Jon Oliver and DJ Eko of Love Junkies NYC are experts at curating vast music libraries and creating playlists to make parties rock. They gave us advice on what to expect when hiring a DJ for your wedding, and how to ensure your guests have an amazing time on the dance floor.
How should a couple choose a DJ?
Jon Oliver: First, ask friends for a referral. Go see them live, or get a sample CD and listen for the vibe, the mix, and the transitions between songs. Watch out for talking over the music. And keep in mind that it's just a sample; each wedding is different, so the music varies.
DJ Eko: Then talk to the DJ, ideally in person. You want a good communicator who's responsive to your ideas. If they say anything that smacks of a preset playlist, that's a red flag. You don't want something premade or cookie-cutter. And they should mix and beat-match, which means blending records together seamlessly.
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What does the DJ fee include?
JO: Generally, packages cover a four- to six-hour reception, meaning cocktails, dinner, and dancing; advance consultations; and basic equipment -- a microphone, two 15-inch speakers, and turntables or CDJs (disc-juggler players) for mixing.
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How do you choose what to play?
DE: We start with a music meeting. Often the bride and groom bring a list of 10 to 20 songs, which gives us an idea of their taste, and we ask for must-plays and don't-plays. Then we hash out what flavor they want for cocktails and dinner, like reggae or vocal jazz.
Do you take guests' requests?
DE: Totally! We talk with the couple about whose requests are safe and whose aren't. If I get an unusual one with a tempo change, I'll run it by them. Sometimes the bride and groom tap a friend to green-light requests.
How do you tailor the music to the event?
JO: If a pair wants something specific, like Bollywood hits, we research it. DE: It's always fun to throw in subtle references to local musicians. If we're in Chicago, I might sneak in a Curtis Mayfield tune. In the Caribbean, I'll drop steel drums in a blink. And if a couple tells us their family is from Cuba, we find unexpected salsa tunes that make the aunties light up.
What are the benefits of hiring a DJ versus using an iPod?
DE: Because you have to make mixes ahead of time, preset iPods leave no room for spontaneity. Weddings are a mixed bag of people, they're multigenerational and multicultural, and you never know what they're going to respond to -- what's going to bring grandparents and young people to the dance floor. JO: A good DJ has years of experience reading crowds, too. We think about how the night flows, when to hit the peak of the dance set and when to calm things down.
If you are working on your own playlist, what should you keep in mind?
DE: Create three song lists -- one each for cocktails, dinner, and dancing. Take out anything longer than four minutes, or that has a weird intro or ending. Generally, the cocktail hour is festive but not "dance-y"; it's sort of medium-energy. You bring it down for dinner, so conversations can be heard. For dancing, play songs the older people can relate to first, since they'll leave earlier. Technically speaking, if you're renting or borrowing sound equipment, like speakers or amplifiers, make sure the person you're getting it from will be on hand during the sound check to troubleshoot.
Any advice for personalizing a reception?
JO: Some people want their DJs to act as emcees, too, and we can do that. But when the bride and groom designate an outgoing family member to do announcements and call people up for speeches, that's a nice touch.
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