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If you are planning a Wedding or are a Wedding DJ, I’d like to offer you some advice based on a mistake I once made as a Wedding DJ. I’l tell you how the Bride and Groom handled it and how I made changes to my process to make sure that type of mistake never happened again. I hope this helps to ease some fears about planning a Wedding, or about running your own DJ business. As a Wedding DJ in Los Angeles for the past 8 years, and a business owner in LA and in North Carolina for 14 years combined, I have learned a thing or two about making and correcting mistakes. A Wedding, as we all know, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events where mistakes are just simply not ok. Certainly, most mistakes that a DJ could make are forgivable, let’s say he mispronounces someone’s name in the Grand Entrance (hopefully NOT the Bride and Groom) but people usually forget or get over it…one of the DJ’s songs mysteriously cuts off in the middle of a packed dance floor (thank you technology!) but as long as he gets the music going again in a matter of seconds, everything is usually fine. Mistakes, both human and technological, do happen. With any luck, DJ’s have practiced and honed their MC skills, made a sizable and calculated investment in high quality equipment and computers, and checked their music library for errors and file problems…but we all have off nights, or there is always a potential for a mistake or equipment issue at every single Wedding and event we perform. Even world famous Musicians make mistakes, just watch this clip of Van Halen’s concert a few years ago where the sample track that starts the song “Jump” was in a different key than the band always plays the song in. This is Brutal to listen to. Watch it here, it happens about 52 seconds into the video. Van Halen has a million hits, but everyone expects to hear “Jump” played perfectly! If you were at that concert, would you ask for your money back or let that spoil the whole 2 hour concert? My opinion is, Absolutely NOT, especially if the rest of the concert was great and the band apologized for the error. So what happens when your Wedding DJ makes a mistake? I think you have to weigh the impact of the mistake against the outcome of the entire event to know how to respond to that mistake.
So, Here’s what happened to this Los Angeles Wedding DJ:
In June of 2012, I was performing DJ/MC services at a wedding in Pasadena, CA at the Unitarian Church there, which is a gorgeous venue located beside the famous architectural gem, the Gamble House. When it came time for the Bride and Groom’s First Dance, we transitioned straight from the Grand Entrance of the Wedding Party and Newlyweds, into the Bride & Groom’s First Dance; This is how most weddings do it these days. As I announced the First Dance and the song began, the Bride and Groom stood still staring at each other, they looked over at me and proceeded to walk to my DJ booth, leaned over, and, To my horror, said to me “That’s Not Our Song!” Immediately, I went into battle mode, I looked at the song playing in my software and said “This is ‘Sh Boom’ by the Chords, isn’t that what you requested?” and the Bride said, “this isn’t ‘The Chords’, it’s not the right version!” I sternly and quickly said “Guys, I am not sure what to do, but I think you need to get out there and dance to this song, everyone is looking at us, I don’t think I have another version and it’s too late now…go dance and we’ll discuss this later.” They put on phony smiles, walked to the middle of the dance floor and proceeded to dance to the song that was playing. At the end of the dance I got everyone to applaud raucusly, then the couple sat down and dinner was served. I was trying to wrap my head around what went wrong, I was mortified, embarrassed, and just felt horrible. I went to the Bride and Groom and profusely apologized and they kept saying it was fine. I tried to keep smoothing it over, and I gave everything I had that night to be sure no more mistakes were made and that the wedding was as fun and wonderful as it could be. Luckily, many guests complimented me, there was a lot of dancing, laughing, smiling and joy, and as far as I could tell everything ended up ok. Sadly, the Bride and Groom left without telling me goodbye (or telling me to go jump off a bridge!) I have never experienced that in 14 years…I knew they were still upset but there was nothing more I could do in that moment. Following the wedding, I went home and upon further investigation, I realized that the version I had played was “Sh Boom” by a group called The Crew Cuts, not by The Chords, which was the version this couple chose. Now, I consider myself a true expert with regard to wedding music, across nearly every genre and for every part of a wedding, not just the dance portion…but even I get stumped from time to time. In this case, my mistake was that I had a version of the song that I was familiar with, it was a number one hit in 1954 for 9 weeks on the Billboard mainstream charts…the version my Bride and Groom chose was actually the first and original recording of the song, which hit number 2 on the R&B charts that same year. Upon listening to both several times, honestly, they are similar…one is straight caucasian doo wop, the other has some elements of early Soul and R&B, the Chords are an all black group, the Crew Cuts are all white. The truth is, I was not familiar with the Chords version and I didn’t investigate to see if there were other versions of the song, and what’s worse, the version I had, the Artist was actually mislabeled as “Sh Boom” BY?…you guessed it…The Chords. How this happened, I do not know. I probably got the song from a DJ friend many years ago for another event and never noticed or knew the difference.
I never had any contact with the Bride and Groom after their wedding, they never asked for any money back or anything like that. I figured the wedding ended well and they were forgiving of the incident. Unfortunately, More than a year later, the bride wrote a very negative review about me and my company online, picking apart all sorts of details that were very exaggerated and filled with emotion, and I’m convinced it was due alone, to the mistake I made with their First Dance Song. They never mentioned any of this to me directly, leading up to, during, or after their wedding…instead, they waited over a year. How unfortunate for them that they still feel this way.
So I have since changed my policies regarding ANY special highlight song for a wedding. I don’t care if it’s a song I’ve heard a million times, if it’s a very important highlight song such as First Dance, Father Daughter, Mother Son, etc…I ask the clients to listen with me in our final planning meeting that I host 2-3 weeks before the wedding…just to be sure it’s the version they had in mind. Once they sign off on it, I’m confident, they’re confident and we can all relax and know the song is correct. Why did it take me almost 12 years to make this a part of my routine in planning wedding music? Simple. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. I became too confident in my own knowledge of music and I didn’t think I would ever make a mistake like this. The upside is, I’ve learned and I feel I now do everything possible to avoid such a mistake. The downside is that the Bride and Groom clearly haven’t let that mistake go, and it would seem, they still allow that moment to distract from the overall beauty and joy of their most special day. I know the mistake was mine, but, I suppose I would feel much worse had I played an entirely different song, or not had any version of the song at all, and if the rest of their wedding had also been a flop. But please don’t misunderstand me, the clients chose a certain version of a song, they were paying me to play what they asked for, and I made an error in judgement…and I apologized profusely and have since corrected my process for dealing with this type of thing.
So, my advice to Brides and Grooms or ANY client hiring a DJ is this: Make sure you are very clear with the DJ about the exact version of a song you want for a special Wedding dance or special moment in your event. Don’t just assume that he will know, even if you specifically label the title and artist, and most especially if the song you choose is not a current (past 20 years) or well known version/artist. My clients never even brought this up, and despite my expertise, it didn’t occur to me to ask, it was an oversight, and an honest mistake. In addition I would say, the Online Review culture is such that, we air our grievances without any regard for the business we are slamming…most people never contact the business directly to explain why or even that they are upset with something. I’m fine with leaving a negative review of a business or service but I feel it’s important that you contact and discuss the problem with the business owner directly. You should do this as quickly as possible after your experience happened. For future clients reading those reviews, even they can deduce that your 1 negative review against 70 positive reviews is moot or a fluke. So why bother? Make your voice heard to the service provider first and you’ll both be much more happy with the outcome.
And to Wedding DJ’s in Los Angeles and all over the country, don’t make the mistake I made, don’t assume you know anything with 100% certainty, we all know what happens when we Assume! Take the time to be more detailed in your questions to clients, don’t let them ask all the questions, leave no stone unturned, you’re the expert and they won’t know all of the questions to ask. Check, double check, and check again that you have the correct version of their song, make sure to play it for the clients and ask them to sign off on it. Make sure it plays properly all the way through…and do as the pro’s do, back it up on 2 laptops at the very least and have them up and running during the Special Dances in case anything goes wrong with the main computer. All of these things can save you embarrassment, and potentially bad reviews, or worse, in the future. We live and learn from our mistakes, and not one of us is ever perfect. Keep your heads up and in the game at all times and you’ll always give yourselves the best chance for a successful event. Happy Planning and DJing everyone!