Happy Friday! I am delighted to share with you something we have been concocting for a little bit now, a Brooklyn Bros “column” in our blog posts. These gentlemen of talent will be sharing their vast expertize and answering your questions as well. Please warmly welcome our first Brooklyn Bro blogger wedding mixologist (music, not booze!) James Dier, otherwise known as $mall ¢hange.

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Hello Brooklyn Betrothed enthusiasts! Since this is my first post as part of a series on music tips for your wedding, lets start with the beginning of the party. And while the focus on music during cocktail hour isn’t as central as when you’re dancing later, there’s no reason you should settle for mediocrity. Like all the details of your event, music adds an important vibe to set the tone for your guests.

With the cocktail hour, people are talking and wanting to catch up, so let’s use a little common sense here. Folks need to hear the music, but most importantly they still need to hear each other. So make sure your DJ is Def as opposed to being deaf, and the volume isn’t over the top. It’s about setting a nice background level so the music is subtly inspiring the environment without taking over. It’s like seasoning food. You find that balance that works.

But just because they’re relaxing doesn’t mean folks need to fall asleep. There’s a tendency to play really mellow stuff, and of course that’s appropriate. But that doesn’t need to be the only vibe here. Unless you’re looking for a specific ‘theme’, it’s good to mix it up. (Though I have DJed ‘jazz age’ and ‘yatch rock’ themed cocktail hours for events — themes can be a fun idea too!)

Alternate jazz or vocal selections with other genres like rock, soul, RnB, and even (mellower) hip hop or electronic music. Try both old and new tunes. Put in slower and faster tracks so the tempo and vibe is moving around. I feel this helps move the night along. If you play slow music for hours, by the time people are ready to dance they almost feel ‘tired’. It’s subtle, but I like peppering slower selections with some tracks that have a little more energy (again not overpowering on the volume). Then when it’s time to dance they a bit more ‘ready’ so to speak.

Also with cocktail and dinner, since its background music, why resort to playing things that everyone knows? As we all know with certain wedding ‘standards’, sometimes what we know can make us groan. Yes, DJing a wedding isn’t all about ‘educating’ folks… but you don’t need to serve them the obvious velveeta either. Throw in some time tested standards and do a little research on some fresh sounds. Experiment making some playlists. Find the tracks that really speak to you, and then arrange in an order so they flow together. It’s actually quite fun to do if you have the time. And if folks are there to celebrate your love, why not share your personal tastes?  Especially if music is a passion for you.

Here’s some tunes that I’ve enjoyed playing at weddings or just to listen to in general… many of these are a little obscure, so remember you can curate your own playlist to be as well know (or underground) as you want it to be. Cheers, and hope you enjoy the tracks…

Della Reese ‘Whatever Lola Wants’
Della is a legendary diva jazz vocalist, this is from one of her best records, the latin themed ‘Cha-Cha-Cha’ LP from the late 50s.

Jose Feliciano ‘Golden Lady’
Stevie Wonder’s original version is great, so if you’re going to cover this you really need to come correct.  Jose does this in spades.

Frank Sinatra ‘Drinking Water’ (Agua De Beber)
Frank did two records with the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim in the 60s, the result was a perfect marriage of classic vocal jazz with a twist of samba.

Lee Morgan ‘Cornbread’
Straight ahead with a soulful undercurrent. Real jazz people, from real players… no need to pull out the Kenny G with records like this. Classic Blue Note.

Al Green ‘Love and Happiness’ (Shoes Dub Mix)
Edits have become very popular in modern music, taking old songs and rearranging them in a way that either makes it more danceable, or in this case, more ‘dubbed’ out like an old reggae track.

Radiohead ‘Karma Police’
For fans or indie folks in the know, tracks like this can be a head nod of sorts… telling folks this isn’t your typical cookie cutter wedding soundtrack.

Beck ‘Cold Brains’
Beck always brings something interesting to pop music, reminds me of classic Donovan, folky and funky at the same time.

Bill Withers ‘Lovely Day’
Stone cold classic. And classy. Positive without being cheesy. Has a universal appeal, a no brainer for me at many events.

Roy Ayers ‘Love Will Bring Us Back Together’
A beautiful song from a classic jazz/disco artist, great lyrics and has a mid-tempo bump to mix up some of the ballads and slower tracks. But still subtle enough to not be inappropriate for early evening.

Little River Band ‘Reminiscing’
Fall into the ‘AM Gold’ or ‘Yacht Rock’ category, smooth tracks that come from a sunnier age, the 70s. Lyrics on this track are also really great, a love song reminiscing about when you first met. Perfect for a wedding.

Ray Charles ‘Mess Around’
Ray’s voice and piano playing are instantly recognizable but you usually don’t hear this track, an early one of his that has a great piano line.  Also a bit faster to break up some of the slower tracks if you want a slight change in mood.

Señor Coconut Y Su Conjunto ‘Trans Europe Express (Cumbia)’
From a genius concept LP where they did latin versions of Kraftwerk songs.  It could have come off schmatlzy, but its actually really good, quality lounge music. (And pretty funny if you know the original tracks, very different!)

Billie Holiday ‘He’s Funny That Way’
I really like this particular version, its a smaller combo as opposed to an orchestra, Billie is in prime form and the playing is stellar.  She is the best.

Zero 7 ‘Destiny’
UK group, this is a track from their debut record a few years back. Has a great ethereal tone, elements of 70s sweet soul or funk jazz, but also sounding very modern at the same time.  Great voice!

James Dier, better known as $mall ¢hange, is based in Brooklyn. He is a man with many many records who enjoys sharing his discoveries with folks. Besides DJ’ing weddings and events for over 15 years, he’s also had a longtime residency with freeform radio pioneers WFMU, plus stints on East Village Radio and out in the desert on BMIR, Burning Man’s official station. He’s a resident at the legendary party Rubulad and throws his own monthly called No Parking on the Dancefloor. He’s been a part of the alternative Brooklyn/Downtown club and loft scene for close to two decades.