No two weddings are alike. For every bride that contacts us, there exists yet another dream of what a perfect wedding day should be. Preparing for a larger event requires a significantly larger dedication of time, as well as an increase in planning. Recently, I was asked to provide the entertainment for a very public wedding for an extremely popular politician whom I personally hope to see running for congress in the near future.
It was early in the planning process that we realized that this was a very different process than what we typically experience with most of our weddings. The average number of guests at a wedding as of 2015 is 120. For this wedding, we needed to be prepared to entertain over 400 people, in a very large historic building with 40 foot high ceilings. We had to coordinate with an amazing catering company as well as an out of town photographer (also amazing). The end goal for any wedding dj is to ensure that the bride and groom experience the wedding of their dreams, with no hiccups on our end. In planning for this monumentally sized wedding, we learned a lot. I would like to share with you some of the things that go into such an event.
The first thing we had to contend with was the vast open space in which we would be working. In this instance that space was a very historic building which played a huge part in the formation of our nation. We had a 17,500 square foot space with which to work. with 40 foot high ceilings, and brick walls, our absolute first issue was to ensure we would provide ample sound coverage, without being too loud. With nothing to absorb the sound, we knew it would be bouncing all over the place. This would present a problem. In the world of sound, flat surfaces in large spaces are difficult to work with. For this reason we chose to double the amount of speakers used and operate at a lower volume. When properly placed, this would not only provide us the necessary coverage, but it would also limit the amount of bounce we experienced. People would actually be able to converse, yet still hear the music at an acceptable volume. We were all set… until we realized problem number 2 in a building constructed in 1901, for use primarily as a military arsenal: Available Electrical Supply. Philadelphia has one of the oldest electrical grids in the United States. Parts of the city are still actually operating on 2 phase power, something which went out over a hundred years ago. Not only did we experience an issue with this, but the catering company also needed power. Further complicating things were the fact that not only did we need to provide power to speakers in remote locations, but we also had to provide the audio signal to these remote speakers.Not wanting to deal with the degraded sound quality that comes with long runs of wire, we opted to go wireless for audio purposes. We solved our power supply issues by building a power distribution system the night prior to the event; a task that kept us moving until roughly 2 am. Using over a thousand feet of cabling, along with several power conditioners (no matter the size of the event, be sure your DJ is using a power conditioners, and a custom fabricated load center, we were able to ensure proper power would keep this party going long into the night.
We arrived at the venue at 10 am. Cocktail hour started at 3 pm . That left us 5 hours to fully assemble our system, install our power distribution system, perform a sound check on all speakers, microphones, and set up lighting. We additionally had to have time to change into our suits. And we needed to accomplish this while the catering company was putting the finishing touches on their difficult day as well. At no point in my career have I ever appreciated the value of a roll of gaff tape as much as I did this day. Actually, it was 6 rolls. When you are running that amount of cable, there are things that need to be taken into consideration to avoid trip hazards. While we always want our wedding work to be remembered, we don’t want the reason to be that we sent the mother of the bride to the hospital! Through a lot of hard work, a great line of communication with every vendor, the venue, and the wedding couple, we were able to have absolutely every detail attended to with 40 minutes to spare. We were set up and running 5 minutes early. There were still a few things to contend with though. We had to be prepared for the ‘What If’s”. In order to be sure we had the ability to quickly recover should something catastrophic occur, we had additional staff on standby. We had a full second set of equipment ready to go. We had to be sure we had an open line of communication with our office staff – who is not normally working on a Saturday afternoon, but were on this day – as well as our extra man waiting outside in the truck. We had our local supplier of all things musical on standby and speed dial as well.
With most 5 to 6 hour weddings, we estimate an average of roughly 25 to 30 hours of total planning. This includes meeting with the bride and groom several times, preparing the timeline of events, creating play lists based on the bride and grooms preferences, set up, strike time, and post event review with our staff. For this wedding, we clocked a total of 143 man hours before the couple even arrived, which is unprecedented for us. Once the couple arrived, it was go time. One of the challenges you face with preparing for a larger wedding, is a larger wedding party. We had to line up the wedding party, which in this case included 24 people in total. We were good to go… Until a former Governor of our State shows up last minute to extend his well wishes. Once he departed, we lined them up again. Annoucements, Dinner, Cut The Cake, Bridal Party Dance, and then EVERYONE Dance. Wedding complete. What did we learn? A lot.
Whether it is a small wedding or a very large one, planning is required. Preparing for a larger wedding, means you are doing quite a bit more planning, coordinating, and going a few dozen extra miles to be sure every little detail is perfect. We were fortunate that we have staff who is extremely well versed in all things mechanical and electrical, else we would have had a serious emergency the night before the event. We were prepared because we visited the site well in advance to learn what challenges we would face. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. We learned the importance of team work. In all, we had 2 DJ’s working the event, as well as a support team of 4 more behind the scenes who were not seen even once. Should we have needed them, they were ready to jump in to action. We also learned the importance of leaving ample time, and including a 20% buffer in that time to allow for last minute changes or little things that pop up. In this case, we planned properly, but it could have just as easily gone sideways had we not scheduled more time than needed.
The name of the venue we worked for this event was the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia, Pa. This location is home to the First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary, and they are the oldest calvary in the United States. These are the men who not only served as George Washington’s bodyguards, but were also his escorts on a little trip he took across the Delaware River in the middle of the night. You may have read about it. It changed the future of our nation. It was truly an honor to work in such an important and historic building. There is a fantastic museum there that chronicles much of the Revolutionary War. While still acting as an active armory, they are also a non-profit historical organization. Consider making a donation to this fantastic group of men, and to our history. Some of the finest men in our history have walked these halls and we owe them much more than we can every repay them.