Being asked to be the DJ and emcee for a friend's wedding when you're not a professional wedding DJ is a huge honor — and a huge task, especially if you don't actually know how to DJ a wedding. The couple obviously thinks highly enough of you that they trust you to keep an awesome vibe flowing throughout their wedding, and think you are responsible enough to put such an important aspect of the event in your trusting hands. Although this may sound a bit intimidating, my intention isn't to freak you out... well, actually, truth be told, it kind of is.
Here's the thing — I've seen a lot of different types of DJs at weddings, including many who are not professional DJs. It takes a special person to be a successful DJ, but the most successful DJs aren't the ones who are incredibly funny, charming, or talented as most people think. The best DJs are the ones who take their role really seriously, plan ahead, and understand the logistical side of running an event.
When I'm coordinating a wedding, the DJ and I always work very closely, and we ensure all runs according to plan together. Though it may look pretty effortless, there is a lot of pre-planning and work behind the scenes to make sure it appears that way.
So here is what it takes to be an awesomely rad DJ at your friend's wedding, and when I say "DJ," I'm including all the non-professional emcees of the world, too. Whether you are using an iPod to DJ the wedding or you're one step — or a few steps — away from being Sir Mix-a-Lot, these tips will make sure your wedding debut as a DJ completely rocks.
1. Be a team player
When you DJ a wedding, you are one super important piece of a large orchestrated event. This means that everything you do should be a contribution to the wedding team (which is made up of all the wedding vendors and helpers). Everyone's shared objective is helping to pull off a smooth, enjoyable wedding for the couple, and you want to focus on how you can work with others to help accomplish that. It's never a good idea to make decisions independently, do something as a surprise that only you know about, or do anything else that could throw your teammates for a loop.
2. Be super prepared
Preparing to DJ for a wedding should start weeks in advance. Find out your exact responsibilities from the wedding coordinator or couple, check to make sure you have all the equipment needed, and make a plan about how you will set up at the venue that includes things like where the power source is, and what cords you will need to plug into the sound system.
3. Know the timeline
The most important aspect of being the DJ is knowing that you are responsible in large part for keeping the event running smoothly, and the only way you can do this is by knowing the entire game plan for the event. That way if there is a little hiccup along the way, you know the best way to handle it without interfering with what's next in the timeline. Make sure to bring a copy of the timeline (or even two!), and refer to it throughout the wedding.
4. Be flexible
This is really such an important trait to have, because often no matter how much is planned ahead for an event, there are still decisions that need to be made on the fly. Have your timeline, stick to it, but be ready to roll with the punches as needed. Before you play an important song (like the first dance) or make an announcement to get the crowd's attention (like for an absolutely epic mother and son dance), always check in with the wedding coordinator first to make sure all the other members of the wedding team are ready. It's possible the caterer may need a few more minutes to put the finishing touches on the food, or the photographer needs a couple minutes to set up the shot. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and DJ on.
On that note, never have just enough songs for just the length of the wedding. Make sure to have back-up music in case a part of the wedding runs long, and be able to add it into your set if necessary.
5. Run through the entire event in your head
When preparing to DJ for a wedding, you want to visualize how the whole event will go, and anticipate where there may be hiccups. What will you do if the song runs out before the bride makes it down the aisle? If you're playing music at the ceremony location and need to relocate your equipment to the reception location, how will you pack it up, and then set it all back up quickly? Will you need someone to help? What if it rains? What will you do to protect your equipment, and make sure there is music for the ceremony and/or reception? Professional DJs always have the answers to these questions, and running through the entire day and anticipating problems in advance will prepare you like a professional.
6. Read the crowd and event
As mentioned before, you want to check in with the wedding coordinator throughout the event, but you also want to take time to notice how things are going as a whole. As the poet John Donne said, "No man is an island," and that's totally true when working a wedding. Take time to look around to see how things are going. Are there people on the dance floor? If not, make sure to play songs that will get people on the dance floor. Does the waitstaff look calm, or are they scampering around for something? If so, check in with the coordinator to see if the cake cutting will still be on time. This will help you see your place in the big picture, and help you think of some tweaks to keep things moving smoothly rather than just rushing to cross off items from the timeline. A great DJ pays attention to see how things are running, and adjusts his or her sails (and songs) accordingly.
7. Remember it's not about you
Lastly, remember you are one member of a team trying to give your friends the best wedding day humanly possible. It's your job to help make the event run smoothly, and despite what many people think, it's not your job to entertain the crowd — it's the couple that will entertain the crowd with their first dance, cake cutting, and whatever amazing surprises they have up their sleeve for the wedding.
When people start to think being a DJ means being an entertainer, that's when things start to go wrong: inappropriate jokes are made on a whim, the timeline goes out the window, and unnecessarily long monologues get awkward.
When it comes to being a DJ for a wedding for the first time, less is more. If you just make sure things move along as they are supposed to, guests will naturally think you are funny, charming, talented, and all that other good stuff they associate with DJs. And most importantly, remember to have some fun. If you're having fun, everyone else will, too.