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  • Writer's pictureDJ Kurtis Cross

The Evolution Of The DJ

From the days of "Disco Dan", complete with his mirror ball, crates of records & butterfly collar to today's "turntablist" who truly has no turntables at all, the evolution of a mobile DJ is currently, something unlike anyone originally imagined. Huge gear and lots of complicated wires have now become digital media & entertainment value. Throughout this evolution, wedding DJs have seen & done it all. What's more apparent than ever, is each couple is sharply aware of the role they want a DJ to play at their wedding. Ultimately, every couple is unique and that is what makes weddings so beautiful. Some couples want a DJ who makes simple announcements and that's all. Other couples want to find a DJ who is really going to get their guests up and dancing - neither is right or wrong.

A professional DJ will know exactly how to be in tune with each couple and their guests. By planning with each couple in advance and then pairing that with the day-of energy, an experienced DJ can let the music lead your celebration!

It is totally a personal preference on how you envision your wedding day, but make sure your DJ's style does, in fact, fit what you are looking for. As a veteran of the wedding industry, and more specifically as a professional DJ, I've seen a lot.  I've seen customs and traditions remain important, while new trends have emerged.  In this post, we'll take a look at the role of a professional DJ at weddings, now and then, along with the related changes over the years.  While we look at the various changes, one thing remains the same, and likely always will:  Love is love!  It will remain hopeful and selfless.  How each couple celebrates this love, however, will continue to evolve.

"Music Starts ~ We Get Married ~ Everyone Parties!"

That's the core premise of each wedding day, and will likely never change.  What I've seen however, since 1986, is a fascinating yet methodical evolution in the wedding industry.  Here are my top five wedding industry changes from the past 30 years.


What has changed?  I would say the greatest change I've seen, has been in technology.

1986 - When I began my professional DJ journey, crates of records were the norm.  It wasn't uncommon for a DJ to haul hundreds of records to a wedding reception, having his/her choice of songs for the music menu.  Bigger speakers were better speakers, along with gaudy equipment that required a cargo van to haul around.  Multiple trips back and forth from the van to the banquet hall were needed and you weren't getting through the night without a record skipping!  Speaking of records, keeping up with the latest music meant a trip to the record store to pick up the latest & hottest records. Hopefully, you had a friend at the record store who would put the best "dance floor movers" to the side for you to pick up.

2019 - Today, while we still have cargo vans, the space is utilized, not only for our equipment, but for the back up equipment as well.  Records and tapes have turned into external hard drives whereby 200,000+ songs can travel to each event.  No need to plan every song on the menu, because with the advances in technology, every song is at my fingertips.  Within seconds I can search my musical library by title, artist, genre or BPM.  Speakers are smaller, lighter and more powerful.  Back-up equipment is on-site versus non-existent in the 80's.  The emergence of digital files allows for more creativity and flexibility in our work.  Music can be manipulated, crafted and even produced, on the fly, while the DJ has control over last minute changes with a series of clicks.  Music is as accessible 24/7 via digital DJ pools.  Additions such as custom monograms and uplighting are commonplace as well.

The Breakdown:  Changes in technology have certainly presented today's professional DJ with the opportunity to be more dynamic & flexible.  Equipment has become more mobile & compact.  Standard light bulbs have been replaced with LED fixtures that seemingly last forever.  With fewer technical issues, today's professional wedding DJ can be more of an asset to each couple.  This improves the overall experience for each couple.  If a song is forgotten or not in the DJ library, it can be downloaded in seconds and ready to play (almost) instantly!

Customs and Traditions

1986 - A standard wedding reception was the norm.  By standard I mean cocktails, grand entrance, first dance, dinner, traditions and then dance the night away.  The DJ would make few announcements and guests enjoyed the evening.  The bouquet/garter tradition along with the "Dollar Dance" were almost always the norm and cake was typically the dessert.

2019 - Now, traditions and customs vary greatly.  Your "standard" wedding celebration is now, whatever each couple wants.  You will still find a first dance, cake cutting and dancing.  In addition, however, you may find an anniversary dance, memorial candle, brother/sister dance and other more modern traditions. Blended families are more commonplace with with the bride or groom's children having a role in the day. While cake cutting is still tradition, donuts, cupcakes, a dessert table or candy station are more regularly found.

The Breakdown:  The evolution of more customs and traditions have been a great way for each couple to make their wedding day, distinctly theirs.  Guests can be included to a greater degree and love is celebrated, not just between the couple.  Guests are more part of the wedding experience.  With customs and traditions being as relevant today as ever, the professional DJ can accommodate different cultures.  From American weddings to interfaith celebrations... Hindu weddings to African celebrations, it has been truly eye-opening and AWESOME to learn and grow as a professional wedding DJ, researching traditions & customs from different cultures.


1986 - I would say that 75% of all wedding celebrations in 1986 were held in a church social hall or hotel.  It was the simple and standard way to plan a wedding day.  You knew what you were getting and it was an absolute science.  Not much to think about for the reception!  Destination weddings were relatively non-existent.

2019 - What a difference time makes!  Hotels, banquet halls, barns, mansions, historic homes, wineries, plantations and more, have now become the backdrop of choice.  Couples truly want a unique experience, now more than ever.  In a quick count of my weddings in 2018, roughly, 50% of the receptions were held in "non-traditional" locations, 25% were held in "traditional" locations and 25% were destination weddings. 

The Breakdown:  I truly embrace the trend of choosing a non- traditional location.  I believe that this allows each couple to craft the most important day of their life, in a fashion that suits them best.  When you look back on your wedding day, the photos will reflect your great choice in location.  While a hotel or banquet hall certainly serves the purpose, a non-traditional location offers attributes that you will not find in your standard reception location.  Couples have chosen to often take advantage of nature and/or their personal interests as a creative approach to planning their wedding day.


1986 - You could almost always bank on a core set of songs (let's say 50%) being played at each wedding reception.  Most couples stuck to a "standard" playlist where everyone knew just about each song.  There wasn't much wiggle room as the DJ was responsible for nearly every song selection.  In many instances, wedding DJs chose the first dance song along with songs for the Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances.  Often, a couple's music choices were based solely on what the DJ had in his/her music library.  Any special songs that a DJ did not have would often be brought to the DJ on the day of the wedding, mailed in from a family member overseas or eliminated, if hard to find.

2019 - Couples have so many more choices these days.  It's wonderful!  Each wedding celebration is unique, in musical selections.  A professional DJ has access to music from around the world and can accommodate just about any request.  Couples have chosen to be more involved in the music program, again, making their wedding celebration distinctly them.  A family member from another part of the world may suggest a few songs to the bride and groom and the DJ can usually locate those songs.  The days of "standard" music selections are gone and each wedding celebration is a unique experience for the couple and their guests. 

The Breakdown:  Music variety makes a wedding celebration unique.  This is another fabulous part of the evolution of the wedding DJ.  We can accommodate more requests, while access to music, now allows us to custom craft an experience that each couple can truly be a part of.

The Role Of A Wedding DJ

1986 - Not much was expected of a wedding DJ in the 80's.  Your to-do list was: show up, set-up, play music, break down.  Along the way, if you could have a microphone and announce the bride and groom, that would be great. 

2019 - Today, a DJ takes on many roles. In short, each couple should expect their professional DJ to lead their day in a manner that represents the hours of communication and planning between that couple and their DJ.  The DJ must be professional, appropriately dressed, articulate, welcoming of guest requests and able to wear many hats in pursuit of producing the perfect wedding celebration.  Today's wedding DJ must be more dynamic, involved & unique than ever before. 

The Breakdown:  The success of today's wedding celebration is heavily influenced by the choice a couple makes in their wedding DJ.  As this role has emerged for professional DJs, we've had the opportunity to evolve, learn and become more of an asset to ourselves and each couple.

As a professional wedding DJ, I am thrilled by the emergence of technology & traditions, and the influence these and other updates have had in shaping our industry.  In the "early" days, it was more likely that a couple would book their wedding and leave the details up to the DJ.   Now, more than ever, I am able to be a true DJ entertainer for each couple, by coordinating their details, being the MC for their day and by working closely with other vendors to produce a day that is truly memorable for all the right reasons.  Most importantly, I enjoy establishing a rapport with each couple, whereby I can get to know them and call on my experience to help them realize the day of their dreams.

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