Life of Steve Moody, as told to writer Brian Shane
Photos By Laura Olson - In His Grace Photography
When I was a kid – I was like, 14 – I saw this DJ at a youth group dance. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” And so, I went home and I told my grandfather: I want to play music. And he’s like, “You don’t even play an instrument.” I said, “No no no, I want to be a DJ.” He was like, “That’s ridiculous.”
Weeks went by. Finally, one day after school, he grabbed me and he said, “Are you still thinking you want to do this music thing?” I say yeah. And he said, “Get in the car.” We went to the bank; he took out a couple hundred dollars. We had a local music store up in Baltimore called Gordon Miller Music. That was the place to go. It was probably the size of a Best Buy. It was all working musicians and DJs and band members that worked there during the week, then they would gig on the weekends. That’s where we went to get equipment. I got a very small rig to get started.
Through high school, I did high school dances and parties for friends. Do you remember Rock & Bowl, at the bowling alleys, where they would turn the lights off? I had a regular weekly gig of Rock & Bowl. I started that in 11th grade and I did Saturday nights on Harford Road at the duckpin lanes. That was my first-ever weekly thing.
I grew up in Rosedale. When I met my wife, she lived here on the Eastern Shore, and I just, I was at a crossroads in my life. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was doing. There was no full-time DJ service locally here on the Eastern Shore. I thought, we’ll give it a try, so I moved over here.
This has always been the full-time job. Radio was kind of like a secondary income, to get my name out. When I first started radio, I was still in Baltimore at WPOC, the country station out there. That was right out of college. I was in the right place at the right time. I did an internship there and they hired me to go on the air. I graduated in December and was on the air Christmas night.
Lori and I got married and moved to the Eastern Shore. I had never even heard of WCEI before moving to Easton. I came in and did part-time for about a month. Then they put me on the morning show. I did that for about three years. At that same time, this business took off. It got to be too much, doing the mornings and the nights every day, you know? We knew we were going to have a family. My wife said, “you need to decide, it’s got to be one or the other.”
I never thought about making a big company. I was always about doing it on my own, just because I knew the way I wanted things done. And I thought, if I hire somebody, they’re not going to do my thing the way that I do it, and I’m going to get a bad reputation. I never thought about bringing anybody else in. For years, if I was already booked, somebody would call me and ask for a DJ. I would say, try DJ Company XYZ, they’re very good, very reputable. The couple would call me back and say, “They were good, but they didn’t do things the way you did.”
My wife and I started going to all these different conferences and DJ conventions. We had no idea that they even offered these things. But just like any other industry, there’s local industry magazines and conventions and conferences. So, we started to go. One of the guys that spoke said, “When you get older, what are you going to do? Most young people don’t want someone their dad’s or their grandparent’s age DJ-ing their wedding.” He said, if you decide to expand and actually hire staff, (then) have a training program, have a manual. That way you’re always sending out the same brand, not just subcontracting someone to show up and do it their way. That’s the direction that we took.
So that was the thought: bring people in, train them to do what I do, in the way that I do it. That’s when all the local venues began to refer us, because they understood things were going to be done the same way, and we were going to do the same planning process with the couples, do the same behind-the-scenes.
It took almost two years before I had my first team together. I just wanted it done right. Lori and I own all the sound and lighting equipment, and then we find people, and we bring them in. Most of the guys will work as an assistant for the entire season; they’ve done 80-90 weddings as an assistant before they’ll go out and do one on their own. Most of the folks we bring in that work with us are just graduating from high school, going into college, and we try to help them on their path. That’s a really big part of what we do. Anybody that comes to us, if they come in and they’re looking for a job, pretty much anybody we would hire as an assistant, to see if they had – not necessarily the talent, but the drive to want to be better.
The staff we have now has been with us for several years. There’s 22 of us total. They’re family. I would trust them with my kids. We spend a lot of time together. New folks that come in, before they can do anything else, they have to train with me for an entire season. And so, I know them inside and out. We’re driving from here to Ocean City, or here to Virginia Beach, or wherever. You spend so much time together in the car getting to know each other. If it’s not somebody I feel fits with the company mentality that we have, then I don’t want to keep them on.
And there’s been some phenomenal DJs that we’ve hired over the years, but maybe not necessarily the best wedding DJ. Some guys are great at playing music and keeping the party going. But with weddings, it’s also about logistically what’s going on behind-the-scenes: are you doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing? Are you playing the specific requests of the bride and groom? Were you there, on time, dressed and ready to go before the guests get there? It’s not just being the DJ at the event, but how you worked with (the couple) behind the scenes. There’s so much extra that goes on that people just don’t understand, until it’s their wedding.
I grew up in theater and on stage. Every time you do a show, it has to be like the very first time. When I train our guys, I keep telling them, it doesn’t matter that it’s your third wedding this weekend – this is their only wedding. And so, when you say these things – though you know what you’re going to say – it has to sound like it’s the very first time you’ve ever said it and that you’re very excited to say it. It’s got to be positive or you shouldn’t be in this business. It’s different. Different than a birthday party, or a crab feast, or a bull roast. This is somebody’s wedding day, and if you are not one thousand percent invested in it, they should have (hired) somebody else.
My very first wedding I did, my planning form was only two pages long. It was just the names of the wedding party and 10 or 12 requests. Our planning form now is probably 12-14 pages long, if you printed it all out, but it asks questions that other folks don’t take the time to ask, because I really want to know the couples. So, when we do special things like the first dance, we find out, well, why is this song important to you? Rather than just say, “Ladies and gentlemen, the bride will now dance with her dad” – which everybody says at every wedding – we can say, “Family and friends, Jessica chose this song, because when she was a child, her dad used to come in and sing this to her every night before she went to bed. That is one of her favorite memories. So please welcome her and her very proud father to the center of the dance floor.” It’s the little teeny things we can add in through the night, and all those little things add up to be something big. It’s like, you want to see the dad’s eyes fill up when he walks out. You want people to say, “I’ve never been to a wedding like this before, it’s very personal.”
If something goes wrong, people look at us; we’re the ones working behind the scenes with everybody, the photographer, the videographer. Let’s say it’s time to cut the cake. I’ve been to weddings where the DJ just makes the announcement, and you stand there forever, because someone forgot to put a knife or plate there, or the bride’s father had to go to the bathroom, and you’re waiting and you’re waiting. On our end, we go out as a team of two. I’ve got someone who’s always on the music, so I can walk out, and make sure all the people who are supposed to be there are present. And I walk over to the cake table, and make sure there’s a knife and a plate and a napkin, and make sure all those little extras are done, so that it’s a very smooth transition. I think that’s one of the biggest problems with weddings – they stop and start, and they stop and start. We can make sure things are done correctly and smooth.
When Lori and I got married, we’d hired people and then almost a year went by. And I’m like, I haven’t heard from them – are they alive? Is their company still open? We stay in touch with (clients) throughout. We have a series of emails that go out automatically for couples with planning tips. By the time the wedding rolls around, they feel like they’re working with – obviously, you know, they’ve hired us – a friend, too. So, it’s not like there’s some stranger showing up, but that we have a relationship with you.
It’s very seasonal, what we do. The months of January, February, March? We’re pretty dead. Those winter months, that’s where we’re out promoting ourselves. We might do 10-15 bridal shows a year, and you’re in a convention center, and you’re handing out paraphernalia. Once the wedding season starts, we generally do eight to 12 weddings a weekend. There’s just thousands of weddings that go on here, and people have no idea how big or how many. Any given Saturday there’s almost 1,000 weddings going on during wedding season in our state. It’s huge, huge business. And so many people are employed. All the staff at the venue, and all the people that are photographers and videographers, and waitstaff and caterers. It’s unbelievable.
Photo By Laura's Focus
I’ve done close to 2,500 weddings now. Everyone does it differently, but we all celebrate the same. No matter whether the couple is younger or older, whatever nationality they are, they’re looking for the same things to happen emotionally at their wedding. We want to “wow” from the beginning. Anybody at the end of the night can get a drunk crowd to dance for the last half-hour. We want people to come up and say, “oh my God, I’ve never been to anything like this.”
The Eastern Shore is huge for weddings. They’re always listed among the Top 10 wedding destinations in the country, here on the Eastern Shore, the waterfront properties. They just get bigger and bigger. I think the Internet has a lot to do with it, because people are now able to see what other people do through YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram. Everybody sees what other people are doing, and they say, “oh, I want that.” It’s because people are able to see so many more things that they weren’t able to see before. That has been a huge part of why it is so involved now.
My gosh, back when I first started in the late 80s, early 90s, I could do two weddings in a day. We would do noon to four, then eight to twelve. But now everybody gets married at a specific property, so it’s a full-day event to go out and do somebody’s wedding; I usually end up putting 12 hours into that day. You have to give yourself a few hours to set up. Years ago, people would get married at the church and just showed up at the venue for the reception only.
These past couple of years, almost everything is just totally done through the Internet. Before, everybody before wanted to come in and meet, and talk about their weddings. Now everything’s either over Zoom – and, my gosh, we have some couples I never even meet until the day of the wedding. Some of them I’ve never even spoken too. They’re just texts and e-mails. You think, my gosh, you’re spending all this money with us, but this Millennial generation of brides and grooms is just very different from every other generation that we’ve had. Before, people would come in, make an appointment, they’d sit down, we talk. They mull it over, then maybe they’d call again. Now it’s nothing like that. Seems like the only time people do come to the office is if they have a parent that wants to meet.
Their mindset is just very, very different from the clients we’ve had in the past. Very short, quick, to the point. They just want the specifics, to get down to business. They want to see that you’ve not only got a good reputation within the industry, but they want to see that you’ve got a ton of (online) reviews. They want to see what other couples have said about you. That’s why we have so many videos on our website. Each of the DJs, when you click on their pages, there’s a video of them speaking so the bride can see them.
About a year and a half ago, I went to a seminar (titled) “How To Work With the Millennial Generation.” The guy said, if you don’t bend, you’re going to break. You’re going to fall by the wayside. You’re going to wind up out of business. If you can’t learn to talk by text, if you can’t communicate through Instagram or Twitter, if you can’t do it, you’re not going to be around five years from now. Nobody’s opening up a phone book to look for a DJ anymore. If your website’s not phone-friendly, your website’s no good. I look at my kids, they’re just always on that cell phone.
It’s very much a family business. Lori does all the payroll. She schedules all the sound equipment and lighting equipment and the photo booths. She’s the liaison between the venues and us. She got her travel agent’s license to help folks with their honeymoon. I’ve got two of my nephews and two of my nieces who work with us, too.
I’m very invested in it emotionally. As a father, every time a bride dances with her dad, I see me dancing with my daughter. Every time. It fills me up. My daughter’s 15 and my son’s 12. They want to be in the business. My son is more on the business end behind-the-scenes. My daughter’s always been an entertainer at heart. I’m sure within a couple years she’ll be one of our most-requested DJs. Taylor’s been, she probably did her first ever with me, when she was 6 years old. We DJ’d a daddy-daughter dance together. She’s been doing it almost 10 years now, just helping with those kinds of things, smaller events, never a wedding yet.
I really do love what I do. Some people say they love their job, but I really do. This job has allowed me to do something I really enjoy, make a living, take care of my family, and build a great reputation. We’ve got a good reputation, I love what I do, and I’m able to provide for the family. People know our family name and that, I think, is the most important thing to me.
DJ Steve Moody