(Pictured: this is what people think it’s like to be a party DJ. Go ahead and keep thinking that.)
The role of the party DJ has changed a great deal since I was doing it back in the 90s. Where we played CDs and even a few cassettes, music is all digital now. In addition to music, DJs now often provide photo booths, karaoke, and other stuff. At the last few weddings I have attended, the DJ rarely spoke; he wasn’t putting on a show around the music, as we used to do. And that’s fine. Times change.
I have written a few times over the years about wedding DJ work. For example, in 2011:
Clients and wedding guests could be terrifically gracious, inviting us to have dinner, a piece of wedding cake, or a drink at the open bar. But they could also be shockingly rude, peremptorily demanding this and that. And a couple of times, we felt physically threatened. One family had paid to rewire the reception hall after it was determined the electrical panel on the rickety stage in the middle of the room (in a decrepit hall, in a decaying town) couldn’t handle the smoke machine in addition to the DJ rig and the light rig. The smoke machine cost extra, and this family obviously wanted it badly, but on the night of the wedding, The Mrs. and I could not get the notoriously temperamental thing to function. So there we were, on a low stage surrounded by the entire cast of Deliverance, all violently pissed off that they weren’t getting the goddamn smoke they paid for, although the cigarette smoke in the room should have been more than enough.
There were more physical threats than there should have been, actually. On another night in another hall, a guest wanted to use our microphone to make a toast, which we did not allow. He and his knot of friends were not happy; after the party ended and we were packing up, I wasn’t sure they were going to let us out. Guests would frequently ask if they could look through our CDs, which we also never allowed; one of them told us that since we were paid help, we should let guests do whatever they wanted.
The thread connecting all of the bad experiences was alcohol. After another party, at midnight while we were packing up, the father of the bride wobbled over and started criticizing the job we’d done. For a few minutes I was sure he was going to stiff us the $300 he owed. At another party, the extremely young bride and groom got drunk in the limo between the church and the reception; she was weepy and he was catatonic, and dealing with them required a very light touch.
There was another bride who wasn’t drunk, but who could have benefitted from a couple of drinks. She came over to request “YMCA,” which packed the dance floor, but when I followed it with KC and the Sunshine Band and not a solitary soul left the floor, she came back on the dead run to accuse me of “ruining her wedding by playing disco.”
But there were many good things to remember, too. The Mrs. and I worked for a DJ service, which would book the parties through a particular hour, but the client had the option to purchase an extra hour if they chose, and if they did, that money went directly into our pockets. It was a validation of the job we’d done when the groom or the father of the bride came up to us at quarter-to-eleven with a wad of cash to ask if we could stay until midnight. (Drunk-in-the-limo couple bought an extra hour that night.) We made it a point to play at least one set of music the couple’s grandparents and other older guests could dance to, which back in the 90s was music from the 40s; they would look at us with appreciation as they swayed to “Moonlight Serenade.”
My last experience as a party DJ was a brief turn in the booth at a friend’s wedding in 1999. I have been asked to do it a couple of times since but have always turned down the requests; I don’t have the equipment, or the desire. But for the few years The Mrs. and I did it, we had fun with it.