DJ Big John of Pro DJs Australia and Matthew Campbell of My Wedding Songs sit down and chat about Australian weddings. Listen to a fun-filled episode with topics including:
- Memorable Wedding Moment
- Streaming and Wedding Games
- DJ Big John Intro
- Cultural Weddings
- Greek Weddings
- Arabic Weddings
- Mixing Music
- Australian Artists
- Wedding Planning Tips
- Non-Standard Wedding Music
- Popular Music Right Now
Welcome everybody to the 93rd episode of the Wedding Songs Podcast. I am Matthew Campbell and today it is an awesome pleasure to have DJ Big John all the way from down under. He resides in the Melbourne and Sydney area and he’s also the owner of Pro DJs Australia. DJ Big John, please give a hello to everybody listening today.
?Hi, y’all. Hope everyone’s keeping well. Thank you for having me, Matt. I do appreciate your time today. It’s awesome. I’m more happy than you are. This is going to be a great talk we’re going to have today. Just like every other chat I always like to start off with a great question of what is your most memorable moment at a wedding?
Memorable Wedding Moment
Oh, awesome. Well, as you can imagine, there are quite a few, being a DJ for such a long time. But, one of my highlights was probably during the time of COVID, we had quite a few restrictions, here, in Australia, and there were, a lot of people around the world who were quite, closed down for some time.
It was a wedding where I was emceeing and DJing it, and people weren’t allowed to dance, during this time. we got to improvise, and people can dance in their chairs, and they’ll play bits and pieces. But, it came to the time when we were doing our speeches, and I was hosting the speeches for a bridal party.
The best man was meant to fly in from New Zealand, to be part of this particular wedding. But couldn’t do so due to COVID. they had to side hustle and have someone else be the best man. I approached the provider and said, Look, how about we, we create a surprise for your husband-to-be and maybe we can get him on a live feed on Facebook or something like that.
And I can bring a TV monitor and do some remotely and just surprise your husband-to-be. And she loved that idea. So he was a novice to it. He had no idea what was happening. As I was hosting and warming up the crowd, my colleague wheeled in the big TV screen and an iPad. And we had the groom’s brother online.
He was on the screen and he was right behind the groom. And I said, ladies and gents, before we pass the microphone over to our groom here tonight, I’m going to ask the groom to turn around and see his brother live. So he’s part of the wedding, and the groom just bursts out into tears.
And a lot of the guests also burst into tears because it’s just creating that moment and creating that, I guess, maybe that experience, for, and that hard for, for the groom. And obviously, the guest was really, really, touching and that really resonates a lot with me. That’s one of my highlights.
And there have been quite a few other, bad moments too, Matt, to be honest, you get all sorts of weddings, I remember a time when, a couple had booked me, for a Sunday night, event, a wedding, and all the paperwork was done for Sunday, lo and behold, I’m at a gig on Saturday at another wedding, I get that phone call, that phone call came through at six o’clock, excuse me, where are you?
I go, your wedding’s tomorrow. I know it’s tonight. I go, well, no, my paperwork says tomorrow you’ve signed off on it. What do you do? I’ll go live with me. I’ll learn something because we’re not, you’re waiting. You’ll need to organize something. So I’m on the phone with my mom. Mom, you have to have an intercede tonight.
She goes, what, please just fill in for me. I’ll make another phone call to my friend, Sam. Who’s a club DJ, not a wedding DJ? Go past my house, pick up my spare speakers, pick up my spare decks, and I’m going to send my wife to come and collect some Greek CDs from my event. Pre-mixed ones, pass them over.
And just do this wedding. So my mom turns up and the biggest highlight, I’m sure speakers in her booth and Sam’s wearing a suit and so forth, as soon as she opens the booth, there’s a lamb in the booth as we do, it’s Christmas time and mom went to the market that morning and didn’t have time to take it out.
So the groomsmen say to Mom, Hey, can we cook this tonight at the wedding? , lo and behold, you know, all those little bits and pieces came together, they pulled it off, mum’s quite entertaining like me and being of Greek descent, it was a Greek wedding also it went off, they weren’t too happy, unfortunately, we wouldn’t get paid for it, but the end of the day, That was pretty bad experience, I guess, on both parts, because the communication wasn’t clear, but they had signed off to it, and I sent them the paperwork, and that was the end of it yeah, there were all sorts of things, good and I think that one of the points needs to be made is DJs are very spontaneous in fixing problems, and no matter what, you fixed the problem.
I think that’s kudos to you for handling that situation as well. One question I have about the good one though, are you still streaming any weddings today or bringing anybody in?
Streaming and Wedding Games
It’s not as popular during COVID-19 times, where there was demand for it. but, we don’t do it anymore.
I don’t do it anymore. So much focus on so many other areas now. Obviously moving along with the times, keeping more people engaged with other activities such as wedding games, which is really huge in the States, as you know. and it’s not as huge here, but I implemented it here and people just love them.
Even last night, we had four wedding games. My couple often rave on reviews in the night, even the venue just said, we’ve never seen this before ever here in Sydney, It’s about creating those moments. Why play boring background music? Well, we had some fun during meal times, they really, really, really, enjoyed that.
So that being said, we’re no longer doing all the streaming at this stage, but look, if people want it, we can definitely offer it if need be, because it’s a great item you can sell, especially for families who can’t be there, on the wedding night. So you can set that up as a live feed, or even record it, and then just offer it back to them as a little gift, as a thank you.
That’s awesome. I want to get more into that in just a second, but I want to make sure I have you introduce yourself. Just tell us about you, your company, All the weddings.
DJ Big John Intro
Sure. No, no worries. My name is, John Koukoulas I run a DJ company, in Melbourne and Sydney.
Sometimes we go interstate. We offer, service the rural areas also. I’ve been, I started DJing in the year of 1984. When we, tapes, and a lot of vinyl too. How I started, mum would host a lot of parties, with neighbors back at home, and, our background’s obviously Greek. Dad would obviously be on the barbecue and say, son, play some Greek music and on there, go through dad’s records and so forth.
And I’m trying to. mix these records with the cassette tape and press the high, buttons on the hi-fi system and start experimenting, you know, from belt drive turntables to et cetera. It’s evolved from there. People started dancing or getting into it. I’m thinking, Oh, this is really something, you know?
So I started buying music that I started enjoying. And back in those days, it was Euro disco and high energy. We had a particular radio station, six o’clock in the morning. I’d record every station for these new songs. I really, really liked it. I said, how did one crate I started buying one single, 12-inch, another one, another one, a bit of a collection.
And then I’ll do my first party about six months into a friend’s party for free, of course. You’re there taking the music and the kids having fun and so forth and just took off from there. I’m hiring DJ equipment, little police lights, and things like that. I just evolved from there.
So now. 37 years into it. I now have DJs in Melbourne. I have DJs here in Sydney. We just started doing photo booths as an add-on to our services. We do dry-ice fireworks, which a lot of DJs do these days. It’s just great. We’re really, really, really busy, which is excellent.
Just making sure that the guests are happy. My specialty, I specialize in five languages. it’s Arabic, Greek, Spanish, Italian, and English. look, every culture is different and everybody’s different seeing people happy is what really makes it for me.
Do you get a lot of cultural weddings there in Australia, since you speak so many languages?
Yeah, we do. As we know, all weddings are different. Some cultures have very large amounts of guests. We’re talking. Six to 800 people, sometimes and sometimes what he’s doing 20 or 30 people.
It’s making sure that we invest the time with the client beforehand and explain to them, look, there’s not one DJ package that is going to cater for all weddings. Let’s have a chat. Let’s see what’s important to you. Let’s see what else we can help you with such as wedding ceremony music, which is really big in the States.
We do that here also as an add-on. We also make sure we cover everything in detail with the clients, tick all the boxes and where we can try to go above and beyond also, just create those, you know, those moments of, ah, you know, But even on the night engaging with the parents, making sure that they’re relaxed, well informed, all those bits and pieces really make a big difference to a successful event and a memorable occasion too.
Yes, DJs are not people who just press play. They definitely are the coordinators of the whole day. I really didn’t think I would go in this direction, but I have to ask you what would be the difference between a typical Greek wedding versus a standard wedding, and going into that as well, what are some standards that you would play for a Greek wedding?
Well, you’ve seen the movie Big Fat Greek Wedding, right? Right. that’s a great starting point. With, Big Fat Greek Wedding, my aim is to find out where their background is from. Because in different parts of Greece, you play different styles of music. people, the Islanders, we play more Nisiotica, Islander music.
People from Kalamata will obviously play more Kalamata than our music, there are variations of different styles of Greek music, but first and foremost, we arrange a Zoom consultation with the client. I need to know how many Greek guests are going to be the versus to English guests. That percentage difference indicates to me how much Greek music I’ll be playing compared to English music as a ballpark.
It’s just an indicator initially. Then I posed the question to my client while we were doing the Zoom meeting. How much Greek music would you like played compared to English? Some want minimal and some want a lot. It’s important we have that discussion beforehand to obviously set the right expectations.
And then we go into the song selection process in terms of what I know is popular at weddings and what their family wants to obviously include because if some songs aren’t going to work and you know they’re not going to work, you explain to the client as well. We can play it, but if it doesn’t work, we need to obviously change immediately, change it up.
Knowing the music, growing up with the music, and knowing the backgrounds and the traditions such as smashing of the plates, which you may have seen before Greek weddings, things like that, we also incorporate, at different times of the night when it’s obviously peaking.
A lot of that doesn’t happen at obviously non-Greek weddings. We’ll just see what mission before we look at other items to include, to build the atmosphere at non-Greek weddings, such as the wedding games or other inclusions, such as some special speeches, playing some fun music during the speeches also, that’s how they’re different.
Greek weddings are probably more culturally, involved. But again, it depends on how much influence they want on the night will obviously determine what they want on the night.
My next question, then I’ll keep it more broad. Are there other cultures, you mentioned Arabic fun moments in those types of weddings that you could say, wow, I know this is going to be awesome at this wedding.
It’s mainly the dancing, the different styles of dancing, with cultural events. So, my wife, she’s Lebanese. even at our wedding, we ought to pre-mix CDs and so forth for the in-house DJ to play music. He didn’t even get that right, but… Lo and behold, our culture is just blended.
The Arabs have different dances. They have belly dances, what they call the Dabke dance. But the wow factor for me on that night was seeing the Arabic drummers, introduce us. So many guys would come in to play the drums and so forth. It was so loud and the atmosphere was just electric.
The whole room was just shaking. I’d never seen that before. It’s my first time. I’m going, wow, this is amazing. What an entry. After I looked into that, they also have guys who do sword dances there are many elements that you can add to, that cultural difference, which, just blows my mind sometimes, to be honest.
Yeah, we do fireworks here. We do dry ice here also. Most, I used to, before, overseas. Just seeing those little elements, of traditions, really makes a huge, difference to me. And obviously, the guests on the night too, who, who haven’t been exposed to it before.
And like you said if you play a specific type of music, doesn’t mean that you have to play it the whole night.
You can intermix between what’s working and what’s not working. I think that’s really important for any wedding couple from anywhere. just like here. You could have country music, but there are different types of country music. You could have Texas country, you could have red dirt country, and you have to really know if is it the bro-country, there’s a big difference between those.
And you really have to know that, if one doesn’t work, the couple has to be okay with switching it up.
I agree with it. I also told my couples, it’s a bad cliche, but I always say music is like fishing. You keep trying different bites until they start biting on something, give them what they want, build the atmosphere, and then change that from there.
I always say the best time to get an idea of what everybody wants to hear is during cocktail hour and during dinner because you know if you’re playing this great singalong song and nobody’s doing anything. Okay, then during dancing, I’m probably going to be skipping this type of music.
It’s funny, to be honest, because sometimes some couples, we use an app and we’ll go into that very shortly with, song selections, but a lot of couples still prefer to use Spotify. And sometimes, we get massive lists coming from couples and I tell them, there’s only so many songs you can play during a dance break.
If you want to choose your background music, I’ll give it, I have playlists, which I’ll share with them to choose if they wish. But when they send me a massive playlist, I say, look. Great. I love you. You love music. But ballpark, the faster upbeat songs will get played during the tensing time, and the slowest songs aren’t really up there.
I’ll try squeezing through your dinner time, and downtime for you. I was in a wedding planning Facebook group the other day and a bride was in there saying, Oh, I gave my DJ eight hours worth of music and he’s only going to play three and a half hours. Okay.
That’s a little bit much. Thank you. It’s true. Since you’re in Australia, I also have to ask about Australian artists. Are there any Australian artists that are must play during a wedding reception?
Definitely. We have quite a few, massive hits here. You know, Daryl Braithwaite Horses is a great, scientific song, which usually gets played near the end of the night because it helps slow down the pace of the dance floor.
They’re singing to the top of their lungs to that particular song. Another popular song is, by John Farnham, called You’re the Voice. That’s another similar song that gets played near that time. But something I want to share with you is there’s a particular song called The Nutbush, City Limits, by Tina Turner.
which is really, really popular here in Australia, an American song. I think Nutbush was a town where Tina Turner grew up, in Tennessee. She sang that song. We have a special dance to that particular song here in Australia, which is not known, in America, apparently.
I’ve spoken to a lot of American, people here in Australia, and they don’t have that particular dance in the States, where they have more. I guess line dances and cha-cha slides and so forth in the States and things like that. But I was quite surprised that, it’s a massive dance.
And if you like, I can even share a link with you at some stage, and you can see that people absolutely love this song. So yeah, that song is one of our golden songs to get everyone onto the dance floor. So where, when we struggle, I mean, the dance was a bit iffy. we would maybe throw this particular song on, it’s called one of the Golden Nuggets, and lo and behold, people run from all directions too, to dance to this particular dance.
It’s not an Aussie song, but again, it’s a song from the States which is really, really popular. That’s fascinating. That is a golden nugget. Like you said, if you’re down there, then you have to play that song at some point during the reception.
I talked about this last week. It’s an interesting thing because a lot of couples have done it throughout the years. A lot of line dances, the wobble, the cha cha slide, and a lot of couples now are saying, I don’t want that. There’s so much good music out there. Let’s just go with the popular dance tunes we know and we like.
So it’s been an interesting journey in the last year of really fading away, even the big guys like, Bruno Mars, they don’t want Ed Sheeran. It’s like, God, we’ve been hearing those, the couples in their twenties, they’ve been to five weddings and they hear those same songs every single wedding.
So it’s been an interesting transition right now. Yes, sir.
Same game, by the way. Are there any tips that you give to your wedding couples who are planning their wedding day?
Wedding Planning Tips
Initially, they come through with an inquiry a phone call, or even a referral, and I always tell them, let’s meet, let’s invest the time together.
It’s really important. Your wedding is really important to you, and it’s important to me too. Once we, obviously, jump online and meet virtually or in person sometimes, I always share with them. With your key songs or what we call, the main songs for the running sheet and so forth.
It’s important that they choose songs that one that resonate a lot with them at the same time, that’s going to entertain the guests also. For entry songs, I try and encourage upbeat songs and fun songs. Back maybe 10 years ago, I was encouraging movie theme songs like Star Wars entry or Superman theme song entry just for a bit of fun.
But that’s not popular. That’s kind of faded out now. I said, pick a song that resonates a lot with you for your entry. And you know, your guests are going to go crazy too. That’s for the couple. Now, when they have the parents walking in, or the bridal party walking in, I asked them, ask them what they’re going to enjoy walking into.
Instead of picking their songs for them, ask them what they would like. We obviously edit the songs and play the songs from the crucial point from the chorus, because it’s only 10 to 15 seconds, of the song as they’re walking. That’s the entry part. Then throughout the song, throughout the other key songs, such as Cut the Cake songs, First Dance, the same thing, pick songs that resonate a lot with you, but also, songs that will blend well with other songs.
Don’t pick, Elvis Presley Can’t Help Falling In Love With You with an Ed Sheeran song, because it just doesn’t flow nicely. If you want to keep it old school, keep it old school. keep it modern, keep it modern. Because music has to flow because it’s feeling that moment, which is really, really important.
They’re the key moment songs, and then obviously with the requests, I always tell them, look, look at how much time we’ve got for dancing time. If it’s two hours. Roughly 20 songs, 25 songs per hour. don’t pick all the songs. Pick, maybe 10 must-play songs. Make a B list of 10 or 15 more songs.
We’ll try to squeeze those in also. Because on the night, we want to take requests also from your guests. Sometimes, they don’t want us to take requests. I ask that question also. Most times they do. I don’t open up to requests unless I need to. Which is, if the dance floor is fading out, I’ll then encourage requests.
It’s rocking. I want to go down the path of requests. I think every DJ is different in how they approach that. but what’s really important to me is that my couples pick their key songs and what resonates well with them and songs they want to have a dance to also. We’ll go through that whole process in our consultation when I meet with them.
I think that’s such a great point maybe there’s a song that their friends were driving, picking up boys or picking up girls during high school, and they would always roll down the windows and sing this song and it’s a song that they haven’t heard in a long time. I think that throwing those songs in there just adds such personalization to the wedding that if you know those as a DJ, it’s an Instagram moment, as they say, this is true.
Talking about the music, How do you handle music that you don’t think it’s very appropriate for a wedding day? Do you tell them to maybe incorporate it earlier in the, in the evening? Or how do you handle that with couples?
Non-Standard Wedding Music
It’s a great question. And thank you for asking that question.
Because a lot of couples will want this particular style of music. And in that segment, I need to have time to review their playlists because I won’t just walk up to a party without reviewing the playlist. I’ll pick out a few songs and I’ll let them know that these songs don’t usually work at weddings based on my years of experience.
From what I’ve come across, they’re great songs maybe to listen to, again, in your car or home or in the office, wherever the case may be. When it comes to a wedding, they may not be appropriate. I guess some genres that are probably inappropriate, we don’t play weddings, is like thrash metal or hardcore techno.
Things that, are intrusive for most of your guests. You and your friends may enjoy some of those songs, which is great. But you need to think about what’s going to appeal to most of your guests. Using that as an element. More times I say, yeah, okay, we understand that. But sometimes I say, no, we really want that particular song because there’s a reason for it.
Understandable. Great, we’ve communicated that. It will happen. When will it happen? Well, again, this is the next stage. Do I play those songs during the main dance break? More times than not. or more likely play those songs during the mealtimes. Or, before the groom does his speech, if he really loves a particular song, I’ll squeeze it in on the introduction and he’ll enjoy that moment too.
Depending on the songs and, how important these songs are will determine whether I do or don’t play those songs and when I’ll play them on the night too.
Speaking about music, what are you seeing as popular right now? Is it the 90s, the 2000s?
Popular Music Right Now
What’s filling the dance floor?
I love your questions, Matt. That was so awesome. Just around five to 10 years ago, the eighties were massively huge here in Australia. And they’ve had me for such a long time. The 90s also were super popular. The early 2000s were very popular.
Well, my genres go back to the 1940s, big band music. So I played some rock and roll for the oldest too, but not a lot of it. But the majority of music now, and the details I’ll speak to is that. The 80s are gone. The new 80s 90s. It’s all the 90s stuff, all the bangers from the 90s that are really popular, at weddings at the moment, in my experience, and early 2000s.
They’re the main decades that we play. So the genres that we normally play would be top 40, commercial house, nothing too housey. RandB, the 90s, also RandB is so popular, but not at every wedding. You have to go pick and choose at particular weddings.
But then, you know, there are moments where you get up there into the early techno or early trance stuff too, the EDM stuff, and start going off on that too, later in the night. But as you know, there are weddings and there are weddings, so you’ve got to pick those moments and obviously be able to read the crowd and see how they’re responding to the music.
Obviously, build that atmosphere on the dance floor. And that’s something we get a lot of great reviews on, being able to read the crowd and just building those energies and those great moments also. I did a wedding last night actually, and they had a cardboard cutout of, Jack Sparrow.
So the groom went and grabbed the camel cut it and was dancing with Jack Sparrow and the camel cut it. You know, you don’t expect these things, but they happen at weddings.
Yeah, it’s funny you say that looking at what’s hot right now, I definitely see the pop-punk of the nineties and the hip-hop of the early 2000s. As you said, it just depends on what the couple wants even EDM. I think Raves and big shows that have all of the techno music.
EDC here in Las Vegas Electronic Daisy Carnival. I think that’s just brought EDM to the masses and EDM is exploding and definitely to be played during the dancing part with the right crowd. Certainly.
Just to close it out where can they contact you if they are having a destination wedding? I want to have my wedding with the kangaroos, or if they are already there and they just want to have a great party, where can they contact DJ Big John?
Sure. thanks Matt.
Our website is https://www.prodjsaustralia.com.au/.
Instagram is the same. Pro DJs Australia all being one word. We’re also on YouTube, again @prodjsaustralia, all the same name. If you see me at another wedding, come and say hi and I’ll offer you a business card and we’ll have a coffee or drink, and let’s catch up. Let’s have some fun together because it’s about creating those magical moments, to ensure that, you know, your wedding is a perfect success, for you and your guests.
That sounds fantastic. If I was there, I’d be giving you a call. So thanks everybody for listening. And thanks to DJ Big John for joining us today. Stay tuned for next week when we interview another wedding professional. Thanks for listening and have a great day. Thank you. Take care. Bye. Bye.