Most people have no clue what it is to work as a DJ. It’s a lot more than just pressing the play button and go home with a pay check. I want to share my experience with you and show you what it really means to be a wedding DJ.
Being a DJ is hard work. He needs to arrive early, setup the gear, play music for the whole night, take the gear down and leave the party as the last person. Besides that, he needs the keep the equipment clean and in good shape, practice, and keep up with new music. He has a business up and running.
Of course, I’m talking about being a wedding or mobile DJ and not about being the famous DJ that play in the big clubs Let me jump in some details and explain why it is hard to be a wedding DJ.
DJ at the wedding
Managing the dance floor
We jump right in to the dance night, because that is the image that everybody has of a DJ: standing behind the decks. Of course a lot has already happened by then, but we’ll address this later.
Say it’s 11:30pm, the opening dance has just finished and the dance floor is packed. The DJ will have to stay focused for at least a couple hours. The right type of music needs to play, related to the energy and people dancing. He can’t afford mistakes. Every 3 minutes max, a new song will need to play, perfectly mixed in the previous one.
Of course in the meantime, people will start asking requests and other questions. But the dance floor is the focus, it should not stall.
Before the guests start dancing, all other things will need to happen as well. The DJ will have to provide music during the reception and dinner, but that can be an automatic playlist (which has to be prepared upfront). But all other stuff will pop up. Grandma wants the microphone to do the speech, they need assistance connecting the projector to display a way too long PowerPoint of the married couple, they need a specific song to do a sketch… you name it! I can tell you, a wedding DJ is never bored.
The authoritative DJ is in control
In the years I was playing music, you have no idea what people asked me. Obvious stuff, like if I want to play a specific song or where the bathroom is.
The thing is, the DJ is the authoritative person at the wedding. People have heard your voice over the PA system and you are working at the venue. If they have questions or issues about… everything, they will most likely come to you. Especially if there is no ceremony master of ceremonies present.
But for sure also weird and awkward stuff. Things you can only answer: “eh… sorry madam, I have no idea, I’m only the DJ here…” Where can I find extra chairs? Why is there no sufficient drinks? Is it OK that I drop my bag behind your decks? Can I book this venue next week? What do I know.
Sometimes people just want to come and talk to me, asking DJ stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I like human interaction. But when your song is going to end in 40 seconds and you still need to choose and mix another song in, it can be … inconvenient!
But when the brown stuff hits the fan and everybody is looking to each other and the venue doesn’t really have someone in charge of the evening, I was the one who had to handle the crisis situation. Stuff like switching off the alarm, fixing power outage… Heck, I even extinguished a small fire!
Work starts long before the actual wedding party kicks off. Preparation is everything.
- Did the customer send a music request list to play?
- What is the wedding opening dance?
- Any new music in the charts I definitely have to play tonight?
- Is all the equipment working, clean and ready to go?
- Anything special in the contract?
- Any dress code required?
All questions that need to be answered before the DJ leaves. It all takes time and effort.
Setup the equipment
The DJ needs to be at the venue at least a couple of hours before the guests are coming. The equipment needs to be set up. Stuff like speakers, amplifiers, CDs/media players, lights, … It all needs to be unloaded from the truck and dragged to the venue.
Ow, and of course, sometimes there are stairs to take, and log corridors to handle. I don’t have to tell you there is a lot of equipment, and they are all heavy!
Take down the equipment and go home!
When the wedding is over, the reverse job needs to happen. All the gear needs to be taken down and dragged to the truck. If there are still people, they are going to be loud, drunk, annoying and very much in the way.
In summer times, the sun is probably already up by the time the DJ is driving home. Before you hit your bed, you might want to unload the truck and put the gear in the garage. Nothing you really look forward to early in the morning when you yet have to see your bed.
Preparation before the wedding
Meeting the customers
Nobody will (or should) book a DJ for their wedding before talking to them. You, as a customer, need to be sure you have faith in his abilities to do a good job. Also, you need to discuss a lot of things:
- What kind of music you want to hear (and don’t want to hear)
- What is the schedule, when does the DJ need to set up and start playing?
- And of course, discuss pricing and contract
The DJ contract
There needs to be a contract. Really, I’m not joking. To protect both parties and to have some piece of mind. But of course this also takes time in settings it up and discussing/adapting the details. Work, work, work!
Keep the DJ equipment in good shape
Clean the gear
If the DJ is bragging around about his fancy and shiny gear, it better indeed be shiny! This means it needs to be cleaned on regular bases.
Cables are on the floor, drinks are spilled over them, speakers take a lot of dust… It all gets dirty!
Everything needs to be unpacked from the boxes or flight cases and… yea… cleaned, there is no way around it.
Test the gear and cables
Cleaning is important, but more important is to make sure that the gear actually works! There is always a risk that something breaks down during the wedding, and trust me, that’s always a nightmare! Luckily I had always enough backup gear with me, so the painful silence was limited.
A wedding DJ should always test the material on regular bases. This means connecting everything and do a decent sound and light check. Especially cables do break down after some time. Nothing more frustrating than looking for the broken cable while you are racing against the time to set up your gear before the first guests arrive!
Sometimes I heard something weird coming out of the speakers while I was spinning. Not present enough to actually bother the guests and party, but it’s a sign something is off and needs checking!
In other words, testing and cleaning is required on a regular base. And this means extra work for the DJ!
Run a DJ Business
Being a wedding DJ and doing this as a job or something for additional income, is no different from any other business. It needs to be promoted and managed.
Nobody is going to knock on the DJ’s door and ask if he wants to play at their wedding. Well, not true… over the years, people have been knocking on my door. Now I have the luxury that I don’t need to do much promotion anymore. But only because a did a lot of parties and people remember you. They heard you 3 years ago at a party where they were invited, and now there are getting married themselves.
But the first years there is no way around it. You need to make promotion and search for customers, like any other business. You better know something about marketing to place yourself on the market.
Meeting potential customers
We talked about it, you will need to see potential customers to convince them from your skills and hopefully discuss the contract.
Maintain the website
Yea… a wedding DJ needs a website… no shocker here! If you don’t want to spend a fortune on an agency to design the website and keep it up to date, you better know something about this stuff!
Paperwork and taxes
I said it, it’s like any other business. So you need licenses, send invoices, handle taxes… It takes some time and work.
How much does a mobile or wedding DJ needs to practice? I would say: enough! The first years you need a lot of practice. You need to experiment with music and try stuff out. For sure a rock band doesn’t try a new song if they never rehearsed it. It’s no different from a DJ.
Yea, you can play it safe and stick to the things and mixes you know, but how boring is this going to be? Also, keeping the skill of mixing needs practice or the DJ will get sloppy over time.
In the end, it’s about your skill. Something a wedding DJ can do in a mix that sounds really good and that set him apart. I can do that! But not before I have experimented enough and tried it at home.
Invest time in music
Follow the charts
There is always new music. Even the DJ is not playing in fancy clubs, still he needs t play the new and hot stuff. People will ask for it and expect it. He would be a very bad DJ if he doesn’t know and play the hits of the moment.
So a wedding better looks into the charts of the moment and be aware of the hits. After all, music should be his passion!
Sort the music library
Getting new music is one thing, finding it back is something else. No matter what the DJ is using (digital stuff like a laptop, CDs, vinyl…) he needs to find a specific song in minutes (sometime seconds!). So he needs to be organized and have some kind of music management system in place.
As a DJ, spending time with your music is important. Not only you will know what you have and where it is located, it will also make you a better DJ!
I hope I could show you that being a wedding DJ, or any other mobile DJ (doing birthday parties, DJ sweet 16 parties, Christmas parties…) is serious work and responsibility. Yes, it earns money, but it takes a lot of time and commitment, just like any other business.
Is it hard to be a DJ? How much work is it to be a wedding DJ? I think we can all agree that being a wedding DJ is awesome but HARD work!