Picking a DJ may be one of the most important decisions you make for your wedding. They more than provide a soundtrack for your wedding – they’re in charge of handling the mood, tone, pulse, and flow of your reception. Making the wrong choice can put your guests off, cost you unnecessary time and money, and undo months of hard work.
How can you prepare yourself and make sure you’re making the best choice for your event? Let’s start with what a wedding DJ actually does – it’s a lot more than you might think.
You and your guests will spend 12 times as long at your reception as you will at your ceremony (for a 20 minute ceremony, 4 hour reception). That means the vast majority of your memories (and your guests’ memories!) will be made at the reception. This is also where your guests will either have a great time or cut out early - that’s why your choice of DJ can be so important.
What does a DJ actually do?
Most DJs are single genre DJs, meaning they play one type of music. A Wedding DJ has to be versatile and well-versed across every style you’re going to want at your wedding, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A skilled and professional Wedding DJ will help you plot out your reception to highlight your key moments and preferred music. Arriving promptly, they will set up the sound and lighting you’ve requested to your exact specifications so that guests will be able to hear and see exactly what you want them to. Professional DJs will also Emcee your event to make sure your guests know what’s happening and what’s coming next, providing the necessary flow and structure to the event. They will coordinate with your other vendors to make sure that everyone who needs to be involved is present before any of your planned events or dances start. Finally, they will help your guests have a great time by rocking your dance floor with the music you love, paying attention to your guests and guiding them through the event seamlessly with great song selection and appropriate microphone presence and interaction.
Notice that “playing music” was last on that list. Most of a DJ’s skilled efforts will become very clear before they ever open up the dance floor. Your DJ will be the one vendor your guests have the most interaction with and strongest memory of.
Sound & Lighting
Many professional DJs will be able to provide you with a variety of options to compliment your event, including additional speakers for cocktail hour, subwoofers, uplighting, custom GOBOs, and ceremony systems. Sound quality matters, and a professional DJ will make sure to take the number of guests at your wedding and the size of your ceremony & reception venues into account when recommending a package. Big events need bigger sound.
A professional DJ will be set up before your guests even arrive. Most will show up at your venue several hours before they’re scheduled to start to make sure everything is precisely in place before the first guest arrives. Some DJs will charge extra for the set-up time, others will include it in their package.
How can you tell? First, listen to their mixes or watch their video. You’ll get a great sense of how they carry the evening though, which is really what you should be looking for. How are the transitions? Are songs flowing together nicely? If all their mixes are of one type of music you’re probably going to hear that at your reception too.
They’ll have the music you want to hear and edited versions of anything that might be inappropriate for mixed company (i.e. your parents). They’ll have most mainstream songs and will be able to pull special requests for you given enough time before the event. They should also ask you how you feel about guest requests.
Reviews are also an important way to get a sense of how previous couples felt about working with that person. Some DJs will happily provide you with contact information; others may post or send you reviews. A little bit of digging here probably tells you most of what you’ll need to know. It’s recommended that you pay attention to how old or recent the reviews are. Too far in one direction is a sign something is off.
Event Direction & Microphone Presence
A professional DJ will be available to you and help guide you through the planning process, showing you everything you’ll need to provide in order to ensure that your event goes they way you want it to. Many have some type of planning form, you’ll want them to walk you through it to make sure you’re providing them with what they need to be successful.
Remember – your Wedding DJ is the link between your plan and what actually happens. Event direction matters.
The DJ’s microphone presence is one element that dictates part of how your event will feel. They need to be able to announce every formal element of your reception cleanly and with the character and personality you want. Some professional DJs are going to be able to do it all and will tailor their approach to your specific instructions. The evening should flow smoothly and they should be able to handle last minute changes and “emergencies” with professionalism and grace.
You can expect your Wedding DJ to complement your reception and bring out the event you’re looking for. If you’ve done some very basic homework and follow these simple rules you’re in for a great time:
Check their mixes/videos and reviews.
Find out a little more about their background and experience. How many weddings have they done in the past couple of years? Check in on some previous clients if you can. Photographers see a lot of DJs, find out if they’ve worked with any lately and get their input.
What is their wedding preparation and what can you do to make sure they’ve got everything they need to be successful? Phonetically spell complicated names for your DJ - your guests will appreciate it.
See if they have any recommendations for your event.
Ask about how they might pace your reception and how they’ll work with other vendors. Make sure they’re comfortable on the microphone.
Get everything in writing! A professional will provide you with a written contract (and peace of mind!) detailing exactly what their services will be and what the final cost will be. Most professionals will also be insured.
Get a ‘Finals’ meeting (or phone call) set up before your wedding to run through everything together. Since your DJ is such a huge part of your event you’ll want to make sure everyone’s on the same page.