Choosing a DJ
An Insider’s Outlook
By Jack P. Terceno
Doug Wheeler knows how to make a wedding reception unforgettable, and doing so has made him one of Fairfield County’s favorite mobile DJs.
In fact, his Trumbull company, Dougie Jam Productions, has been selected as the Best Mobile DJ in Fairfield County since the Fairfield County Weekly introduced that category.
Wheeler says the trick is to make the event about the guests, not about the entertainment. “I’m putting the emphasis not on the DJ, but on the guests,” he says. “We’ll get out there, we’ll mingle with the crowd. We’ll get things jump started, but then we’ll step back and let them create their own fun.”
One way Dougie Jam’s DJ teams get guests involved is through costume and props, an idea Wheeler modified from MC Steve LaChioma, one of his early mentors. LaChioma used to dress in costumes like David Lee Roth, James Brown or the Phantom of the Opera to entertain guests.
“I saw how the crowd responded to his form of entertainment. They loved it,” says Wheeler. “But I didn’t like the DJ being in the spotlight instead of the guests. I turned that around.”
Dougie Jam DJs arrive with crates of costumes ranging from Village People outfits to sombreros and leis for conga lines, and it is the guests–especially the guests of honor–who get dressed up and perform for the rest of the crowd. While the level of participation will vary from group to group, Wheeler advises those planning a wedding reception to find entertainment–be it a DJ or a live band–that can offer a variety of music and is experienced in reading crowds and getting them motivated.
In addition to costumes and props, Dougie Jams nine professional DJs use music “sets”–combinations of songs designed to steadily raise enthusiasm and involvement–and other tricks of the trade to get party-goers motivated. “We love doing party games, line dances and things like that,” says Wheeler. “We try to get everybody out there, of all ages. It adds to the fun and excitement.”
The DJs are sometimes joined by the company’s seven hip hop dancers, who perform original routines created by Dougie Jam’s own choreographer.
Their job is to hype up the crowd, to bring the energy levels up a couple of notches,” Wheeler says.
Because of the diversity of crowd tastes and the wide range of ages likely to be attending wedding receptions, Wheeler believes DJs can bring more fun and excitement to the day than live bands, whose repertoire is more limited. His company, he said, is a medium-sized company that focuses on good service and working with clients on special requests.
But whether you go with him or another DJ, Wheeler’s years of experience have taught him some things about what couples should look for in selecting their reception entertainment.
Marks of professionalism
Mobile DJs–those who are not tied to a radio station but travel from party to party with their equipment–are a business that suffers greatly from amateurs performing the job, says Wheeler.
Some DJs will arrive at the wedding receptions in very casual clothes. They will drink alcohol during their show, they will pay little attention to the guests, they will play songs that do not fit the mood of the people they are there to entertain.
Wheeler says he has seen such amateur DJs use home stereo equipment at parties, with CD players that have no shock absorbing systems and skip when guests are dancing.
Such amateurs damage the entire DJ profession, Wheeler says because many people fail to realize that there are many professional DJs who do the job full-time and are quite adept.
In the interest of protecting and improving the professionalism and public opinion of DJs, the non-profit group Connecticut Professional Disc Jockey Association (CPDA) was formed. Wheeler was the first DJ in Fairfield County to be inducted into the organization, which focuses on maintaining high standards among DJs, from general aspects of the job such as professionalism in dealing with clients, to specifics like demanding that formal attire be worn for formal functions.
Other area DJs have been inducted into CPDA, and Wheeler advises that couples looking to hire a DJ first visit CPDA DJs, whose professionalism has been judged and approved of by the organization.
Wheeler also is a member of the American DJ Association, which he said helped him obtain insurance coverage for his shows. Wheeler attends national expositions and conventions, keeping up with new trends in the DJ business and equipment
“We want to be on the cutting edge of what’s hot,” he says. “And we want to bring that to our guests.”
A professional DJ also can be trusted to work with other vendors at the wedding reception, Wheeler says, such as photographers and caterers. A good working relationship among all the vendors is necessary to ensure cooperation and a smooth reception, Wheeler says.
When trying to decide on any vendor for your wedding, wheeler suggests talking to those you have already selected and seeking their advice. Photographers may know a good DJ, DJs may be able to recommend a caterer, caterers may know photographers you can count on. When a good relationship exists between your vendors, problems at the reception can be dealt with more easily.
Wheeler gives two examples of instances when the working relationship between his DJs and other vendors helped keep a wedding going smoothly. In one, the caterer did not have enough staff on duty to finish pouring champagne before the toast was made. So Dougie Jam’s DJs grabbed bottles and started pouring, making sure everyone had a glass to raise with the best man.
Another time, Wheeler says, the videographer’s camera had jammed during the couple’s first dance. Rather than try to repeat the dance and start the reception off with an obvious mistake, the DJs got the couple back on the dance floor at the end of the reception, to “close the night the way we began it.” They orchestrated another dance with the couple and then the wedding party, and the videographer captured it all.
“We’ll do whatever necessary to make sure everything goes smoothly, and to make sure their day is the day they’ve always dreamed of,” says Wheeler. “We’ll go that extra mile.”
In the end, wheeler says, you must choose a DJ whose personality you enjoy and who you feel you can trust to make the day a special one. Professionalism and willingness to plan special moments throughout the reception will ensure a great party for all your guests.
Wheeler says the best feeling for him is when guests young and old all have a great time dancing to the music he’s selected. His popularity–seen not only in the Weekly’s readers poll but also in the fact Dougie Jam’s DJs are booked two years in advance–is a mark of that success in helping people have fun.
“The biggest thrill is that immeasurable high you get from getting a packed dance floor that you established through your music,” Wheeler says. “No drug or alcohol can compare to that.”
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