What You Need To Know
About Your DJ
Here are some questions and tips to help you decide before you hire…
1. How much do you charge?
This is the first question you should ask if you are looking for the least expensive DJ you can find. Rates for wedding DJs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If all you need is someone to show up with a box of CD's and some big speakers, then shop for price.
Calling DJ's just to ask how much they charge for a wedding is pointless unless you already know the quality of service they will provide. How much experience does the DJ have with weddings? How much time and effort will the DJ devote to planning and preparing for your wedding? How good is their equipment? How is their music library organized? How are their microphone skills? How accessible are they for planning?
A wedding DJ is a service, not a product. You usually get what you pay for. If there were no difference in quality among wedding DJ's, then only the least expensive DJ's would survive. Obviously, that is not the case. If you want to be sure that your reception flows smoothly and your guests have fun, you may want to start with some of the questions that follow.
2. How much wedding experience do you have?
All disc jockeys are not the same. DJs who work at clubs or do school dances are usually good at what they do, but may not be the right choice for your wedding. Don't forget that a wedding DJ must play music that pleases everybody from Grandma to your little sister and then, as MC, he is responsible for coordinating the entire reception.
Your DJ should be personable and articulate without being annoying. He should know exactly what to say and what to play during every phase of your reception. He's an expert at "reading the crowd." He knows what songs to mix together to keep people dancing. These skills are developed from years of experience at hundreds of weddings, not from a checklist provided by an agency.
The company you call may have been in business for years, but the DJ they send to your wedding could have been hired last week. Some agencies even charge more for their more experienced disc jockeys or sub-contract your wedding to another company if they over book. Know the specific DJ who will perform at your wedding. Be sure he has the knowledge and skills that come only from years of experience. Ask to see a list of reception locations where that DJ has performed.
3. How would you describe your style?
Do you want your DJ to chatter like a game show host and lead the chicken dance or do you want a more conservative DJ who reflects the class and elegance of your formal affair? Although most DJs can be versatile, not all DJs have the same style. You want to select a DJ who is compatible with the tone of your reception. Often, a get-acquainted meeting with a prospective DJ will reveal his personality and style.
4. Do you do any mixing?
Beat mixing is a skill typically associated with club DJ's. Songs with similar beats per minute (BPM) are blended together to keep dancers on the floor and sustain the energy of the party. Although beat mixing is less important to the wedding DJ, it is a skill that will enhance the energy of your reception. If your DJ has no beat mixing skill, there will be dead air or awkward transitions between songs and dancers will be much more likely to leave the floor. Ask a DJ what some of his favorite mixes are. A good DJ's answer might be "AC/DC's All Night Long leading into Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer, both great dance songs at 120 BPM."
5. Do you have a web site?
Today's brides are busy with their education, careers as well as personal, family and social responsibilities. They use the Internet as a quick and effective way to shop for their wedding vendors. Today's professional wedding DJ should have an informative, user-friendly website to accommodate busy brides.
6. Do you have references and can they be contacted?
Upon request, your DJ should be able and willing to provide names and contact information for recent satisfied clients. Beware of DJs who have glowing comments from former clients without identifying a specific date and location or agencies that use generic testimonials that may not apply to the DJ they send you.
7. Can we come to a wedding to see you in action?
This sounds like a reasonable request. However, most professional wedding DJs will say no because they respect the privacy of their clients. The last thing you want at your wedding reception would be a group of strangers (future bride, groom, friends, family) standing in the doorway to check out the DJ. Also, your wedding may be very different from the one you visit. Evaluate your DJ by visiting his website, requesting an information packet, arranging a personal meeting, and checking references from satisfied clients. A professional DJ will not use your wedding to market himself for future business.
8. Do you have a reception planning form and
can we meet with you
in person before our wedding to discuss it?
Experienced wedding DJs have a Wedding Reception Planner to determine the timetable of events for your reception and the perfect song to accompany each event. Your DJ should be willing to schedule an appointment with you a few weeks before your wedding to finalize reception plans. Remember, your DJ is also your MC who will be coordinating all the events of your reception. The more your DJ understands about your preferences, the better job he will do.
9. Do you use professional equipment and bring back-up with you?
Professional disc jockey equipment is designed for heavy use and constant transport. It is not sold in home-electronics stores. Look for names like Bose, Electro Voice, Denon, Numark, JBL, Shure. Be sure your DJ uses only professional gear and has a back-up for every component to guarantee a problem-free performance. Ask how old their equipment is. Anything more than a few years old is more susceptible to problems. Pro DJ's transport their equipment in professional style cases, not cardboard boxes or milk crates, so it always looks showroom new. An amateur DJ will usually have vague, general responses to specific questions about equipment.
10. Describe your setup.
A professional DJ will not use your reception to market his services with a tacky banner or create an eyesore with dangling wires and a pile of empty equipment cases. Ask to see a photo of the DJ's set-up at a typical wedding. You've invested a lot time and effort designing your reception. Make sure your DJ's set-up is tasteful and attractive.
12. When do you arrive to set up and is there an extra charge for the setup?
You want your DJ to be set up, properly attired and ready to perform before your guests arrive. Therefore, expect your DJ to arrive one to two hours before his starting time. If unfamiliar with the venue, the responsible DJ will visit the site prior to your wedding day to insure everything goes smoothly on your big day.
Normally, there should be no extra charge for the time it takes to set up or break down equipment and setup time should not considered part of the hours contracted for performance. However, certain venues like high-rise buildings, buildings with stairs and no elevators, or large resorts may have difficult access that results in extra time for load-in and set-up. Such situations may require your DJ to increase his fee.
13. How do you dress for a formal reception?
Some DJs consider a polka-dot vest formal attire while other DJ's shirt and vest are identical to the wardrobe of the wait staff. Your DJ should be dressed in a real tuxedo, if you so request, to complement your formal wedding.
14. Do you include dance floor lighting and do you charge extra for it?
Tasteful yet dynamic dance floor lighting creates a party atmosphere and motivates your guests to dance. Beware of the DJ whose "light show" consists of a few blinking spotlights from a hardware store. Quality DJ lighting operates in sync with the music, has a variety of alternating effects for slow and fast dances, illuminates the DJ area as well as the dance floor and, if appropriate, is enhanced with subtle use of haze or fog.
On the other hand, an excessive number of lighting effects can be overwhelming and distracting. Ask your DJ to describe his lighting and, perhaps, show you a photo or video. Then you can determine what type of lighting (if any) will be appropriate for your reception. Some DJ's include dance floor lighting at no extra charge because they feel it's an essential part of their performance while other DJ's offer it as an upgrade at extra cost.
15. How large is your song library and how is it organized?
Some agencies send their DJs to a wedding with 200 songs on a handful of home-made CD's. The best professional DJs may bring a library of thousands of songs to your reception. Yes, there may be time to play just 50 songs, but which DJ is more likely to satisfy all of your guests' requests? And unless those songs are organized in a computer database, those requests won't be played quickly and efficiently.
16. Do you take requests?
This is a tricky question. In general, DJ's would like to say they would be happy to take requests and, in most cases, they do. However, your DJ's primary job is to keep the majority of your guests happy and keep the party going. DJ's know which requests will clear the dance floor and deflate the energy of your reception. You should allow your DJ to use his judgment regarding requests.
17. Do you provide a written contract and require a deposit?
Reputable disc jockeys document their services with a professional contract to insure accurate information and require a deposit to reserve your date. For prime dates, a 50% deposit is not uncommon when the contract is signed and most reputable DJ's will expect final payment a week or two before the wedding.
18. Can you provide ceremony music?
Most wedding DJ's can provide ceremony music service at the reception site. Often, a separate sound system is used since the ceremony location is a distance from the reception. Ceremony services include appropriate music during the seating of guests, wedding party processional, lighting of the unity candle and the recessional. A wireless microphone is usually provided for the ceremony officiant. Ask your wedding DJ for ceremony music suggestions. Before the ceremony, your DJ will consult with your officiant to coordinate the music. There may be an additional charge for ceremony music services.
19. How do keep your song library current?
Most professional DJ’s subscribe to services that provide, every month, today’s top hits in a variety of genres. Additionally, they should examine the playlists of local radio stations as well as industry charts to make sure they have all the latest music.
20. Are there any hidden charges like taxes or gratuities?
In Maryland, there is no sales tax on services. Therefore, you do not pay sales tax on DJ services. Some large DJ companies encourage you to provide a gratuity to your DJ since what your DJ is paid may be significantly less than what the DJ company charges you. There are even DJ companies that automatically add a gratuity to the fee you are quoted. A reputable DJ will not charge you a gratuity or even imply that one is expected.
21. Why do DJ's charge so much just to show up for a few hours and play music?
DJ's will have a variety of answers to this question. In general, a professional wedding DJ will invest many hours prior to your wedding in meeting, planning, preparing and consulting. On the day of your wedding, your DJ, attired in a designer tuxedo, will devote as many as eight to ten hours with preparation, travel, set-up, performance and tear-down of equipment. Your professional DJ will be using about $10,000 - $20,000 worth of equipment and relying on years of experience to insure that your reception is everything you want it to be. There's a lot more involved than just showing up and playing music for a few hours.
Some Final Thoughts
Most of the better wedding DJ's get booked six to twelve months before the wedding. In Maryland, spring and fall dates are the most popular. When it's time to hire your DJ, compile a list of potential candidates by searching the web, attending a wedding show, getting referrals from other vendors, catering directors and past brides.
Speak with two or three specific DJ's (not salespeople at agencies) who appear to have what you're looking for. Then select the DJ you are most comfortable with, the one you have the most confidence in to help you create the wedding of your dreams.
These questions and answers were created by DJ Billy James, Phoenix, AZ http://www.billyjamesmusic.com, and have been reproduced on this page with permission.