Before Hiring a DJ – “What to Know”

1. Why are DJs so expensive?

Lets first think of a wedding photographer or videographer, what is it you are paying them for, you are paying them to capture those special moments and freezing them in time and today they can be upwards of $1,000 to more than $5,000+. It isn’t so much as paying them for what they do, anyone can take a picture today with all the technology in digital cameras, it is paying them for how they capture those memories.

An experienced dj is no different, it is this art of being a DJ that creates the memories, the photographer captures, and you just can’t put a price on such memories for-instance, watching your grandparents on the dance floor swinging it up to a tune that was popular when they were kids or watching your shy cousin smile with pride from the standing ovation after belting out a tune on karaoke, or even a holiday party that everyone talks about for weeks after because they had so much fun and can’t wait till next year.

Lets take a quick look at a quality mobile dj company that offers dj services for weddings. This dj does more at a wedding than just show up, play music, and leave. On average a quality dj will spend 20 to 40 hours preparing for the wedding by working with the bride and groom to understand their specific wants and needs. Such as lighting and sound packages, placement & timing, working with the venue, coordinating with the photographer & wedding planner, laying out the timeline, and all before a single guest arrives. Not to mention spending time on several playlists that include all of the special dance songs and any requests the bride and groom may have. Mobile djs have to be host, mc, dj, sound engineer, lighting engineer, coordinator, party starter, and sometimes even line dance teacher; all while keeping a watchful eye over the guests and reading the crowd to know what song to play next to keep the party going.

And last but certainly not least is a quality DJ is going to invest tens of thousands of dollars or more on professional grade sound equipment, lights, computers, software, plus time at seminars keeping up with industry trends and technology. Then you add in the cost of music at an estimated average of $0.99 a song and professional DJs will come to shows prepared with databases ranging from 15,000 to more than 80,000 songs. Why so much music? Well, just at a wedding, a dj can play music spanning more than six decades and multiple genres just to keep the crowd dancing.

2. Aren’t DJs all the same?

No, not all djs are the same. This is why interviewing the DJ for your event is so important. There are many types of DJs, club djs, radio djs, party djs, and wedding djs, each specializing in their chosen field. Many Mobile DJs or wedding djs don’t or can’t beat mix while many Club DJs would be lost trying to coordinate and announce formalities at a wedding or hosting karaoke. Some DJs are quite experienced, others are just starting out. Generally, it takes about 2 years of training, depending on their personal learning curve, for a DJ to become skilled enough to handle most types of occasions. For your event you may not want to take a risk on someone who is still in the early stages of their learning curve.

Even among Mobile DJs there are specific categories. Some Disc Jockeys are Hip Hop, Retro, Old School, Karaoke, Techno / House, and some who are, what I would call, “Party DJs” because these djs are versatile and experienced enough to blend several styles together, if an event calls for it. Some focus a large portion of their business on corporate events and others primarily do kids parties some are karaoke hosts others focus just on weddings. Obviously you wouldn’t want a DJ for your wedding who is still training and their experience is mostly limited to kids parties.

A well-rounded DJ will have experience in multiple DJ disciplines, types of events, and styles of music including the ability to coordinate and work with staff and other event professionals, expertly pick and mix songs and has a good personality with the versatility for most any event.

3. Do you do special things to make my event fun?

Some DJs resort to corny games, wacky costumes during their “performance”. It may seem fun at the moment but is likely that you and your guests will look back on these gimmicks as cliché and embarrassing. I do feel, however, that games like these do have a time and place, for instance, Bar / Bat mitzvahs & children’s parties are great types of events to offer games. If you are planning an event where you want games like this, you need to coordinate with your DJ to brainstorm some ideas and determine what types of games would best fit your particular event.

I have found that offering Karaoke at an event can be a tasteful addition to an event / party, because it gives your guests an opportunity to become a part of the entertainment, perhaps they have a wacky / outgoing personality and what a better way for them to be center of attention than this.

The most important thing to get people involved and create positive memories is for the DJ to simply PLAY GREAT MUSIC! A dynamic music mix that includes variety, requests, old favorites and hot new songs is key. A good DJ will monitor his dance floor constantly and respond accordingly and will not need the crutch of lame gags or bad Elvis impersonations. Your guests will enjoy themselves more without “forced spontaneity”.

The right music plus the mood and feel of the right lighting can make your party look and sound like no other.

4. Are large entertainment companies a good resource to find a DJ?

They can be but you don’t always have the luxury of personally meeting the DJ candidates at a large DJ company or third-party Entertainment Broker. You may see a few minutes of video but it is difficult to measure the DJ’s temperament, personality, spontaneity and ability to communicate based on that.

Usually you do not speak directly to your DJ at one of these companies. Your information or question is transferred via a third-party and can be distorted, miscommunicated or lost. This is why a personal interview of your DJ entertainment is so crucial.

5. I saw a really cheap price for a DJ, should I hire them?

It depends on what they supply and what your needs are. If you are having a backyard party that doesn’t need coordination, announcements or even a personality, you may be fine. Keep in mind that low-budget DJs are less likely to use top quality equipment, have adequate back up equipment, training and experience, or reliable transportation. This puts the ultimate success of your party at risk. As with quit a lot of things, you get what you pay for and I can not even begin to mention the nightmare situations I have heard of.

6. What if people don’t dance?

Keep in mind that, as the hosts or guest of honor, your guests will often take their cue from you. If you are on the dance floor they are more likely to follow suit.

It sometimes takes a while for the dancing to get going. A good DJ will not panic, they will continue playing a great mix, as if the dance floor is already packed. If people aren’t dancing, it just means they are not yet ready. Even the most hesitant party-goers eventually come around.

There are some events where promoting dancing is more difficult than others. For example, events that are early in the day, outdoor, sunny with little shade, and/or do not serve alcohol can be a challenge. Even those parties turn into great parties, because it falls back to the DJ monitoring the room. If no one is on the dance floor but the people are bobbing their heads, tapping their toes, singing along, dancing in or near their seats, then it is still a great event because your guests are enjoying the great music the DJ is playing.

7. My friend (or Uncle or Cousin) is a DJ, I might use them.

It’s true there are lots of DJs around, everybody seems to know one. If your friend or family member is a professional DJ, then, by all means, hire them. Your friend or family member will probably cut you a good deal and you get to say, “my ______ is the DJ”. IF they are just someone who happens to own some equipment, I mean anybody can buy some sound equipment and proclaim that they are a DJ, then I would be apprehensive because they will most likely lack the experience to handle your event.

I’ve heard too many horror stories about the “Friend of a Friend” who is a DJ and things didn’t turn out so well they didn’t show up or, were late, dressed badly, hit on guests, played inappropriate music, or otherwise didn’t act professionally.

Part-time DJs may not have the same devotion to their craft as a full timer. If it is his livelihood and primary source of income, he HAS to be good at it to generate referrals and repeat business.

8. What if I don’t want any (fill in the blank) _________ Music?

Be careful of absolute generalizations, especially when it comes to music. It’s completely understandable if you have specific songs you just do not want played at your event. But to exclude an entire category of music may be shortsighted. For example, I’ve had some clients tell me they don’t want any Rap. That would then exclude Usher, Will Smith, Nelly and much of the hottest current dance music. Music their guests may really want to hear and will dance to at the drop of a hat.

The power of music is that it’s an inclusive thing that brings people together. Being open to the musical possibility a situation may call for frees up your DJ to be creative and let your party flow naturally. You may not like a certain type of music but many of your guests might, so I would suggest strongly that you consider allowing it (assuming it’s non-offensive) if that’s what makes your guests happy. I have clients that have very diverse tastes and they don’t really care for a lot of the dance music today, mostly, because of the profanity, so don’t be afraid to tell your DJ that you want radio edited or clean versions of music played.

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