Questions to Ask a DJ
An in-person meeting with a handful of potential DJs is the best way to really figure out who to hire. Start with this list of important questions and don’t make a decision until you get an answer for each one!
Will you be the DJ at our wedding?
Often, the person you speak with is not the person who will be your DJ on your wedding day. This is a very common practice among large agencies. It is absolutely paramount that you have an opportunity to interview, in person, the specific DJ that you will be working with and determine whether you feel comfortable with them. You should also expect that the individual DJ’s name is specified on your contract – it is the only way you can be guaranteed his or her services at your wedding.
How long have you been a DJ and how many weddings have you done?
A wedding is such an important occasion, and you don’t want your DJ’s first wedding to be your own. The number of years someone has been a DJ will give you some indication of their experience level, but some DJs only perform for a few events (and fewer weddings) each year. A DJ with half as many years in the industry may have many times as many weddings under his belt, so you should also ask how many weddings the DJ has done. Also be sure to ask if the DJ has any formal training, either from a DJ company or a DJ school.
How many weddings do you do each year?
Just like any other profession, performing for weddings requires one’s skills to be in top form. If a DJ performs for only a few weddings per year, they may not be “at the top of their game” by the time your wedding date arrives. Asking how many weddings they do per year will give you an indication of their level of commitment to your type of event.
Do you perform for more than one event in a day?
Some DJs will do as many events as they possibly can, and often try to pack their weekends with all types of DJ work. If a disc jockey has already done an event in the afternoon before your wedding, they will likely be physically exhausted by the latter half of your wedding, which is exactly when they need to be the most alert and active. This is most common at large agencies, where “weekend warriors” may perform at four to six events over a three-day period. It is hard to believe that any DJ could give that many couples an adequate amount of attention leading up to, and on, their wedding day.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Any professional wedding disc jockey will take pride in their work, and be able to answer this question honestly and communicate the things that make their services unique. Some DJs, however, will take this opportunity to “bash” their competition and say negative things about specific DJs or agencies. We consider this type of behavior unprofessional (in fact, doing this is strictly forbidden for members of the American Disc Jockey Association & the Bridal Association of America), and is a poor reflection on them. In fact, you may want to consider making it a point to meet any DJ that they say something bad about – DJs that engage in this type of thing will often target the DJs they’re afraid you’ll book instead of them, and they’re probably right!
Do you act as the “emcee” and make all of the announcements?
Any professional wedding disc jockey should be comfortable with making announcements and serving as the emcee for the wedding, it is a standard part of the job. Some DJs, however, are not comfortable with this and prefer to pass these duties on to someone else, such as a site manager, who may not have a professional voice or experience speaking on a microphone.
What if something happens to you and you can’t make it to the wedding?
Despite meticulous planning and preparation, accidents do happen. If the DJ is injured or otherwise unable to perform on your wedding day, what is the backup plan? Most responsible professionals have some sort of backup strategy should this situation ever arise, but others do not. Often, DJs will be members of a local DJ association, and network with other DJs who could possibly provide backup services for them in the event of an emergency. Others take this planning more seriously and reserve a specific DJ for every date, ensuring that backup is both available and prepared in case of an emergency. You need to feel comfortable that you will still have a qualified, prepared DJ on your wedding day, regardless of the circumstances, so the answer to this question is very important.
Will we meet again before the wedding?
Just as some deejays will prefer not to meet you when you book them, others will prefer to conduct a “final meeting” in the weeks before your wedding over the telephone instead of in person. While having a face-to-face meeting for the final meeting is arguably less important than meeting personally for an initial interview, the DJ should still be willing to meet you in person for a second time if that’s what you prefer.
Can we visit you at a performance?
Hopefully the answer to this question is “no.” We’re sure that you wouldn’t appreciate the DJ inviting prospective clients to your wedding to see him in action. A professional DJ should be willing to take a stand for his clients’ privacy and not offer this as a possibility. Professional wedding DJs never allow this.
How involved can we be in selecting music for our event?
This is an important question to ask, because some DJs prefer to control the majority of the playlist and supplement their choices with a small handful of your specific requests. Other disc jockeys prefer to let the client choose the majority of the music, and then use their expertise to make it all work. The DJ should be accommodating of your music tastes, and you should feel comfortable with the DJ’s approach and the amount of involvement you’ll be able to have in choosing the music.
When do we need to submit our music requests and event details?
Most professional DJs will give you a printed song list and planning worksheet with which to communicate the details of your event; others will give you access to an online planning system that will guide you throughout the entire process. You should be given ample time to make decisions regarding your music choices and event timeline, but the DJ should also require this information far enough in advance so that he can adequately prepare for your event. A DJ who doesn’t ask for your requests at least a couple of weeks before your wedding may not be able to fulfill them. In addition, the DJ should be willing to accommodate any later changes or additions whenever possible, rather than locking you into a first dance song that you later regret or refusing to alter the order of your toasts.
Do you take requests from our guests?
Most DJs are happy to do so, but you should also feel reasonably assured that any request they chose to play would not be something you didn’t like.
When do you arrive to set up for our wedding?
When dealing with sub-standard DJs, there are often issues with them being punctual and set up well in advance of your guests’ arrival. Professional DJs will always arrive at least a full 2 hours before their scheduled start time in order to have adequate time to set up and get organized before the wedding.
How much of a deposit is required to secure our date?
Almost every DJ will require some sort of deposit or retainer in order to secure your date. This is for their protection and yours. The industry standard for deposits is 50%. Some DJs require far less, but this is not always a good idea. If the contract language doesn’t stipulate a specific guarantee of services and clearly outline a cancellation policy, the DJ may only legally be responsible for returning your deposit (sometimes as little as $25) in order to back out of doing your wedding. While it would certainly be considered unprofessional, there certainly isn’t any financial incentive for the DJ if he’s only forced to pay a small fee for backing out on you. Our Retainer is the first hour.
What is included in the cost of my event?
DJs use vastly different systems when pricing their services. Most DJs price their services a la carte, charging an hourly rate and adding charges for any additional equipment needed. Others choose to use a flat-rate pricing system and make their packages all-inclusive. You need to be clear about what a DJ is offering for the price they’ve quoted you, so you can compare their package to those of the other DJs you are interviewing. The price I quoted you was for everything we talked about.
How much would you charge for overtime?
Hopefully your DJ will do such a wonderful job at your wedding that you’d like to keep dancing! Be sure that the DJ’s contract outlines a specific rate for additional time at the end of the night, whether it is a set price or a pro-rated amount based on the original price.
What do you require from us?
Every DJ will require a few things that you’ll need to provide them in order to be successful. The most common are adequate shelter, electricity, and a table for their equipment. Make sure that you understand exactly what the DJ needs from you so you can communicate those needs to your reception site and caterer.
Are you insured?
It is absolutely essential that any DJ you consider carries a full liability insurance policy. They are fairly inexpensive (less than $250 per year in some cases), so being uninsured is inexcusable. Some reception sites have even taken the step of requiring all vendors working at their facility to provide proof of insurance before the wedding. Liability insurance protects you and the reception site in the unlikely event that your DJ injures one of your guests or burns your reception site to the ground.
Do you take any breaks?
One of the major advantages to using a DJ instead of a band is that a DJ does not need to take breaks, outside of using the restroom and possibly eating a meal quickly in another room (if this is what your site contact or caterer requires). In any case, the DJ should assure you that there will be no break in the music at any point during the reception.
What is your policy on alcohol or smoking during the wedding?
A professional DJ will never consume alcohol or take cigarette breaks during your wedding. If you interview a DJ and he tells you he needs a few drinks to “loosen up” while working, you should probably look for a DJ with higher standards of professionalism.
What kind of equipment do you use?
Any DJ you consider should be proud of his sound system, and should be using professional-grade equipment. Most DJs understand that you are very unlikely to have a working knowledge of professional DJ equipment, but he should be able to describe his sound system to you. You should not hear very many “home audio” brands in what he describes – the top brands for DJ equipment are B-52, Hiel, Behringer, Pioneer, Denon, Electro-Voice (EV), Bose, Mackie, QSC, and Shure.
Do you bring backup equipment with you to the wedding?
Even the very best and most well-maintained equipment will malfunction at some point. Your DJ needs to be prepared in case this happens at your wedding. The only way you will not suffer a setback on your special day is if the DJ brings a full second sound system with them to each and every wedding. Having backup equipment in a warehouse 50 miles from your reception site won’t do much good if there is no music at your wedding for an hour.
Do you have a wireless microphone?
Every professional wedding DJ should offer a wireless microphone to be used for your guests’ toasts, blessing, and any other speeches that need to be made.
Do you have a “light show”?
Some DJs also offer “party lights,” either as part of their package or as an additional service they can provide. You should find out whether the DJ plans on setting up lights for the dance floor, and whether this matches your preferences.
Do you set up a sign or banner with your equipment?
Shameless self-promotion sometimes rears its ugly head at wedding receptions in the form of a sign or banner advertising the DJ’s company name and contact information. These items inevitably find their way into your wedding pictures and video, and ruin what is an otherwise commercial-free event. This practice is repulsive and completely unprofessional, and we believe that any DJ that does this should never be hired for a wedding.
Do you belong to any professional associations or trade groups?
If a DJ is serious about his craft and interested in becoming a better performer, they will often join a local association or trade group. These are opportunities for DJs to interact with one another, share ideas, and network with other DJs who might be able to help them should they ever have an emergency. While membership in one of these organizations is not a guarantee of that DJ’s talent level, it does at least show a willingness to grow and improve and become a better DJ.
Discuss with your venue manager any restrictions that might affect your Wedding, like sound noise limits, music curfew. Also check with your facility and caterer about where and what to feed the DJ.
All professional entertainers have access to formalwear (if they don’t, this is your first clue they’re not professionals!) However, it is YOUR responsibility to be specific about how you expect your DJ to be dressed.
Make notes of your music preferences before you meet with your DJ. For example: “Classical for the ceremony, Rat Pack-era for the cocktail hour and a set of country or old school during the reception.” Not only will this help you determine which entertainment professionals are a good match for you, it will guide them in preparing your set list.