Updated: May 6, 2020
Over 37 years in the business and I have learned that searching for a DJ has changed dramatically and has become more complex. Most people think it should be pretty easy - find out how much DJ's charge, call a few, and hire the one that is closest to your budget. That is almost a guaranteed way to be disappointed and maybe even ruin your big day! Of course, you want a good price, but sometimes that leads to hiring an amateur DJ.
One thing almost everyone tells us - "We want someone professional, we want a good DJ who plays good dance music and we want everyone to have fun". The problem with that approach is you won't narrow down which DJ to hire because they will ALL tell you they are professional, play good music and everyone has a fun time. That's like going to buy a car and saying "I want to buy something that is reliable, looks great, is clean, and is within my budget." You just described...well - everyone.
Before you even think of picking up the phone or searching the internet for DJs, you really need to have an idea of what is important to you. For example, if the DJ did not show up, would that be a problem and ruin your day? If your answer is no - stop right here! You probably don't need a professional DJ. Look for the cheapest DJ you can find and roll the dice or save yourself a bunch of stress, energy, and money - create a playlist with your laptop to plug into a rented sound system. If you pick the right music and play each song at the right time and it creates the energy for the big day, you will be lucky. If your answer is yes however, then you'll want to go a little deeper so you know what you are getting.
Narrow it Down with the Obvious
Do they have backup DJs (and backup equipment)? What if they end up getting sick? What about family emergencies? In a traffic accident on the way to the event? Make sure the words "backup equipment and backup DJ" are in the contract!
How many reviews do they have on Wedding Wire? Under 100 - move on. Careful with Yelp and Facebook...notorious for fake reviews.
Check out their web site. Is it outdated? Your DJ should be serious about their business and attention to detail. The website is an indicator of how dedicated they are to their craft.
DJ-[some funny name here] - If you are thinking of hiring a club DJ, well, just don't. They won't have the same expertise as a professional DJ, especially because weddings are high pressure events. It's likely that things can go wrong compared to a fun and laid back atmosphere like a club, so hiring the right DJ is a big factor for your day to go smoothly.
Does the DJ have an email that ends with yahoo, gmail, etc.? If so...yikes! These are not professionals - they are hobbyists and they will not treat you as a client, but as a side job.
Do they offer online planning tools? With today's technology, no DJ should be using paper forms.
What type of events does the DJ work most of the time? If you want a DJ for your wedding, they should be working WEDDINGS most of the time. At least 30 per year minimum.
Are they ASKING you or TELLING you what you need? Do they talk to you about their equipment, their lighting or how great they will make it look before anything else? What about what YOU want?
Meet with your DJ prior to the event! The DJ is arguably the biggest part of the party and so many little things can fall through the cracks due to second hand information. Not only that, but you really want to know if your DJ is easy to understand when they speak. You also want to know how they work and know that you can click with them personally.
Appearance - You spent a lot of money on choosing your venue and how it looks. Don't let a sloppy DJ appearance ruin it. Likewise - blatant advertising such as banners really tells you the DJ wants the spotlight rather than keeping the focus on you.
Here are some of the bad setups I have seen lately.
Unnecessary outdated lighting
I have no words...
Advertising at your wedding
Just play good music right? Unfortunately everyone has a different idea as to what "good" really means. A typical wedding reception has cocktails, dinner and about 1.5-2 hours of dancing. You should know if the dance time will consist of your playlist only, the DJ's choice of songs, or a little bit of both. Some DJs will not let you pick more than 5-10 must plays while others will let you pick as many as you want. The more you pick for the DJ, the less the experience becomes a factor.
Next, you want to look at M.C. (master of ceremonies) skills. The duties of the M.C. is to make all announcements as needed and keep the event flowing smoothly...that's it! Ask how your DJ was trained! You will be amazed at how most DJ/MC's have simply learned by starting at a friend's wedding many years ago and then just learned by trial and error or shadowed another DJ a few times. SO many times I have had new DJs come in with many years experience and have never been critiqued, corrected or improved because in their eyes - "nobody ever complained". They are usually shocked when they go through our training program at how much they needed to improve such as holding the microphone correctly, using wrong terminology or even speaking in a fake "DJ" voice.
Three Types of DJ Companies
Individual DJs - These are DJs who do it on the side or possibly full time but it is just that person, and you will deal with that person the entire time. Just because they have a web site doesn't make them a company. Buzz words for individuals that pose as a company is referring to their staff as "associates" or "network of DJs". If anything important comes up (laryngitis, family emergency, accident, equipment theft or failure) they will likely refund your money and you are on the hunt again. Individuals who are usually in the $750 range for 4 hours are the most likely to do this. Individuals who are about $1250 for 4 hours are pretty ordinary and will likely be just ok. DJs who are $1750 or more for 4 hours will usually be more reliable. But you still run the risk of that person not being the DJ.
DJ Companies - DJs work exclusively for this company and have a variety of individuals who you will work with once you select the right DJ with the help of a someone like a booking agent within the company. These DJs are employees (not contractors). With employees, the company can enforce policies, provide training and also require certain equipment standards so you get consistency with any of the DJs. One other difference is these type of companies have "Booking agents" who are really your advocate and objectively recommend a DJ based on your needs. The DJs typically be in the price range of $1250 - $2500 depending on the DJ.
Talent/Booking agencies - Similar to DJ companies in that they have several DJs on the roster but they contract their work out to independent DJs (and also book bands - which is their primary goal). It is really a referral service for the independent DJ. They keep 20% - 30% as a commission and simply play the role of the middle man. Rates will be all over the place since they are simply subcontracting their work out. The biggest problem with this model is you never know what you are getting because legally they cannot tell them how to do their job and cannot make them work exclusively for the company. Therefore, the DJs can back out for a higher paying job elsewhere (remember the DJs work for themselves). Best way to know is to do an internet search for your DJ. If you see they work for 2 or more companies, they are an independent contractor.
At a MINIMUM should have the following written in the contract:
- DJ/MC's name
- Address to the venue
- Backup equipment AND backup DJ/MC in the event of an emergency
- A timeline of when the special events occur
- The exact times which you paid for them to provide services
- There should be no charge for setup time
Hopefully this has at least given you some insight as to not only how to hire your DJ/MC, but also how DJ's work. This should give you an advantage to your selection when all DJ's start sounding the same.