Music and entertainment are essential elements of your wedding reception and getting it right can make or break your wedding! It is a difficult decision to make with so many different varieties of bands, entertainers and DJs available. It is no wonder that so many couples have trouble deciding whether to have live music or a DJ for their wedding reception. It can be even more difficult to make the decision if you don’t know what you should expect these service providers to provide for your wedding reception.
Focusing on wedding DJs, we are all familiar with the stereotypical cheesy wedding DJ who embarrasses your guests and whose appearance and performance become a standing joke at your wedding! What should you be looking for when choosing a wedding DJ? Nina Callaway at About.com sums it up nicely when she says:
“Frequently a DJ or band leader will act as the MC of a wedding reception, which means you'll need them to be entertaining but not annoying, polished, friendly, and charismatic.”
For many couples, less time is spent on choosing the DJ than any other aspect of the reception - this can be a costly and disappointing mistake! Overlooking this aspect of your wedding planning is easy to do. However, choosing the right DJ is crucial to the success of your wedding reception and my top tips below should help you accomplish this:
1. Know what you really want in terms of music before you begin looking for a wedding DJ
This is crucial and is the simplest way to eliminate DJs that aren't quite right in the first round. If you and your fiancé are dreaming of classic Big Band sounds, be very up front about this the first time you talk to prospective DJs. A DJ who specializes in rock and pop music may be wonderful, but his play list will be limited when it comes to what you want, and you'll be disappointed.
I recommend you read “How To Successfully Choose Your Wedding Songs And Music” where I describe how wedding songs are one of the elements of the wedding day remembered most by guests and I list four services that allow users to download and review a large selection of wedding songs.
2. Ask for references
Any DJ who consistently pleases his clients should be more than happy to provide you with contact details so that you can obtain recommendations from other satisfied customers. When you do this, be sure and ask the other customers when the reception took place - the references must be recent, not two years old! If the DJ has no recent references be sure to ask why this is. Additionally, if the DJ has a website (which is now the popular trend) you should take a look at it to see whether it contains any testimonials. You want to be sure that your DJ has a good reputation for overall conduct, interaction with guests, use of alcohol, punctuality and ability to work alongside other wedding service providers. I recommend that you check at least four references for your chosen DJ. In a business where any unqualified person can easily enter the DJ profession you need to do research to ensure that you hire someone that will provide you with a top quality service.
Obviously if you do your own research and start asking friends and recent newlyweds for DJ recommendations you have there the best type of reference possible! Do make sure that if a friend recommends a DJ to you that you check that you and your friend’s music tastes and expectations of a wedding DJ are similar!
Another idea is to ask the DJ if they can show you an example of their work by letting you see a video clip taken at another wedding where they have performed. Most DJ's nowadays will be able to provide you with an example of the quality and style of their performance.
You must ask the DJ how much experience they have had in this business. Has the majority of their work been at weddings, or is for the corporate market? These types of questions will enable you to determine whether they are the right person to perform at your wedding reception.
3. Always meet your DJ in person
Once you have whittled down your choice to 3 or 4 prospective wedding DJs it is recommended that you meet each one in person. This way you can check out their personality and general appearance, something you just can’t do properly over the phone. Finding out a DJ’s personality is very important (how many cheesy wedding DJs can you remember - far too many I bet!) as you definitely want your guests enjoying the music at your wedding rather than spending the night commenting on how bad the DJ is! By meeting with them in person you get an indication of whether they are punctual. You might find in some instances that the DJ fails to show up for your meeting - it is better to find out if they are unreliable in the planning stages rather than find this out to your detriment on your wedding day!
During your meeting with the DJ watch them to see whether they are paying attention to your specific requirements for your wedding music. Are they taking notes? Professional wedding DJs always have a pad and pen with them to jot down notes about what style of music is going to suit your wedding. No DJ has that great a memory that they can memorize all of your musical preferences!
4. Discuss your wedding song play list and look for flexibility
Is it your intention to have a DJ that will be proactive in getting the dance floor full right from the beginning of the evening or is a more laid back approach more your style for your wedding reception? Ask the DJ for a consultation several weeks before the reception and go over your song preferences with him in detail. Ask your DJ if he has a list of his music collection and if he would object if you highlight a few tracks that you would like him to play during the evening. A professional will take note of which songs you want to hear as well as which songs you don't want to hear. You will need to tell your DJ the wishes for special dances such as your first dance, the father and bride dance etc. Ensure that your DJ knows the flow of key moments throughout the wedding reception so that he can keep the music in synch.
Usually DJs are willing to take requests from wedding guests on the night but you should ask about this specifically beforehand. Ultimately you want your DJ to be flexible but some DJs use pre-programmed music which might make it difficult for them to accommodate your guests' requests.
If you imagine that your DJ will be working for approximately 4 hours and each song is 4 minutes long - that is a total of 60 songs that will be played. Whilst you will want your special songs played you should rely on the DJ to determine the best musical taste to get people on the dance floor. Your DJ will know songs that have worked at weddings in the past. The family and friends you invite to your wedding probably vary in age from 5 to 85 years old. It is quite a task to cater to all tastes with wedding music but that is exactly what you are expecting of your wedding DJ. An experienced DJ will know when to play which kind of music. They will take note when your guests arrive of what type of music suits the crowd. Ask the DJ what their tricks are for encouraging and motivating people to dance. Can you get a sense from them that they are able to “read” a dance room – can they give you examples of which songs they would use in different circumstances?
Have these open discussions with your DJ and ensure you are on the same wavelength to avoid any confusion on the day. It is important that you discuss the types of artists and styles of music you enjoy - remember your DJ isn’t a mind reader! You want to be able to form a good relationship with your wedding DJ. Does he listen to your suggestions? Does he offer you his professional opinion or simply agree with everything you say?
5. Ensure your DJ’s music is up to date
Make sure that your DJ has a wide range of music including the most recent chart-topping songs. Beware of amateur DJs who claim that they can obtain any song that you want for your wedding by downloading it online. Even though you and I might obtain our music from internet downloads, this is definitely not the approach a professional DJ should take. Nowadays all professional wedding DJs subscribe to paid services such as Promoonly.com and Tophitsusa.com so that they can be sure to have the most up-to-date song releases on a weekly or monthly basis. Your DJ should have a wide range of music including the most recent songs in the charts and you can check this by asking to see their latest CDs and verifying their release dates. Do provide the DJ with a list of specific songs which you want to be played at your wedding so that he can source them out prior to the wedding reception if he does not have them in his current music collection.
6. Ask the DJ about his professional status
Don't be hesitant to ask a DJ if you can check their credentials. Most professional DJs will be a member of the American Disk Jockey Association (ADJA), so ask them for proof of membership to confirm this.
It is also really important that you check that your DJ has public liability insurance. If one of your wedding guests trips over a cable that the DJ has not taped down to the floor or if a speaker falls on top of a guest then it will be the DJ they look to for compensation. Ask to see a copy of their insurance cover.
Make it clear to your DJ that you don’t want any self-promoting signs for his services displayed at your wedding - this is your wedding reception not a school disco! Sometimes a DJ will ask if he can display a sign or have business cards on display. This is totally up to you - you have to ask yourself if you want your wedding to be used as a place to market the DJs services. Some brides and grooms object to this and some agree a reduction in the DJs fee in exchange for the prominent display of their advertising sign.
7. Does the DJ perform emcee duties?
Although this seems obvious, there are some DJs, particularly if you are using a non-professional DJ, who simply play the music at the wedding. If you want the DJ to make announcements, such as the introduction of the newlyweds’ first dance, the cake cutting or the bouquet being tossed, and act as an overall emcee during the evening entertainment be sure to check that they are comfortable doing this. It takes years to build up experience as a DJ of speaking into a microphone. If you are unable to get an opportunity to see the DJ performing live, ask to see a video clip. For a wedding you need to choose someone who has a fun personality and a professional delivery for announcements.
8. What music format does your DJ use?
You should ask your wedding DJ whether they will be playing CDs, MP3s or even vinyl records. This is important as you need to know that they have a back-up plan if their sound system fails - you don’t want to have to wait for your first dance as man and wife whilst the DJ reboots the PC attached to his mixing desk! Most DJs have progressed into the digital era nowadays.
9. Ensure your DJ knows the dress code
Always ask about how they intend to dress on the day of your wedding. Your DJ should always dress in a manner that is appropriate for the occasion. Whilst this does not mean that he must wear a tuxedo you do not want the other extreme of him turning up in shorts and sandals! The DJ is a service provider on your wedding day so should always be neatly dressed. If you are having a themed wedding make sure you have informed your DJ so that they can fit in as best they can with the theme of your wedding.
10. Ask about emergency arrangements
It is any DJs worst nightmare that the sound system fails during a performance. It is really important that you ask your DJ beforehand if he has any backup equipment available for use in case there is a problem during your wedding reception. Although it doesn't happen often, equipment can fail, and if it happens on the night of your reception and it is the only set your DJ has, you may find yourself faced with a night without music!
Also, discuss what alternative arrangements will be made in the event that the DJ you hire is sick or unavailable for your wedding reception. Will he provide a back-up DJ that is suitable for the occasion? It is vitally important that you get the reassurance that you are covered in the event of a problem – this should be fully dealt with in your contract too. If you book an active member of the American Disc Jockey Association they are more likely to know a fellow professional that can take over in the event of an emergency. I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to have a full backup plan!
11. Does your DJ own quality audio equipment?
A professional DJ will generally have spent over $10,000 on their equipment and will be proud to discuss the technical side if asked. I recommend that you ask them which brand of equipment they use – you should look out for names including Crown, Denon, ElectroVoice, JBL and QSC as these demonstrate your DJ is serious about DJing . The mention of names like American DJ, FBT, Gemini, MTX, NEXT, Peavey Sound and Tech should make you a little more cautious because they are poorer sound quality. By finding out the brand names of the DJs equipment you will quickly be able to gauge the quality of their audio equipment and this should help you to decide whether or not you want to use their services for your wedding reception. Proper equipment will give good sound quality that will not be disturbing for your wedding guests. There is nothing worse than being seated next to a speaker at a wedding that is producing poor sound quality. Like anything though the use of top quality equipment does not guarantee that the DJ is a huge success, but at least you will know that you will be listening to professional quality sounds for starters!
12. Will your DJ be using a wireless microphone?
Wireless microphones work well at weddings and allow the DJ to roam the dance floor without tripping over a chord. This is great as it gives them the flexibility to teach wedding guests all the steps to a group dance. Sometimes DJs prefer sticking with a chord microphone because they are more likely to get interference from a wireless microphone. Personally I think that this is a bit of a cheap get-out because if their sound system is properly setup with today's technology they generally should not get a problem when using a wireless microphone. If you have a preference discuss this with your DJ beforehand.
13. Has the DJ worked at the venue before?
Do ask your DJ whether they have performed at your choice of wedding reception venue before. Although this is not essential, the more familiar they are with the layout and staff at your chosen venue the better. If they have not played there before, it is best to meet your DJ at the venue so that you can discuss the specifics of setting up the DJ table, dance floor location and speaker positions.
14. Does your DJ understand the best way to set up speakers at your venue?
Always ask your DJ how many speakers they intend on using. As a bare minimum there should be a subwoofer or a pair of speakers positioned on the ground and a pair on stands. Anything less will cause problems - having two speakers solely on the ground will produce a muffled sound and lack of clarify when announcements are being made. Equally a pair of speakers on stands is great for microphone clarity but won’t be ideal for the music as this will sound hollow.
If your reception room is large you should ask your DJ whether he will be using far-field speakers. These are ideal for throwing the sound further than normal speakers and are essential if you are dancing outside. Ask your DJ whether he intends to perform sound checks prior to the entertainment commencing.
Ideally you will meet your DJ at the venue so that you can discuss the actual positions for the speakers. If there are hard surfaces like marble ask them how they are going to overcome issues such as acoustical echoes. Solutions to overcome this problem could be as simple as setting the ground speakers so that they point upwards at 45 degrees. If the speakers are obtrusive or ugly looking, feel free to ask your DJ if they can be covered to make them less visible.
15. How much time will your DJ need for setting up?
Normally the DJ will need at least an hour to set up his equipment at the reception venue. Check with your DJ whether this will be sufficient for his requirements beforehand and let the wedding venue know if he needs more time. It is important that if you are eating your meal in the same room as the dance floor, you arrange for there to be a time lapse between the end of the meal and the tables being cleared to the evening entertainment commencing. Usually guests are quite happy to mingle in the bar area or stretch their legs outdoors after the meal.
16. Who pays for your DJ's food?
Feeding the DJ is often overlooked but it is necessary. They are providing a wedding service for you so you should definitely feed and water them during the course of the wedding reception - you don’t want them wilting halfway through the evening’s entertainment! I would not recommend adding another cover to your wedding breakfast total (that's far too expensive and totally unnecessary). You should arrange to provide the DJ with a smaller meal that is quite inexpensive - you can pre-arrange this with your catering manager and confirm this with the DJ. Alternatively, if you have a wedding buffet in the evening you can let the DJ know that they are welcome to help themselves to it - within reason!
17. Will your DJ provide a lighting system?
Before you even get into a conversation about lighting systems you must be very confident that your DJ can deliver on the music front first. Why? - because it is the music and the DJ’s emcee skills that are most important! Once you have chosen your ideal DJ then you can discuss the lighting with them.
Most DJs will be able to offer an intelligent lighting system which is choreographed with the music. This is much more sophisticated than the old days where a few flashing lights and a mirror ball constituted a lights show! Typically most DJs offer a basic lighting system within their fee but if it is within your wedding budget you could pay extra and upgrade. How about an amazing light show that includes your names and those of your guests projected in laser light on the wall as their names are announced at the reception! That is a little over the top for me, but there are other variations available with the lighting - discuss it with your DJ. Undoubtedly he will have plenty of options he can tell you about.
18. How much will your DJ cost?
Everyone with one eye on their wedding budget wants to cut their costs down, but make sure that you are not selling yourself short by drafting in a bargain-priced DJ - you might be paying for what you are getting in this instance! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are paying over the odds for your DJ because all that they are being paid for is to play music for 4 hours! Professional DJs will have invested a lot of time in your wedding prior to your actual wedding reception. Typically they will be spending between 10 to 20 hours consulting with you, purchasing the music, editing, preparing, setting up the equipment, packing up the equipment and other administrative tasks.
DJ prices can vary enormously and it is important to realize that a lot of couples say in hindsight that they wished they had spent more of their wedding budget on the entertainment. Research shows that you can spend between $400 and $3200 on a wedding DJ, but in general $1200 for 4 hours is the average for a professional DJ.
You will generally pay more if you hire a DJ as part of a wedding venue's package deal compared to finding your own DJ and paying them directly.
19. Ensure you include all the details in the contract
Finally, after choosing your wedding DJ, do remember to get everything in writing. Most DJs provide formal contracts. Make sure that any changes you have requested are attached to the contract and ensure that it is signed before you proceed any further. The contract should include a clause regarding what happens if the reception overruns - will there be extra charges and what will they cost? The contract must specifically state the name of the DJ who you have requested for your wedding day - you don’t want someone else from the same company but who you have never met before. Remember to confirm the arrangements with the DJ in a phone call during the week preceding your wedding.
20. How to find a DJ online
Hiring a wedding DJ in the US :
Wedj.com - Use this site to search for a wedding DJ in the US, using postcode and date filters.
Weddings.Respond.com - Respond’s Directory lists the top wedding DJ businesses in your area, organized by category and location.
Discjockeys.com - Search for prescreened and member referred wedding disc jockeys.
Gigmasters.com - Search within the US and Canada using your city and state. Select from thousands of wedding DJs for hire.
AllTimeFavorites.com - Browse this site for DJs in the US.
Hiring a wedding DJ in the UK :
UK-Disco.co.uk - Comprehensive UK list of wedding DJ and karaoke services in your area.
Hitched.co.uk - Review featured local services for music and DJs, with listings categorized by county.
Musicmoz.org - Search this comprehensive directory of all things music including DJs, edited by volunteers.
The sooner you book your DJ the better. You should definitely aim for having a DJ booked no later than 9 months in advance of your wedding day if you want to guarantee a professional DJ service in your local area. Do be aware that if your wedding is held in a major city, it is wise to book even earlier than this as, not surprisingly, the best DJs will be booked at least a year in advance. Likewise with weddings falling on major holidays, such as Christmas - the earlier you book the better.
I totally recommend that you also read the advantages of using an iPod for your wedding music entertainment, and Nina’s article on the Pros and Cons of Choosing a DJ or Wedding Band so that you can make a well informed decision on whether you really want a wedding DJ, as opposed to a band or going the DIY route and using your own iPod!
If you follow these steps you will have a memorable wedding reception that everyone will enjoy! Good luck.
Further Reading On Wedding Music and Songs:
Revealing Five Wedding Song Ideas 5 tips to selecting the best wedding songs you can.
How To Successfully Choose Your Wedding Songs And Music - Whether you choose a live band, a string quartet, a DJ or even an iPod these tips will help you make your choices.
Alanis Morissette Favours An iPod Over A Wedding DJ - How About Yourself? - How to save money by opting for an iPod.
CLICK HERE & GRAB WITH BOTH HANDS Your 273 Page Book To Planning The Perfect Wedding - No Catch - No Hassle - Simply Click For Your Secret To A Perfect Wedding
How To Organise The Perfect Wedding Including Children Part II
How To Organise The Perfect Wedding Including Children - Part IV
A Great Way To "Thrill" The Guests At Your Wedding Reception!
Don't Be That Bride's 5 Part Series On How To Deal With Divorced And Separated Parents
Wedding Book Review - "The Engaged Groom" by Doug Gordon