Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm so excited to introduce you to a friend today--Joe Yamada, owner of Cascade Records, and an accomplished pianist and recording artist. Joe and I go way back; we attended college together, and he was just starting his company the summer I got married. My wedding was one of his very first, and we honestly STILL get compliments on how fun our DJ was. I enjoy running into Joe occasionally as I'm setting up flowers and he's plugging in all his gear.

One of the best perks about hiring Joe as your DJ is that you are getting such an accomplished musician as well as an entertaining, tactful (we've all been to weddings with those pompous, obnoxious DJ's who try to stay in the spotlight all night--this is so not Joe!), and knowledgeable DJ. Joe frequently starts the event out as the wedding pianist (and he is truly amazing) and then continues on as DJ for the reception. And the reviews on Joe? Well listen to this...He has won awards in Seattle Bride Magazine and The Knot Magazine as a top rated wedding vendor. In 2007, The Knot Magazine listed Cascade Records as Seattle’s top DJ company, and one of the best on the West Coast.

Joe was nice enough to answer some of my party planning and music questions recently. Here goes!

As an event designer, I usually put in long hours before the event but don’t get to see much of the actual fun. As the DJ, you are there (and are often the cause!) of the fun. So, any hints on how to make a great party?

First and foremost is communication and preparation. As the DJ and MC for a reception, I need to be sure that I completely understand my client’s needs before their wedding day…communicating with them in advance about their music requests and going over their reception timeline. On the day of the event, I need to be sure that I am in constant contact and communication with the banquet facility staff, the photographer, and other wedding vendors on site. As the MC, I need to make appropriate announcements throughout the evening so that the guests are aware of the reception events that occur. I need to be in contact with the vendors so that they are ready to go when I make the announcements. I don’t want to announce the toast if the catering staff hasn’t poured the champagne…don’t want to start the cake cutting if the photographer is reloading his/her camera with a new battery… preparation and communication is the first key in a successful event. So I guess one hint to a great party is to first hire great vendors who communicate well!
Once the party is underway, a well-prepared DJ will have the music selections and experience to keep the party going. Most weddings have a very diverse guest list, so I recommend playing a good variety of music to accommodate all tastes. I always come prepared with songs from all genres of music…from jazz and standards, through the decades, and all the way up to current top Billboard hits. I don’t always play all of them, but I am prepared to in case the reception calls for it. A good DJ will be able to read the crowd and play music accordingly. All of that comes with experience.
I’ve been DJ-ing weddings for over 10 years now, and have learned so much along the way. I can’t think of any other specific hints for a great party really…I just get out there and do it! I have so much fun at every wedding. I think the fact that I enjoy it so much helps me do a good job. Anyone who loves their job strives to do their best, and I do that at every single event.

You’ve seen a lot of weddings. What are some of the most unique and wonderful things you’ve seen that stand out in your mind?

A groom who wrote and performed a song for his bride…A complete Hawaiian themed wedding with hula dancers, tiki torches, roast pig, etc …I also love seeing couples put their personality into their wedding. Like when one couple wrote vows for their partner. The bride wrote for her groom to say, “I take you to be my wife. I promise to love you in sickness and in health, promise to put away the dishes, promise to always put the cap on the toothpaste…” etc. It was fun and memorable, for the couple and their guests, and made the bride and groom make some very practical everyday promises!
I did one reception in Seattle where the ceremony had taken place a week before in Mexico. At the Seattle reception, it started out like most receptions with guests arriving and having cocktails but the bride and groom weren’t there yet. At the end of the cocktail hour I invited everyone to watch the movie screen where we played a DVD of the tropical wedding. At the end of the DVD, the bride and groom were driving away in a limo and when the screen faded to black I asked everyone to direct their attention to the main entrance and introduced the bride and groom as they arrived in a limo that looked just like the one on the DVD. The timing was perfect and it made the guests really feel like they were at the wedding. That reception was also a tropical themed reception. It was very cool.

OK, music. Advice for couples. Let the DJ choose, create a list, let guests make requests…what do you recommend?

All three combined! I always meet with my clients in advance to discuss the music selections that they’d like for their reception. I make sure that I have all of their special dances, like the First Dance, Father & Bride Dance, etc along with their favorite requests for the dancing portion of the evening. What I think works best is combining both the bride & groom requests with their guests requests…that way I know I’m playing music that both the newlyweds want to hear and what their guests want to hear. I also use my judgment and play certain songs to help keep the flow of the music cohesive. I don’t want the set to sound choppy…like playing a hip hop song, followed by a country song, then a standard, then a rock song, etc…that just doesn’t flow. I order the requests and add a few key songs so that the music flows.
I also make sure I ask my clients if they have any songs or artists that they absolutely do not want to hear. After all it’s their party and I want to be sure to respect their requests as well as do-not-play requests.

What should couples think about when choosing their DJ?

Like choosing any vendor, personal referrals are always the best way to start. Any vendor can purchase a big colorful ad in a bridal magazine or have a booth at a bridal show. But a good reputation has to be earned and maintained. I treat every event that I do like an audition for my next event to ensure that I am doing my best every night and that I uphold the reputation that I have earned as a top-rated DJ and pianist.
The couple should feel completely comfortable when talking to their DJ about their special day. Their DJ should listen to their ideas and use his or her professional experience to help them create an evening that is uniquely theirs.
Couples should also know exactly who their DJ is going to be. Some companies have dozens of DJs who they contract out, but the couple won’t know who is going to show up at their wedding. Couples should always work directly with the DJ who will be at their reception.
There is a big price range when it comes to hiring a DJ. Typically the more experienced DJs who are in higher demand charge more. But when you consider the huge impact that a good DJ vs a bad DJ can have at a reception, paying a little more for the more experienced DJ can go a long way.

What are the all-time most requested songs at parties?

I’d say the most popular songs that I get requests for are Celebration by Kool and the Gang, Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, Dancing Queen by Abba, and Love Shack by the B52s. Most popular slow songs are What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra, Can’t Help Falling In Love by Elvis, and Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton.

And, since you are the expert, what are your favorite 10 songs for a wedding? No criteria or rules from a bride, just your perfect playlist.

Wow…that’s a tough question! There’s so much good music out there, and my favorites change all the time…also depends on the mood I’m in, and the mood of the party…But if I had to walk into a wedding reception right now and play 10 songs, here’s what I’d choose.
1. Respect – Aretha Franklin
2. Shout – Otis Day & The Knights
3. At Last – Etta James
4. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
5. Sexyback – Justin Timberlake
6. In Da Club – 50 Cent
7. The Way I Are - Timbaland
8. You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
9. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
10. Save the Last Dance For Me – Michael Buble
Ask me this question tomorrow, and I may have a new list!
Thanks Joe for all the expert advice! And for my readers...Joe has been nice enough to offer up an autographed copy of his most recent, bestselling, and really wonderful CD. I'm excited to share it with you! Just post a comment by Friday at midnight telling your favorite three songs to dance to at a wedding. We'll send the CD off to the winner!

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