How to Select Your Disc Jockey for Your Wedding Reception or Party
Tips on Picking Your DJ
In this article, we will address disc jockey services and DJ companies in the Columbus, Ohio area. We will discuss some of the items that make a good company and what makes a bad one. We will then discuss some important things to consider when picking a DJ for your event. To start, we will divide the companies into three groups; large, medium, and single operator. In all three groups there are good DJs and bad DJs, regardless of the company size. In our experience, company size does not play a significant role in your DJ’s performance.
So, you want to hire a disc jockey and you search the Internet or check the local phone book and you see 30-50 disc jockey companies offering different slogans. After evaluating the different DJ companies you start to wonder how you would know if the company you are selecting will do a good job at your event. Some of the companies may be large and some may be just one single operator.
Large companies have 15-20 disc jockeys and they perform a lot of shows every weekend. These companies are designed to book lots of shows to cover their large overhead in marketing and operating costs. These large disc jockey companies will usually have a large booth at the bridal show, large ads in bridal magazines and other expensive forms of advertising. The business strategy creates several issues, like limiting personal customer attention due to the large number of events. Some results of this strategy are low cost equipment and a smaller music selection due to the number of systems they have to maintain. Similarly, they pay their DJs a small amount of the booking fee when compared to the money they charge their customers. The consequences of low pay will result in entry-level DJs who are only interested in making some extra cash on the weekend.
Large companies will overbook dates and will hire subcontractor DJs to cover the extra shows, the name of the game is quantity to maximize profit. Unfortunately, when the goal is profit and maximizing bookings the service quality will start to suffer. So don't let your special event become a part of the overbooking business strategy.
Don’t get me wrong, large companies that have 15 DJs usually have DJs whose skill levels can vary from experienced to beginner. However, many experienced DJs will end up leaving the large company to start their own business. Why would a skilled DJ work for $75-$150 a show when they can start their own company and make $300-$1000 a show? It is just a matter of logic.
Large companies have good phone skills and they can sell you the DJ service because that’s what they do all day, their business is based on strong marketing and company size. Unfortunately, DJ quality is not their number one priority. Additionally, the cost of acquiring and maintaining such a large number of sound systems means that larger companies simply do not invest in top-notch equipment.
One way an informed customer can compare systems would be in knowing whether the system requires a large van for transportation, or if their system will fit in the back of an SUV. I know big is not always better, but believe me, when it comes to sound power, quality, and performance you want the large system.
So you may ask then, are all large DJ companies bad? My answer is no, but keep in mind when you are hiring a DJ that sometimes greed can get in the way of how people do business. For example, controlling and monitoring 5 DJs is much easier than trying to monitor 20 DJs.
Medium-sized disc jockey companies typically have 3-8 disc jockeys and are either a quality company or a small company trying to get big and do more shows. These companies have average marketing costs and they try to build business based on referrals and marketing. They tend to have better equipment and can provide clients with a more personal touch.
Medium-size companies will overbook dates the same way a large company would and will hire subcontractor DJs to cover the extra shows, they book the competitive rates first and then they increase the price so they can sub the show and still make the high profit. When the goal is profit and maximizing bookings, the customer will pay the price. So, when you book your show make sure you know you DJ and make sure he works for that company and is not some low cost sub.
Medium-sized companies usually have good phone skills and will try to impress you in offering things the large companies may not offer, or may offer for an additional cost. A prime example is that a large company may charge extra for cordless microphones, but a medium-sized company will provide them free of charge. Most disc jockey companies fit under this category, with 3-5 DJs.
Finally, you have the single operator; single operator disc jockeys can be very good or very bad. A single operator will have very limited marketing spending power and oftentimes they get business by offering their DJ services for an extremely low price to undercut all the large and medium-sized companies.
A single operator may be a highly skilled DJ that can make money operating a single unit. On the other hand, they could be in the business just for the weekend cash and have low quality equipment, lack of music selection, and lack of experience. For example, there are single operators on Craigslist that try to barter their DJ services for whatever you are willing to give them. In this group you have to be very, very careful, since you may hire a good DJ or a very bad DJ.
I have heard some single operators make the statement "that they will give you everything for the same price, all is included." The reason why is because that is all they have. They don’t have options for extra or special lighting, they don’t have small, medium, or large systems. Typically, the reason companies do not offer options is because they don’t have options.
After all that, we can now discuss what you should know or ask for before selecting your DJ. Everywhere you look these days someone is offering you a list of things you should do when selecting a DJ. Most of these articles I have read have their own self-interest in mind and are written by a company or a person writing the article based on their own personal judgment or opinion on a certain issue. One example would be music selection; only experienced DJs have the right to tell you what works and what doesn’t at an event. They speak from experience and from dealing with people at various types of parties.
When I read articles about selecting a DJ or tips on selecting the best DJ, I see good advice and bad or self-motivated advice. In this article, my goal is to give good advice whether you select us or not. My goal is to provide you with good information based on my observation and experience to help you make a good decision when selecting a disc jockey for your wedding reception or party.
Does the DJ’s age play a role in the music he or she will play at my event? The answer should be no, a good DJ can play any type of music and should be well versed with music from Big Band to the latest Top 40 music, especially for wedding receptions where there are large age ranges. I have had brides ask for a young DJ because the last wedding they were at the DJ was older and played only old music. My answer would be you are describing a bad DJ and not an old DJ. The same could be said for a young DJ, the last wedding the DJ played hip-hop and dance music but did not play any music for the older crowd. A good DJ will balance the music to make everyone happy, unless you only want a certain type of music.
A good DJ will balance slow and fast music. Why? Some people will dance to high tempo music and some will only dance to slow music. A good DJ will get both groups on the dance floor by playing what we in the entertainment field call sets. You get the high tempo group exhausted. Then you play a slow set so people get some rest and build up for the next high tempo dance set.
Then you have the party favorites like the Electric Slide, Macarena, Cha-cha Slide, Chicken Dance, Hokey Pokey, YMCA, etc. Some bridal magazines try to tell you to never let the DJ play such songs because they are so outdated and overused. Perhaps next Christmas we will stop playing all the old Christmas songs since they are so overplayed and outdated. Okay, my point is that some music is considered a part of some events. Consider these songs as ice breakers and that they will help your guests loosen up for the party. Typically they are the songs that get people up on the dance floor in the very beginning. Also, there are children at wedding receptions and they love to have songs with dances they understand how to do.
I have also had brides that tell me never to play certain songs and when people ask for them, I find ways to tell them why I can’t play them. I understand we all have different music preferences and we like certain music, but remember the party is for your guests, too. You pay good money to have a nice party so your guests will have a good time. The party is designed so people have a good time and enjoy themselves, so don’t put shackles on your DJ, let him use his best judgment and do his job. Now I understand if a song has a bad memory or it’s your first dance from a previous marriage, just make sure to let your DJ know why the song is not allowed under any circumstance.
The truth is, there are good DJs and bad DJs out there just like any other profession. Furthermore, not all DJs are created equal and not all parties or groups are alike. What worked for one group of people does not mean it will for the next group. The crucial factor is how experienced the DJ is in understanding the crowd and adjusting the music to meet their needs. This is where the term “reading the crowd” can come in handy. There are parties where the people will dance to just about anything and they are party animals. There are also parties where the people will not dance even if they are drunk. The key is to find the type of music that gets that particular group of people to dance, and once you break the ice and people start dancing then you can try different types of music, or better yet, people will start making requests for music they want to dance to.
Of course you may say that a great way to judge the quality of a DJ or a DJ company is by the quality of their references. References can be tricky, and I would take them with a grain of salt, since people will not list bad events and they will list their best gigs. Who lists their flops on a reference list? In addition, you have no idea if they list their brother-in-law or best friend. After coming to accept the minimal value of references and the potential for disrupting the privacy of our valued customers, our company actually stopped publishing reference lists. It’s not that you shouldn’t look for the references, but you should not base a decision on references or reviews alone, you should find out for yourself.
Now you may ask how can I find a good DJ? First, ask yourself how would you hire an employee? You have to ask for references, research their work history, and finally conduct a good interview. Make sure you are not basing your decision on one factor and don’t tell me price!
There is an excellent method for evaluating a potential DJ. And it doesn't involve a great deal of research. The method involves calling and talking to the person. If you can invest just twenty minutes in a phone call, you can learn a lot about the way a company does business, the way a DJ conducts him or herself, and whether their style is a good match for your reception atmosphere.
Ask questions, and listen carefully to both the words and the way in which you get answers. You'll hear a lot about attitude, personality and professionalism, if you pay close attention. Even the world's slickest salesperson is forced to drop their mask when your inquiries fall outside the standard response list.
In fact, there are some questions that I seldom hear that might make for some fascinating conversation:
1. Tell me how you'll plan my wedding reception.
2. Why should I pick you?
3. How much time will you spend preparing for my show?
4. Will you visit the party location before the show?
5. How do you handle pressure?
6. Give one bad experience in a party and how you handled it?
7. How would you describe your (or your DJs') performance style?
8. How do you recruit new DJs?
9. What professional accomplishments have your DJs achieved?
10. What happens if the DJ gets sick or the equipment fails?
11. If we've banned a particular song from our reception and it's requested, how would you handle that?
12. How would you play both big band and club dance music at the same event?
13. How many other events will you be playing on the same day as my reception?
The last question, by the way, is quite a trick. If a company will own-up to playing 50 receptions simultaneously, you can be assured that personal service is nonexistent. By the same token, a single operator who tries to squeeze two or three jobs into a Saturday is begging sweat-soaked overload. Look for some reasonable workload from your entertainment provider. Planning is absolutely essential to event success, and a "load-and-leave" schedule invariably results in a crazy quilt music program. You'll pay more for the individual attention, but it's worth the price.
Speaking of price, how much is entertainment worth? After 11 years of wedding reception entertainment service, I'm still amazed that so many engaged couples will automatically latch-on to the lowest price. It would be less amazing if prices typically spanned several thousand dollars. However, the difference between entry level DJs who hook-up their home stereo system for some quick cash and accomplished professionals who spend thousands of dollars on professional grade equipment is a few hundred dollars. So next time you see a guy charging 150 to do your wedding for unlimited hours, you should run the other way.
The one thing that you don’t want to do is call a company and the first thing you ask is how much? "What do you charge?" At this point, we're not excited about having a potential customer on the phone. We know that, regardless of our commitment to performance quality and customer service, our caller can be lured to a bottom-tier performer for a few dollars.
Faced with a choice, are you willing to pay a few dollars more for the additional attention to detail? You are if you recognize that entertainment will play a pivotal role in the success of your event. Years from now, guests may not remember whether you served chicken, duck, steak, or veal, but they'll certainly recall whether they danced, laughed and enjoyed themselves at your reception or party. Although it's among the lowest-cost budget items, entertainment is one of the top-level success factors.
Finding your DJ, it only stands to reason that the best DJs book quickly, and aren't willing to overextend themselves. If you wait until a month before your reception to begin calling entertainment companies, you'll assuredly get what's left over. Ideally, call at least six months ahead; a full year is even better. Even when the good companies have leftover slots, prices increase considerably as dates draw near. Also with regard to scheduling, expect to spend more for Saturdays in Spring and Fall; less for Sundays in the off-season. If you need to economize, selecting a slow date will buy you much more than contracting with a second-tier professional.
Also keep in mind that good wedding reception and party entertainers are many things. They are planners, music experts, interpersonal communicators, customer service professionals, sound technicians, wedding managers, and more. Their many responsibilities require that they be fully competent and hold your complete trust.
I did a wedding last weekend and had a conversion with the wedding planner and she was telling me some scary stories of fly-by -night DJs she had encountered at past events. Some of the DJs she worked with had no experience in weddings and she had to hold their hand the whole night telling them what to do. Some show up with mediocre equipment and iPods trying to DJ weddings. I would like to say I am surprised, but I am not, as long as people pick their DJs based on price and invest very little research then entry level DJs will always have victims.
So in the end, what should you do to select your DJ? The first step should be to do your research, ask friends, and select a DJ that is right for your event. When meeting a DJ, ask the questions you want. One big factor people miss is how friendly the DJ is, is he polite, does he smile? Your DJ’s personality is a big factor in your wedding or party. Also, how does the DJ handle stress and the pressure of the wedding environment? There are a lot of good DJs out there that can mix music, scratch, and do a lot of things that work well in a club environment. However, a wedding reception is far different from a club. Some important criteria a DJ should have are professionalism, attention to quality, a pleasant attitude, customer service skills, etc. All play a big role in the DJ’s success at your event.
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