A wedding DJ tells all
Kenneth Bouchard,who goes by KC, has been a DJ since the late ’80s, and in Reno for the past five years or so.
When he was little, Bouchard was entranced by his mother’s vinyl collection—a massive library that was heavy on R&B—and often used it to make mixtapes. Before long, he began making the tapes for his friends, then working for a radio station. He eventually DJed at a variety of events, including school dances, corporate parties and such, but he says weddings are what he’s always done best.
When he describes his job, Bouchard speaks with a fast sort of enthusiasm that’s clearly born of passion. He loves this stuff.
Tell us about your work.
Well, there are multiple elements to being a wedding DJ. One is knowing the music, obviously, but it’s also being that MC—being that kind of rock who can provide information and keep things relevant throughout the night. You want to keep everybody informed about what’s going on, and you want to make yourself a part of the party, but not the party.
There are egos out there. There are a lot of wannabe radio DJs and that kind of thing, but in the end it’s all about the bride and the groom, and the people there. If the bride and groom are happy, everyone’s happy, and it just kind of snowballs.
Typically, I meet with the bride and groom first, and I just kind of get a feel for what they’re interested in—what they want the wedding to look like, to feel like and so on. … I think the more personalized it is, the better. You want to get the essence of that, because everybody’s there for them. So, if they are hearing songs that they’re comfortable with, they’re going to act super comfortable, and you can see it. It just expands throughout the reception. And if I’m playing the right music, I don’t need to be on the mic after every song, trying to get people up.
At some point, I become like a wedding coordinator. I don’t really have the decor, and I can’t really help with invitations and everything the way a true wedding coordinator would, but I can help things go smoothly with all the professionals involved—with the venue, the caterer, myself and the photographer.
What’s the Reno area like as a wedding destination?
It's a really great wedding community here. People don't realize it, but it's kind of a premier wedding area.
Hawaii or Baha or the Virgin Islands may be a little more typical, destination-wise, but Reno does really well, and because of that, there's a high proportion of great professionals here: great caterers, great photographers, great DJs. Of course there are plenty of substandard ones, too, but that's just like anyplace else.
The most vivacious person in the whole industry is Leigh Anne [Page] from Delicious Designs. Every time I work with her, I want to step up my game.
My biggest piece of advice to the bride and groom is to meet their vendors, to get to know them. Make sure they talk to their DJ face-to-face, to make sure he's the one who's going to show up. That goes for your photographer too. You want the sort of photos that make people's souls shine through.
When it comes to playing receptions, are there songs or genres that work for almost everyone? How do you keep things moving?
There’s no one particular song. I have a big list, a playlist, basically, of things I call kickers. I’ve played them since I started in ’88, and many of them still work. It’s all about reading the crowd, really, but there are some songs that are going to get people up no matter what—you see them running up from the back of the room, like, “Oh, he’s gonna play that one!” Typically, it’s stuff like “Cupid Shuffle,” or “Cha Cha Slide,” or even the country line dances like “Cotton Eye Joe.” There’s a lot of different little bridges and kickers that’ll work for everyone.
At some point, you'll hit a chord with everybody, and you can just ride that for a while. That's my fun, when you can see that ebb and flow, [and say], “Ooh, the energy is up or down!” Or, “They're getting a little tired of this, so let's move in another direction.”
I’ll play whatever the bride and groom want, though. I had one [playlist] that was all Bauhaus—it’s all kind of dreary, you know—and then I think I played one Beatles song and one slow song, and people were like, “What the heck is this?” But they [the bride and groom] were happy. I did what they wanted. Hey, if it’s what you want, I’ll play all polka.”
So what’s the best way manage a playlist of offbeat songs?
It's great to hit on everybody early [with more crowd-pleasing stuff], so everybody feels like they've been acknowledged, and everyone feels like they have something they can dance to. Then you can go off on tangents.
At a wedding just the other night, there were a lot of older people, so I played a lot of Motown, some Elvis, and a lot of swing first. They were happy. And then later we were playing nothing but—well, it wasn't current rap, maybe 10- or 20-year-old rap—but it's stuff you wouldn't normally play right off the bat. That's when the lights go down and things get a little less formal. People let their hair down a little bit. By then, you see all the older people staying out and dancing to this stuff that was for the 20- and 30-year-olds.
It's my job to get them out there and figure out what they're going to do. To me, that's the fun of it. That's the challenge. If people have a song they like, they let down all their barriers.
What about the folks who won’t get up out of their seats?
You always think about the people who are sitting down, too, who don’t like what they’re hearing, and you want to include the stuff that they’re going to dance to, but you also don’t want to alienate the ones who are already out there. Maybe you’re doing some country, say, so then you bridge it with a rock-’n’-roll song, and 10 minutes later you’re doing bop or disco, or something else altogether. It’s never really the same, and that’s the beauty of it.
Sometimes I’ll go over and see people who aren’t dancing, and I’ll go, “Hey, is there anything I can play for you?”
You’ve got to play a certain amount of slow songs during the night, so you might as well make them important ones.
Maybe it’s their first wedding song or something. Maybe they don’t dance much, but maybe I can get them up if it’s the song they danced to at their wedding. … They’re going to love the bride and groom for that, too, and again, it all just snowballs. That’s why I love weddings so much. You just feel it.
My favorite event of the night is the anniversary dance, if they want to do it. You get all the married couples on the dance floor, including the bride and groom, and you say, “OK, anybody here been married for three-and-a-half hours?” Then the bride and groom leave, and everybody goes crazy. “OK, what about one year?” And you go on and on. The amount and outpouring of love and respect you get for those [older] people is amazing. You’re there to celebrate marriage, the marriage of this new couple, but you’re also there to celebrate people who’ve been married a long time as well.
Tell us about some especially memorable gigs you’ve played.
I had a wedding a while back where he was from Boston and she was from New York City, so we had a Boston/New York sing-off, since they had friends from both cities. A Boston song would be “Sweet Caroline,” for example, since they play that at every Red Sox game, and a New York song might be “New York State of Mind,” or “New York, New York.” And here we had these two groups just singing their lungs out, each trying to get the other group [riled up]. You never know, though; what works at one wedding could completely bomb at another one.”
Years ago, down in San Diego, I did [a reception for] the niece of Jerry Lewis. I didn’t even realize at first that it was him dancing in the audience. Later, I was in the elevator loading up, and he was in the elevator with his wife and his little girl. It was really neat.
Then, a couple summers back, [a groom] had a brother in Afghanistan make a toast from there. He then was able to watch the other toasts and first dance through Skype.
Another awesome use of technology was when a grandmother broke her hip the week before a wedding up at Red Hawk. She had an iPad in her hospital room, and her son, the father of the bride walked down the aisle with another iPad. So she got to walk with the bride and see the ceremony.
That’s so sweet. What about funny stories, too? Bet you have plenty of those.
Well, [after the bride and groom completed the cake-cutting at one reception] he decided to smash her with cake … and you could almost see her silhouette on the mirror behind her. She was beyond-belief irritated. I mean, it was a beautiful dress, and it probably took her 40 minutes to get cleaned up.
And I also had two first cousins get married once. They had to have a blood test beforehand. The father of the groom was the bride’s uncle; the dads were brothers. But the bride and groom loved each other, and it was a beautiful wedding. I’m of the mindset that hey, if you love someone and you’re able to find happiness [he shrugs, and adds that he’s also played same-sex wedding receptions for decades] … look, I wouldn’t want somebody telling me I couldn’t be in love with my wife, or something.
Oh, and there was one wedding on a military base, where the bride was so messed up that she basically did a striptease for everybody. It was late in the evening, fortunately, so most of the grandparents were gone. It was just like, “Wow, nice lingerie you’ve got on there.”
You never know what you’re going to get. But more often than not, the stories are just heartwarming.