What Is A Charleston Wedding DJ? – EPIC Interview!
What Is A Charleston Wedding DJ?
Full Interview and Key Takeaways
Does anyone know what a Charleston Wedding DJ does? I sat down with an actual one and picked his brain for an hour to learn what it takes to put on an unforgettable Wedding Entertainment.
What you will learn about Charleston Wedding DJs and main takeaways:
- How a Wedding DJ in Charleston, SC works.
- How a Charleston Wedding DJ prepares for a wedding (from Ceremony music to Reception music).
- How setting up Wedding Entertainment for Plantation Wedding is different.
- How a Wedding DJ coordinates the guests (and key wedding vendors) and keeps the event on running smoothly.
- Why managing energy and engagement is so important to making the night successful for a Wedding DJ as well for his/her fellow wedding vendors.
- Why letting Brides and Groom design their music list from scratch is a terrible idea.
- How EPIC Charleston recommends the best Charleston Wedding DJ.
- Why a Wedding DJs taste, style, and ability to dynamically read the crowd during the entertainment is so important.
- Why preparing for “one more song” is crucial to finishing a great set.
- Why and how to coordinate a send off (especially sparkler send offs).
- How DJ Wedding Entertainment has Evolved.
Watch (or listen) to the interview below:
For more on EPIC Charleston email Nick at email@example.com, call 843-718-5076, or click here the button below to get in touch:
Full Transcript Below:
Jamie: My name is Jamie Eilerman. I will be interviewing Nick Eilerman of EPIC Charleston. Nick is a DJ and Videographer here in Charleston, South Carolina, and I’m going to interview him on what it is to be a Charleston Wedding DJ. Nick, what is it to be a Charleston Wedding DJ? What is a Charleston Wedding DJ?
Nick: Charleston Wedding DJ is a DJ in Charleston, obviously, but it’s a little bit different than DJing up north or out west. One of the main things that makes it different is the environment. Out here, there is a bunch of plantation weddings. You have Boone Hall Plantation, you have Runnymede… all kinds of plantations just because of the history of the Charleston area that lend themselves to be developed into venues. People rent these venues because they’re beautiful, they’re outdoors. That is mostly where all the weddings I do take place. I’d say 9 times out of 10, it’s a plantation wedding. The other weddings are very traditional downtown. The DoubleTree, Francis Marion Hotel… those type of ballroom weddings that you would most typically think of when you have a wedding reception.
That changes the environment for the DJ. Most DJs, I would say, are comfortable with a ballroom. I DJ at Wild Dunes quite often. There’s a bunch of ballrooms, and there’s also outdoor venues, but you need to make sure that, since it is a different environment, you’re going to need different equipment. You’re going to need equipment that’s for the outdoors. You’re going to need wireless speakers. These different types of systems change the way you DJ because the environment’s different.
For example, let’s just use Wild Dunes, because it has both types of venues. At Wild Dunes, we’ll typically set up the ceremony outdoors. We’ll need a wireless speaker, and that speaker is going to need to be battery powered, because there’s no power outside. Same thing with plantations. There’s usually no power, unless you get a generator. One thing you’re doing is you’re helping out the client when you have that type of equipment in Charleston because they don’t have to rent a generator. They can just go through you and you can handle it. A DJ in Charleston needs to be mindful of that. When they do the cocktail hour, they’re going to use the same setup, so be mindful of that as a Charleston DJ.
The #1 thing, I think, that makes a difference being a Charleston DJ is that the vibe is completely different at a wedding. I would say typically clients from up north that come down south are more vocal about the experience they want to have. They tell me over the phone directly, “Hey Nick, we want more of an open mingling type atmosphere. We’re going to have dinner stations. It’s not going to be plated. It’s not going to be a seated dinner. We want people moving around. We want people exploring the space.”
For example, last week I was at Boone Hall Plantation two days in a row. One couple was local and it was a very traditional wedding. It was a great night, super fun. Just a great wedding at Boone Hall. That was a local client. The second night, exact same location, exact same setup, they were from up north and everyone was taking in the surroundings so much because it was so different. If you can imagine, you’re coming from up north. You’ve been to tons of friends’ weddings. They were at ballrooms, glitz and glam.
Jamie: Country clubs.
Nick: Yeah, yeah. It’s just they were very comfortable with that. What happens when you get comfortable with that, is you start to just kind of not pay attention, everything is the same. It’s like hey, no big deal, Tom had a wedding, Susie had a wedding, it was great. We had a good time. But they’re not going to say too much about the venue. Maybe they had really cool lighting or maybe they had a cool experience with a band or DJ. That’s pretty much it. What I noticed when the client came down to Charleston from somewhere else, they were enamored by the beauty of the plantation. This was at Boone Hall. Everything was delayed because we couldn’t gather the guests together because they were walking around, they were exploring the property, and they were just like, “Man, this place is so beautiful. This is gorgeous.” You had the Avenue of Oaks they’re walking down.
I’m trying to describe, it’s going to be hard for anyone listening to picture this, but imagine you’re walking down an avenue of oaks and it’s just so beautiful. You’re getting ready to walk into the front porch of a plantation home, where the chairs are set up for the wedding ceremony. You’re sitting down, and you’re like, “Man, this is beautiful.” Then all of a sudden, music starts playing and your daughter in law or your aunts and uncles, and friends and family, they’re all around you.
Jamie: This is where I want to get in the next question.
Jamie: We’re talking about a Charleston Wedding DJ and what the environment is. You touched on how it’s a little different in terms of setup, since there’s a lot of outdoor spaces, big properties and plantations. Before we get to the arrival and sendoff of a wedding, how do you prepare for a Charleston wedding? How does a Charleston Wedding DJ prepare for a wedding? Talk about how you prepare for your Boone Hall Plantation wedding. From ceremony to reception, what’s the plan? How does the guest plan everything?
Nick: That’s a good segue before we get detailed into what the reception looks like for that one particular wedding. At Boone Hall, you’re going to have three locations, typically, for your wedding reception. Again, what your main thing is, is you don’t have power at the ceremony location.
Jamie: Maybe just how do you prepare before the event? Before you get to Boone Hall?
Nick: I got you now. When you’re speaking to the client and you’re preparing to tell them about what you’re going to need for their wedding … That sound good? They tell you, “Hey Nick, we’re having it at Boone Hall Plantation.” Immediately, a couple switches turn on and there’s a couple questions I need to ask them. One is, are you guys having it in front of the Plantation Home? Are you having it at the Cotton Dock? This pertains to the ceremony specifically. A ceremony on the Cotton Dock itself. Is it inside the building, is it outside on the dock, is it on the plantation? Is it in the Avenue of Oaks? Is it behind the house? These are very important points to ask the client, and you need to know the venue, number one. You need to be familiar with all these locations where the client could potentially have the ceremony, because that’s ultimately where your equipment’s going to be set up. At the same time, they need to understand that that’s an independent service and it’s something special on its own.
The next thing you need to do is ask them, “Where’s your ceremony being held?” It could be a number of places. Again, they’re super excited about exploring the space, so maybe they want to have it under the Avenue of Oaks. They want to have it at the Plantation House. They want to have it at the Cotton Dock. That’s another thing you need to identify and be prepared for when you’re speaking with your client. And to help answer their questions that they have because typically, they’re destination couples. They’ve never been to Charleston.
Jamie: They’ve never put on a wedding.
Nick: They’ve never put on a wedding. They’ve never been there, so they’re relying on you to just handle that, take care of it, but also educate them on why they need it. That’s another big point.
Jamie: We’ve started at where are they getting married. If they’re doing a ceremony with you, what do they need to know in the planning stages of the ceremony part?
Nick: Good question. For a wedding ceremony, typically people will say, okay, I need music for guests arriving. That makes sense. Then they have a question, what do I do next? What we provide is a reception planning form. Within this form, it’s a double check on names, guests, who’s coming. Essentially, what this form does is it educates you on everything that you potentially could have going on in your ceremony. A ceremony could be as simple as a few prelude songs for guest arrival and seating of the parents, grandparents, the bridal party coming out. That could be all to one song. You could have the bride’s processional coming down the aisle. That could be number two. Then you could have the recessional song as number three. Three simple songs that you choose for the ceremony. That could be your traditional ceremony.
Then it can get more complex. You might want to have a couple different things happening. Then you want the guests to arrive to a little more eclectic music, have a little more different vibe for your wedding ceremony than is traditional. It takes a little bit more work behind the scenes. For the seating of the parents and grandparents, that might an individual song. For the groomsmen coming out with the officiant, that might be a separate song. For the bridesmaids coming out, that’s a separate song. For the bride processional, that could be a separate song. Then, once the bride and groom and the officiant are doing the ceremony, you might have a Sand Ceremony. That could use a different song. You might have a traditional tying of the knot and that adds a different song. Then you have the recessional after you’re married.
Essentially, you can go from three songs to having seven songs.
Jamie: What is a Sand Ceremony?
Nick: A Sand Ceremony is a way that you can visually represent two families coming together. You have three glasses, three vases. One of them has a certain color sand that the bride will choose. A second one, the groom will choose the color of sand. Then, in the middle, you have a bigger vessel that is going to accept both cups of sand and the bride and the groom will take their sand and pour it together and it creates a pretty cool little sand design. That’s a visual representation of both families coming together. They can take that and they can seal the top of it, they can put it on their mantle at home. It represents that day when they came together, and it’s a nice symbolic way of representing that.
Jamie: Then there’s the tying the knot. Each different type of ceremony has a certain music with it. When you do the playlist for ceremonies, what’s the planning process for that? Besides the planning template.
Nick: The planning process for the wedding ceremony could be a number of things. I would like to say that most people like a traditional ceremony, but that’s actually not the case in my experience in Charleston. If you could imagine, you’d probably say, “Hey, I go to my friend’s ceremony. They have some classical music playing. There’s a classical hymn or there’s a classical song that’s very traditional to a wedding ceremony played. Sounds about normal.” However, with the weddings that we do, it’s a little bit more eclectic and, I guess for lack of a better word, stylish. I’ll recommend to them one of two bands that provide that style. The Vitamin String Quartet is one group. Then the Piano Guys is another group.
If you Google both of these bands, you’ll find that they are ceremony musicians who’ve taken a different take on traditional ceremony music. What they’ve done is they have recorded pop songs, but they play it in a classical way. They rearrange a pop song into basically classical. They’re playing a pop song with classical instruments.
Jamie: Like Lady Gaga is now instrumental.
Nick: Exactly, exactly. When I play this to clients, I’m really used to it, so it’s really fun to see their reaction when they hear it for the first time. You’re not going on Spotify to try to find wedding music. You’re listening to it for your own … Just kind of hanging out when you’re driving and stuff like that. When they do find these songs, you’re like, “Man, that’s pretty cool. I got the Rolling Stones.” Like you said, Lady Gaga for example, or The Beatles, or something like that.
What happens is that when you’re at the ceremony, the parents are like, “Wow, this is very elegant music. I like the instruments,” but then everybody there’s like, “I just heard this on the radio the other day.” It’s cool because all of a sudden, music has brought two different age groups together and just created something very different. That’s a lot of feedback that I do get. It’s different, it’s much happier. Because I do believe it should be fun. It should be fun to plan your wedding. It shouldn’t be like, ugh, not going to play the classical song. I’m not really into classical music. If you’re not into classical music, don’t play classical music. If you’re into Iron & Wine, heck, if you’re into Stevie Wonder, play it at your ceremony. It’s fun.
Your wedding should really represent you. Don’t Google Pour Some Sugar on Me. Don’t go off in a direction where you’re trying to copy what somebody else thinks is your wedding. Make it your own. With these planning forms, they allow you to really create your own personal touch to your wedding. What I want for my ceremony. Then I think what we’ll get into in a second is the reception.
Jamie: We’ve talked a good bit about the ceremony, definitely a good bit. We’ve had a great ceremony. Now we’re going into the wedding reception. This is the meat of what you do. It’s four hours, five hours, depending on the location and the timeline. You talked about the planning forms and the process of the ceremony. Walk us through the planning form and how a ceremony and reception is run by a Charleston Wedding DJ.
Nick: We just went through the ceremony planning form, so the ceremony’s set, ready to go. At the same time, this gives everybody peace of mind because you’ve written it down. I know exactly what’s happening for my wedding ceremony. The next thing you need to do that makes everyone comfortable is hey, what’s the plan for the wedding reception? When are things going to happen? What are we going to do? They think, I’ve never planned a wedding before. What do I need to do? What’s something I need to look for?
With our EPIC Reception planning form, this form has been developed over the last four or five years. It’s kinda like a living document. It always changes if there’s different suggestions. To start off, we’re moving from the ceremony right into the cocktail hour. Cocktail hour is the nice segue part of the night. What I mean by that is there’s a lot of planning that goes on to get the ceremony right and to have the ceremony. There’s a lot of planning that goes on in the reception to make sure all of it goes smoothly. From a behind the scenes point of view, the cocktail hour is kind of where you can put the guest on pause, if you will, for lack of a better word. Where it’s great music, you get to pick out whatever vibe you want to set for that cocktail hour, and the guests are enjoying that moment.
The guests are there. They’re having drinks, hors d’oeuvres, having a good time. They’re on their own in that area. From my perspective, what I’m doing then is I’m moving from that highly planned wedding ceremony and I’m moving into the highly planned reception. Guests are at cocktail hour. Okay. The reason I say it’s kind of a place to have guests for the cocktail hour and that they’re enjoying themselves, is that when you get to the wedding reception, we are going over the order of events. We’re working with the wedding planner. We’re checking in with the photographer, and all of those things are taking place behind the scenes as guests are enjoying cocktail hour, because we’re preparing for the guests to come into the wedding reception. That’s the only time you plan that, is while they’re at cocktail hour.
Because once they leave cocktail hour, that’s when the night is beginning. Any last minute changes you need to make, get the photo booth ready, turning it on, chatting with the photographers and the videographers on where everybody’s going to be set up, where their positions are going to be for the grand entrance, getting the music ready, transferring it to the reception area, kinda rehearsing, going over the last minute details for guest entrance, names, all that happens while guests are at cocktail hour. The reason I’m explaining that is as soon as guests come from cocktail hour, there’s no more changing. It’s like the show goes live from a behind the scenes perspective.
What our EPIC Reception Planning Form does, is we’re going to go through all those details ahead of time. The first one is the vibe for the cocktail hour, like we just were talking about. You can play anything you want or you can just leave it up to us and we can play everything that we know works very, very well for weddings, and you don’t have to worry about it. We just take care of it for you. The second thing we’re going to do, is we’re going to prepare the bridal party for introductions. To do that, we’re going to invite all the guests inside. The wedding that we’re talking about today, this is at Boone Hall Plantation, so we have an indoor venue for the reception. The cocktail hour is currently happening outside. If the cocktail hour’s outside, we need to invite the guests inside.
Jamie: Maybe you can use your Boone Hall example. The reception at Boone Hall. Let’s say you’ve gone through the ceremony. Maybe even tell us a story about how you went through the reception.
Nick: Sure. At this point, we’re going to go through the order of events. This is with our client having completely filled out the reception planning form, so that we’re going to go ahead and start from the top of that and go right down to the bottom. All the guests are outside. We’ve just got on the microphone and we have invited them inside the reception area. This is a great moment for the guests because they’re really kinda wowed. This is the first time they see the tables, the decorations, the linens, the flowers, and so they’re just kinda exploring the area. We’ve invited them in.
As they are exploring the area, getting comfortable, finding their table, what we’re doing is we’re asking the bridal party to meet us outside. This is father of the bride, all the family. Parents of the groom, parents of the bride, bridesmaids, groomsmen, even flower girls and ring bearers. They’re out there most of the time if you can find them. Once we have them all outside, I don’t like to rely on just staying inside and waiting for everybody to get lined up for me. In my experience, that never works out. You need to be very engaged in meeting your bridal party, meeting the parents of the bride and groom, really getting in touch with everyone. It gets you this last moment to go over their names and just interact with everybody so everyone knows who you are and what you’re doing that night as a DJ.
We’re outside. Guests are inside. While we’re outside, we’re lining up the bridal party. We’re getting them in order and we’re doing a couple of things that may be forgotten. That is when the parents of the bride or the parents of the groom were introduced, where do they go? They don’t know where to go. They know to walk in when you call their name, but after that they’re lost. Because they’ve never done this before, or at least, in this scenario. Just let them know that hey, when you’re called, go ahead and walk in. Everyone’s going to be gathered around the dance floor. You guys can just kinda break off to one side. Join the rest of the wedding party. It’s just very comfortable. No need to stress out or worry about doing a dance. Just come in natural, see everyone, come off to one side of the dance floor.
It’s very important to instruct all the bridal party members and make sure you clearly know that they understand what to do. Because remember, they’ve been hanging out all day. They’ve been partying all day. They may be a little distracted from actually how to come in.
Jamie: We got the ceremony, we’re going through cocktail hour, they’re kinda mingling around. What’s next?
Nick: The next thing we’re going to do is we’re introducing the bridal party. We’re going to introduce everyone out to the dance floor. They’ll break off to the side. Now we come up to the grand entrance of the bride and groom. The bride and groom, obviously, last people to come in at the end of the bridal party. We’ll introduce them onto the dance floor, and most traditionally, we’ll go directly into their first dance as husband and wife. At this time, we’ve already got all the guests surrounding the dance floor, which is very important to do. Because imagine if everyone is sitting down at their table and you have this introduction. It’s very …
Jamie: Low energy.
Nick: It’s low energy, and not just that. More behind the scenes look is when you get the pictures later, there’s nobody in the picture.
Jamie: No energy, no impact.
Nick: Yeah. You have a beautiful picture of the bride and groom coming in, but there’s no friends and family. There’s no people clapping and smiling.
Jamie: Because the photographer and wedding planner aren’t going tell everyone to get up. It might be the DJ’s job to make sure there’s energy in the room.
Nick: Right. A photographer is great at capturing a moment. As a DJ and MC, it’s your job to create that moment. Create the moment where people are around the dance floor, and create the moment where the bride and groom are on the dance floor with the family around them. That’s how you get that picture. That picture doesn’t happen by accident. The photographer is not on the microphone telling people to get on the dance floor for the picture.
Jamie: It’s in a DJ’s best interest to make sure … They keep the energy up all night and make sure it stays at great constant and balance. If you don’t have that, the wedding planner’s not going to hype them up. The photographer’s not going to move people around always. They’re not the people that try to keep that energy all night.
Nick: One thing that videographers, photographers, and planners love when I organize this is because if you can have control of where the bride and groom are standing or having that first dance, and you can control that that’s where the lighting needs to be, you’re going to get the best picture possible. Because imagine if you just let everything go. It’s like, I don’t know where the guests are. Maybe they’re sitting down. I don’t know. Then the bride and groom comes in. You’re like, I don’t know. I guess that’s where they need to be on the dance floor for the picture. If you have all these I don’t knows, they might be in a dark corner. There might be a table where there’s no guest sitting down. That’s all the photographer can take pictures of, is because you created that.
Jamie: You don’t want their first dance to be everyone’s sitting down on their cellphone. You want them to be engaged.
Nick: When brides and grooms talk about that magic that happens, it’s not just a goofy way to explain how they’re feeling. It’s because you created that. You created guests to surround the dance floor. You instructed the bridal party to fall in naturally around the dance floor. You’ve created that opportunity so when they come in, naturally people are like, “I’m here. I’m right there. I’m close to them.”
Jamie: You create a universe of love. Is that what it is? A universe of love. That’s the new tagline.
Nick: Okay, okay. We might use that.
Jamie: Okay, so they’ve had the first dance. Next, it’s usually the mom and dad. What’s next?
Nick: I have a suggestion. There’s something that I suggest to couples that have different sizes of wedding parties. This is another big thing. How big is your wedding party? I’ve done weddings for 30 people. I’ve done weddings for 300 people, and I’ve done weddings for 700 people. Each one is their own different environment. The 30 people wedding, with people with 30 people in their whole entire family, bridal party, guest count, it’s going to be way different. It’s just going to be the bride and groom, usually. A father daughter dance, and we go right into dinner, and that’s pretty much the night. Still an excellent, super fun night, but you gotta understand, it needs to be a more intimate night. The music needs to be a little bit different. The people want to be able to talk and be comfortable. It’s much more intimate with 30 people.
When you move up to 300 people, you’re going to have an issue with distraction. People paying attention to what’s happening in the moment. For a 300 person crowd, you want to take care of everything right in the beginning. You want to do the first dance. You want to do the father daughter, you want to do the mother son. You want to do the welcome. You want to communicate to everyone when dinner’s happening, because that is the most time the guests are going to be focused on the dance floor. They’re going to have the most attention on you, and they’re going to be listening because they’re paying attention. Also because they haven’t visited the bar yet.
My opinion is that you only need to break the focus of a night two times. You have one chance to get everybody’s attention in the beginning, and then there’s only about one more time in the end of the night that you’re going to be able to grab everyone’s attention, or that you get on the microphone and really grab everyone’s attention.
Jamie: Let’s move on then. We’ve done the first dance. The father daughter dance, maybe a mother son. After that, are we hitting dinner, dancing? What’s next?
Nick: What’s next is we’ve had the first dance. We’ve had the father daughter. We’ve had the mother son dance, and if you would like different dances from additional family members, you can completely plan that. That’s also on the form. The final thing you’re going to do is you’re either going to have a welcome from the bride and groom saying “Welcome.” I always suggest this if there’s not the father of the bride welcoming everybody. The first thing I suggest, and this is meant to be a good segue. It’s actually a part of the night where you want an individual to speak right before dinner because it’s a natural segue.
It’s better for a bride and groom to tell everyone, and I do suggest this, “I just want to thank everyone for coming. All of you mean so much to us and I’m so happy that you guys could be with us here today. Trish and I, we’re just so happy that friends from outside of Charleston could make it today. I know you guys traveled so far. Really, from the bottom of our hearts, we really wanted to thank you for coming. We hope you guys have a great night.” When they say that, it’s so much better for them to personally say that to the guests than for me to just say, “Hey guys, dinner’s served,” and then play music. They can say that. They can say, “Thank you so much for coming. It means the world to us,” and you can just have a natural fade in of the music. It’s just this really comfortable way to segue into dinner. A segue is very important.
If the bride and groom is not going to do that, traditionally the father of the bride will actually get on the microphone and welcome everyone, thank them for coming. “I hope you guys have a great night.” Then we’ll fade in the music and just go right into dinner. You want it always to be the smooth transition. You don’t want an awkward pause. An awkward no sound, no music. Always plan these really nice segues. That’s one thing.
To move forward, we’re moving into dinner now. Dinner is a great time for you to really get some personal vibes going as far as what music you like to just lay back, listen to. It can be country. It can be Frank Sinatra. It can be rock, classic rock. Let your personality come through with the dinner music. At the same time, be confident knowing that we’re not going to let you play stuff that we don’t think works. We can do two things at the same time.
Moving along, towards the end of dinner is when the next moment is happening. I was telling you earlier that you want two times to stop the night. One is the beginning, where all the guests are coming in. First dance, you have everybody’s attention. This is the second part of the night where you’re going to get on the microphone and it needs to be the last. After that, you need to be dancing and having a good time. Let the guests just take in the moment. The second time you’re going to get on the microphone, you’re going to do two things. You’re either going to cut the wedding cake first, or you’re going to welcome guests up for toast. It’s very important that you introduce them personally. Don’t just go over to Tom and whisper in his ear like, “Hey, it’s time for the toast. Here,” and hand him the microphone. Be a MC. Walk up, welcome everyone, let them know that toasts are happening.
Because we’re using Boone Hall for an example, people are outside on the Cotton Dock because the sunset is just out of control awesome. They’re probably taking 1,000 pictures. They’re out on the, I just learned this word the other day, the Oyster Tabby. If you didn’t know, the Oyster Tabby is just a patio made of oysters where they have the cocktail hour. I saw that on the timeline and I was like, “Where is this? I’ve done 20 weddings here. Where is this? Where’s the Oyster Tabby?” Anyway, guests are still at the original cocktail hour. Guests might be down the road a little bit, hanging out.
Jamie: It’s a dirt road, right?
Nick: It’s a dirt road.
Jamie: Okay, it’s not a road road.
Nick: Give the guests just a little bit of notification, but not enough to where you’re saying, “Hey guys, toast is happening,” and then you have five minutes of silence. Just get them the notification. You’ll know that you’ve said enough when you can start seeing movement and people coming towards the deck.
Jamie: You’re kinda the shepherd of the night.
Jamie: The DJ Wedding Shepherd.
Nick: Yeah. As the guests are coming in, you can go ahead and start moving on with having the cake cutting begin with the bride and groom. Because in my experience, if you wait and you wait, the timeline is going to start to get away from you, and now you’re cutting into your performance time. You’re literally taking away minutes from dancing, and those minutes add up into half hours, and those half hours end up into hours. It will get away from you. If you see guests moving, just go ahead. You can start.
As a DJ in Charleston, make sure you are focused on the photographer and the videographer. Communicate with them. Do not begin toasts and just go right into it. You need to be mindful that did they finish grabbing their vendor meal real quick? Is somebody putting flash on? Are they changing batteries? Is the videographer putting in a new SD card? Be human about it. They have equipment. They’ve been working, filming all night. They need maybe a reset. Just be mindful that everyone needs to be in their place, almost like a movie. Be on their set, on their mark, before you make it happen, because you’re going to dramatically increase the photo quality, the video quality.
Jamie: Because the wedding’s a production and when you help others, it’s going to make it just a better experience overall for everybody.
Nick: Yeah, be human about it. Don’t get into this rut of, wow, they’re not on time.
Jamie: Right, not my job.
Nick: Yeah, not my job. No, it is your job. You might not think it’s your job. It is absolutely your job. I always joke about this with clients on the phone. Make sure you tell me exactly when the caterer’s ready for you to eat or have plated dinner. Because once I’m on the microphone and I say that dinner is happening, I will never be able to take that back. The guests are like, “What? Dinner’s ready?”
Jamie: It’s chow time.
Nick: You can’t go backwards after that. It’s the same thing with cake cutting. You can’t …
Jamie: Re-cut it.
Nick: You can’t.
Jamie: Not gonna put icing back on it.
Nick: You can’t put the cake back together. You need to make sure, okay, everybody’s in their spot. An experienced DJ can naturally do this where the bride and groom has no idea that this is happening. That’s where the experience comes in. Everybody’s ready. They’re set in their place. The lighting’s right. The bride and groom are coming in. They’re in the perfect light. They’re in the perfect spot for the videographer, perfect spot for the photographer. Again, those two professionals are not competing for a spot because you’ve given them time. They know what’s happening. What you’ve done is you made everybody’s experience that much better. As a DJ, that is your job.
Jamie: Couple good things. The DJ can make the night better by coordinating in terms of making sure people know where they’re supposed to be, help the vendors there, give time for them to know ahead of time how to set up a shot, that the cake’s happening, etc. We talked about you helping direct the night, dinner’s happening, we’re getting ready to dance, you’re gonna start the dance process. You talked about the planning form. When we get to the dancing part, what did you do with your clients before in that planning phase? What did they fill out? How did they set up their dancing part of the night?
Nick: EPIC Charleston style, and the main reason people choose EPIC Charleston is because it’s not your job to provide hundreds of songs, and it’s also not your job to have a list that’s given to you of 300 songs and you just kinda start circling all these songs and you’re not personally invested in those songs. Those songs are, frankly, outdated. I’ve heard of these situations where the client’s like, “I don’t know, I just picked a bunch of songs.” It makes me sad because that is not how you get those unforgettable experiences. You don’t get an unforgettable experience by pencil whipping a 300 song sheet.
Jamie: Letting them design it from scratch is a bad idea.
Jamie: What is different about your process of getting the songs picked?
Nick: Instead of doing what you were just explaining, maybe we did 15 weddings that month, for example, or something like that. It’s so fresh. Say it’s a Sunday wedding. We just did a Friday and Saturday wedding. We’re very in the moment of what is making people dance. What’s traditions, classic. Just playing the good music. Taking all of the stuff that doesn’t work out and only playing the great music.
Jamie: Let me do this. Tell a story about what was the process for the couple, let’s say at Boone Hall. What did they do to prepare for the dance part of their wedding? What did you do to help?
Nick: What I do is an EPIC Reception Planning Form. At the very bottom, it’s the third page from the bottom, is you have a little chart that as you’re checking left to right, you can rate very quickly how you like a genre. Say you have dance music, EDM. You have ’80s, ’90s, you have top 40s, you have hip-hop. Clean edits. That’s a big deal. There’s no reason to play explicit music at any event, private or wedding. It doesn’t add anything to the dance floor, in my experience. This form, ’80s and ’90s, top 40s, hip-hop, big band, oldies, disco. You have these genres, and then you can simply check left to right. I love hip-hop, I love ’80s, I love ’90s, I’m not really a big fan of big band music, don’t play disco, I don’t want that.
What this does is for our DJs, it gives a snapshot of what the night could look like. It’s a good snapshot of what we might start our set that we’re playing that night, and it also gives the bride and groom an idea of hey, that’s kinda like what I like. I like that vibe. These are the songs that I like. That was really helpful. You now know that I love ’80s and ’90s, and they might write a comment and they’re like, “I freaking love ’80s.” You get a little bit more personality. You’re pulling their personality out.
Jamie: With that, you’re gonna curate a list of songs based on that small preference.
Nick: That’s right. We tell our clients on the phone, like those clients that we had at Boone Hall, for example, is don’t worry about what your guests want to listen to. We have that handled. I know exactly what your guests love. What I want to focus on is what do you love? What do you and your fiancé love? Give me 10 or 12 songs each that you love, and then behind the scenes, what I’m gonna do leading up to that wedding, when I get that form, is I’m gonna take those songs that you requested, those 10 or 12 songs, not 300, just 10 or 12 songs, and then I’m gonna develop that into a personalized set. I can see your personality through those requests, and I know what song mixes with that. I know what song mixes with this. I know how to integrate those songs into what your family loves, and that’s how we create that really powerful wedding set of music.
Jamie: This experience you have, this comes from doing a lot of weddings? How does a DJ know this, this weaving and creating?
Nick: As a DJ gets more experienced, what you’re going to do is you’re gonna start out with classics. You’re gonna stick to Michael Jackson, you’re gonna stick to funk. Maybe Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind, and Fire, a lot of shag music. I call them quick wins. They’re stuff that people love when it comes to music.
Jamie: It’s a safe bet.
Nick: Like Van Morrison. I love it, you love it, people love that music. Where your style’s gonna come in is how do you expand from there? As you grow as a DJ, you’re gonna say, hey, this Calvin Harris song that just came out, this mixes really well with this one Motown song. It’s like, what? But then when you play it, you’re like, wow. Man, that’s different. People really pick up on that. You kinda drop one or two songs every night. Over two weekends, you maybe got two or three songs. Over four weekends, a couple months, all of a sudden, you start to have these mini-sets throughout the night, and those mini-sets are your personality.
Jamie: You’ve developed this taste and style.
Nick: Yeah. When I hire DJs for EPIC Charleston, you can’t tell a DJ how to be a good DJ. You can teach them MC skills, how to talk to the client, what to look out for, but in my experience, when I started, I always tried to copy DJs that I loved. Kinda copy this or copy that. All of a sudden, I found that I wasn’t showing my personality in my music, which actually led me to not have successful sets in the beginning because I’m taking something that I didn’t organically create.
What I’ve done is I have my own personal way I do weddings, and I have recordings of weddings that I’ve done, so a client can actually listen to a wedding, and if they like that style, then they’re confident that they can get that style. Same thing for the other DJs that I hire for EPIC. They had their own style. When I’m on the phone with a client, I’m telling them, “Hey, Kevin has his style. He’s really good at this, this, and this, and I really think that fits your personality the best. That’s who should DJ your night.” The client’s like, “Wow, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.” Then it becomes a really great fit, but you can’t change that. I can’t tell …
Jamie: You can have your clients go through the process and they help give your DJ an idea what to do, but you can’t teach that DJ taste or how to dynamically alter the night if he needs to.
Nick: Right, right. He’s responsible for learning those experiences, whether it’s starting out in clubs or bars, and get an idea from, man, don’t play that. People don’t like that. Once a DJ grows and gets those wins, you’re gonna stick with that. Then you’re gonna get creative. Then all of a sudden, you get really comfortable. A wedding is actually a more comfortable place than any other place. That is when your creativity starts to come through.
Jamie: Let’s talk about that. This is one of the biggest things about being a Charleston Wedding DJ, or a DJ in general, is dancing’s the biggest subject, reading the crowd. This is something that I’ve seen you guys do very well, but what is it? Kinda get us into, what are the challenges of a night that there’s low energy, or even high energy, how to keep that going? Tell us about reading the crowd. What does that mean?
Nick: Sure. I’ll tell you my experience. Other DJs that I have, they have different experiences on how they read crowds or what they use to read a crowd. For my background, it’s a little bit more technical, you could say. It’s more of a process than anything else. What I do is I have a starter set. It’s a couple songs. Those songs are going to signal to me what people are picking up on that night. No one will know, because it’s like, hey, that’s some great wedding music. Those are nice, traditional songs, but they’re very specific traditional songs.
For example, I’m not sure how to explain this, but a lot of people have a love/hate relationship between Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber. This is strictly just from my experience, but you either love Taylor Swift, or you do not want to hear her. You either love Justin Bieber, or you don’t want to hear it. Same thing with participation dances. You love the wobble or say don’t even get close to that and play that on my wedding night. I don’t want any line dances.
Jamie: You figured this out towards the beginning with your planning form.
Nick: Right. I try to hedge this a little bit by, on the planning form, giving a do not play list. Almost more important than the playlist. If you know that a client is not into line dances, whereas their family and friends might be completely into it, your job as a DJ is to understand that the bride and groom doesn’t want that. They don’t want that vibe coming across at their wedding, and you don’t need to play those. There’s so much great songs that if you don’t do those, no big deal.
What I do to start the set is have some great traditional songs, like Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, or Taylor Swift, Shake It Off, or Outkast, Hey Yeah. If you look at those three songs, you have Outkast, which is old school, but you can mix it into Taylor Swift, which is top 40 at the moment. Then if that’s not working, if you haven’t grabbed the audience at that point, then what you’re probably looking for is going to be Van Morrison because maybe you need to get back to more of an old school vibe for parents and grandparents. Maybe the younger crowd is not ready to get on the dance floor yet. They’re hanging out, talking to their friends at the bar. Then the older crowd, they’re ready to get on the dance floor.
In those three songs, you immediately have three genres. You have old school, top 40, and then you have more like Van Morrison’s for an older crowd, which everybody loves Brown Eyed Girl. With those three songs just as an example, they can be any songs, but I’m picking these three, once you get one, and people are like, “Dig it man, yeah, that’s what I’m feeling,” once you get that, you’ll see it, and then all of a sudden an experienced DJ will just be able to branch right off of that.
Jamie: Using that barometer or that test in the beginning helps you figure out the course of the night pretty early. Okay. We’ve had the dance. We’ve planned the dance. We got people dancing. Things are going well. You said there’s two moments where you need to get on the microphone. I think there might be one more. Is it the sendoff?
Jamie: That’s probably the last one, right? Tell us about the night’s wrapping up, people, maybe they’re not tired, maybe they’ve had a blast, and it’s time for the big sendoff. The car is driven around or a horse and carriage, something. What’s that process?
Nick: For a DJ in Charleston, the night is coming to an end, you cut the cake, the toast has been said, you’ve individually introduced all the people giving a toast, very, very important. I’m gonna butcher this quote, but I read a quote that is, “The sweetest sound in the world is somebody’s own name.” Was that Dale Carnegie?
Jamie: I’ve heard that everywhere. I don’t know who said that.
Nick: I think it was Dale Carnegie. That’s so true. Introduce someone. That’s who they are. It’s a wedding. People don’t know who that person is. You can call them the best man or maid of honor all day, but is it Brian? Put a name with it because after that, people are gonna know that person going into the end of the night. Let’s not digress.
The toast, you introduce everyone by their name. Wrapping up toast, everybody has great applause. It’s a great segue to move into, again, I keep mentioning segues because it is like a show. It’s a production. You want to nicely segue into dancing. You’re segueing in from toast to dancing. You got the dance floor going. You’ve kinda worked on those songs to start your set for the night, get people engaged, dancing on the dance floor. Everybody’s had a great time. You’re moving towards the end of dancing. Maybe do the bouquet and garter. Maybe not. Bouquet and garter is about 50/50 if you’re gonna do it or not do it. For an experienced DJ, you should be able to do it at a moment’s notice if they want to, and you should be able to, if they don’t want to do it, just move on.
We’re getting towards the end of the night, and for an experienced DJ you want to always, I call it capping the end of the night. You want to go straight up and peak at the highest energy level for the last song. What I do to do that is I pre-plan about 15 minutes before the end of the night. I will actually have a playlist that I create on the spot. Whatever the night, the vibe has shown me, I’m kinda putting my ideas in there. My ideas, in this scenario, are songs. Songs that I feel represent how to end the night for this couple, I’m gonna put in there. If it’s Rihanna or Calvin Harris or something like that, I’ll go that route. If it’s more old school rock, Journey, maybe I’ll go that route to end the night.
We’re going there. We’re ending the night. We just ended it with the best songs that really fit that client. We might sneak in an extra song just to mess around. “Hey, this is the last song of the night,” and they’re like, “Aw.”
Jamie: One. More. Song.
Nick: You always want to be prepared for one more song, and you need to do your homework on it throughout the night. If it’s kinda a hip-hop crowd, maybe want to have Notorious BIG under your sleeve. Plan for that moment. Don’t just, when they get to tell you, “One. More. Song,” don’t just pick something, because what’s happened is you worked so hard to get to that peak of the night. If you are gonna put the icing on the cake, it’s gotta be the right flavored icing.
Jamie: You want to have that small experiment in the beginning, but at the end you should have an idea of how to finish it strong.
Nick: Yes. And an experienced DJ will know how to finish strong every single time. We’ve got to the end of the night. Now what we’re gonna do is kinda a reverse of what we did at the beginning. What we’re gonna do is, instead of bringing the guests inside, we’re gonna tell all the guests to go outside. We’re gonna instruct the guests. Everyone needs instruction. Don’t just let it be a free for all, because you are on the microphone. You’re kinda the voice of the wedding. Tell the guests. “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” We’re getting ready for the sendoff. We’re gonna invite everyone outside, and then for this scenario, let’s say we’re doing sparklers. Let the guests know to not light the sparklers until everyone’s ready. They’re all feeling good. Good vibe.
Jamie: Alcohol’s been poured.
Nick: Alcohol’s been poured. Somebody’s gonna go out there and just pull the lighter out of their pocket and light it and be like, “whooooo.” Be affirmative and say, “Don’t light it until everyone is ready. We’re forming two lines. Don’t light it until everyone is ready. We’re forming two lines.” Repeat yourself, because what’s happened in the past is somebody goes up there, they light it, the photographer’s not ready …
Jamie: And lighting too early causes a chain reaction.
Nick: The bride and groom are not even ready to come out.
Jamie: Smoke’s everywhere.
Nick: That is your responsibility.
Jamie: It becomes a chain reaction, right?
Jamie: You light one sparkler, then the person’s gonna try to light the other one.
Nick: Yeah, yeah. They normally can’t hear anything. Everybody’s cheering. You might not have the photographer, no bride and groom or anybody. We’re all inside. Then there’s just a bunch of guests outside with sparklers thinking somebody came down the aisle. It is your responsibility to organize that, give good instruction to make sure that that goes off without a hitch.
Jamie: Hopefully you’re working with a planner during this, or a photographer, to make sure they get the shots.
Nick: Yeah. When you’re inviting the guests outside and giving them instruction, you’ve usually been signaled by the wedding planner or the day of coordinator that, hey, cool, we’re ready for the sendoff tonight. Then it’s your time to provide that instruction, let everybody know what to do when they get outside. Everybody’s outside, they’re set, you can walk away from the microphone now. You can walk and make sure everything’s going well. Nobody’s missing a phone or a wallet. Just little announcements. Maybe somebody lost something. You have a couple more minutes of responsibility to have that microphone hot, so that maybe something that comes like that up at the end of the night, you can at least make one quick announcement before you go ahead and start breaking down and packing up.
Everybody’s outside, okay. They’re ready to go. Sparklers are lit. I usually help people light sparklers. I like that part of the night. Everybody’s ready. The planner’s got everybody set up. They’ve lit the sparklers. We’re kinda working together. It’s time for the bride and groom to come out. The photographer’s in place. The videographer’s in place, and it’s time for the sendoff. That’s it. Once the bride and groom go down and make that final kiss, that’s it.
Jamie: Night’s over.
Nick: Night’s over. You’re done for the night.
Jamie: Awesome. I think that’s a good stopping place. Nick, this is gonna be the first in a series of audio and maybe a video version of this, kinda diving into what’s a Charleston Wedding DJ, different aspects of the wedding industry. Thanks for your time and we’ll get this posted.