I had a phone call last night from a bride ‘to be’ who was at the early stages of planning her wedding for 2014, she had currently nothing confirmed but this weekend was about to take the first step and book her chosen venue. However, during her online research she had stumbled across one of my ‘real wedding’ reviews of the same venue and wanted to ask me some questions regarding sound and lighting. We talked for about an hour and I gave her my unbiased opinions, we discussed acoustics and how they vary in different venues, clarity of sound, sound limitation, volume and also the importance of creating a dance floor atmosphere that people love by way of lighting and most importantly music. The next day following this conversation I got an email from the same bride telling me she and her fiance had cancelled their plans to book the venue, she then asked my advice about other venues throughout Kent which better suited her vision. She hadn’t booked me at the time but I was happy to ‘talk shop’ and offer my independent professional opinion.

The main reason for the initial call from her I discovered was, that for her it was all about the party and atmosphere on the wedding night, this was key to her and the most important part of the day …in contrast she described a family members wedding the year before who had married at a top Kent venue but her wedding was more designed around the formal parts. The wedding was all about the day and the ceremony but with the disco and sound being a particular disappointment, a scenario which she was looking to avoid. In my opinion there is no such thing as the right or the wrong venue because everyone’s needs differ, but I would imagine the majority of people would want it 100% right from start to finish. A wedding day is such a personal thing, it takes a lot of planning and there are literally hundreds of venues out there at differing budgets. It can appear to be a minefield but if it all comes together in the right way then it can be an incredible experience …but it is important to find a venue and suppliers that fit you …you don’t want to be making compromises. I understand that as much as anyone having done more than eighty weddings since the start of March 2012 alone, most of them I have been for the majority of the day and you get to learn a lot about a venue in that time …but it was this whole topic of ‘the right venue’ that made me realise that there is a very clear difference between venues and this usually boils down to choosing either a marquee or an established venue. This blog is by no means to say that either option is right or wrong, this is just a perspective from a DJ/ Sound & Lighting professional on choosing the right option for your vision.

At a wedding reception (the disco part particularly) there are clearly a lot of factors that can make for varying atmospheres. You may want full on disco/lighting or you may want a more minimalistic chic look. You may want to accomodate all your friends and design a party around your going out days or you may be conscious of keeping everyone happy in a more typical family way. It can be laid back and relaxed or it can be formal and structured. Choosing the style of venue will be critical in achieving your vision, remember there is no right or wrong – it’s what suits you best, whichever way you choose it will be the right way for you

The Venue Option

Turkey Mill, Maidstone

A venue represents a safe option …usually at a price. Ideally you just need to find somewhere that can accommodate the photo’s you are looking to achieve, somewhere that reflects maybe you both as a couple and a menu that accomodates you …and of course your budget. So whether it’s the grandeur of a London hotel, the history of a country castle, the rural feel of a mansion house or a commercial hotel chain in the centre of town, these venues are ideal if you are looking for a more structured feel where you want a co ordinator to organise everything with you. If music is a really important part of your wedding day then there are some important aspects you will need to consider.

The space – do you want music throughout your meal ? Has the venue got an adequate in-house PA system that can accomodate you, or if you wanted the DJ to provide the background music during the meal is there enough room to get the equipment set up before the meal. If so then great, all the equipment will be in place to cut down on the set up time later.

The Sound – You should always get a good sound inside a venue, things like wood in the enviroment help give a warm sound, low ceilings, high ceilings, carpets all play a part in how a room sounds. We recently went to a small venue recently where during the evening they closed the curtains and the room became very ‘bassy’, although it sounded warm and atmospheric the room also had a sound limiter and bass levels cause sound limiters to become very sensitive. If your room is quite narrow but long like a typical marquee always ensure your disco sets up at one end of the room and not in the middle facing a nearby wall as this prevents sound from moving naturally throughout the environment. It literally bounces straight back from the wall onto the floor and is not an ideal set up, plus it’s a very unnatural looking place for a disco set up, the end wall will always give you the best sound.

Sound Limiters – Does your venue have one fitted ?

Click here to read Plan Your Perfect Party (Part 1) – Avoid Sound Limiters

Creating Atmosphere – Many of these types of venues will not allow the use of smoke. An intelligent DJ will use smoke sparingly, a light haze is essential to create the fantastic lighting effects you can see in many of our photos. Unfortunately the smoke detectors that are usually fitted above the dance floor can not tell the difference between a real fire and a water based product like a hazer or a kettle. Some places will isolate the detector but most won’t. I have noticed that there are better chances of avoiding detectors if its an older room or somewhere with a very high ceiling but in the case of modern venues with low ceilings then it’s a definate no no, or a hotel as many will have other residents and they are usually linked directly to a fire station. This by no means is to suggest that it wont be a good night, but it is essential to consider if atmosphere and lighting is important to you.

Extending beyond midnight – Again it’s rarely possible, most venues are only licensed to play music till midnight, there are actually some that it is 11, however the earliest I have come across so far is 10.30 and that didn’t go down too well with a packed dance floor I can tell you. Always check this beforehand, I have had many clients in conversation with venues at 11pm wanting the extra hour but if it’s never possible or the venue runs the risk of losing it’s license. And believe me …local residents will complain.

Uplighting – A venue option can offer dramatic enhancement of its natural features. Most venues will have either pillars, archways, fireplaces, statues or some kind of feature that you can enhance by adding an uplighter. With uplighters being LED nowadays there are no danger to little fingers getting burnt like the old halogen uplighters.



The Marquee Option

St Augustines, Canterbury

This a completely different kettle of fish. It’s not going to suit everyone but with a marquee you are investing in a kind of freedom to run riot in the creative sense. You lose that structured feel, the photos will normally be very rural …but there will usually be outbuildings or somewhere nearby to get great shots especially in rural locations. With a marquee you get a very relaxed wedding, guests will feel like they can leave the table and wander around, it’s a more unique experience personal to you, in a marquee people really do find it a lot easier to be themselves and to let themselves go and staff/suppliers will be a lot more relaxed …it’s a very noticeably different ambience.

As far as locations are concerned there are some great venues that offer a marquee option, but some of the best weddings we have worked at have been marquees privately installed on private land, usually the home of the brides father if there is generous garden space available. Generally this is going to work out cheaper, you can independently hire a marquee/yurt whatever your tent preference and then bring in your caterers and other suppliers to decorate or you can usually buy a package from a marquee company that includes the food. I’ve noticed with this option a lot of the top marquees are around £100 per head so if you’v got 80 guests which is an average figure i would say during the day is going to cost around £8000, but your getting the marquee, usually a very high standard of food, toilets, a bar in the evening and you may get such extras such as a dance floor, sewn in star cloth over the dance floor, hog roast in the evening. There are never any restrictions giving everyone freedom to feel relaxed and perform and enjoy the occasion, as a supplier you do very much feel a part of a clients wedding day and in my experience you get more out of people working for you if they are happy in their workplace.

The Space – This is hardly ever an issue in a marquee, equipment is best set up before the meal giving you the option for background music. A microphone can also be made available

The Sound – Unlike venues marquee’s tend to be larger environments and don’t hold sound as well due to their not being solid walls or wood for example, it’s quite usual for speeches to require a microphone particularly if any over your speech readers are softly spoken. However marquees can also sound amazing for music as there are different ways you can set up to maximise the sound by using additional accessories such as subs which add more bass to compensate for the lack of solid walls. If you have a marquee with an add on section it’s also possible to add a zonal speaker to operate in this area, but maybe at a slightly quieter level.

Sound Limiters – Great as they dont exist in marquees but possible if it’s a permanent structure adjoining a building. Always worth checking though just in case

Creating Atmosphere – Always brilliant, the lighting from the disco will always been seen at it’s very best.

Extending beyond midnight – Usually possible, if it’s very rural and you have exclusivity then it shouldn’t be a problem particularly if its a private residence wedding and the neighbours will be there. I have also know venues where staff stop at 12 and then guests help themselves to the bar after (if you provide your own alcohol of course), I think the latest I’ve stopped at a marquee wedding was around 4am and that was at a well known Kent venue – not a private residence.

Uplighting – Sometimes essential decoration and can provide a very classy look with symetrical shafts of light tailored to your colour scheme.


The verdict ?

There is no right or wrong answer, but if you asked me what the best nights are then the memory does jog a lot of marquee weddings because they provide the DJ with a blank canvass to create atmosphere and the guarantee to work freely without distraction, marquee weddings do also appear to feel a lot more informal and relaxed. However I have also had some exceptional nights this year at venues, some well known, some slightly quirky …it’s all about what your looking for and entrusting your suppliers to design it the way you want it – in my role it’s music, sound and lighting.

If you need to discuss any particular venue, I am always happy to discuss these things to ensure you find what you are looking for, regardless of whether you are booking me or not.  This blog is dedicated to every bride and groom for investing in me on the most important day of their life and for providing me a full time living doing what I love most.  I hope that this information helps you in some way, you can also visit our facebook group for current up to date photos of all our work.


Please leave us a comment if you have a story regarding booking a venue or simply if you have an opinion on this topic

Article written by DJ Phil Webster