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5 Ways to Be a Great DJ

Photo by Liz and Nate Photography

I love bringing the music.

It’s amazing that it is my job, and when kids come in for job shadows and ask me what skills are needed for it, I find it hard to describe.

How can I explain how to match the right song with the right moment? To be a DJ, there are some things that come naturally, and others that can be learned.

Here are 5 ways to be a great DJ, at a wedding or otherwise.

Photo by Liz and Nate Photography
Photo by Liz and Nate Photography





What needs to happen next? What is on the itinerary? What does this room and group of people need? These are questions that swirl around the DJ’s head all night long. Anticipation and readiness are two of the most important tools in the toolbox.


Photo by Liz and Nate Photography
Photo by Liz and Nate Photography





Feel the energy. Feel the vibe. Feel the room.

The strongest driver in the energy of the room is going to depend on the way the group already interacts and feels about one another.

If it’s a reserved couple with a bit of a staid family and extended family, expect a calm night. I haven’t found the music yet that turns staunch non-dancers into dancers. However, if there is the possibility that they’ll dance and party, as the DJ, it’s my job to get them on their feet.

The good news is that the second most powerful mood setting feature in any reception room is the music. I lean towards upbeat music during the cocktail hour, and then try to match the crowd’s energy during dancing.

The way the crowd reacts to certain songs indicates what other songs might work.


Photo by Liz and Nate Photography
Photo by Liz and Nate Photography


Know the Music



“@#% YEAH, PAUL!” yelled the bride as I played the third to last song at her wedding reception. Why was she yelling positive expletives at me? Because I played one of her favorite songs, ‘Shakedown Street’ by the Grateful Dead. The crowd was slamming all night, and I had saved that song for late in the night, hoping for just such a reaction.

It was one of the few times I had played the Dead at a wedding, and it reminded me of the hours of bootlegs my college roommate used to play on cassette.

I learned about pop music is because I loved it. I turned on the radio when I was about 8 and haven’t turned it off since.

My knowledge comes from my curiosity.

What music influenced whom? What came first, country or R and B? Who really is the King?

When my peers were studying things like engineering and business, I was reading about Pink Floyd and the Beatles.

I have no doubt that the reason that I get huge compliments after every wedding reception from the bride and groom, their parents, and even their grandparents is because I know the music from every era, and I play all of it.

As for the new stuff, the best source for what the audience wants to hear is from the audience themselves. Take requests. Listen to music, and listen to people. They’ll tell you what they like.

As for the history of music, well, it’s right there front of all of us (thank God). Commence listening. You might as well dance a little bit in the process.




Be Very Approachable



One of my favorite ways of doing this is by to do this is by saying ‘Yes’ to anything I can. If I don’t think I can say ‘Yes’, I stall and try to think of how I could. When I say ‘Yes’ to a request, whether it’s for a song or an announcement, the look on the person’s face as they leave my table is all the rest of the crowd needs to see. They realize that I am a person they can approach, so I get information and love from them all night long.


Photo by Liz and Nate Photography
Photo by Liz and Nate Photography


Profile Your Audience



Police aren’t supposed to use age or appearance in deciding whom to pull over.

As a DJ, I heap stereotypes all over my audience.

I remember watching a street performer in Boulder guess what band people liked according to what they looked like. They were walking by and he was trying to get them to stop by saying (lying) that he had tickets to give away.

Mid 20’s guy in cargo shorts and short sleeve button down – Dave Matthews tickets!

Young tween girls – Britney Spears (this happened around 2003)

Two late 30’s women walking together – Sarah McLachlan

It was a funny bit, and he probably wasn’t far off on some of his guesses.

The fact is, people’s appearance tell me at least one thing about what they might like in music–what they heard as they grew up. The music we loved as a teenager, late teen and early 20’s person is often very special to us. So, when I see a woman who looks about 40, I know there is a good chance that 80’s music is going to touch her in some way.

As the hair grows grayer, I know I have to go further back, which is a pleasure, because everyone loves Motown. If you don’t, someday, you will.

Wranglers, cowboy boots and belt buckles? Bust out the country.

Hipster tuxes with mustaches and cool glasses? Prepare for eclecticism.

The most fun part? When someone I stereotyped comes to my table and totally surprises me, like the guy at a recent wedding who was a white 50-something white collar guy. Favorite song of all time? ‘Yeah’ by Usher, Lil John and Ludacris. Yeah!


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