This week, we share with you our go to DJ, Paul Burchfield!
In our conversation with Paul, he describes hit songs that are played at special events and distinguishes between a live band and a DJ.
Read more to learn about Paul and what it would be like to work with BIG FUN Disc Jockeys!
How did you start in the wedding industry?
BIG FUN Disc Jockeys was founded in 1989 by two graduates of Stanford University, with the intention of playing dorm and fraternity parties at Stanford. The company was very successful, playing on Stanford’s campus nearly every weekend during the school year, for several years. When those partygoing students graduated and became engaged, they contacted us to DJ their weddings. At first, we explained that we played for college and some high school parties and knew nothing about weddings. This didn’t seem to phase those former students, who asked us to “just do what you did at Stanford parties”. Fast forward a few years, and while the Stanford dorms were still calling us to play parties for them, the “problem” became that they would call us on Tuesday for a party happening the next Saturday. However, since weddings book so far in advance, we were never available on such short notice.
And so, we ended up becoming a wedding DJ company. This is a common occurrence among wedding DJ companies. In fact, if you find a DJ company that plays predominantly college and high school parties, it’s likely that they haven’t been around too long because once they have been and develop a positive reputation, they’ll end up becoming wedding DJs whether they’re prepared to make that transition or not.
How would you describe your average work day?
Have you ever heard an interview with a sports figure where they are asked about their routine on the morning of a game? Most of them talk about a “game day mode” where they wake up and begin to focus on their performance for the upcoming game. That’s the same thing for me.
By the day of the wedding, I’ve spent a lot of time planning and preparing. All the music is prepped. Songs that needed custom editing are complete (like shortening a First Dance song or creating a medley for the Father/Daughter Dance). The event timeline is complete and detailed. And everything that needs to go to the event is packed and double-checked.
At each event, it’s important we stay coordinated with the other wedding professionals. For example, we are always prepared to connect the videographer’s equipment to our sound system to provide them with a clean recording for your wedding video/film. For the officiant, we will check their final words of the ceremony so we’ll know to start the recessional at the perfect moment.
For couples and their guests, the energy has been building all day. It starts at the ceremony when everyone witnesses the commitment the couple makes to each other. And the celebration continues through cocktails and dinner. Then, after dinner, we help channel that energy into an amazing dance party. What we can do, though, is set the perfect environment so that if anyone was ever going to dance, it would be at this moment. A standard part of the equipment we include is an amazing 16-piece dance lighting system. Our experience is that dancing is more fun when we use our dance lights than when we don’t.
About an hour after the event ends, we’ve finished tearing down our equipment, packing our van, and can begin the drive back to our warehouse and then head home. One the drive, we replay the day in our minds and remember the great moments that made it special. And we’re extremely thankful that we were able to be a part of the beginning of that couple’s life together.
Finally, on the way home, I’ve found that grocery shopping after midnight guarantees no crowds (and often good deals in the meat department!).
What is your favorite part of your job?
The personal high associated with packing the dance floor with hundreds of happy people. What other job delivers this satisfying feeling?
What would you say to a bride and groom who is torn between a live band and a DJ?
This is the biggest day of your life, and you should get the entertainment that you want for your reception. There is no “right” answer for everyone, but here is a pro/con list to help on-the-fence couples make this decision:
- Live performers at an event feels "grander" in scope; increases the perceived importance of the event
- Live performers commands more attention from the guests; they will feel more like they "should" dance and so will
- There is a more organic feeling to the sound of a live band because sound comes from multiple origination points
- Guests appreciate human musical talent and truly enjoy clapping after each song for the performers - it's like they're at a concert
- Lead singer who talks to the crowd in the middle of a song are seen as cool and can help get the crowd pumped up (if a DJ does so, it's cheesy)
- Less likely to sound just like the original artist; at best it will be "close"
- Less likely to be as diverse with different musical styles (no matter how good the band, prerecorded music is GOING to be more diverse)
- Live performers typically take breaks (usually a couple breaks of 15 minutes per hour)
- If included, lighting is focused/directed at the band
- To be courteous, guest attention is focused on the live performers while they perform, less on each other
- If few people are dancing for certain songs, it can be awkward for the band and thus the Bride and Groom/Guests
- Typically, bands do not staff a professionally trained MC for introductions, Grand Entrance, etc.
- Multiple mouths to feed at dinner
- Music played will sound exactly like the original artist (because it IS a recording of that artist)
- DJs play a wider variety of musical styles than is possible with any live band
- Most DJs (including our DJs) do not take breaks
- Lighting is focused/directed at the guests dancing, not on the DJ
- During dancing, guest attention is typically focused on each other and not on the DJ
- If few people are dancing for certain songs, the DJ simply mixes/cross-fades to a different song right away
- Most DJs (including our DJs) are professionally-trained MCs and specifically monitor the timeline
- Only one mouth to feed at dinner
Cons:Are there songs that you recommend for the perfect playlist?
- Having a DJ at an event can feel more "common"/less "special"; can seem less "original" than having a live band
- It's okay to ignore a DJ playing dance music without seeming rude (as it might with live musicians); can result in fewer people dancing
- The sound of a DJ sounds like a good sound system or a nightclub but lacks the organic feel of live musicians
Every wedding is different, and every playlist is, too. Where one couple might like disco, funk, and 80s music, another might prefer EDM (electronic dance music) and hip hop. It’s not just lip service to say we play what our couples want to hear...it’s a fact. For most couples, their goal is to fill the dance floor, and their preferences are often a good starting point for what might work best for dancing.
At that point, we can target specific songs that would likely be appropriate crowd pleasers. That might be “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra, or it might be “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars. Or both. Or just about anything in between.
Top 5 favorite first dance songs? The three songs you hear the most requests for?
We hope that couples find a First Dance song that has meaning to them. When we meet with couples and talk about the details of their day, their First Dance song may be one they haven’t selected. Initially, we encourage couples to put some thought into this on their own.
Having said that, we never want our couples to become frustrated, so we let them know to reach out if they’ve given it some thought and still need suggestions. And we’ll talk about their music tastes and help them come up with one.
Some recent songs that we have used as First Dance songs include:
“All Of Me” by John Legend
“Die A Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett
“Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding
“Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran
“You Are The Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne
As far as dance song requests go, here are three that come to mind over the past 6 months:
“24K Magic” by Bruno Mars (he is putting out one big fun hit after another these days)
“I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys (1990s music is big once again)
“Get Lucky/One More Time (Remix)” by Daft Punk (combines two huge Daft Punk songs)
What can bride and grooms expect when they sign up to work with your company?
No deposit, yet a guaranteed 100%, 27-year perfect attendance record
No payment of any type until 30 days AFTER the wedding
No lengthy legal contracts - a simple, straightforward booking process
A comprehensive in-person planning meeting with the actual DJ staffing your event
Responsiveness to any of your questions whether by text, email, or phone
Clear documentation of all meetings and follow-up email conversations
On-time readiness on the day of the eve
Professional looking and sounding equipment
Professional, polished, friendly announcements - no cheese!
Team approach when working alongside your other wedding professionals
What should couples look for while researching a great DJ?
First, it’s reasonable to identify the following truths about hiring a wedding DJ:
Since this is a wedding and not a random Friday night party, hire a professional wedding DJ. There are many, many reasons for this covered in numerous blogs, but we can summarize by saying that just as you wouldn’t go to a “hobbyist” to perform LASIK on your eyes, there are simply too many negatives for hiring a hobbyist to DJ your wedding. If you wouldn’t trust your eyesight to a hobbyist LASIK operator, you shouldn’t trust the success of your wedding to a hobbyist DJ.
You can immediately tell which are the professional DJ companies by looking at their websites and checking Yelp reviews. It’s obvious if you are dealing with “one person” with some DJ equipment, versus a company that has the resources to handle unexpected circumstances that might occur on your wedding day. In short, make certain that the success of your entire wedding reception isn’t in the hands of “one person” who could be sick or injured on the day of your wedding. If they hem and haw about “knowing a friend” who could back them up on your wedding day, move on. It simply isn’t worth the lower price.
Speaking of price, even when comparing professional DJs, keep in mind that numerous surveys have discovered that after the fact, a majority of couples who hired their DJ on the basis of “best price” ended up recognizing that the surprisingly important role of DJ as the quarterback of the wedding reception (in his or her role as MC) meant that comparing prices was the very worst way to hire a DJ.
Instead, set a price range that you can afford and once all of your options fall anywhere within that range, learn to ignore the prices and focus on everything else about those DJ companies. Choose based on who makes you most enthusiastic. As long as they fall within your acceptable range, you’ve met your budget requirement.
Once you’ve narrowed your search to professional wedding DJ companies, you can ignore most “list of DJ interview questions” that you find on the web. Why? Because it turns out that they are not the right questions, as they don’t help you differentiate between professional DJ companies. ALL professional DJ companies are insured, have backup equipment, have large and diverse music collections, will happily obey your do-not-play and must-play-lists, will assist you with choices for your Father/Daughter dance (and the other formal events that need a specific song), and will dress professionally. So these are empty questions and frankly a waste of your time.
Similarly, recognize that any professional DJ company has probably already played at your venue, so you need only to name the venue and which spaces/areas you’re using. You really don’t need to ask about how much time the DJ will need to set up or teardown. Why? Because professional DJ companies don’t charge for set up or teardown; you’re billed starting when the guests arrive and ending when the event (dancing) ends. Asking those types of questions is like asking a photographer what lenses he or she will use, or the caterer how they pack their supplies into their truck.
And although it’s relevant to ask how many weddings they DJ per year as a company, it’s not useful for you to ask for any more detail (such as how many weddings they DJ per weekend in June vs October), as suggested at certain wedding websites. What would you do with that information anyway? Your primary concern is that they DJ a lot and thus have solid experience.
So then what ARE the things couples should look for when researching a DJ?
Get an accurate price quote by giving accurate and complete information.
DON’T SAY: “I need a DJ next September.”
DO SAY: “I need a DJ on Saturday, September 2, 2017.”
DON’T SAY: “I need a DJ for about 5 hours.”
DO SAY: “I need a DJ to begin playing guest arrival music starting at 4:30 pm followed by music and microphones for the 5:00 pm ceremony, then cocktails, dinner, and dancing, which will end at 10:30 pm.”
DON’T SAY: “The event will be at Hotel ABC in Millbrae.”
DO SAY: “The event will be at Hotel ABC in Millbrae, with the ceremony outside on the lawn, followed by cocktails in the courtyard, then dinner and dancing in the XYZ Ballroom.”
It’s very simple and quick to define the times and the rooms/spaces. And by providing informative sentences in your first email, you’ll get an accurate price with little delay and no surprises later.
Ask to see photos and video clips. But know that it’s not cool to ask to attend an upcoming wedding because that’s super awkward. If you wouldn’t like some random people coming to your wedding, then it’s likely that other couples don’t want you to attend theirs. It’s fascinating that wedding websites suggest asking this since it’s so tacky!
Read Yelp reviews. If a DJ company has many fails, it will come through clearly in Yelp reviews.
Ask them what sets them apart from other DJ companies. That’s a fair question, and their answer may or may not be important to you. Thus, if their answer includes a differentiator that does matter to you, that DJ company might be the right one for you. In essence, you’re getting them to help you with the deciding factor.
Your gut feel is key. If you get a great feeling about a DJ company, and you’ve checked out their Yelp reviews, their photo and video clips, and the communication with them has been quick, responsive, intelligent, and friendly, AND the price is within your acceptable range, don’t hesitate. Book them. Because the best companies book up all available spots quickly. Remember, if you’re getting married in September, ALL of the other couples getting married in September are likely hiring their wedding pros now, just like you are. Don’t procrastinate. Get the DJ company you want, not the only one left.
What is your favorite quote to live by?
Being a DJ, I’m going to quote song lyrics. And I hope you’ll indulge me as I share two quotes.
The first is meaningful to me as a father. When I hear this song, I think about my daughter and of the couples who are starting their lives together and wish this for them:
"Your dreams stay big and your worries stay small"
- "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts
The second quote is something we should all take to heart when given the opportunity to dance:
"So don't just stand there, bust a move"
- "Bust A Move" by Young MC
What does H&T stand for to you?
Well, at the end of your wedding day, happy and tired! Happy that you’re married and that your day was memorable and fun. Tired since you danced with your families and closest friends for more than two hours to awesome music and nightclub lighting.
Check out BIG FUN Disc Jockeys:
http://bigfundj.com/ | Instagram.com/bigfundj
Photography: Todd Rafalochi Photography and Danny Dong Photography