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Cage and Aquarium: Give the Wedding DJ a Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Patty Wetli | November 6, 2013 9:38am
 Cage and Aquarium are resetting the bar for wedding DJs.
Cage and Aquarium
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RAVENSWOOD — If there's a more maligned profession than the wedding singer — Adam Sandler notwithstanding — it would be the wedding deejay.

"DJ has a far worse stigma," said Tyler Huffman, 36.

He should know. He's the DJ side of Cage and Aquarium, a Ravenswood-based DJ, photography and live music event company he co-owns with wife Shelley Anderson, 33, a photographer.

The couple, who live in Logan Square, founded the business in 2007 — the name comes from a They Might Be Giants song — the same year they got married. And no, they did not work their own wedding.

"We've developed boundaries," said Anderson, adding that their three-year-old daughter helps distract the two from talking shop 24/7.

Anderson has been shooting weddings since 2004, long enough to witness a pendulum swing from heavily processed and filtered photos to clean and classic.

"It didn't look real," she said of the Photoshop craze. "People started to realize, 'I want to like my photos in 10 years.'"

Huffman was inspired to turn the business into a package deal after a DJ-ing gig at a co-worker's wedding convinced him that he had something new to bring to the (turn)table.

"I saw that the industry had an opening for someone to take it seriously, to do it artistically," he said.

Now that everyone and their third cousin has access to an iPod or Spotify, successful wedding DJs need to excel at more than simply punching in a playlist, according to Huffman.

"You're really paying a DJ for reading a crowd and setting a moment," he said.

"It's about understanding music, being able to absorb it on a constant basis," said Huffman. "When you're a master of a specific genre, you know what tracks are working well. But you also have to be able to bob and weave and adjust."

Though Cage and Aquarium works with 18 DJs on a contract basis — along with three lead photographers and five assistants — the company intentionally takes on less work than it can handle.

"We don't have people working every weekend," said Huffman. "I don't want our DJs wondering, 'Is this the bride who likes Michael Jackson or the bride who hates Michael Jackson?' We really want to keep things organic and small."

Huffman became obsessed with music at the age of 10 or 11 and never looked back, putting himself through college playing in an '80s cover band — to this day, he's not ashamed to admit to a certain fondness for Air Supply.

That performance background plays into Cage and Aquarium's newest offering: all-vinyl Wax Weddings.

Whereas with most DJs, the turntable offers little more than the illusion of vinyl (the LPs are actually time-coded and synched with digital files), Wax Weddings is the real deal, with emergency digital backup provided just in case.

Though the niche for the service is "miniscule"  at the moment — audiophiles have been the first adopters — Huffman believes Wax Weddings "is going to be such a head turner."

Pulling a record from its sleeve, putting it on the platter and placing needle to vinyl is "such a physical act," he said.

"It creates a performance that's going to be seen and talked about. A lot of people will come to us and say, 'We really want to hire a band, but we can't afford it.' With Wax Weddings they're getting a DJ and also a true performance."

The warm, rich analog sound — pops, buzzes, skips and all — is another selling point.

"It's a very authentic experience," said Huffman. "Much like a good beer, once you've developed a taste for that, it's hard to go back to digital."

As Cage and Aquarium reset the bar for wedding DJs, Huffman admits it can be a challenge to simply attend an event as a guest if the DJ is bombing.

"I had a friend ... and his DJ was awful. It was hard to witness," Huffman said.

"But because that problem exists, we were able to bloom."