June was National DJ month, and that got us nostalgic… Can you believe our VP, Jay R Rich, had his first paid DJ gig in 1987?!

With 35 years in the industry, he has a LOT of experience under his belt. So we asked Jay R a few questions about how he got started, how things have changed over the years, and his opinion on what makes a great wedding DJ.

How did you get started as a DJ? 

I knew I wanted to be a DJ from the minute I went to a Bar Mitzvah (or two) and saw how he was hyping up the crowd. It looked like so much fun!

In middle school, I joined a Catholic youth group for the sole purpose of signing up for the DJ spot at their dances. Remembering the DJs I would see at Bar Mitzvahs, I made it my mission to enhance the experience. I’m happy to report I was pretty successful and the dances would sell out!

Immediately after high school, I worked at Landerhaven (one of Cleveland’s premier event venues). I remember seeing so many tabletop DJs with little to no experience playing background music at these events. It always made me wonder why people would pay $40,000-$50,000 for a beautiful day only to have a mediocre DJ. I knew something needed to change.

How did you start SSE?

In 1989, SSE was called Music in Motion. Back in the day, logos were a huge thing (think Apple and MTV), and the only logo I could come up with was based on the Reebok logo. 

I designed it with two lighting bolts that looked like a “SS” and that’s how Selective Sound was born.

Aside from technology advances, how has your approach to DJing changed over the years?

There is a lot more listening and learning these days. 

A high-end DJ or DJ company will want to get to know you. They will listen to your wants, likes, and more before making playlists for the evening.

What do you learn from younger DJs and MCs?

The new guys teach me new styles of music and new ways of thinking. I teach them the basics, discussing what works for them and what should change. 

In this business, you need to make sure you’re always changing and always evolving with the times, so ‘never stop learning’ is my motto.

What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had as a wedding DJ?

One of my favorite clients to ever work with was a groom that wanted to surprise his wife by hiring Mark Wills to sing their wedding song. 

The hardest part about making this plan with the groom was not telling the bride. We decided to play a recorded version of the song to start and, about 1 minute in, make it sound like the track was corrupted. I came on the mic and announced that the recording was broken, but it looked like we had someone who could play keyboards with great pivot. 

The groom purposefully had the bride’s back to the stage while dancing. A few chords in and Mark Willis walked out and started singing. She was beyond surprised! 

At the end of the night, the couple told me, “This was the best wedding we’ve ever been to, and it was my own!”

Watch the video of this memorable moment here!

How does a DJ “read the room?”

DJs need to have what I call “360 vision”, meaning that you need to look all around you in order to read the room.

Start looking at the crowd’s body language during cocktail hour and see if it changes as you move to dinner. Look for people tapping toes, swaying, or dancing by the bar. Keep an eye out for how they react to different music genres. Is the dance floor packed, or are more people sitting at tables?

The best DJs will both read the room and be able to adjust their plan on the fly. And they will handle adverse situations quickly and effectively without involving the bride or groom.

What is your advice to a new DJ just starting in the wedding industry?

While being a wedding DJ in Cleveland is fun and has its perks, it is far from the easiest job. 

I recommend working as many events as possible to gain experience, whether working jobs for your own company or someone else. Any experience is good experience.

Also, remember a DJ puts about 90% of the work in for a wedding before the big day even arrives! There are many hours behind the scenes full of planning, coordinating, and preparing to make the bride and groom’s special day flawless.

If you have additional questions about what to look for when hiring a great wedding DJ, contact us today – we love helping couples plan the wedding of their dreams!