Top 8 Questions to Ask Private Event DJs
For your wedding, perhaps the most important event you plan in your life, or any special occasion that has you talking to DJs, you must screen your entertainment before you hire them. Why? Because a bad DJ or band can ruin everything. Reputable vendors will offer consultations for free (if not, move on to the next one). As you speak with various DJs, the goal of your conversation should be to determine whether the vendor is a good fit for your event. You are hiring someone after all so treat the conversation like an interview. Sadly, most clients rely on the top results from Google just before (or during) the phone consultation with potential DJs.
The articles that come up in the search results include the same questions, most likely, written by some unpaid intern on summer break. The questions are usually closed-ended and will not help you figure out if the vendor is a good fit for you. With this article, I intend to arm you with the most effective questions you should ask every DJ as you book your entertainment.
1. How would you describe your style as a DJ?
This is the single most important question you can ask. If presented with a dozen different DJs that have the exact same years experience, same cost, and same equipment, each DJ will provide a different experience. Unfortunately, some couples tend to commoditize DJ services and end up disappointed on the big day. You must inquire about entertainment style. Some DJs may not know how to answer this question since it is so rarely asked. So to help elicit the information you need, present the DJ with an MC-DJ spectrum and ask where they fall. On one end of the spectrum you have the classic, more old-school wedding entertainer who facilitates line dances while on the microphone all night. On the other end of the spectrum you have a performance DJ musician laser focused on the music, mix and subtleties of seamless song transitions. Clients that book me typically want someone closer to the performance DJ end of the spectrum, but still able to make announcements as the MC and nothing more on the mic. While my style provides a more contemporary approach to wedding reception entertainment, there is no right style other than the one that best matches what you want at your wedding.
2. How many events do you do a year and how many of them are receptions?
This question will give you a sense of their experience as a private event DJ. I know several veteran nightlife DJs that work in DC two or three times a week logging well over a hundred gigs per year, but they only do one or two private events per year. Conversely, a professional wedding DJ will be doing at least 20 weddings per year and have at least a few years under their belt. Like a surgeon, the more frequently they have performed, the more they have seen complications. An experienced DJ can handle surprises and issues when they happen at your wedding. They can and will happen - power outages, medical emergencies in remote areas, equipment issues, challenging acoustics, unruly guests, and a host of unimaginable things. On the contrary, that does not mean you should always go with someone who has been doing this for 25+ years. His style may not be a good fit, his music may be out-of-date, and he could be a bit jaded as you work together. You deserve to have peace of mind that your DJ can handle whatever happens on your wedding day.
3. How will you incorporate our music preferences?
With this question you are asking the DJ how you two will work together. You want to figure out their workflow. A solid DJ should respond with a proven process that he uses with all of his couples. It should include an easy, straightforward way for you to collaborate with him so your favorite songs and any must-plays are reflected in the live mix at your event. He should also be asking you for a Do-Not-Play list - this is equally as important as what you do want to hear.
4. How do you handle song requests?
This is your big day and if you want your guests to be able to request songs then a professional DJ should accommodate your wishes (just make sure you update your Do-Not-Play list). With this question you want to discern if the DJ will be easy to work with and courteous to any guests who request songs. For more on requests, check out my most popular article, How to get DJs to Play Song Requests.
5. Have you ever performed at our venue?
If he has already performed at your venue, he will know how to get to your event room and the best places to setup his equipment. Someone unfamiliar with your venue can vastly delay your schedule. For example, many venues in the DC area have absurd vendor registration protocols at arrival, challenging or busy loading dock situations, or a labyrinth of corridors and elevators to get to ballroom areas. Venues can also have some peculiar rules in fine print that only applies to entertainment. Below is a snippet from a venue contract that every music vendor must sign before they allow access to load-in equipment. Click here to view the full DJ and Band Vendor Agreement from this venue.
6. What attire do you wear when you are working wedding receptions?
This is another important, but rarely asked question. The majority of DJs today will show up in a polo shirt and khakis. On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of old school wedding DJs dress actually too formal - think a three piece suit with bow-tie and patent leather shoes. Visualize what you want your entertainment to wear and make it known.
7. What type of equipment will you use?
This is essential to ask if you intend on having the DJ provide the sound for your wedding ceremony. The most common complaint friends of mine have had about the DJ or band at their wedding was that the ceremony microphones had issues. Ask what type of mics and how many of each they have available for your use (for more on this check out the article - Mic Check: Options for live sound). It is also important to go over this early in the booking process as a lot of DJs like to up-charge for production additions, like lapel microphones, if they were not part of the original contract. Your DJ should have professional equipment suitable to cover your guest count and venue size. Similarly, see what they will provide for cocktail hour. I have seen some DJs try to get away with bluetooth speakers I think are neither appropriate or adequate for the job. Lastly, the reception sound system should be from a reputable, professional AV brand; e.g. QSC, ElectroVoice, TurboSound, or JBL. Also be sure to ask if they offer additional equipment like subwoofers, uplights, or dancefloor lighting. You should know exactly what you are paying for and the equipment the DJ brings to your event is part of their service.
8. Do you have any demos or examples of your mixing style?
This is important if you are curious about the mixing style and technical chops of your DJ (a la Question #1 above regarding style). A professional DJ should be able to offer you examples of their mixing style. The mixes or demos do not have to be fancy either, just something for you to hear as evidence that this guy is confident enough in his craft that he has mixes he can share with you.
These eight questions cover the important aspects of booking a DJ. Still though, like any job interview, you may find someone who is a home run on paper, but just not a good fit when you meet. Guess what? That is totally okay and you will move on to the next DJ who may be a much better fit. Sometimes, I will tell a client that I may not be a good fit for them and will refer a few DJs I know. For example, I am not a good fit for you if you want your DJ to get out on the dancefloor as he facilitates back-to-back line dances or a bunch of wedding games with props. It is your night and you are entitled to have whatever type of entertainment you want. To get what you want, make sure to ask these questions to determine if the vendor will be the best fit for you.
Pro Tips for Success
Regardless of who you choose to DJ your event, there are four things you can do to ensure that your DJ is setup for success.
1. Provide detailed music preferences
You should not have to pick every song, but do give a sense of the music direction for each part of the night. Social events evolve so think through what kinds of music you want to have when guests arrive, as they mingle, and as they dance. Absent any input, you run the risk of being unpleasantly surprised at your event. You should also include a "do-not-play" list of songs, artists, and genres.
2. Collaborate on a detailed timeline
Your timeline is the script that your DJ will use to MC your event. Schedule check-ins to review the timeline as it progresses from a draft to final version. Ensure that it includes things like the phonetic pronunciation of each individual being announced and specific fade-out timings for special songs, like the First Dance. Give your DJ a draft of the schedule ahead of time so he can highlight risks or technical dependencies around the flow of the event and suggest edits as needed.
3. Offer to show the venue and connect the DJ with other vendors
If the venue is local, your DJ should be willing to do a walk-through with you if he has not performed there previously. If your DJ cannot make a scheduled walk-through, send him your floor plan along with any pictures or videos. You should be able to easily communicate with your DJ. Some venues have specific vendor requirements that clients may not be aware of when they book, e.g. liability insurance minimums, vehicle restrictions, and more quirky rules that can truly be a showstopper at the last minute. I encourage you to connect your DJ with your planner, coordinator, and venue POC as soon as convenient. A simple three-way email introduction works best.
4. Secure a hot vendor meal
Hot meals show that you recognize your vendors are an important part of your special day. While your contract may state the DJ is to perform for four hours, he will be there several hours beforehand to setup and will be packing up equipment long after the last guests leave. Caterers typically give you the option to provide vendor meals. Say yes to this and make it known to your vendors. It is a gesture that does not go unnoticed.
Hopefully this helps and best of luck as you book your wedding entertainment.