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Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 02/19/2009

A Hip Wedding DJ? How About Three.

By David Malitz

When planning a wedding, every couple has its priorities. It's plenty reasonable to assign lots of importance to the perfect location, great food or making sure everything looks nice. But then you get people who start obsessing over place settings and those little place cards that tell you your table while ignoring something important like ... music! Music is what makes a party go and it's amazing how often people are willing to simply go with the standard wedding DJ -- you know the guy, goofy red bow-tie, would switch back and forth between "Celebrate good times, come on!" and "The Electric Slide" for three hours if he could -- without even exploring other options.

It doesn't have to be that way. In Washington, there is a particular trio of DJs who are helping to reshape exactly what a wedding DJ is. And there's a very specific reason for that -- they aren't wedding DJs. You're more likely to hear DJs Lil' E, Neville Chamberlain and D-Mac spinning in hip bars like Cafe Saint-Ex, Bourbon or the Black Cat than in some fancy hall. But that doesn't mean they don't know how to work a wedding reception. And here's the best thing -- all three are going to be less expensive options than that dude from Davis Deejay who plays the same thing at every wedding, every weekend.

Each of the three DJs has his or her own specialty in the clubs, but that doesn't mean things can't be mixed up for a special occasion. DJ Lil E is best known for Right Round, the '80s alternative night that she's done at the Black Cat for the last seven years. She also spins hip-hop, dance hall and big beat at Tinderbox. Still, if you're not into Depeche Mode, Kanye West, Shaggy or, uh, Fatboy Slim, no worries. "Weddings are a totally different animal," she says. DJ D-Mac regularly spins old funk, bossa nova and hip-hop, but one of his best recent wedding gigs was an Indian wedding where he got to spin plenty of bhangra. DJ Neville Chamberlain is best known for Brazilian Rhythms, his regular gig at Saint-Ex, and while he certainly incorporates that into his sets, it's not all you'll hear. "I generally start the evening with cool jazz and bossa nova especially if I'm providing the dinner music. After that it all depends on what the client likes musically," he said, echoing a sentiment that all three DJs expressed. While they may have been selected because they can offer something different from the norm, it's still a client-comes-first situation.

And that means playing stuff that will appeal to folks who aren't in the age group of the newly betrothed. After all, it's not like everyone at the wedding is going to be under 35 years old; it's a wedding party, not an after-party. "At most club nights there's probably not more than a 15 year age gap. But at weddings it can be up to ... 90 years?" DJ D-Mac surmised. Mom and Dad might be able to get down with a bit of classic funk, but grandma and grandpa? Weird Uncle Morty? Probably not. But these DJs come armed with plenty of options and have done enough to know what works.

"Most of the time soul or funk work the best across all ranges to get people moving," Lil E says. "But if the family does more traditional or swing dancing, I've found '50s rock to work very well." Chamberlain says that "something with a slower tempo and something everyone knows the words to works well." Though assuming taste based on age doesn't always work. He used to use big band music or Frank Sinatra as an olive branch to the Greatest Generation. "But I DJ'd one wedding where a woman in her late 60s did not like the Glenn Miller track I had picked out and said 'This is my parent's music, play some rock-n-roll!"

As for pricing, none of these options will break the bank but it's not like they are charity cases, either. "I'm not cheap," DJ D-Mac says, matter of factly. Each DJ discusses prices on an individual basis, but think roughly a grand as a ballpark figure. Compared to the industry standards and favorites, that's a number that certainly falls on the more inexpensive side. And when you take into account the fact that these are people that live and breathe music, the value is apparent.

By David Malitz  | February 19, 2009; 11:31 AM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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is wedding week over yet? also, wasn't it just wedding week? this is all really boring. here's hoping it won't be followed by baby week in 9 months.

Posted by: boring606 | February 19, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Never use Davis DJ for anything. You never know who they'll send and it's a crapshoot whether they'll be any good. Any DJ service that advertises on the radio is dubious.
The best thing is to just ask your friends who they used/liked.

Posted by: lorenw507 | February 19, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I haven't heard much good about Davis DJ's, but when selecting a DJ for my wedding (my wife wouldn't let me DJ my own wedding), I went with someone that I knew and trusted.

We went to the bridal shows and got quotes. It was unbelievable to see what some of these places were charges. Beware of these so-called "entertainment" companies. One of them told me it would be $2,500 for the wedding, for 9 hours worth of time. I told them our reception was only going to be 3-4 hours. They told me they had to set-up before everyone got there and the transportation costs bring it to that.

I've DJed for 18 years and have NEVER charged transportation, not charged extra time when I wasn't doing anything.

As a lark, I called them from my day job one day and inquired about a party, same time frame, SAME DAY, in the same area. $500 for a 4 hour party. Hmmmm, wedding = $2,000 more!

When selecting a DJ (I'm VERY picky about anyone that would work for me), go with someone you can trust. Talk with them. Tell them what you want played and ask them questions about other music you like. I will honestly answer every question and have even had to turn some people away because I felt that I didn't know the type of music they wanted. I could easily so go with my company, but I want the person to have a great time. If it means turning away $500-$1,000 here and there, I'm fine with that. I'd rather turn it away than have to give a refund later if something goes wrong.

I had a woman call me, spoke with her for 2 hours and then a week later they decided to use an iPod (DON'T EVER DO THIS!) to put their songs on. Halfway through the wedding, I got a call to see if I could stop by because there were problems. There's a lot more to DJing than pressing play. DJ's need to know how to read a crowd while also understanding what the people in charge want and don't want. There was one song we didn't want played, but a young relative really did. I already had it burned on a CD for him which the DJ gave to him.

I echo the sentiments of those interviewed in the article. Every party is a learning experience and no two weddings are the same (though Davis seems to think so). What I played last year will be about 60% of what I'm playing this year. Some parties, they want all rock, others want all 80's. One lady came to me and said they wanted all country and by the end of the night I'm playing Metallica and Pantera mixed with Alan Jackson and the dancing never stopped!

The moral, don't spend more than $500 for a DJ you don't know for anything. If you've been referred to them, then you can look at paying $1,000-$1,500. But ask for referrals on the DJ themselves, not the company.

Posted by: dj1123 | February 20, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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