Two weddings in two weeks, plus two more in the last year made it a good time to reflect on the current state of wedding DJs. The Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer would seem to indicate that DJs became prevalent sometime in the late ’80s (and let’s be serious, Adam Sandler movies should be used as historical references). Prior to that people hired bands to play (mostly cover) songs at their wedding. Now anything but a DJ is extremely rare1.
Nowadays DJs almost always also act as the master of ceremonies (MC) for the evening. Announcing different events/activities and making announcements once the reception has started. Technology has made DJing much easier since physical media really isn’t needed anymore and therefore a DJ is far more likely to have a song than in the past. It’s probably even possible for a DJ to find a song and download it right then and there if needed. And perhaps that barrier to entry has cheapened the quality.
Weddings are probably harder to DJ than Mitzvahs or school dances, because the guests age range will vary so much more. The DJ is responsible for keeping the fun going and making sure people are always on the dance floor. Some crowds are tougher than others, and there are certainly times where even getting people on the floor is tough. But once though people are there, the DJ shows what they are really made of.
A lot DJs say that the bride and groom set the tone. If they are dancing, it doesn’t really matter what song is playing, people will want to be out there. But when the bride and groom are visiting, or not dancing, or whatever, the DJ has to keep people going. And nothing says “bad DJ” like a non-requested song literally emptying the dance floor. It’s amazing how this happens, and one has to wonder what the DJ is thinking. Did they have a predetermined list of songs? Do they just queue up a bunch and go with it? It would seem that when a DJ sees a certain type of song playing well with a group that they would just keep going to that well for a while and transition to something else.
Then there are the “classic” wedding songs, both good and bad. “Celebrate”, “YMCA”, “Electric Slide”, “Thriller”, “Shout”, “Love Shack” and more. Most of these work, and won’t empty of the dance floor. But they are so overplayed that it’s unoriginal too. “Love Shack” and “Shout” are example of songs that still work, every time. “Electric Slide” is very hit or miss, and is either a huge success or a huge failure. The strange thing though, is even though the average birth year of wedding guests continues to inch closer and closer to 1990, there are still really no ’90s songs that have made it into the pantheon of “classic” wedding songs. That seems strange, since the ’90s ended 13+ years ago. “Shout” came out in 1959. Where is Britney Spears? Where are the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync? Instead they play “Dancing Queen”, a horrible song, for the 1,000th time.
There tend to be a few current hits mixed in, but rarely anything from longer than a year ago that is also less than 10 years old. This seems strange. Most brides and grooms are likely between like 25–35. Where are the sounds they grew up on? Are weddings going to be full of hits from pre–1990 for eternity?
Being a wedding DJ is probably not an easy job. And perhaps the guests are mostly to blame for the poor musical selection. But when the dance floor empties, they are doing something wrong.
- In the 30 years of my life, and approximately 15 weddings I have attended, I have seen bands just twice [↩]