DJ Do’s & Don’ts
Whichever way you slice it, planning an event is an enormous task. There will always be a ton of variables and moving parts, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a scary or even stressful experience! When I chat with new clients, especially couples about to embark on the crazy journey called wedding planning, something I’m asked often is, “Where do we even start?!” My answer? Venue and vendors. An event planner can be a very useful resource during the research and booking stages. Having worked and built relationships with a variety of event professionals, they can help you refine your search to best fit your personal needs.
Once you have a location set and have booked your core (dream) team of people, everything else will start to fall in place in a more natural way. Having this group of event experts orbiting around you during the planning process will keep you from flying off in too many directions right away.
BEFORE YOU BOOK!
Although booking your vendors in a timely manner is important, (especially if you find yourself on a fast-track timeline) it should also be done with careful consideration. Skillset and experience are important factors you may use to lead the initial stages of your vendor research, but finding talented people that you are also able to connect and gel with — now that’s the sweet spot.
It may be tempting to sign on the dotted line with the first DJ you sit down with. I get it…this week you still have to meet with the caterer, the photographer, the florist, the lady playing the cello as you walk down the aisle. You have to go taste cakes, pick out your chairs, write addresses on 300 save the dates, and finally pull the trigger on the perfect shade of chocolate brown for your bridesmaids to wear, and so on… BUT not to sound dramatic choosing the right DJ has the potential to be a make or break moment.
Your reaction to the last sentence might have been somewhere along the lines of “Yeah right, anyone can play good music!” or “My friends will dance to anything after a few White Claws.” You might be right. You probably have a killer Jock Jams playlist on your iphone that really gets the people going at your summer BBQ, but creating the soundtrack for a large scale event is a whole different beast. The music at a big event will need to span across a vast range of ages and music preferences. Hiring a DJ schooled in the science of reading a room will keep things rolling and make the dance floor accessible to everyone!
Your event could potentially survive without the perfect playlist, but your DJ is providing much more than that on the big day. They are on the microphone guiding your guests through the entire experience. They are setting the energy level, the flow, and the mood with their voice. They have the power to bring everyone together, and not just on the dance floor. Be sure to book with someone that understands how you want your guests to feel during the event and when they reminisce about it later on. In my candid chat with the Sound by Design guys, they dive into what you should look for and the questions you should ask to be sure your DJ can deliver.
MEET THE GUYS
I headed over to their office mancave to chat with two heavy hitters of Sound by Design, my preferred DJ group. I’ve teamed up with them many times and know they will deliver exceptional service to my clients. They are skilled at their craft and whip up that secret sauce at every event to make it memorable. Over a game of pool and a few drinks, I got their inside scoop about the do’s and dont’s of planning an event and the nitty-gritty parts of the DJ biz!
Name: Tyler Wilson
Years with Sound by Design: 7-8
Name: Zach Dewitt
Job Title: Director of Operations- Birch
Years with Sound by Design: 6
OUR CANDID CHAT
Photos taken by: J Hicks Photography
Jenna: You both have been part of the Sound by Design team for years now. What originally reeled you into the DJ business and what keeps you hooked?
Tyler: I’ve always been a GIANT music fan. From heavy metal to country, and electronic to oldies, I love it all — so it was kind of a dream job that just found me. Being able to share my love for music and get paid for it is a pretty cool deal. A friend of mine asked me to be his DJ assistant for a wedding many years ago and without knowing what that entailed, I went along for the ride and loved it. After that first wedding with Sound by Design, I had a few years of DJing bars/clubs on my own before getting a more permanent job DJing for Sound by Design. I not only love the music portion of DJing, I also love being a critical part of making someone’s biggest day as perfect and special as it should be!
Zach: Funny enough, Tyler is the one that got me into Sound By Design after I quit my bar managing job at the time. We had mutual friends that convinced him a year or two before me but no way was I ever going to be a “wedding dj!” I was hooked after the first gig (with Tyler)! Music is my jam…see what I did there! But more importantly the interacting with people during a day where there is so much love and joy in the room is a great feeling!
Jenna: It is always exciting to see the energy you inject into events. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the two of you up close and personal. BOY OH BOY, y’all know how to multi-task! You keep the jams rolling and the dance floor packed — all while carrying out other important duties. Early morning until late night, what does a typical event day-of look like for you?
Tyler: Aside from being a Lead DJ, my main job is the Production Manager for Sound by Design so every weekend I have a lot to prepare for. We do up to 15 events on a given day so you can imagine the amount of equipment it takes to prepare all the sound, lighting, and custom decor for all of these events. On a typical Saturday, I’ll get to our warehouse around 9am to prep all our team for their events. From there, I’ll head out to venues throughout the city to set lighting and/or audio for larger scale events. After that, I’ll head to my event for the evening where I’ll set all my gear and then do a run-through of the night with the venue coordinator before any guests arrive. Then it’s on with the show!
Zach: I do so much more than just DJ now that I’m not sure how I get through the events myself (insert nervous smiley face lol). If it’s a wedding at Birch I’m typically on site from 10am – 1am. An average timeline for me on wedding day: 10 a.m. arrival, 10:30/11 a.m. I welcome wedding party to wedding suites, 11 a.m. I set the space for the ceremony & any additional tables I can, 2/3 p.m. vendors get access to the space, 3 p.m. my staff arrives and I give them direction as needed, 4 p.m. guest arrival, 4:30 p.m. ceremony, 5 p.m. cocktails start / staff and myself flip the room for the reception. 6:30/7 p.m. dinner until 8 p.m., dancing 8:15 p.m. to midnight. I handle the music and mcing during the event as well. Long days for sure, but wearing multiple hats makes the day fly by!
Jenna: As we know, the DJ wears many hats. So much planning and effort go into the lead-up, day-of, and follow-up of an event. Is there something a client can do to relieve some of your stress or make the big day go more smoothly?
Tyler: Hiring a wedding coordinator can certainly take a lot of the burden off of the couple. As far as what a client can do to relieve some of MY stress, I would just say TRUST US. You chose Sound by Design for a reason. We’ve been doing this for a long time and I have personally done hundreds of weddings so I’m able to handle anything that comes my way, making sure the couple’s wedding is perfect. My job is to make sure the wedding runs smoothly and people have an amazing time. All I ask of my couples, is to try and be very PRESENT at their wedding. Take it all in, enjoy it. It’s a fleeting evening so you really have to try and slow it all down to truly enjoy it.
Zach: Enjoy the day! It’s mine and the other vendor’s job to make sure things are happening as planned. I get most stressed when I can’t find the Bride or Groom. I love seeing them out on the dance floor or mingling with the guests. It’s a long day but goes quickly. Remember to soak it in and enjoy yourselves! How do you make sure you enjoy the day? Hiring a wedding coordinator can go a long way! Your DJ isn’t your full on coordinator, nor is the caterer, or venue contact (usually). If you want a truly stress free day, hire a wonderful company such as Company & Cheer to handle the big and little details for the day!!
Jenna: Let’s talk tuneage…what is your off-duty go-to? Is there a song that gets you pumped up, or relaxes you after a full day?
Tyler: My favorite thing! My off-duty music all depends on what I’m doing and mainly depends on my mood. I’m sure most of our DJ’s would say they pretty much like it all, but I honestly do love almost everything. I grew up with my parents and two older siblings. My dad listened to classic rock (i.e. Boston, Journey, Cheap Trick), my mom LOVES Elvis, while my brother got me into Rap (i.e. NWA, Tupac, Notorious BIG, Nas), and my sister liked Pop (i.e. Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys) as well as alternative/punk (i.e. Blink 182, New Found Glory, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday). This helped open my ears to just about everything. In the morning, I usually start with mellow alternative or mellow jam stuff (i.e. Angels and Airwaves, Brand New, Jimmy Eat World or Chris Stapleton, Lumineers, Zac Brown Band, Dave Matthews). If I want some energy, I’ll listen to any kind of rap, electronic (trap or house), or upbeat alternative (i.e. Four Year Strong, Fall Out Boy, Blink 182). If i need to get something done it’s either heavy metal (i.e. After the Burial, Slipknot, Veil of Maya) or house (i.e. Claude VonStroke, Chris Lake, MK, Shiba San). A song that really relaxes me and is an ALL TIME FAVE is Talking Heads “This Must Be the Place” (also my First Dance song at our wedding).
Zach: Music is an experience and I love it all. I grew up in the middle of nowhere so I know far more Country than I care to admit. Some of my go-to artists: Grateful Dead, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Khruangbin, Kanye West & J Cole. I’m all over the place and mood is a major factor when deciding what to listen to. I tend to lean towards Jam Bands, Bluegrass or Electronic side of things for live shows but if I’m going out with friends I’m almost always bumping some hip-hop!
Jenna: Sound by Design allows clients to create an online music portal before their event by placing cataloged songs into lists of “must play”, “play if time allows”, and “do not play”. I loved utilizing this as a bride because it allowed me to share my music preferences with my day-of DJ and made the soundtrack to my wedding feel more personal. What is one song that makes you cringe when it appears on a client’s “must play” list?
Tyler: Surprisingly enough there aren’t too many songs that actually do that to me. I can find some form of enjoyment in almost any song, but if I had to name one it might have to be “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I have no idea why but I REALLY dislike this song. It certainly doesn’t make me happy….
Zach: Chicken Dance. “That’s all I have to say about that!” – Forrest Gump
Jenna: Working in the event industry there is rarely a dull moment. You have to be able to roll with the punches and be open to the straight-up, out-there ideas — anything from fire-swallowing cocktail hour entertainment to remote control ringbearers. What is one of the most unique events you’ve been a part of?
Tyler: I wouldn’t say that it’s “unique” per say, but one of my favorite experiences since working with Sound by Design was when we teamed up with 97.3 Radio NOW for their annual Summerfest Summer Bash. I got to DJ on the U.S. Cellular Stage between acts like Callum Scott, Rachel Platten, and Bebe Rexha. That was pretty neat. A more unique event that I loved was the event I did with you (Company & Cheer)! It was a Havana-themed 70th birthday party filled with empanadas, dance lessons, and gorgeous Havana style decor. The energy from the birthday girl was amazing and something I aspire to have at that age!
Zach: I’m not as smooth on the table decks as Tyler so I don’t get to do fun things like DJ Summerfest! We hosted a celebration of life at our Birch venue this past summer and I had no idea what to expect heading into things. It ended up being an extremely memorable event for all the right reasons! A tragic situation brought hundreds of people together to mourn, but more importantly, be there for one another. It ended up being a full on party! Crying, drinking, dancing, more crying and tons of laughter made the night extremely fun. Very happy I could be a part of things for that group of people and I’ll remember that event forever.
Jenna: More and more, couples are choosing to break from the traditional norms to create a more personalized wedding experience. Is there a wedding custom or tradition that you would hate to see let go completely?
Tyler: I guess for me, it would probably be the Mother/Son and Father/Daughter dance. I think that’s such a special moment for both the parent and the Bride/Groom and it would be a shame if that grew out of style! There’s lots of time to dance with your friends and create memories later in the evening, but these individual dances are a portion you won’t forget.
Zach: I agree with Tyler. Being able to dance with your Mother/Father is super important. You can tell watching them dance how special the moment is for them and it’s a nice way to ease on into the dance floor.
Jenna: Let’s be real, the DJ can really make or break an event. It is so important to be able to read the crowd and play the right music…at the right time. In addition, the voice on the mic has the ability to set the overall mood and keep the event flowing. What is the most important question to ask a potential DJ before booking, to be sure they have what it takes to make the event a success?
Tyler: I’m not sure there is ONE specific question you should ask your DJ, but it’s very important to get to know them prior to your wedding to see if you mesh well. Most DJ’s can play music for you, but if your personalities clash and you don’t get along as people, it’s going to make the night more difficult. It’s good to know that your DJ has a lot of experience and will be able to handle anything that comes his or her way throughout the evening. I would say, ask as many questions as you can, both personal and professional, to get a good gauge of your DJ before hiring them for your big day. If you don’t feel comfortable with them, it’s probably not going to be a good fit.
Zach: Hard to narrow down to one specific question. I love when I’m asked “What are you going to play?” My answer is very long winded but the gist of it is, I’ll play what the crowd reacts to. Walking the client through the process of the highs and lows of the dancing portion, and giving them examples of “I’ll pivot here if this happens, or pivot there if that happens.” Emphasizing that you are flexible, well rounded with music tastes, and have that experience to read the crowd goes a long way. Also, ask what equipment they’ll be supplying. I’ve heard horror stories where DJ’s have shown up with just their laptop or no microphone.
Best Wishes…I’ll see ya on the dance floor ; )