Conversations: DJ Crackerjack


This is a series of conversations with other professionals in the wedding industry. I want to talk with vendors of all kinds to help you gain some insight into the wedding industry and what kinds of things to think about and ask as you start to plan your wedding.

Last month, I talked with a good buddy of mine, fellow photographer Michael A. Anderson. This month we dive head first into the mobile DJ world with Chris and Jessica Roland from Crackerjack Sound Decisions. Like all good DJs, they know how to talk so I kept my comments to a minimum and let them do the talking over lunch at 2 Gals Kitchen in Concord.

James:   A lot of wedding vendors are luxury items. You don’t generally order a huge cake for just any day and you don’t generally hire someone to come play music all day for you.

Jessica: It’s always sticker shock. People have a set idea in their mind and then they realize maybe we need to multiply that by three.

Chris: I get a lot of people lately who are motivated by bad experiences at other weddings. It’s funny how, like our news, the negativity stands out the most. People remember going to a wedding and the DJ didn’t do anything or he was off pace that night. They say “I want to make sure I hire a professional, because I don’t want to have that same experience.”

Mood sets the tone for wether they will book you or not. I want to make sure I can provide the right mood for this experience so people have fun and don’t have a bad memory of their wedding day.

James: You mentioned mood, I think that translates to a lot of other things. If you get a couple who is really into country music, you’re not going to play certain stuff for them. If you get a really religious couple, they are probably going to get married in a church. People really need to think about what kind of mood they set on their wedding day.

Jessica:   Traditions have changed so much, I tell a lot of brides I think the tradition right now is no tradition. You can do whatever you want.

Chris:   They want a little more unique experience compared, maybe, to what their parents had.

Jessica:   They want their own personal stamp on it.

Chris:   The whole idea of different crowds, that comes with an experienced DJ. When we train our DJs, our biggest challenge is finding ones that understand each wedding will be different. That just comes with experience. The things that we’ve DJed, from school dances, to birthday parties to corporate functions, we’ve even done retirement parties. So all those genres of music will help you during a wedding. You’ve got to know all generations of types of music.

Jessica:   That’s one of the first questions we ask is the age range of the crowd.

James:    Yeah, they may be a younger couple, but if the guest list is their parents and their parent’s friends, it’s a different thing.

Chris:   You want to entertain all of them.

Jessica:   Well, the bride and groom aren’t even paying attention to a lot of the music, they are so busy socializing and thanking guests for coming.

Chris (laughing):   If the music is going good, they’re not paying attention. If it’s bad, then yeah, they notice.

James:   So why weddings? What gets you up on a Saturday morning?

Chris:   The whole experience of doing a wedding and being a part of of somebody’s event is more appealing to me than doing some of the club stuff I used to do.

Jessica:   DJs have egos. They want to be DJs to get attention. That’s why, I think, they do the bars in the beginning. As we’ve matured and evolved into weddings, you they can still play music but it means something different and they realize it’s not longer about them, it’s about all these other people.

Chris:   I remember doing clubs and every single weekend it got really dry and boring and you were dealing with a lot of the same drunks who would come in and party. It got stale, and that lifestyle will wear on you. Weddings are a lot more fun.

James:   That’s the thing about weddings to me, they are fun. It’s a joyous happy occasion and the people want you to be there. You’re invited to their party.

Chris:  In my case, I help provide the party. Unless you really don’t know what you’re doing, they should have a good time.

James:   It seems like problem solving a common theme I see in the wedding industry and I think that is what differentiates your average buddy with an iPod and professional DJ.

Chris:   Having a backup is important. I’m more comfortable going in because I know what the backup plan is in case something doesn’t work. Being prepared for everything and being prepared for what’s going to go on on the dance floor. When the crowd clears out and are not into whatever you are playing at the time, I’ll transition into something that is the total opposite.

Jessica:   We always ask the couple for a top 20 list of what you want to hear, what you want to dance to and what you think your guests will dance to. And that lists doesn’t always work. Sometimes they don’t respond to it and the DJ has got to be able to think on their feet, quickly.

Chris:   Half the music on the list might be the Avett Brothers, which is great to listen to, but at 9:30-10:00 at night, it’s not going to keep them moving.

Jessica:   It depends on the crowd.

Chris:   There’s really only an hour and a half to two hours that most people dance during most weddings after you get all the formalities out of the way. So you have up to two hours to do really good music of all the popular stuff that will keep them moving and mixed together for that short amount of time.

Jessica:   Each night can be different too. Some will just end abruptly and they’re done.

Chris:   Then it is just background music.

James:   Most couples come into this without ever having hired a professional DJ, so what do you tell them?

Jessica:   We have a list of questions. These are the questions you should ask your DJ.

Chris:   A lot of it is figuring out what their wants and needs are and explaining what could happen if they don’t use a professional.

Jessica:   There is a lot of education. These are big purchases and they have to be educated. You can’t go in and just say “yup, I want you.”

James:   That’s the point of this blog--to educate.

Chris:   I sit down with them and say this is what is typical, I’ll do whatever you want, but I’ll make suggestions on what has worked in the past based off experience. This is how the typical night runs, this how we do the cake cutting. We like to do a thing where we do the first dance in the beginning, but do the parent dance after dinner instead of all three in a row so there is not as much wait time.

Jessica:   The guests are usually pretty ready to eat. You have to think about the guests. It really is a “me, me, me” day but your have 50-250 of your closest friends and family to think about.

Chris:   You point all this out and it starts to make sense. You see all the DJs who say “I can rock the party!” … that’s great that you can play 20 popular songs in a row, but what about all the other stuff.

Jessica:   There are a lot of details that go into that day.

Chris:   I hear horror stories from venues all the time.  It seems like there are more bad DJs than there are good ones out there.

James:   It’s the same thing with photography. I feel like with any industry like this, where people can see the finished product from the outside and think to themselves “I can do that, it looks fun!” there is a lot more to it.

Chris:   When I started, it was kind of old school. I was bringing dual CD players and big amps, and it was expensive to get in to it. Now you can get a basic set up for under a grand. I tell every client, you’re not paying for the speakers, the laptop or the state of the art equipment. You’re paying for that guy behind it. You’re paying for his experience.