Step 1: The search
The first selection of your potential DJ… let the hunt begin!
As with everything in modern times, the search engine is your friend. A DJ without a website nowadays is like a baker without bread. The days when DJs offered their services through the Yellow Pages lies far in the past.
So surf the net and check out as many websites of disco clubs and DJs as possible. Look for credibility, style, experience, references. . . .
These days, a website is the curtain-raiser for a business. Does the website radiate any kind of professionalism? Does it give you the necessary confidence? Is it full of spelling errors? Is the site hard on the eyes, or does it seem to suffer from Tourette’s syndrome?
Of course, a super-wonderful website is no guarantee of a good DJ. And also the opposite is true: a DJ without a website can still play the stars out of the sky. That said, your first impression and gut feeling will guide you toward making the right choice.
Make a note of the names and websites of the disco clubs and DJs you like. Google the DJ’s name as well, and you may find positive or negative reactions from people who’ve already booked this guy.
You need an experienced DJ at your wedding. Okay, everyone has to start somewhere and everyone should get a chance to hone his craft. But preferably not at your party.
A debut DJ will make mistakes. Wrong songs playing at the wrong times, which will almost certainly clear the dance floor. A newbie like him won’t be able to judge which music to play for which people. That only comes with years of experience.
That’s why it’s important that a novice DJ goes to a gig with a mentor, and many wedding parties are entertained under the supervision and advice of an experienced maestro. Someone who’s just starting out shouldn’t be performing solo at your wedding.
So, what’s the minimum amount of experience needed? Of course, some people have more talent and learn faster than others. There’s no easy answer to the minimum number of performances.
I’d expect a DJ to have done at least 10 weddings—at least half of which under the supervision of a mentor—before you hire him.
You should also ask the date of his last party. A DJ who’s been idle for 2 years will be “rusty” anyway, and will no longer be au fait with today’s popular music.
Ask specifically for his experience of wedding receptions. Birthday parties, for example, are usually less demanding.
The age of the DJ doesn’t have to be a limiting factor.
I know guys over 50 years of age who have a blast every time, with—if it’s demanded—the toughest underground dance music around.
It’s the DJ’s musical soul and passion that count, not the age on his driver’s license.
Extremes won’t work. An 18-year-old won’t have the musical background and experience to appeal to all age groups and make everyone happy.
A 75-year-old will be tuckered out by 11:00 pm, and want to go to bed with a hot tea.
Yes, these are stereotypes, but there’s more than a grain of truth in them. The golden mean is usually your best option.
Many DJs choose not to put their rates on their website, but let you request a free quote. Contact all the DJs you have a good feeling about and ask if they’re available on the date of your party. Ask for a free quote.
It’s important to discuss as many practical things as possible, such as the date of the party—if you’ve already set one—the venue, the theme, the number of guests, expected start and finish times, equipment (partially) provided by the venue, special requests. . . .
The clearer the info, the more on target the price offer will be. In this way, you’ll avoid emailing back and forth and wasting time for both parties.
If you don’t receive a reply after about 3 days, feel free to send a reminder.
Do realize that most DJs work on weekends. If you send an email on Saturday night asking for a quote, don’t expect an answer on Sunday morning. Chances are that the DJ has only just arrived home and is snoring loudly.
Patience is a virtue, but if it’s taking too long, feel free to push the bell again.
The DJs that are available will be happy to send you a quote. The quote is another barometer of their professionalism: Is it a thorough and detailed document, or did you receive a short email with just a one-liner giving you little more than the price?
Do you feel that it was written for you personally or is it more of a standard email? Is it full of bad grammar? Granted, it says little about how the DJ actually plays music and if he knows how to entertain the a room, but it does tell you something about his professionalism.
Professionalism and quality usually go hand in hand. The quality of the quote, together with a poor website, shouldn’t rule a guy out completely, but it should certainly play a role in your final decision.
Unless you have a talking pony with magical powers, your budget will have an upper limit. For the time being the sun will rise for free, but here too, the question is “for how much longer?” Alas, we live in a world where everything has a price. A DJ is no exception.
Quality comes at a price. When a DJ quotes a low price it’s often a clue to his lack of experience. Cheap DJs are often beginners, or are not so skilled and find it difficult to find customers. Because of this they have a (much) lower price.
Also, their equipment is likely to be second-rate. So both sound and customer will lose out a lot on quality.
If you have a limited budget, or you find the music and dancing of minor importance at your party, a cheap DJ can be an option.
However, if music—and especially a full dance floor—is central to your celebrations, you’ll have to dig deeper into the kitty to get the quality.
You won’t find a professional DJ with a good sound and light system under €500.
A big bite out of the budget. But you’re paying for the years of experience the DJ has under his belt.
But bear in mind that the investment made by the DJ is no small one. A professional lighting and sound system, suitable for a few hundred attendees, can quickly run to several thousand euros.
Not to mention all the music he has to invest in—there’s no punishment great enough for a DJ who earns money with pirated music, on the backs of the artists who made the music.
Don’t forget the transportation he has to manage, and all the licenses, taxes, and fees he has to pay.
We haven’t even talked about the night work he has to do. If you think that a DJ simply has to put some records on, leaving him time aplenty to ogle the womenfolk, then you could not be more mistaken.
If you’re comparing prices, do it assiduously. Compare apples with other apples and not with oranges—or other fruits.
Most DJs will charge a fixed rate for a few hours of playing music. So when you compare prices, make sure you actually consider the number of hours. Check how much you have to pay per hour when the fixed-rate run has been exceeded.
Also see if there are hidden costs, such as transportation, taxes, setting up and disassembling the installation. . . . If you have any questions you should go back to the DJ for clarification.
Step 2: the shortlist
You did your homework and gathered some quotes from interested DJs who can make themselves available. So it’s time to draw up a shortlist of DJs who are eligible to become the apple of your eye.
Be sure to ask for an option for your party date before someone goes behind your back and snatches the DJ, because some dates are very popular.
An option means that the DJ will put your wedding date in his diary so that no one else can grab it. For the time being anyhow.
You then have a month—or a term you agree on—to confirm it. With the confirmation you probably have to pay money up front, then your booking is a fact.
Great, you have a shortlist of DJs who appeal to you, and whose prices fall within your budget. Next step is to contact those guys and ask to meet up with them for a chat.
For a DJ a wedding is the same old song every week—excuse the dated wordplay. For you, marriage is probably a once-in-a-lifetime celebration. So don’t be shy about questioning the DJ in great detail. Sure, you can do it by phone, but it’s hard to beat a personal, face-to-face conversation.
Any DJ who takes his business seriously will agree to this. If not, you know right away that he’s not the steak that you ordered. A steak to set aside.
A DJ with a thriving business will of course not be too eager to travel to your area. Especially if that DJ works all over Belgium.
He’ll probably suggest a place closer to his home base. Avoid making appointments at your home. We hardly need to explain why. A quiet café or restaurant in your neighborhood would be ideal.
Step 2: The preparation
Soon you’re going to have your chat with the DJ. Naturally, you want to be well-prepared and equipped. So here are some tips regarding the important items you’ll be discussing, to prepare you for the best chat possible.
At the end of this section you’ll find a form that you can print out, with all the questions noted on it. These can be used as a guide for the conversation with the DJ.
Think about which music styles you’d like to hear. Don’t limit it to just one genre, because it’s very likely you won’t be able to keep it up all night.
Some DJs don’t like to receive a list of “required tracks.” However, remember that you’re the one organizing the party and picking up the tab. So it’s your party and not the DJ’s party. Be sure to discuss this with your potential DJ.
But make sure the list is limited. A bulky list with more than 500 titles on it will not only panic the DJ, there’s no way he could play all the songs during the dance party.
Limit it to the essential songs you really want to hear. A list of about 20 songs would do the trick. Also try to include different styles of music, because there’s no guarantee that your favorite music genre will actually get those people on their feet.
The list is a clue, a direction, a guide. It’s up to the DJ to present it to the dancers at appropriate times. Don’t be too disappointed if the songs on the list don’t work and leave the dance floor empty. That’s probably not the DJ’s fault, but because of the musical tastes of your guests. Again, it’s up to the DJ to draw the right conclusions here and change the music style when necessary.
More important is to think about the genres you absolutely don’t want to hear. Do you get itchy palms and hair loss from rap music or Flemish crooners? Make a note of this. Stick with contemporary and danceable genres. The DJ will also be more than aware that a pre-war free-jazz quartet has no place at a modern dance party.
The same goes for a hell-raising, heavy-metal playlist. Unless the vast majority of guests can “dig” them, those numbers will only scare Grandma away and result in an empty dance floor.
And don’t forget to discuss particular songs. Songs that you loathe or songs with negative emotional values are better pointed out to the DJ in advance.
It’s not only the choice of music that’s an important topic of conversation. You should also think about the practicalities of the party.
- What about the lighting?
- Will there be a (partial) sound installation?
- Is a smoke machine allowed in the room? (In case the ballroom is equipped with a fire detection system.)
- Are all the electricity outlets in working order?
Electricity will usually not be a problem in a fancy ballroom, but if you’re planning on turning a parish hall into a prime location, you’d better play it safe.
Marquees erected on a big expanse of grassland can also consume a lot of power. And if you happen to include big users of electricity like fryers and coffee makers, you’ll soon be over the limit . . . and left in the dark!
If you decide to put up a marquee on a meadow, you have to be sure that no cattle are still roaming freely there. It can be quite a scare when suddenly there’s a cow in the tent. It might sound ridiculous and far-fetched, but believe me when I tell you that I’ve had that experience myself. So be sure to ask the farmer to keep his animals in the barn.
And, just as important: make sure you have a good concept of how your party will work out.
- Is the party room easily accessible for the DJ to set up the installation? Is there parking space, and loading and unloading facilities? Are there stairs he has to negotiate? Some DJs add a surcharge if they have to lug and drag their equipment a long way.
- What time does the reception start? When should the installation be ready? Can the DJ easily reach the place where he needs to install his stuff without disturbing the guests, or does he need to set up the equipment earlier if necessary?
- Is the reception in the garden if the weather is good? Do you want music in this area?
- Do you want music at the reception, the dinner, or only during the dance party? Be aware that a good DJ will slowly but surely increase the energy of the music during the cutting of the cake, so people will more quickly unwind and dance.
- If applicable, how is the wedding roll call done? How are guests escorted to their tables? Will the venue take care of the roll call or is the DJ expected to do this? Can the guests hear the DJ if the reception takes place in a garden? Will you be keeping it traditional or having a fun party instead? (see also the chapter “More Tips for a successful party”)
- How many dishes will be stuffed into the guests?
- Is the food buffet style, is it served at the table, or is it a walking dinner with the typical tall party tables? It requires a different approach for the DJ and demands a different genre of music as the guests stroll about.
- What time would you like to start the dance party—read: the first dance? What’s achievable for the venue?
- Should the DJ be in charge of other things, such as a wireless microphone, a projector and screen for Uncle André’s tedious powerpoint presentation, or showing those spicy bachelorette-party pictures?
- Is there a time limit? Does the ballroom shut at a certain time? Important: starting at a certain time some venues add a surcharge on drinks.
You’ll certainly be able to add some more questions. The more issues you think about in advance, the easier and smoother your chat with the DJ will be.
Step 3: The call
The time has come: you agreed to meet at a local café, and you’re seated at a table, ready to grill that friendly DJ.
Again, your gut feeling will tell you a lot during and after the conversation. Do you click; is there a rapport? Does this guy know what it’s all about? Does he radiate confidence? Does his body language say the same thing as he’s promising you the sun, moon, and stars?
Here’s a list of essential matters you should discuss with the DJ:
- Ask which music style he’ll be using. Make sure that, at the end of the conversation, the DJ knows which styles you want to hear.
- Ask if you get an official, signed contract. That way, you’ve some form of certainty that the DJ will show up where and when he promises.
- Ask if the DJ is working alone or with a team. If he’s the CEO of a large team of DJs, ask explicitly which DJ will be playing at your party. There’s nothing more annoying than suddenly seeing someone who’s a stranger to you, a guy you’ve never spoken with before.
- Ask if the DJ can do music mixes. I think I’ve made clear why this is important. . . .
- Ask if you have a say in the music. Some DJs don’t like being told to play certain songs. They forget that you’re picking up the tab, and at the end of the day it’s your party.
Also ask how he deals with requests from dancing guests. The best answer should be a cautious “yes”: the DJ is open to requests, but will always judge whether it’s a good idea or not.
Someone who doesn’t want to play requests at all probably suffers from an inflated ego. However, someone who plays all requests immediately fails to understand that a “wrong” song at the wrong time will wipe out the dance floor and atmosphere.
- Ask how much experience the DJ has. Not so much in number of years, but rather in the number of parties he’s done. How many hours did he perform before a dancing audience? Practice sessions are good for learning how to mix, but don’t hold a candle to real-time experience.
- Ask him for evidence of this. Anyone can, of course, recite any random number. But if he starts stuttering, then you know the lay of the land.
- Also ask explicitly about his experience of weddings, because they demand a special approach. Try to get a picture of where, and for whom, this guy has already worked.
By the way, a DJ who claims that it’s harder to perform in front of 30 people than it is for 1,000 people, is most certainly a DJ who’s never performed for 1,000 people.
Unless you’re a well-known DJ rock star, there’s nothing easy about entertaining 1,000 people or more.
The DJ who has experience of large groups knows the ropes and will certainly be able to handle your wedding party. As long as he has mobile DJ / wedding-party experience in addition to big-stage work—and is willing to play the right music of course. Experience of large groups is not a must, but if he has it, then you can be sure that this guy knows what he’s doing.
Ask which installation he uses. An expensive Pioneer console doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a super DJ, but you also don’t want to see your DJ sitting at a table, using his little laptop and mouse to take control of the dance floor.
Your DJ needs to be full of energy, dancing and leaping to the rhythms. If he isn’t enjoying himself with the music he plays, then how can you expect the guests to enjoy it?
Mind you, being energetic doesn’t mean he has to be an egomaniac drawing attention to himself the whole night.
- Ask how old his equipment is and how well it’s been maintained.
Old and badly kept equipment can cause problems.
If in doubt, ask for pictures from his music catalog. DJs like to show off their gear—assuming it’s good—so chances are there’s enough on his Facebook to more than convince you.
Also ask what spare equipment he brings with him to avoid disasters.
- Ask him if he secures his cables with gaffer tape and what safety measures he’ll be taking. Very important!
- Another way to challenge the DJ is to ask for references. Former customers, ballrooms, companies. . . . Don’t hesitate to call these people; chances are you’ll hear the raw truth, which will certainly give you a good picture of the DJ.
- Asking for a playlist from a former party is almost pointless. Sure, it’ll show you that the DJ can mix, but without seeing the dance floor in front of you, it’s very difficult to decide whether he did a good job or not.
Ultimately, it’s the dance floor that decides which music is played. If the dance floor was full the whole night, the answer here can only be a resounding yes, regardless of the music you see on the list. But . . . there’s always the chance that it’s music you absolutely don’t want to hear at your wedding.
Keep in mind that every party is different and that it’s up to the DJ to judge which music is needed to keep the dance floor jumping, always taking into account your own musical wishlist, which you’ll have discussed with him.
- Ask if the DJ has insurance against damage or injury. It may be doom-and-gloom talk, but have you ever thought about what might happen if a heavy light fitting fell off a pillar and landed on someone’s head? This could be a legal battle between the audience, the DJ, and yourself—you being the one who brought the forces together. A DJ’s insurance can cover this.
- If in doubt, ask if there’s a possibility you can see and hear the DJ at work. This is always possible, given the nature of the parties he/she entertains.
Also think about how you would feel if you were asked if a potential client of the DJ could swing by your wedding to watch the DJ at work.
Ask the DJ to set up his equipment before the party starts. If this has to be done during the party—during the reception for example—that will cause inconvenience your guests.
A possible scenario would be to ask the DJ to start at 10:00 pm—because the venue itself will be providing music during the dinner. Problem is, if the equipment still needs to be set up, the DJ will have to constantly traipse back and forth with all his gear. Also, the sound testing will have to be done, with all the likely disturbance for Grandma when she’s trying to enjoy the wedding cake. At the very least it’s a mood destroyer.
Ideally, the installation should be ready before the guests arrive. So ask clearly when the equipment can be set up, and if there are extra costs involved.
The DJ himself will most likely expect the following:
- Parking space in front of the venue
- Access and exit for the gear at the ballroom door(s)
- A full meal
- Unlimited (non-alcoholic) drinks
- 50% deposit upon confirmation
- 50% balance on the date, at party’s end
Use the following list during your chat with your potential DJ, so that you ask the right questions.
The best answer, the one that guarantees quality, will be listed next to several questions.
If you a red flag appears, consider calling another DJ!
Other answers will of course have to be evaluated by you: what you think is right or wrong. Like the price and the music styles.
Print out these 2 pages and fill them in during the conversation.
It might seem to him that you’re very tough when it comes to choosing a DJ. And indeed you should be!
Conversation with the DJ – questionnaire – PRINCIPLES
How long have you been a DJ (how many years)?
Do you spin the records yourself or work with a team? If there’s someone else: red flag! Make sure you can talk to the DJ himself.
How many weddings have you played to? Below 10 can be a problem, as far as experience goes.
When was your last wedding? No later than 1 year ago; otherwise the DJ is probably rusty.
What other parties did you do, or where did you play?
Do you have any references? Red flag if there are no references.
Can you rely on a backup in case of illness? Your safeguard in case he breaks a leg, but it’s no guarantee.
Can we watch you somewhere? In a venue that’s open to the public? Will be difficult I know, but nice if we can.
Can you mix? What does mixing mean to you? Red flag if he has no idea what mixing is. Correct answer: let two songs run at the same tempo and have them beatmatching so that it sounds like one track.
Which styles do you mainly play? Red flag if the answer is just “Techno.”
How do you handle requests? Red flag if he doesn’t want to play requests. Indicates a giant ego.
Can we give you a list with a few songs? Red flag if he refuses. Very large ego. Wants it all for himself.
Prices and appointments
What is the DJ price (all in, including taxes)?
How many hours would you work for this? You need at least 5 hours of music.
What’s the cost per hour if you exceed this limit?
What are your transportation costs?
Which sound and lighting installation is included?
Can you set up the equipment earlier (if applicable)?
Can we take out an option on our wedding date?
Do you have insurance against damage or injury caused by you? Red flag if there’s no insurance.
Are there any other costs?
How many people can your installation cater to?
How old is your equipment?
How well is your equipment maintained?
Can we see a picture?
Will you bring your spare gear to the party?
Can you gaffer-tape the cable sections that run over the floor?
Is your lighting installation LED based?
Do you have a wireless microphone? (if applicable)
Do you have a smoke machine?
Step 4: The Decision: Who will be your DJ?
You’ve spoken to all the eligible DJs. They all answered your questions in the best possible way, and you feel you have top prices and service. If you’ve any doubts, be sure to contact the references the DJs gave you.
It’s about time to make the decision. Let’s run through it again:
- You’ve viewed his website and believe all he’s told you.
- You have a good feeling about the DJ, a fine rapport, and the feeling that he understands what you and your partner want.
- You’re convinced by his references, his anecdotes, and experience, and you’re sure he knows what he’s doing.
- You’re convinced that this DJ is a master of the style(s) of music you wish to hear.
- You’ve checked with some references and they were unanimously positive.
- The asking price falls within your budget and tallies with the DJ’s experience.
- He comes across as a professional, treats his clients as they should be treated, and handles things perfectly: He has a clear diary, contracts, the right insurance. . . .
It remains a difficult choice, but with the fully described selection process we’ve covered, you should be able to make a well-considered decision.
Nobody’s perfect of course. You’ll always have a tiny bit of doubt regarding the potential DJ for your wedding.
But, if all he says is true, if he has enough experience, if he knows what you want, and if you have a good all-round feeling about it . . . go for it!
As I’ve said before, good DJs are in great demand. So, if you continue to have doubts for too long a time, then you risk someone else stealing that DJ right in front of your eyes.
Don’t forget to confirm your option. Probably the DJ will ask for an advance payment. 40% to 50% of the total amount is usual.