disappointed because it wasn't what they had envisioned, but I think without an MC, it was a no-win situation.

Anyway, my point is absolutely not that you must have a DJ -- like I said, I've been to some fabulous weddings that didn't. But you have to think carefully about both your desires and your audience before making that call.
posted by primethyme at 4:55 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

The DJ totally knew what the desired vibe was and when let loose filled the floor for the last 90 minutes.

That was the key for our wedding too. We told him "here's a list of songs we're prefer you don't play for the first two hours (Electric Slide, New York New York, etc). But the last hour? Go nuts."

The drunks that wanted Electric Slide still got it, just at the end when most of our more senior and skittish guests had gone home for the night. Everyone had a blast.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:02 PM on February 17, 2016

My DJ gave me like a 12-page list of closely-spaced songs and instructions to go through and cross out anything I hated and/or highlight what I particularly liked, and then asked how closely we wanted her to hew to the list ... did we want her to use her judgment to get people dancing or stick strictly to only the songs we really liked? We were not very particular, we just gave her an idea of what we liked and left the rest to her judgment.

(And we had crossed out the chicken dance but after my 5-year-old cousin asked for the chicken dance the sixth time, she came and asked us if it'd be okay if she played it for him when everyone else was switching gears between cake and dancing and was off at the bathroom. He chicken danced with great gusto.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

We rented a sounds system and used a laptop for our 70 person wedding at a hall. It worked great. We had to have a friend queue up a song when my wife walked down the aisle.

Other friends hired the DJ from a club, and just said, "do your thing." That was awesome too.
posted by thenormshow at 5:31 PM on February 17, 2016

primethyme's answer is precisely my experience of weddings with regard to the DJ question. If you have a very diverse crowd in terms of what music says "party" and "dance" and "fun", it's better to have a DJ who will listen to your DO NOT EVER PLAY requests, but who otherwise will do that thing that DJs do and read the crowd response to the music they are playing to get the crowd into dance and party mode. But if you have a small crowd of people who generally all like the same music at parties, you can set your own music collection up to play and have the result you want.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:01 PM on February 17, 2016

We used a pre-made playlist and assigned a friend to press play.
posted by latkes at 8:06 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

One other possibility is to ask any musicians you have asked to play - if they would also DJ. This is particularly the case if you had intended to have a combination of live music and DJ for people to dance to. The musicians will probably have their own sound system, will be (with a little luck) just as good at reading - and interacting with - a crowd as a DJ - and will probably have been asked to do this before.
posted by rongorongo at 11:36 PM on February 17, 2016

Another self-DJ success story here. We had a very DIY wedding on our farm(about 150 guests), and I spent a lot of time culling music for both "background playlist" and dance music. We divvied up jobs to friends and rented a sound system that served double duty for the ceremony, the dinner MCs, and dancing. My friend who was the MC has a very electro-savvy 12-year old who we tasked with moving the speakers around and making sure the appropriate playlists were playing at the right time. He was awesome, and from what I could tell, we all had a good time. (Here's my wife and I dancing with our BFFs, and my folks and friends getting down)
posted by ikahime at 7:48 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

We once photographed a wedding at the beach that the bride delayed for 45 minutes while someone went back to town to fetch her iPod with her playlist. She flat refused the alternative, which was to play the same songs off of her fiance's laptop; it was her iPod or nothing. Finally someone got her iPod to the ceremony and off we went. So yes, this is apparently A Thing That Is Done.
posted by Lynsey at 11:02 AM on February 18, 2016

I DJed my own wedding last year, using an ipod playlist and hired DJ speakers. The dancefloor was full the entire time from our first dance onwards (about 1.5 hours).

I broke my music up into playlists. Pre/post ceremony; Dinner; First dance (2 songs we wanted back to back); Dance floor. We asked one of my bridesmaid's boyfriends to be the stop/start/skip etc person. The battery went low on my ipod, so I had a backup playlist on my phone and put it on airport mode while the ipod recharged somewhere else.

A few things helped: I am obsessed with music, particularly classic hip hop and EDM, and had huge personal playlists to choose from. My ipod is the one my friends use to play music from when we're on weekends away. When we were younger, I spent a lot of time on dancefloors with my friends and that gave me a huge bank of music that I knew they enjoyed. The only prob with my dancefloor playlist is that I wished I included more Motown-esque crowd pleasers to keep the aunts and uncles on the dance floor, but then again, my 77 year old mother and her partner were some of the last people on the dance floor, dancing away to Kanye's "Gold digger".
posted by chronic sublime at 1:25 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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