Going behind the music

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.

Streaming music from your iPhone over a Bluetooth speaker may seem like an easy way to shave a few dollars off your budget, but it’s a huge risk at a wedding reception.

“A lot of brides and grooms, because weddings are very expensive and they want to save money, will say, ‘Let’s get a friend who has a system,’ or ‘Let’s use an iPod,’ ” says Todd Jones, owner and founder of T.E.A.M. DJ. “Sometimes that can work out; sometimes that can go horribly wrong.”

Wireless speakers can cut out, for example, and—even more appalling—a guest could try to hijack the connection and play his or her own music. That could ruin the whole evening.

“Experience should be the No. 1 priority,” says Jones, who has been DJing since 1999. “The DJ kind of runs the event … getting guests the maximum dance time while still fitting in the traditional dances and toasts. If you have an experienced person who knows how to run a timeline [and] something goes wrong, they know how to fix it as fast as possible.”

John Pollock, frontman and saxophonist for the Street Players, also lists experience among the top criteria couples should consider when selecting their reception entertainment.

“The main things are a versatile repertoire, a professional presence, experience, stability of musicianship, volume control and setup,” says Pollock, who founded the seven-member Street Players band with his brother in 1980. “We have to pay attention to how people react to the music and keep them engaged. We’re there to make sure people have a good time.”

Experience has taught Pollock and his band how to control volume so guests can socialize without leaving the room, as well as how to vary the musical selections to keep people dancing.

“We play everything from Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys, Bruno Mars and Maroon 5,” he says. “As we work through the evening, we don’t do it chronologically, but we do play a greater percentage of big band songs earlier in the evening because older guests tend to leave earlier. We also don’t do any original music anymore. We used to, but [we found that] if people don’t recognize it, they don’t dance.”

Trevor and Laura Arnett selected a DJ for their May 2018 reception because they wanted to hand-select the majority of their music.

“We liked the diversity that a DJ brings to the table,” says Trevor. “We wanted a wide variety of different musical genres at our wedding and reception.” They went with Party Pleasers, which operates out of Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

While DJs can play virtually any song available, bands do have some limitations.

“I’ve seen some very good bands, but they can only play what they know,” Jones says.

The Street Players’ repertoire includes between 120 and 150 songs—well beyond the 50 or 60 selections that can be played in a typical three-hour wedding reception—and the band still practices and learns new material all the time, Pollock says.

“We’re always open to requests,” he adds. “But if we can’t make it sound like the original artist, we won’t play it. Instead, we will burn the song onto a CD and play it at the break. We want to keep people dancing and keep the energy going.”

Interaction with guests is also something couples should consider when choosing their reception entertainment.

“We will go out and sing, ‘My Girl,’ to a grandmother or an aunt or someone,” Pollock says. “It breaks up the monotony of just playing. We had a bride, years ago, who was a trombone player, and she came up and played, ‘In the Mood’ in her bridal gown with the band. Things like that create such great memories. We need to keep people engaged and keep them entertained.”

It’s that sort of live improvisation that prompted Sarah and Andrew Schreiber to hire The Floorwalkers, a band Andrew saw regularly during college, to play at their June 2018 reception.

“Andrew and I love going to concerts and how genuine music is live versus pre-recorded,” Sarah says. “There’s an element of spontaneity, and we felt a band could excite our guests to dance and enjoy the evening. We couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.”

Trevor says the DJ at his and Laura’s reception also interacted with guests.

“He was super personable and was totally cool with changing things on the fly,” he says. “He really orchestrated the reception and kept everything moving smoothly.”

Keeping the party going is always front-of-mind for both DJs and bands, but doing so during a quick musician break can be especially tricky for bands if they aren’t experienced.

“Whatever music is played while we are on break should keep the energy going,” Pollock says. “It’s like a plate you have to keep spinning. You don’t want to walk away from it for 15 minutes or it will fall. We have to maintain that energy so we can fold right back in where we were.”

Adding a line dance or other group dance during the break is always a good way to keep people on their feet, he says.

“As much as everybody’s heard them … there’s still an energy there, and people are still having fun,” Pollock says.

And if guests are entertained, they will stay longer.

“At the end of the night, we’ve had people come up to us and say, ‘We aren’t dancers, but we enjoyed the experience of watching the band and the interaction. If it had been a DJ, we would’ve left hours ago,’ ” Pollock says. “People [may not] remember what they had to eat or what the flowers looked like, but they will remember if they had fun.”