The Magic's in the Music!

I have been to hundreds of weddings, and I have to admit, most DJ’s fill me with fear and dread. The fog machines. The inflatable guitars and Hawaiian leis;  the endless supply of cheesy music and mispronounced bridesmaids’ names.  The big giant banners that make your wedding into a bridal showcase…EWWWWWW.   It makes me afraid, very afraid. Why would you spend what feels like a gazillion dollars on your tastefully decorated and coordinated wedding to have it all destroyed by a DJ who thinks that it’s HIS party?
 
Well you can relax, because I’ve discovered the DJ who is so different, he should really be called something else….maybe a “Music Concierge”. He will sculpt the landscape of your wedding, and invisibly guide you and  your guests through a joyful, celebratory experience  that will leave them wanting to have a party of their own. 
 
I asked John Sinclair, of Aria Melody Entertainment, to weigh in on what makes his approach to wedding music so singular. (But first, I had to catch him; he is VERY, VERY booked, for good reason!) 
 
Celia: What made you decide to start a DJ business?  How did that happen? When did it happen? 
My older brother Paul and I started Aria Melody DJ in 2005; he had just gotten married and wanted a tasteful, unobtrusive, gimmick-free DJ: no lightshows, no plasma TVs (all the rage at the time), no singing along with the songs. He set up a few appointments with DJs who promised to be none of those things.  Sure enough, they’d try to sell him on a plasma TV slideshow.  At the same time, I was attending 4-5 weddings of college friends a year.  Sometimes the DJ would mispronounce their names; others wouldn’t have their first dance or parent dances.  Many were just obnoxious and let’s be honest, embarrassing.  So when Paul & I decided to start Aria Melody DJ, we made it the core of our approach: get right what so many DJs get wrong.  
 
C:   Describe your visual /presentation philosophy for a wedding.
– Our visual style is minimal and professional.  We started using the tagline “No lights. No fog. No gimmicks.” because it summed us up perfectly: we don’t have extravagant lightshows, never give out blow-up saxophones or guitars; we’d never, ever hang a sign or banner.  Many DJs insist they are entertainers.  We are not.  We play great music to keep people dancing all night long.  And we can do that without being the center of attention or relying on gimmicks.  On a related note of visuals, we wear tasteful suits.  Paul and I could never  figure out why some DJs wear flashy tuxes with fish wearing sunglasses all over the vests, collarless shirts or all black.  If you’re trying to blend in, you should look like a guest.  Wear a well-fitting suit.  
C:  What three questions should a couple ask their DJ?
1) If I didn’t give you a single request, what kind of music would you play? You’ll get a great sense of what kind of DJ he/she is without any guidance.  Would they suggest a few Oldies then Motown, a little Funk, followed by some fun 80s, 90s and then Top 40?  That DJ is trying to play something for everyone.  If the response is “I only play House Music or Hip Hop” and that’s not what you want, you might want to continue your search. 2) Can you offer some ideas for cocktail hour / our First Dance or Parent Dances?  Most DJs live and breathe music and the right one can give you fantastic ideas.  One couple I worked with met in Brooklyn and wanted all Brooklyn-based artists played during cocktail hour. I had a blast working with them on a playlist that included Vampire Weekend, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and MGMT. There are so many great alternatives to “Wind Beneath My Wings” to dance with Mom.  A good DJ can make some great, unique suggestions.  3)  Are you licensed, insured and offer a signed contract?  Couples are paying a lot of money for their wedding and they should be covered in every way.  Your DJ should be licensed in the state they live/have an office and carry $1,000,000 liability, as required by most venues.  If they don’t carry a Certificate of Insurance (standard practice), the venue may not let them in day-of.  And of course, read your contract carefully and be sure emergency plans, deposits, arrival times, etc. are in writing.
C:  How can a couple make sure that their DJ is going to do what they’ve discussed?
Use your best judgement 🙂  Be sure to meet with the person who will be your DJ, not just the company owner (who is usually a fantastic salesman & marketer).  Be clear in your requests and expectations and gauge their responsiveness.  I take notes and add that each client’s file (i.e., “Joe the Groom hates Lady Gaga” or “Do not give Uncle Lou the microphone no matter how much he begs to sing “Sweet Caroline”).  Just before the wedding, request a final meeting and go over any special requests again and/or email them to your DJ so there is no misunderstanding.  
C: What is the ideal timetable for interviewing DJs, booking them, finalizing choices for specific music?
It really depends on the company.  Larger companies have more DJs working for them and therefore, more availability. I’m usually booked 9-12 months in advance for dates in demand (May/June/July and September/October) but I’ve also been booked 2 weeks before a wedding because the date happens to be free.  After I meet with a couple, I place a courtesy hold on the day and give them as much time as they need to decide (or until another couple requests a meeting).  Once booked, I check in with couples a few times over the months leading up to their wedding date and then ask for all requests & information forms 2 weeks in advance.  I go over everything and re-connect to go over final details, name pronunciations, etc. a week before their wedding date.  
C: What are your favorite, unconventional picks for processionals, recessionals, first dances, parent dances?

My favorites are songs that don’t “read” as Father/Daughter or Mother/Son dances but have special meaning.  One bride danced to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” because thats what her dad sang to her when she was a little girl. We started the dance with an old family film of him singing it to her as a 5-year old as she danced on his toes.  Not a dry eye in the house 🙂 For processionals or recessionals, you can select music from your favorite movies (i.e. Wes Anderson movies usually feature music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh — PERFECT for wedding ceremonies).   We have a shiny, new music player on our website overflowing with favorites.
C: What’s the most unusual song choice one of your clients have picked?

It’s not so much unusual as it is awesome.  One couple danced to “Shama Lama Ding Dong” from Animal House — they had taken dance lessons and danced as if they were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  It was fun, unique, absurd and everyone loved it. 
 
C:  What’s on YOUR ipod?
I’m into everything from James Brown to Vampire Weekend; Frank Sinatra, George Clinton, The Strokes, Dr. Dre, Mates of State, Jay-Z, Black Sheep, LCD Soundsystem, Tribe Called Quest, Black Eyed Peas and Passion Pit.  While I have it on shuffle, Miley Cyrus has been known to make an appearance.  Thats what happens when you have a 10 year old niece.  Who doesn’t like “Party in the U.S.A?” 

C: Where do the single socks go?