Even when I was a hip-hop DJ I always kept it classy.
The motto is always ‘flashy but classy.’ You’ve got to be original
and stand out from the crowd and take some chances.
But you’ve always got to keep it classy.
~ Mayer Hawthorne
The disc jockey is an icon that parallels the history of recorded music. One of my favorite music history tidbits is that the Grammy Awards are named for the gramophone, which was invented in 1887. DJs date back at least to the 1930s but rose to radio fame in the 1950s and ’60s and disco fame in the 1970s.
DJs are a popular choice for wedding receptions because they are less expensive than hiring a live band and can offer a wider selection of music. The DJ also can offer an entertaining personality and for that reason often doubles as the master of ceremonies (MC) at weddings.
Selecting a DJ
The most direct way to find your perfect DJ is to ask for recommendations from your wedding planner, caterer or other professional with whom you are already doing business; also ask your friends for personal referrals.
Many wedding experts advise couples to see the DJ in action before hiring her, but that is difficult as performing at a wedding is quite different from performing at any other type of function, and it’s not practical to attend a stranger’s wedding to observe every aspect of how the DJ might be performing her wide-ranging duties throughout the event. Although I have heard of wedding professionals arranging for just such occasions, I would recommend against it; I certainly wouldn’t want strangers lurking around my wedding for the purpose of observing my DJ. However, should you have the opportunity to attend a wedding as a guest prior to beginning the planning for your own you will be able to observe their DJ. And, if they have live music instead you will be able to observe the band or orchestra and perhaps consider another option; however, the process of hiring a live band can be a bit more complicated and costly to that of hiring a DJ.
You will want a DJ that has experience performing at weddings and who comes highly recommended. After gathering the names of some DJs, check them out on social media to see what kind of client reviews they might have as well as their general on-line presence — just as an employer would check out the reputation and brand of a prospective hire. After completing your research and narrowing your search to two or three DJs, it’s time to interview them.
Having determined the technical abilities and reputations of your DJ candidates, arrange to meet with them, if possible, at your wedding venue so they can check out the acoustics and other details, and it’s possible the venue and its location might affect their pricing. When you do meet with each one face to face you will also want to look for that chemistry and connection that you should feel with a prospective DJ. Are you impressed with his personality, attitude, neat and professional appearance and presentation? Assess how easy each one is to work with, how he will get along with your other wedding vendors and with your wedding party. You want someone who will listen to you, follow your instructions and respect your wishes all the while providing top-notch professional service and guidance.
Note: While it might be tempting to hire a friend’s talented but inexperienced cousin who is willing to work for free or a very low fee, remember that this is your wedding and you don’t want to regret such a decision. Such a big job for a novice could backfire; you don’t want to be responsible for a young person falling on his or her face at such an important event, and the likelihood of putting a strain on relationships if things don’t work out well. In my experience, it’s better to go with a professional and have your friends and family in the wedding party or as guests, not as the hired help.
Appearance and Style
These two characteristics are important and depend largely on the preferences of the wedding couple and the style of the wedding. If you’re going formal you will want a DJ who is more formal in dress and manner, with a sophisticated appearance, style and wit. A casual ceremony and reception might call for someone with a more energetic personality and flashier appearance. For everything in between, which encompasses a range of informality falling between the strictly formal and very casual, the DJ should dress accordingly, wearing a suit and tie, blazer and trousers, or dress and heels. In any case, the dress code and specific role of the DJ should be clarified before any hiring decisions are made.
To reiterate, a positive, respectful and cooperative attitude is an absolute must for DJs; you don’t want a prima donna or know-it-all with which to deal. While DJs are artists — and in addition to spinning recordings many DJs are often also vocalists and song writers — they are also professionals who are being paid to deliver a top-notch service for their clients.
The main job of the DJ is to make music. To help organize the music and dancing, the DJ should provide his playlist to the wedding couple to review, make selections, suggest additions of their favorite music and cross off any music that they do not want. It is important that the bride and groom have the particular selections they want for their first dance and other special dances as well as for general enjoyment throughout the wedding. This should be worked out between the DJ and the couple as far in advance as possible to allow time to assemble the music in the proper order and to acquire any specially requested pieces. The styles of music, the mix and pacing, and consideration of the guests should all be taken into account and discussed with the DJ so everyone is on the same page.
For those couples who are planning a religious ceremony, it’s important to check with the particular house of worship to arrange for the ceremony music, which might have some restrictions; these might include no recorded music or the stipulation that the music must be provided by the religious institution, such as the organist or choir. For those planning a secular ceremony, the DJ might be hired to stage the music for both the ceremony and reception, as well as the prelude. For further details on this, see my entry, Music From the Prelude to the Last Dance.
Making Announcements and Introductions
When arranging for the DJ to act as MC as well, he should present exciting but tasteful announcements and introductions. My advice is to prepare a script for the DJ to follow so there are no surprises or embarrassing gaffes; at the very least the DJ should be provided with an agenda and the names and correct pronunciations of the bride and groom and wedding party for their introductions at the beginning of the reception, as well as the names of any other guests you wish him to introduce or honor, along with the proper commentary.
Be sure that the DJ/MC knows how you, as the wedding couple, wish to be introduced as you enter the reception following your wedding party. Many young, modern couples no longer appreciate the, “Please welcome for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. John Doe.” Instead, many are opting for the more current, “Please welcome our newly married couple, Jane and John (Last name optional, depending on the bride’s decision whether or not to keep her own last name)” or “Please welcome and congratulate Jane and John in their first appearance as husband and wife.”
The DJ/MC should maintain the style and decorum that you establish and refrain from going off on his own tangent and lapsing into a stand-up performance. It’s fine if you want that; go for it and provide your DJ with some ideas for witty remarks. Otherwise, make sure the DJ sticks to your program and does not wander off into his own instead. This occasion is not about your DJ; it’s about showcasing you, your wedding party, family and guests.
The best way to ensure success is to establish good communications up front, have a solid discussion with your DJ and provide him with your precise wishes and general timing of each portion of your wedding from beginning to end, or for the period that he will be employed. Keep your DJ updated on any changes and make certain that everything is coordinated with other major players to keep everyone on track.
Read the Fine Print
Getting the arrangement in writing is just the beginning of sealing the deal. You have to read the contract from start to finish — including the fine print and special clauses — and understand what you are signing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything you don’t understand and take care that everything you want is included.
Some things on which to focus are:
- Payment – How much and when it’s due. Is it all-inclusive of travel costs, equipment rental, etc.?
- Cancellation Policy – Is there a cancellation time frame in which your full deposit will be refunded or forfeited? What happens if the DJ cancels for any reason — will she provide a comparable replacement, or if there is time to find your own replacement, will she refund your entire deposit or payment and allow you to hire another DJ of your choice? Will you lose your deposit if the DJ provides — in your view — an unacceptable replacement that you reject?
- Liability Insurance – Does your DJ carry liability insurance to protect her equipment? Is that included in the cost so that the wedding couple is not liable for any damage or theft of the DJs equipment? Or are such eventualities covered under your wedding insurance?
- Hours of Service – How many hours will the DJ perform and how many breaks will she take?
- Substitutions – If you are dealing with a company, will the DJ you interviewed be the one who will actually show up?
- Overtime – If there are delays or for any other reason the DJ winds up working more hours than agreed upon, will there be an extra charge and how will it be billed — as a flat fee or hourly charge?
When dealing with contracts or if you decide to hire more than one company or opt to have a DJ for part of the celebration and a band for another portion, it would be wise to hire an experienced wedding planner to help you coordinate and navigate negotiations, pricing and contracts. If you would rather not involve a wedding planner or wish to avoid the cost you might ask a family member who is in business or law or a member of the wedding party who has gone through a wedding or two and is savvy about vendors and contracts to help you with this. Omitting something from the contract or failing to understand the terms could prove costly and disappointing down the road. Be smart and savvy in your dealings and decisions.
Care and Feeding of Your DJ
Even if it’s not in the contract, the wedding hosts are expected to provide a meal for the DJ and any other musicians that they hire. You can check with your caterer, who is most likely fully familiar with the requirement to feed certain vendors, and provide a list of vendors who will need a meal so they can be added to the total count. Providing a meal, or allowing the DJ to help herself to the buffet when he is on break will be to the benefit of everyone by keeping the DJ happy and performing at peak level and maintaining a good relationship with this important wedding vendor.
Here’s to your wonderful wedding, full of music and dancing in your honor!
Until next time,