Monique Proctor became known as DJ Smiles Davis 11 years ago.
“My career as a D.J. happened organically,” said Ms. Davis, 35, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., in the 1980s and was introduced to music at her grandparents’ record store there.
In her early 20s, she began working at Amoeba Music, where she was in charge of organizing cassettes and doing inventory at one store. “I’d take home 10 CDs a day and burn them,” she said. “During that time, my neighbor had a turntable and I become obsessed with mixing vinyls. It was stimulating and exciting. I started doing parties and that took off.”
At 24, Ms. Davis left Amoeba to become a D.J. full time. By then she had amassed a collection of more than 100,000 songs. And during the last seven years she has worked at more than 200 weddings. In addition, she has been a D.J. for various celebrities, including Martha Stewart, Gwen Stefani and Bruno Mars, and has performed at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Last year Ms. Davis started her own creative agency, All the Favors, which represents D.J.’s, bands and designers who do installations for weddings. She lives in Silver Lakes, Calif.
How did you choose your D.J. name?
I was reading the autobiography of Miles Davis when it was popular to change your name to something iconic while giving it a new spin. I smile a lot. The second it came out of my mouth that was it.
What songs typically work well at weddings?
Aretha Franklin, “Respect.” Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out.” Skee-lo, “I Wish.” Stevie Wonder, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Redbone, “Come and Get Your Love.” Young MC, “Bust a Move.” Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place.” And A-ha, “Take on Me.” They’re strong, iconic and legendary with sing-along value. Even if you didn’t know the lyrics when you hear the repetitiveness, it’s easy for people to catch on.
Any pet peeves?
When clients send long lists of what to play, and what not to; when their parents make too many suggestions; and when they give me a Google document in real time and start crossing things off and adding more songs.
What are some of your rules?
I don’t play cheesy disco, the “YMCA,” “Macarena” or “Stayin’ Alive.” I don’t play hip-hop during dinner. I try to set a vibe early on. I play a little bit of everything during that first hour so I can determine what people are gravitating toward and then go hard with that later.
What distinguishes wedding music?
These are songs that resonate with people who are feeling love in the air. They don’t have to be love songs, but they have to create nostalgia and memories. You want music that attaches songs to certain moments. When people sing out loud collectively, there’s a shared connectivity. Shouting at the top of your lungs creates endorphins. I want to pull people out of their comfort zone and to dance like no one is watching.
What is the main job of the D.J.?
To read the room, pick up on energy cues, and if one genre is working to keep playing it. It’s knowing when to go high and low and when to increase the tempo and energy. When people make requests, I know a vibe needs to shift or something hasn’t been played enough. All of this has to be done while accounting for different ages and cultural and ethnic demographics on the floor without losing members of the crowd.
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What is your fee?
$1,000 per hour, minimum of three hours of playtime. I don’t charge for set up or breakdown, which can take an additional three hours. Gear can cost an additional $1,000 or more, and includes a basic sound system, two speakers, two turntables, a wireless mic, a mixer, and an assistant.
How many songs will you play throughout the night?
About 200. During the dancing hours I’m mixing one song per minute.
What should couples ask a D.J.?
Do you M.C.? Some D.J.’s don’t feel comfortable on the mic. Can you play genres that speak to me? If a D.J. can only play Top 40 they may not be for you. Do you have video content on your website I can watch? Do you have playlists from past weddings, and examples of how you transition, like going from dinner to dancing, that you can send me? You can ask them to make you a custom playlist, too. They should be willing to meet you in person before you hire them. If the gig is local they should be open to bringing their own sound system and open to traveling for work.
What differentiates you from others?
My song selection and personality. I’m a former dancer, so I may come out from behind the booth and dance with you. I bring more feminine energy in the room. I want people to feel sensual. I use my music knowledge and music history to connect dots sonically. That keeps people connected to the music even if they don’t know the song. That’s always a goal: getting people on the dance floor. I’m really good at creating the right energy for the moment.
What’s your favorite part of the night?
The last hour when ties have been undone and the bride has slipped into a more comfortable outfit. The energy is relaxed. Drinks have been poured and guzzled. I can go on a musical journey and play whatever I want and guests will go with me. There’s a sense of emotional high. I see my clients at this part of the night. We got through the hard stuff and we got to this point together and everyone is satisfied.
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Source: Music - nytimes.com