There are so many decisions you have to make when planning a wedding…Do we make programs? Should we get favors? Will people like a salmon option? How many cupcakes should we order? A seemingly endless list of questions and decisions you have to figure out. Well, I am going to let you in on a little secret – Almost NONE of these things are going to make or break your wedding. Your guests may not even notice your color coordinated paper goods and probably won’t appreciate the thought you put into your menu. They care about 3 things- ample access to booze, getting fed, and DANCING. Oh, and your love and happiness of course, but mostly those other 3 things.
Hiring a good DJ really is one of those imperative decisions when wedding planning. And of course, they aren’t only in charge of a great dance party- they truly set the tone of the whole event: creating ambiance, guiding guests throughout and using music to make memorable moments. A good wedding DJ is also a great emcee, can read a crowd, and can improvise when something goes off plan (which it probably will).
Ok, have we talked you into it yet? Yes, you need a DJ and yes, you need a good one! So what are the things you need to consider when hiring a DJ? Or if you have already booked your DJ, what should you do to better plan and prepare? Have no fear…we asked some of the best in the biz for their advice and got back some really amazing, insightful answers! Thanks so much to Jesse of Dart DJs, Ian of Red Shoe LA, and Steve of Showcase DJ for participating…
What technical questions should a couple ask a DJ before hiring? Equipment? Insurance? Plan B’s?
“Your DJ should have liability insurance just in case something happens. Many venues actually require the DJ to show their proof of insurance before they can even work at the event. Plan B’s like back-up equipment is a definite must as well. Personally I have a back-up for every piece of gear that I own. I’ll bring back-up speakers, a back-up computer with all of the songs, and I also have a plan if my mixer fails. Your DJ should be prepared if anything should happen to their gear at the wedding. You never want the party to stop, and if your DJ’s gear fails, they can ruin the wedding very quickly. In the event that something catastrophic happens and your DJ can’t make it to your wedding day, they should definitely have a back up DJ on standby for every job. In the over 800 weddings I’ve been booked for, I thankfully have never missed one, but you never know when something might happen. I personally have over 20 DJ associates that I can call to fill-in for me in the event that something really bad happened. ” Steve
“When a client gets on a call with a DJ, I think asking what type of equipment they use is a great first indicator with regards to what style, preferences and quality your DJ is working with. While you don’t have to get too technical, if you hear that the DJ uses current models of QSC and even JBL speakers, that is a great sign. Regarding DJ equipment, pioneer mixers and rane mixers are both suitable while technics turntables lets you know the DJ is comfortable spinning vinyl and takes it seriously, which is a personal preference of mine. One of the most overlooked questions to ask is if the DJ’s rate is “all inclusive”. Sometimes DJ’s reveal a low price that is deceptive because it is only for their actual time and DJ service but does not include any equipment. Make sure to ask what that price includes and if it fully satisfies the sonic scope of your event. You don’t want to be finding out that the DJ costs double when you go to sign your contract!” Jesse
What style/music questions should a couple ask a DJ before hiring?
“I know this sounds obvious, but the first step here is to be an informed client. Instead of simply inquiring on availability, listen through to the DJ’s mixes to get a feel for their style before reaching out. While talking about musical preferences is great, there is no substitution for seeing if you make a connection with the actual music the DJ has up on his or her website. While events are personal and will always differ from the mixes online, it gives you a feel to see if you have similar instincts and style tendencies with regards to your DJ. This will make the intro call go smoother as you both can connect and relate on similar artists and styles. It is always a good idea to ask your DJ what his outlook on weddings is and how he likes to approach a dance floor. Lining up your philosophies on how the night could go is a great way to know if you are going to connect on the actual day.” Jesse
Ask questions like…
“How collaborative is the process of choosing music in the months leading up to the wedding?
How do you handle requests the night of the wedding?
Do you have a specific genre of music that you specialize in?
Do you feel comfortable beat-matching and mixing in all genres of music?
Do you come in with preset playlists or do you improvise on the fly based on the energy and feel of the room?” Ian
What are some tips for couples choosing their “special songs” like for the ceremony and formal dances?
“First and foremost, go with your gut. These are some of the most important moments of your wedding so choose songs that you have a personal and/or emotional connection to. If you have trouble remembering the name of a specific song or artist, look through your iTunes or Spotify playlists for inspiration. There’s a good chance that you’ll find what you’re looking for in there or be surprised by something you had totally forgotten about. If you still feel a little lost at sea, reach out to your DJ. The good ones have done this hundreds of times so they should be able to send you a bunch of ideas. Last but not least, remember to have fun and avoid unnecessary stress by starting the conversation a couple months before the big day.” Ian
“I have online planning tools on my website where my clients can build their whole request list online. This tool also has tons of suggestions for formal events at the wedding like grand entrance songs, first dance songs, mother/son and father/daughter dances, cake cutting songs as well as bouquet and garter toss songs. I also take a personal approach with my clients, so I am here anytime they need me to ask questions about song selections or the overall flow of the event.” Steve
“The key here is to pick songs that means something to you and to try and avoid formal songs that you actually have spent no time listening to or care little about. Ultimately, we are always happy to give advice to clients on these songs, but my favorite thing is when they have given it a lot of thought and picked songs that either connect to a moment in their lives or a family member so the moment has a deeper significance.” Jesse
Is it better to give a DJ a big playlist or let them have free reign?
“It doesn’t matter to me how big or small of a playlist the bride and groom give to me. I’m there to make their wedding how they want it to be. I have seen what songs tend to work well for the dance floor and which don’t. During the final details meeting with my clients, I will review their song selections with them and give them advice based on my past experience. It is my goal that the bride and groom as well as all of their guests have an amazing time and that it is a night to remember.” Steve
“The sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle. You definitely want to give some guidance so that your DJ understands your personal taste and style but it’s also important to allow for a certain amount of improvisation so he/she can respond to what’s working in the room. If the songs are not being mixed (ie. cocktail hour or dinner), you can typically play about 18 to 20 songs an hour. That said, I like to see a request list of about 5 to 10 songs per section. With dancing lasting 2 to 3 hours, 15 to 20 songs feels ideal. It’s also important to submit a “don’t play” list as well so that you avoid hearing those songs that make you cringe.” Ian
“With Dart, we always think this is a balancing act. We want enough song suggestions so the client feels represented but not too big of a list that our only option to get through the night is to play the 200 must plays the client sent us. Ultimately the goal is to use the songs in a playlist as a jumping off point and to allow the DJ enough freedom to make decisions and modifications as the night moves.” Jesse
What is the biggest mistake couples make that could be avoided?
“The first is choosing a DJ based solely on price. Budgets are important but so is finding someone you’re excited about. I always tell couples that you should hire the person who you’d want to invite to the wedding as a guest. Your DJ is not only interacting with all of your closest friends and family but he/she is also providing the soundtrack to a very big day.” Ian
“I’ve seen many couples not even eat dinner on their own wedding day because they were too busy going around to all the tables. This is their day to enjoy and take it all in. I don’t want them to feel like they are working at their own wedding. ” Steve
“I would just say second guessing the choices they made in the week leading up to the wedding. A lot of times, couples get stressed the week of the wedding and start overthinking and quickly swapping out and swapping in songs. I find this often causes unnecessary chaos when it comes to keeping the event organized (since you have all these different songs around) and I ultimately subscribe to the “first thought, best thought” approach. ” Jesse
What would you tell a couple who is considering doing an iPod wedding?
“DON’T!!! Haha. In all seriousness, your DJ does way more than just play music. I feel like the MC portion of your DJ’s job is just as important as his skills as a beat-mixing DJ. We are there to help host the event, make all of the announcements, coordinate the grand entrance and other formal events, and work closely with your other vendors to make sure the wedding flows seamlessly. If you just plug in an iPod, you get none of this. You need a professional on the mic to engage your crowd and set the tone. Nothing will kill a dance floor like a song ending, 5 seconds of silence, and then another song starting. I understand that DJ/MC’s can be a big expense at a wedding, but the overall success and fun factor of your wedding greatly depends on your DJ.” Steve
“iPods are great for small gatherings at your house like a dinner party or birthday but they often miss at weddings. This is especially true when it comes time to dance. You want to be able to adjust the volume, the start and end point, and the order of the songs at a moments notice. This can be very tricky, and even disastrous, with an iPod. You also want the ability to mix in and out of songs based on how successful they are. It’s great to hear “Don’t Stop Believing” until the very last chord but that doesn’t hold true for over 75% of the rest of the music you’ll want to play over the course of the reception. Having a DJ who knows when and how to mix a song makes an immeasurable difference and will undoubtedly keep your guests more engaged.” Ian
“I would probably just start with anecdotes of friends who have actually done this. They all follow a similar path, the client spends a painstaking amount of time creating the perfect playlist. Once they turn it on, all of the songs drag on too long, none of the songs are fading in between each other and all of the songs are at different volumes (which means suddenly one will be too quiet one will be too loud). In addition, guests look at an Ipod as a chance to pop on their favorite song. They run up to the ipod and slam on a track they want, possibly clearing the dance floor and nobody is their to manage and control the night. This is not to say that one day artificial intelligence will not lead us to the perfect robot DJ (Daft Punk?) but until then, the ipod is just a no go.” Jesse
Any other tips you give a client when planning their music for the night?
“Weddings are about finding commonality on the dance floor so it’s important to pick songs people know and love. That doesn’t mean you have to play Celebration and YMCA but try to include plenty of music that people can sing along to. If you have a more eclectic taste, no problem. Have your DJ integrate your lesser-known jams into the cocktail hour and dinner. Then, when it comes to dancing, give your guests the hits. They’ll love you for it.” Ian