The Mix Masters
The key to a melodious celebration? Trust your DJ to keep the beat and read the crowd, say Adam Jaena and Casey Williams.
Good music makes a wedding infinitely more fun, but a wedding DJ’s job is no party. Instead, it’s a balancing act that requires honoring the couple’s requests, getting the timing just right, and keeping everyone—from Grandma to the groom’s college buddies—entertained. With a combined three decades of experience playing clubs and bars, Adam Jaena and Casey Williams have perfected the art of getting everyone in a room dancing. “You’ve got to know how to find that middle ground to please as many people as possible,” Williams says.
Here, the spinsters—both members of White Label DJs’ Boston group—talk special requests and the ultimate affirmation: keeping guests on their feet all night long.
How is DJing a wedding different from DJing a regular gig?
C.W. When you’re DJing in a bar, there’s not a lot of understanding as to why you’re playing what you’re playing. With weddings, there’s a real plan established.
A.J. When you take a regular club gig, you’re playing what you think is the best music. As far as weddings go, you’re catering more to the client. We typically look for as much input as possible. I always remind them that they know their friends and family better than I do.
What makes a good DJ?
A.J. We mix and blend, not like the typical old-school wedding DJs. We’ll take the music that’s given to us and mix that up with our own knowledge of what works. All of the people who work with us play on turntables and actually mix the music together.
C.W. You’re hired to make everybody dance. The goal is to make the couple feel like you really listened to them and played what they asked for, but you want all the guests to have a good time.
How far in advance should couples pick a DJ?
A.J. Pretty much a year out. People always do the venue first, and then they start dealing with their vendors because the places book so far in advance.
What happens after someone chooses you?
A.J. We send out a questionnaire, and we ask for it to be returned a month prior to the wedding. If it’s a year out, I tell them to take their time with it, because music changes. And then we’ll make a plan to meet up and go over everything together.
What can brides and grooms do to make your job easier?
C.W. Be ready to explain your vision to your DJ and to share your tastes—what kind of music you like, what radio stations you listen to, and what the guests will be like.
What happens if a couple isn’t very music savvy?
C.W. It makes me a little nervous, because I want to be prepared. I can show up and DJ any party and feel like I’ve got enough to cover the bases. But I still ask a lot of questions. Sometimes people forget to tell me they’re Jewish, and then I don’t play the hora.
How much do couples contribute to the playlist?
A.J. The more stuff they give me, the more I’ll play. We ask not just for song suggestions, but also for the type of music they like. When you get all age groups at a wedding, you have to mix it up with the oldies to keep the older crowd happy. You really focus on what the bride and groom want, but you try to please everyone.
What’s the most challenging aspect of DJing?
C.W. DJs typically show up and create a sound system. The venues rarely provide systems where you can just plug in an iPod. You need a way to amplify with microphones, and you need to help herd people from one location to the next. If it’s important to the couple that music be heard all day long, then they’ll need a few setups.
Do you take requests?
A.J. That’s actually one of the things we put on the questionnaire. We ask if the couple wants us to take requests from guests. Some people say absolutely, and others tell us to stick to the program. So yes, but at your discretion.
C.W. I never turn anybody away, because they may have the golden request that nobody else thought of.
Any songs that you refuse to play?
C.W. If the bride or groom wants it, I’ll play it. There are songs that some people will expect that I won’t automatically choose to play—the “Macarena,” the “Chicken Dance,” the “Hokey Pokey.” I would prefer not to play them, but I’ll play anything for a good reaction.
What’s your favorite part of working a wedding?
C.W. Probably the dance party, when it actually all comes together and the formalities are out of the way. Early on people are giving toasts, you’re hoping your equipment will work out. When the dance party starts, it’s kind of like a big sigh of relief for everybody.
A.J. It feels good providing a memorable experience. People come up to you at the end of the night and thank you for such a great wedding.
Adam Jaena and Casey Williams share the unexpected tunes that pack a dance floor.
“The Seed (2.0),” The Roots
It’s one of those songs that keeps everyone happy: people who just listen to whatever is on the radio and music snobs alike. —A.J.
“Rhythm of the Night,” DeBarge
An ’80s classic that is a great mixable track and a hip-shaker secret weapon! —A.J.
“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” The Proclaimers
This goes way back to the Benny & Joon soundtrack. It strikes a chord with anyone who was an alterna-teen in the ’90s. Plus, drunk people love to sing along with it. —A.J.
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” Deniece Williams
It’s perfect for rallying energy around the groom, when so much of the dance-floor energy can lean toward the bride. —C.W.
“Pump Up the Jam,” Technotronic
The tempo has the perfect amount of hype without being too techno-crazy. —C.W.
“Tequila,” The Champs
It’s good to mix up your party with a few silly but cult-classic-cool tracks. The older folks will love it, and get up for it. —C.W.
“Twist and Shout,” The Beatles
If played at the right moment, it can grab every person in the room. Every wedding needs a celebratory Beatles moment. —C.W.
For additional tips from the pros, check out more advice from Wedding Experts.