Archive for September, 2011

The Lee Effect

One reminder about my blog. I seldom, if ever, use real names when writing. I never know what I might say that a client may wish to keep close to her friends and family. I use the names Kay and Buckley for the bride and groom of the weddings. Should I ever meet a Kay and Buckley in real life, their wedding is free.

I do not remember how I met Kay, but I have been looking forward to her wedding for a while. As Kay picked out her songs I could tell the music was going to be diverse, and in some cases, not your usual songs for a reception.

Every wedding has a story. Most weddings have elements that provide a learning opportunity. This has both. Since my favorite part is the story, I will start with that. If you do not care about the story and simply wish to learn, skip down to the line of “#’s.”

Chattanooga, three days prior to Kay’s wedding, had completed a month which set a record for the least amount of rainfall. At least that is my recollection from a recent news report. The remains of Tropical Storm Lee were scheduled to arrive the day after her wedding, but as usual, mother nature does not take orders from the weather channel.

Kay’s wedding, both ceremony and reception, were at The Grandview, a picturesque property atop Lookout Mountain near Rock City. As the rain moved in, it was apparent most of our planning that had been done was going to need to be modified, changed, or thrown out the window. The decision was made early in the day to move the ceremony into the Grandview house. Space would be tight, but everyone worked together to put together the ceremony for Kay and Buckley.

Kay and I had some common histories, though she does not know it. Kay lost her father at a young age. I had the honor walking my sister down the aisle at her wedding. I know the emotional roller coaster that ensues thinking of a lost parent on the happiest day of your life. Two important men in Kay’s life walked her down the aisle. Because of the change in plans, the aisle was much narrower than planned, making the trio a bit more difficult, but everyone made it and the ceremony proceeded. If anything, the new arrangement only emphasized how important these people were to Kay, as the change in the aisle was not going to change Kay’s plans.

Buckley’s uncle presided over the ceremony. He did a wonderful job. As he instructed Buckley to seal the marriage with a kiss, Buckley quickly took a shot of breath mint and kissed Kay. Everyone laughed, and you might think it “silly,” but hey, guys, not only did he get the obligatory wedding peck, Kay leaned in for a second, more passionate kiss! There could be a lesson for all of us guys there!

From this point, the affects of the rain begin to be seen in the logistics of the evening. The original plan was to have all of the guests move to the large patio to enjoy cocktails, hors devourers, and of course, one of the best views in Chattanooga. The rain required everyone to stay indoors, which meant not everyone could be in the same room. The cool headed staff of The Grandview kept everything in check. Most of the guests went to the room that is normally used as the “green” room for the wedding party and family. There is a bar in there and the buffet table was set up in compact fashion. Meanwhile, David Smith was finishing the photographs with family in the “ceremony room” (which will be called several different things throughout the evening). Once the photo session was complete, Grandview moved tables and chairs into the room and guests came back to sit and enjoy their dinner in what is now the “dining room.”

During this time, I was re-arranging some of the sound equipment. I moved the ceremony system into the room with the food so the guests in there could enjoy some of Kay’s chosen music. I then re-configured my main sound system so the guests in the dining room could enjoy our selected dinner music. Because of the new configuration, the sweetheart table would not fit in the dining room. I provided my small table so Kay and Buckley would have a small table to set their drinks and plates while they enjoyed their food and talked with their friends and family.

Our next modification came in how to do the first dance. We (Grandview, me, and Nancy-more on her later), decided to move everyone out of the room while Grandview moved out the tables. The room would now turn into the dancing room. Before we would do this “flip” we would cut the cake. This could make it easier to get people out of the room, by being able to serve them the cake.

At this point, the skies had been kind for some time. Weather RADAR showed plenty of cloud cover, and a temporary break in the rain. During the dinner period, Grandview set up some “pop-up” tents on the patio to provide some shelter from a small or temporary shower if guests wanted to go out to enjoy the million dollar view. I asked David Smith (the photographer) if he was a gambling man. I asked if he thought there was still enough light to get pictures on the patio if we did the dance out there. He confirmed there was and agreed with me, the chance was worth it. Kay loved this venue, so much so, she opted to not use the back up facility Grandview has in the event of rain. It was certainly her wish to have a dance on the wonderful patio overlooking the city in the dusk of the evening. We decided to do it, but time was not on our side, we had to move fast.

I went inside and quickly started telling people to move outside to the patio for the first dance. After going through the house telling everyone our plan, I was surprised when I arrived at my starting point to still see guests taking their time in moving to the patio. I know I am the representative of the bride and groom, as such, I want to be as cordial as I can. However, we needed to move, and move fast. I ushered people, with a bit more sense of urgency, and everyone responded well and began to move to the patio.

One note here. Kay’s mother had some medical issues which made it a little hard to move around. No matter what, we were not going to have the first dance without Kay’s mother being near by so Kay could see her. Moving her mother to the patio was not an option, she would be unable to use the steps and the elevator was on the other side of the house, which would have taken too much time for us to get her there. We brought her mother to the porch that overlooked the patio. The distance was not far, but we had to get many people off of the porch, onto the patio, to have enough room for her to sit comfortably along side the people who were helping her mother get around.

We got everyone in place, most importantly, Kay’s mother. I announced to everyone Kay and Buckley would share their first dance as husband and wife. It was a classic Nat King Cole song. About a minute into the song, the sprinkles started to come. The rain started to come a bit faster. I could tell Kay and Buckley were not going to let the rain stop this special moment. I was not going to let the rain ruin Kay’s beautiful dress, hair and make up, she looked like a magazine cover shot all night. I took my umbrella and provided rain cover to them for the rest of the song.

Kay had a special dedication planned for her mother. Her mother had been scheduled to leave around 8:30, which was approaching. I wanted to ensure everyone could hear this special dedication and this would be the most opportune time to do it since everyone had moved to the patio for the dance and the increasing rain would mean it might be the last time everyone was together. After moving Kay to one of the tents on the patio, I announced Kay had a special dedication for her mother, the song started, and we listened to “People” by Barbara Streisand. Kay wanted to go up the steps to share this song with her mother so I held the umbrella as we walked up to the porch. This was truly a special moment which produced many a teary eye.

After this, we moved inside, where, during the dances, the Grandview had now created a great room to be used for the rest of the celebration. There was not as much dancing as what might have been had the rain stayed away, but I know everyone had a great time. What was planned as a grand event on the patio overlooking the city became an intimate event where everyone enjoyed catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones.

I knew everyone enjoyed the affair when I noticed most were still in the house when it was time to send Kay and Buckley off for the evening. Everyone made their way outside (another break in the rain) with a provided cone of rose petals. Kay and Buckley made their way through the rain of rose petals into a beautiful classic car provided by a family friend. As the car drove away I could do nothing but sit down and think back on how wonderful a reception I just witnessed.

Not much went as planned, but even so, the true reason and meaning of the reception shown through, the love shared between the new husband and wife. They had smiles all night, he seldom was not holding her hand, or kissing her arm, or shoulder. Love will always win. Always.


Now, for the lessons!

Pulling off Kay’s wedding took monumental teamwork. Kay designated Nancy, a family friend, to be the coordinator. Normally, I cringe when I hear a family friend will be the coordinator. Nancy was a true exception to the rule. She was organized, decisive, and never lost her cool. I am thankful she was there. Grandview is known for their view and their exceptional staff. Under pressure, they did not fail. While the rest of this is going to be about me, I freely admit, any success I had could not have been realized without the invaluable help from these people, as well as others.

Years ago I did a wedding where the rain changed all of the plans. I got a letter a couple of weeks later asking if she would get a partial refund since I was not able to do everything that was planned. While a lesser DJ might have been angry, I took it as a compliment, as it proved she had no clue of all of the extra work I did. This was before I had a blog, so I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts.

I am often asked why I charge more than most DJ’s in the area. Many people decide to hire other DJ’s because they are so much cheaper than my company. This reception has provided me with many examples of why there is such a price difference.

Many DJ’s charge so much less because they do not see playing music as a job, much less a career. I have heard them say to brides, “I love this job, that is why I don’t charge a lot.” I believe them. For the amount of money they charge, I know they do not make much, if anything from a wedding. The only reason they would do that is they truly loved the work they did. After all, who would give up weekends with families for little money if they did not love being a DJ. Guess what? I also love being a DJ. I have shared this feeling many times on this blog. However, loving being a DJ is not enough. In fact, I do not think it is in the top five. What I love more than being a DJ is giving new couples a worry free, wonderful, memorable, and fun reception. Do you think these cheap DJ’s care about YOU, or do they care about being a DJ? Ask them, “Do you care about your clients?” (they will always say yes of course), then ask, “What prior actions have you done to prove you care about your clients?” This wedding has many proofs of this. More importantly, I would do the same, or more if necessary, for all of my brides.

I usually load my sound system one or two days before the event. On the morning of this wedding, I had to remove most everything from my car and load a different system knowing there was a good chance of rain.

When I arrived at The Grandview, I went to the manager to assess the situation. I was fully expecting to be told the back-up venue was now going to be used. It was not. After getting the rough plan of the evening, I began my preparations. I had to set my system on the porch. I created a “mobile” system which would permit me to quickly roll my system into the house should high winds join the rain. Such a set up takes me about 30 minutes more to set up than my normal system. I use a facade to hide my wires and items I might place on my table. To do so here, required I elevate my facade to prevent water from pooling around the sound system, which was also a high traffic area. This adds about five minutes to the set up. My location was directly in front of a large window where many guests would be. This meant the area seen normally only by me, had to be just as presentable as the alter where they would be standing. This requires a lot of extra work to minimize the amount of equipment to be seen. It will require extra work all night as nothing I need will be on the table, I will need to reach down under the table in my drawer for everything I need, every time I need it.

After my system was set up, tested, and ready to go, I began helping The Grandview to move chairs around. Why would I help them? Because doing so helped Kay have the wedding she wanted.

When it was time to eat, the new room configuration prevented Kay and Buckley from having the private table they wanted. In fact, they were simply sitting in two chairs at the entrance to the room. I found a matching table cover (a deep blue) and provided them with my table I bring for various reasons. Why would I take the time to set up a table for the bride and groom to have a place to eat? Because I care about them.

Kay really wanted to dedicate a song to her mother. I knew the best time to do so would be right after her first dance. However, I knew I would far from my system and to do this in a seamless fashion, would require two people. Therefore, while everyone was going to the patio, I enlisted someone to help me. I told him to “push this button when I say, dedicated to her mother.” I did this in case I had to stay on the patio for the entire song, which I would, if the rain came back.

Before we started the dance, I instructed several guests to move these four tables out from under the tent if the rain came hard to allow for Kay and Buckley to dance under the pop up tent if we needed to do so. Do you think the DJ who does it because “he likes to dj” would have the forethought to make such an arrangement?

I also placed my umbrella nearby in case we needed it. As it turned out we did. When Kay and Buckley continued to dance with a slight rain, I held the umbrella so they could stay on the patio. Most of these less expensive DJ’s, I would bet, would not subject their tuxedos to a rain shower so the bride would not need to.

When it was time to help move Kay’s mother back into the house, I help facilitate this. I was in a unique position to help, not only was I nearby, but since I have been at the venue many times, I knew some of the obstacles the causal observer might miss. Recall, her medical condition made it difficult to move around. At this point she was using a walker with two people assisting her. I knew which door going to the patio would work best for her. One door had small step while the over did not have a step. I knew the one that did not have step, which would be easier for her to negotiate, was hard to open fully, but could be by slightly “twisting” the door as you opened it. Would other Dj’s do this? I highly doubt it. When another DJ saw her mother had 2-4 people helping her, it might be thought, “she has enough help.” While she did have enough help physically, helping with the quirks of the venue made their job much easier. Again, only because I cared enough about Kay did I go out of my way to help her mother, knowing her well being would be of great relief to Kay.

When the photographer was getting a family photograph set up on the patio and a light rain was moving, what did I do? I went to the patio to hold an umbrella over Kay while everyone else got into place. Does a DJ who ‘loves to DJ’ have the effort within him to leave his booth to stand in the rain to help the photographer? I bet not.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love my job. But that is universal in the world of DJ’s. Most love it so much, they are willing to charge little to do it. They think their payment includes the fun they have. However, I love my clients. I want them to have the best reception. I cannot provide them this service by charging $400. Had I only charged such a low amount for this wedding, and prior weddings, this one would have been a disaster. I would not have been able to ensure I had umbrellas located in strategic locations around the venue so I could pop one up at any moment to assist Kay. I would not have been able to create a system on wheels so no matter when, or how fast, I had to change locations, the amount of time without music would have been minimal, maybe none. I could not have had an electrician on my speed dial to ensure I was following proper safety procedures when I was forced to use an outside outlet in a rain storm. If I only cared about “dj’ing” I would not have taken the time to go to the venue twice during the week to take measurements for my lighting and testing the brightness needed at the specific time of day of her wedding.

If I only cared about “Dj’ing” I would not have ensured Kay’s mother was in place for the moments that were important to Kay. I would not have made sure The Grandview knew of the plans as they were changing, I would not have asked the photographer if the lighting was acceptable for him before I moved the location of the first dance.

My point to all of this, don’t be fooled by others and their passion for being a DJ. I can save you the time. There is not a DJ in the wedding world that does not love his job. The gem is when you find one that loves being YOUR dj.

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