How to DJ & MC a Wedding

Photos by Fernando Weberich

When it comes to weddings, guests may not remember where it was held or what they ate for dinner, but they will always remember how much of a good time they had. As both the DJ and the MC (also known as an emcee) of the wedding, you are the lifeblood of the party. Follow this guide to learn what to do, and what not to do, at the wedding reception.

Meet with the bride and groom and get their requests in writing. Their requests might include introductions and announcements throughout the night (e.g., cake cutting, throwing the bouquet). When it comes to introducing family and friends, ask for a phonetic spelling of everyone's names. Clarify how the newlyweds wish to be introduced because there is no rule requiring a wife to take the husband's last name. Also, if they've already picked out their reception site, get the name, address, date and time of the event.

Find out what the couple wants for entertainment once the MC responsibilities are covered. Request a list of their favorite songs by their favorite artists (this is important, because "Oh, Pretty Woman" could be Roy Orbison, Al Green or Van Halen). Expect to play 50 to 75 songs in four hours (240 minutes divided by 4 minutes per song = 60 songs). If the couple gives you a list of 100 songs, incorporate your favorites into the reception, but plan on picking most of the songs yourself in the moment. Remember: It's your responsibility to keep the dance floor moving, not play all of the couples' favorite tunes.

If the bride and groom are shy about naming their favorite bands and songs, find out what music genres they prefer. Make a note if they give any leading details, such as "sophisticated," "brassy" and "modern." More importantly, clarify which genres and artists you can avoid.

Check your equipment and ensure it's working properly. Have a backup plan ready in case your laptop or mixer breaks down. At the bare minimum, here's what equipment you will need: PA speakers, mixer, microphone, cables and extension cords, audio library. The bride and groom may have additional requests that require extra audio/video peripherals, such as lighting for the dance floor or a photo slideshow during dinner. This is why it's important to have a written contract; it clarifies the extent of your job responsibilities in advance.

Keep in touch with the bride and groom as the wedding day approaches. Oftentimes, certain details change during the last stages of planning. Perhaps a groomsman can't make it, or the "father/daughter's first dance" song switched from Van Morrison to the Temptations. Double-check your information to ensure ongoing accuracy.

This is also an opportune time to get more details on the reception site. When will the site be open for load in? Are there any electrical conditions or problems you need to be aware of? Do they object to painters' tape on the floors? The bride and groom may not have these answers, in which case the best course of action is to contact the reception site directly.

Arrive at the reception site two hours before the guests on the day of the wedding; that will give you plenty of time to setup, soundcheck and solve any problems that may arise due to equipment malfunctions or power issues. Set up the booth directly next to the dance floor, and make sure that no dinner tables are placed between these two locations. Secure any tripping hazards, like speaker cords running across the floor, with painters' tape.

Once your booth is ready, attain an order-of-events for the announcements at the reception. Ask for flexibility for the exact times of announcements, as every reception needs breathing room for the unexpected.

Once you have the itinerary in hand, incorporate some of the bride & groom's favorite songs into key moments of the reception. The newlyweds will appreciate hearing their requests during the wedding party entrance & cake cutting ceremony.

Work with the guests throughout the reception. Gauge the guests' responses to songs and adjust accordingly. If the audience loves Elton John and despises hip-hop, then dust off your Billy Joel collection and get it spinning. Allow room for requests, and work them into the mix whenever you deem it appropriate.

If you're mixing on a laptop, don't let the guests to see what's coming up on the playlist, as they may become disgruntled if you keep a song in the queue that they don't like. Instead, leave a sign-in sheet at the front of the booth and keep the laptop in the back. This way, you can judge what will make the whole audience the most energetic and lively, while also tweaking the mix to the demands of each guest.