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Wedding DJ Tips & Advice

How to choose a wedding DJ
In This Section:There are thousands of wedding disc jockeys!  But how do you find the wedding disc jockey that's perfect for you? Here you'll find all the caveats to avoid, questions to ask, what DJ equipment they should be using, and what you should have included in your contract. Many tips on this page are only our opinion, you must choose what you feel is right for your wedding. 

Choosing your wedding DJ is the best part of your wedding preparations. You get to meet a lot of people who are generally nice, outgoing, and personable. Of course the big debate is DJ or Band. That's always one of the hard decisions a newlywed couple must make. The biggest advantage a wedding DJ has over a band is cost. There are some lousy bands out there and many awesome bands too, but many bands can cost a lot of money. I saw an excellent band at a function that charges $4000 for the 8 member group.

Band Or DJ? That is the question!
This article focuses on DJs.  I'm not saying don't use a band, just make sure they are good. Don't hire a band you can not see or hear first either at a function from someone you know perhaps, that you just happen to be at or view for a few minutes on a video. People tend to get married within a year or so of their friends, and may end up seeing some of their future wedding vendors at work on another wedding. Remember, the bands need to take breaks, so they actually play only a few 15-20 minute sets.  

But this article is about DJ's anyway.  We chose a DJ for our wedding due to cost, and we did not have to worry about a marginal singer crooning our favorite songs out of tune, which we see a lot of here in Florida. Just because someone is a good singer in a good band, does not mean the rest of the world is.  Anyone who plays in a band has seen their share of awful bands.  And when a consumer advocate like me tries to point out both sides of the coin to consumers, the losers come out of woodwork to complain how useless I am.  Those are the people you need to avoid.  But I suspect that you'll have the least amount of problems with your DJ than any other vendor, because the vast majority of DJs are great.  But Keep in mind, I've been to maybe 12 weddings in my life and 3 of those 12 weddings (25%) I thought the DJ sucked.  I always get several opinions to be certain I'm remaining impartial, and several other guests at these weddings back me up.
 

How To Set Your Wedding To Music
 
The perfect wedding songs

 

All 3 of these wedding song CDs are on Amazon.com.  If you're serious about your wedding music, a must have book & CD package is How To Set Your Wedding To Music, with wedding songs.  It's a complete wedding song planner showing you how to musically plan every special moment. It takes the confusion out of what wedding songs get played, and when. This small spiral bound planner fits in your purse, and has lists of top wedding songs with chapters of tips on hiring bands & DJs, contract tips. It lists popular wedding songs, traditional wedding songs, from preludes to last dances, wedding ceremony songs, and tips on selecting wedding music. The book has worksheets to keep you organized every step of the way including songs for the prelude, processional, bride's entrance, wedding ceremony music, unity candle, recessional, wedding reception music like bride and groom songs, wedding first dance songs, ethnic dances, and cutting the cake. The book has budgeting options, useful wedding music and wedding web sites, and wedding planning tips.  Of the 18 songs on the included CD, some were used as wedding songs on "The Guiding Light" and "Another World". There's also an instrumental version of Andrea Bocelli's hit, "Con Te Partiro" and a nice Celtic version of "The Wedding Song". There's other traditional wedding songs such as Pachelbel's Canon In D.  The authors have impressive musical credits, winning 2 Emmys, and penned songs for Cher and others. If you know someone who is getting married, get this as a gift for them as soon as you learn of their wedding plans, you'll be their hero. There are 2 other  related  CDs you can order. One of them is For Your Wedding Ceremony. This is great to use for wedding ceremony music with 15 traditional wedding processional music, wedding recessional music, and wedding march music. Looking for father daughter dance music or mother and son dance music? The 3rd CD, Yours, Mine & Ours, has father daughter wedding songs, and mother son wedding songs.


 
Since we were going to hear top 40 anyway, why not hear the real thing, the DJ is cheaper, and they are there dynamically working the crowd for 4 hours.  In rare cases a band might party hardy and decide they don't want to show up. This probably happens more than a DJ not showing up. They always arrive late at my friend's recording studio. And before any musicians get all indignant, it happened to my sister. She hired a highly recommended harpist who was out getting drunk when she should have been at the wedding. Luckily I had brought a wedding CD and the catering manager brought out a CD player, and we had music for me to walk her up the aisle with. This does not mean it will happen to you, but it does happen.  Just monitor the alt.wedding newsgroup for 2 weeks and you'll see how often it happens.
 

Get References From Friends, Coworkers, Reception Halls.
Your best resource is people you know. Ask around, try locally famous DJs from radio stations. Some people moonlight as wedding DJs and are great. Talk to recent newlyweds. If you are having the reception at a decent hotel or resort, they may have a list of preferred vendors that you may want to call. This list contains vendors that the resort has worked with and knows to be reliable and professional. Remember, the resort's reputation is stake also. But beware of secondary hotels or reception sites that might not be as scrupulous. Some caterers may get a kickback, so know who you are dealing with. Our DJ was recommended to us by the catering manager at the Boca Raton Resort where we had the reception. Our DJ did her wedding, and she oversees many weddings every year so she knew who the right DJ was, and boy was she right!

Interview 3 - 5 Disc Jockeys.
Don't just rush right in to pick your wedding DJ, they all have different personalities. Ask to see videos from previous weddings so you can view a few minutes of their work. A better alternative to a video would be if you can see your DJ at another wedding before you make your decision. If you have any special songs, ask the DJ if they have it or can get it. Depending on how complex your reception is, if your reception is in a big well known resort or hotel you really want a true professional who works in the big places, not someone who travels around the condo clubhouse circuit. Many DJ's may get offended by this, but you really want someone with the experience of working with the catering departments of these larger venues.  This synergy between DJ and catering manager is what keeps your function running smoothly.  A DJ's talent should reach far beyond just motivating the crowd or making the announcements at the right time.  They must have their finger on the pulse of your wedding and know everything that is going on.  The only way this can happen is when they have a good working relationship with the venue staff.
 
Recommended Reading:

How To Avoid DJ Horror Stories Written by a knowledgeable DJ, this book debunks common DJ-related myths; alerts you to the sleazy tactics used by ethically-challenged DJs, while also teaching you to spot those all-too-familiar cheesy DJs. Now you can make an informed, confident decision regarding the most important element of any event--the music. 

Questions To Ask Your Potential DJ:

Ask the DJ if they have ever performed at your reception site before. It helps that they know the place, how to get there, and they have a report with the staff there.  They may also be better prepared to deal with known issues or caveats with the reception hall. Every little thing like this just makes it less likely that you will have any problems.  It does not mean you should not use the DJ if they have not been there before, it just gives them another notch in their favor.

What type of attire will your DJ be wearing at your wedding?  Sounds like a no brainer, but you usually want them in a tuxedo or whatever type of dress that you request.  The DJ at my brother's wedding was wearing black jeans and a shirt that was hanging out.  He was supposed to be wearing a tuxedo.  Even the photographer went up to this DJ and chastised him.

Ask them about their company, their experience, and if they will play CD's you provide.  Some DJ's will have a stock list of songs they play and except for the first dance, do not give you much choice. Our DJ to allowed us to choose at least 50% of the songs which is not the norm, but let your DJ be your guide as to what songs should be played. A good DJ will read the crowd and know what to play.  Just make sure they know what not to play, or any specials songs that you do want them to play, and let them handle the rest. Ask if they will accept a request from your guests. You want a wedding DJ who is flexible, and has a selection, so that requests from your guests can be fulfilled. This step is VERY crucial, because the DJ will be playing about 60 songs during your reception, and you want nothing but the best tunes to keep your dance floor crowded. If the DJ needs to intervene and suggest a song, heed them as they generally know what they are doing and keep up with the current trends. You want a DJ who can adapt to any crowd.  This DJ will be someone who is very well versed in all areas music. Don't try to give the DJ a tape or a list of 100% of the songs to play for the night.  You hired a DJ not a juke box operator.  If they just stuck to your play list, I can guarantee you that you'll have an empty dance floor, because your musical taste is not the same as 120 other people at your wedding. By playing just a tape that you give them, your DJ would lose the ability to dynamically read the crowd and adjust the mix of songs accordingly. Let your DJ do their job and they will keep your guests happy.

Ask the DJ where they will setup in the room, and if they bring a dance floor with them.  This is a rare need, but keep in mind that some reception sites require the DJ to bring a dance floor depending on what room you choose for the reception. Some hotel banquet halls like the one we used were all carpeted, and just don't have a hard floor for dancing.  Also, you MAY not want a DJ who comes in and elevates themselves on the stage. We liked our DJ's philosophy that the DJ should NEVER overshadow the bride and groom and he did NOT want to be up on the stage. Rather, he setup off the right, and bucking tradition at the resort, we put the entire bridal party head table up on the stage. This allowed more space in the room for the guests, and ALL of them could see us too.

Be sure to feed your DJ.  Ask the DJ if they want to be fed, some want food, some do not want to eat while they work.  They deserve it though, because they might be there 4 hours with nothing to eat or drink.. The caterer needs to know so they can bill you accordingly. They usually make sandwiches for the DJ's, musicians, photographers, etc., or you can just let them eat off your buffet. But check with the resort on the pricing, you would not want them to charge you $100 per head for the DJ and their assistant. Our DJ refused to be served food, don't know why. He feels we are spending enough money and should not have to spend more to feed the DJ, so he eats before the wedding.  He also felt it was unprofessional for the DJ to be eating when they should be working. We really admired his philosophy on this topic, but it's still ok to feed them, they'll be there 4 hours. The hotel would have charged $18 for his food. We could not even get him to take a Coke.  It's always nice to feed your vendors.  We even gave him some chocolate and a centerpiece to take home to his wife after the reception.

Ask for a list of wedding requests and suggestions in all categories. Some DJs have a request form for you to fill out.

While not a necessity, ask the DJ if they ever do corporate functions. If you can get a talented experienced wedding DJ who has experience in corporate functions also, then you really have someone worth their weight in gold, because these are true professionals dealing with large scale projects and all the SNAFUs that go along with them. The DJ we chose does numerous corporate functions in addition to being an excellent wedding DJ, and companies have paid to fly him all over the place. If you are a DJ, this is a good selling point. Not a deal maker, but impressive, and it's ok to use a DJ that does not do corporate work.

Ask the DJ what problems they have encountered at weddings and how they got around them. And of course, what's the cost? Most DJ's charge $400 and up, way up depending on the area.  Your area may be less or more.  There are moonlighting DJ's that might only charge $200.  As an example, our DJ's employees charged $500. But we chose the owner, who was $750. Our DJ charges a bit more than most local DJ's, as he is very much in demand and highly recommended by several of our vendors.  That's a great way to find vendors also.  When several different vendors all point to the same person as the best, they are usually right. Our DJ more than proved he was worth his weight in gold, as the evening went flawless, not one incidence of feedback, and the wireless headphone mic never gave out on him. Friends of mine several years ago had a local famous radio station DJ do their wedding, that was pretty cool.

Let the DJ ask you questions too like what you do or don't want to hear. You want someone who takes an interest in what YOU want. We also met with the DJ one last time a few days before the wedding where he phonetically went over each person's name he was going to introduce at the wedding. This is a great added touch because no one likes to have their name mispronounced at a wedding. You may want to hire the owner of the DJ company, like we did, even though they usually charge more than the employees. The owner usually is the smartest one and has the most experience.

Stupid DJ Tricks You may want to prevent some of these things from happening at your reception, a lot of them are preference.

No Business Cards On Display!
We were at a wedding where the DJ had several different vendors' business cards sprawled out on top a speaker, and it made the place look like a flea market. If anyone wants the DJ's card, they can ask for one. It's not like he's going to dole out 120 cards that night.  One or 2 at most so he can keep them in his pocket. Your reception is not a community bulletin board. All DJs take note: In our opinion, this is one of the tackiest things DJs do.  Many guests at weddings we attended agree. This was the first thing we demanded but of course our DJ did not condone this activity either.  I've had a few DJ's tell me that this is acceptable, as they claim people don't want to interrupt a DJ for their card. This will always be a controversial issue, but let me just point out that the DJ we used agrees with us and does not believe in putting business cards out.  It all depends on your comfort factor.  How about a compromise.  I should point out that everyone I asked about this disagrees with the DJs who send us the letters telling us how wrong we are on this subject, and some of them are down right rude and arrogant about it.  OK so we are wrong and all our friends are wrong, and all our co workers are wrong, and we are the customers who don't really know what we want, and we are all ust wrong?  Give me a break.

No Revolving Police Lights!
See this light off to the left? You don't want it at your wedding. This is just OUR opinion, but this is on the Tacky Top Ten.

Not Enough Good Music Selection!
We attended a wedding where my own 430 CDs were more than the DJ's! I know, he may only play 60 songs the whole night, so how many CD's does he need? Apparently he did not have the standard songs that guests were requesting, nor could he read the crowd to play the songs that would keep them dancing.  At one wedding the DJ really played some old dried out useless songs, and did not have half the songs people requested.  The quality is more important than the quantity.  Most DJ's use many compilation CD's and order through a record pool buying service These compilations are great cost effective ways for DJ's to buy all the hits.  Why spend $12.00 on a CD with 1 or 2 hits when you can spend $12.00 on a CD with 20 hits? 

The problem with the DJ at my friend's wedding was he had about 100 regular CD's, so I would have to fish through 10 of them to find 2 decent hits that I thought the crowd might enjoy.  This DJ and his setup were not even facing the dance floor!! Could anyone be more stupid! He spent most of the time with his back to the dance floor (his equipment was facing the back wall) flipping through his small collection of CDs for the next song when he should have been reading the crowd. He even played several songs more than once! Loser! Then he complained to me that no one was out there dancing. Gee, I think we're going to have to book time on the Pentagon's Cray III computer to figure this one out. Obviously the DJ did not determine ahead of time what musical preferences would be, nor did he read the crowd properly. So no wonder the dance floor was empty.

A BAD DJ CAN RUIN THE BEST OF WEDDINGS!
The same aforementioned DJ asked me to pick a few songs from his collection to get the crowd going, which I did. He lacked 2 songs that several guests asked to hear, which every DJ should have. Also, he did such a poor job wiring his Karaoke monitor, that he had to fiddle with it a many times during the reception, and finally gave up.  No more Karaoke. He hardly ever got on the mic to motivate anyone to dance either. It seemed like he was there to just queue up CD's and nothing else. Heck I'd have done that for free and saved my friend the money and aggravation. The bride was upset after the wedding about this.  No wonder the DJ complained to me there was no one on the dance floor. We had to choose a couple of tunes for him which DID fill the dance floor. If the DJ is not constantly motivating the crowd, the floor will be empty, and your reception will be a bust. It's like a strange quiet party. You need constant motivation from an experienced crowd pleaser. This same DJ did not even help us during the Macarena (it was the craze back then). At our wedding, the DJ and assistant both showed us the moves so we did not all crash into each other and abandon the floor like my friend's wedding.  After the wedding the bride expressed her anguish, shaking her head, saying this guy came highly recommended.  Keep in mind this is the exception, not the norm. 

The DJ at my brother's wedding really screwed things up.  He was so highly recommended by everyone and my brother was at a loss for words trying to figure out how everything went south on him.  The DJ did not play the songs he was supposed to play.  He missed the song for the Bride & Dad dance, a big mistake.  During the Groom & Mom dance, the groom and mom were kept waiting alone on the empty dance floor for 5 minutes because the DJ could not get his player to work.  Let's see I think you just push the one that says "play"....

Most DJ's are excellent, but you can see the importance of a little due diligence ahead of time.  Try to see them at a function first or on video.

DJ's Should Know The Itinerary!
It is the DJ's responsibility to know when all the events are supposed to occur during reception, like cake cutting, bouquet tosses, birthday surprises, etc. The DJ we mentioned in the preceding paragraph did not know when anything was being done. Around cake cutting time, I asked him when it was going to occur and he had no clue. The DJ's job is to work with catering, and know when meals are being served and when the milestone events are to take place. NOBODY in the whole wedding knew when anything was happening so it was somewhat confusing. The DJ and the caterer should have this under control before your reception begins! The DJ, caterer, and Photographer should all be in contact and playing off the same sheet of music.

Corded Mics Are Pass!
I'm sure some DJ's will gripe at me for this, but the the mic chord is a safety hazard, and it is restricting.  A wireless mic system, if properly setup and sound checked, and stocked with a redundant backup with batteries, should work out just fine.  Sure there's headaches associated with wireless systems, but testing and redundancy is the key.  We had no problems at all during our 4 hour reception, and our DJ used only a wireless headset the whole evening.  This is not a requirement, just a preference.  Many fine DJ's are still using corded mics.  Also, some areas you just cannot use wireless mics due to local interference.

What about Chicken Dance, or Hokey Pokey?
Some people love it, some people hate it. The consensus among our friends and numerous coworkers is that we made the right choice in NOT allowing it in our wedding. I believe these songs are outlawed in fifteen states now, anyway. Just kidding. Most guests feel Uncomfortable doing these cheesy dances. I even felt uncomfortable doing the Macarena.  But it's your wedding, and you might want to hear them, that's fine too.  But the point is at least let the DJ know your preference.  If you hate these songs, you would hate to be surprised by your DJ playing them at the reception.  Group effort songs (i.e. the old "Electric Slide" always fills the floor. The Macarena and the Electric Slide became popular in their day because people who can't dance will usually get up and dance to a "group activity song.  A good conga line will always fill the floor.  Each group of people is different. I polled several friends, coworkers, and wedding guests of other weddings we attended, and it was unanimous:  No Chicken Dance, it belongs at Octoberfest, not a wedding.  But then many DJs email us to say that it's a favorite crowd pleaser at many weddings they do. Your group of people might have the best time in the world with it, but it's your decision.

You want a wedding DJ who can motivate a crowd:

Technical Issues.
Everyone overlooks this, but it is an important factor when choosing your DJ. You are paying money for a professional and they better know their equipment. Ask them what speakers and amps they use. The better names are JBL and Electrovoice, with the "EV" on the speaker. This is another reason why you asked the DJ if they do corporate affairs, because they may use the same high quality equipment at your wedding.  You don't want them using home stereo amplifiers and speakers because they will fail under the volume of use.  We were at a wedding once and could not hear the DJ announcing the bridal party because the volume was too low and it was muffled, all base and hardly any treble. This DJ did not test the acoustics of the room with a simple sound check before they started. Can you say.... Equalizer?  This is why they must have good equipment, and know how to set it up. 

A DJ with a wireless headset is a plus. With the headset mic, the element is always right in front of the DJ's mouth, and the gain need not be set as high as a handheld microphone. Thus the headset is less likely to cause feedback, and if they place the antenna properly, there won't be any noise or interference.  Also the DJ can easily roam around hands free, or even blend in with the crowd during group effort dances.  Sometimes wireless mics are not practical in areas where there is interference.  If a DJ tells you wireless mics don't work, or give excuses why they don't work, it's because they either used cheap equipment, did not want to spend the money, or simply did not know how to properly setup tricky setup wireless mics.  They can be difficult to setup.  I've been to dozens of concerts with wireless mics and never saw a problem.  Used properly, these units are great tools of the trade.  On the other hand, I've seen DJs walk around swinging the mic, not noticing they are about to step into the Twilight Zone in front of the speaker and violate Jeff's Law of Wedding Acoustics mentioned earlier. Then, a loud shrill of feedback fills the room.

Lighting is another thing to consider. Can your DJ get additional lighting? Some people want it, some could care less if they want to save money. But we wanted to put on a show they would remember. If you want state of the art lighting, some of the bigger DJ companies can master this for you very easily. Again, this is where DJs with corporate event experience really excel. They usually have the top notch lighting, not old cheesy disco balls with 2 glorified lawn lights. We did go a little overboard, spending $800 on an intelligent lighting system consisting of 4 intelligent units and 2 sound activated gobos. Man what a show that was. The ballroom was FILLED with light. Many guests told us it looked like a rock concert, with numerous beams everywhere. And this did not upset the older crowd either, which was a worry of mine. We were pleasantly surprised to see many of them out there dancing the new tunes with us. This may not be for all of you, but if you have the means, go for it. Our wedding video looks like Soul Train. I was surprised that our DJ tried to talk us out of this package, stating corporations are the typical customer. But more and more "consumer" affairs are going this way.
 
 
BridalTips.com Consumer Alert 
You Must Have A Clear, Concise, Written Contract! The contract should clearly state WHO will be your DJ. If it is the owner, you want that name on there. You spent time interviewing the owner and you want that DJ listed. Be wary if they try to leave the name off, there could be a bait and switch. If they are using an assistant, make them itemize that as well. Did you agree to rent any additional lighting through your DJ? Better have that on there too.  Your contract should list what type of standard lighting you are getting as well.  Also have them list what their overtime charge is in case you decide to run late. You don't want any surprises there. Make sure all correct dates, times, address, phone numbers, and deposits are listed.

So what was our final package? We had the owner for 4 hours at $750, plus $850 for the computerized lighting. This also included an assistant, which is a great thing for a DJ to have. I know we went overboard, but what a show.  It was still cheaper than the bands we looked at.  One band was $12000!  We ended up keeping the DJ for an extra hour and paid another $150, which was already stated in the contract. Sure this seems steep, and yes we could have done just the bare bones package, but it was a typical wedding for professional working people like my wife and I.  This is not necessarily the way to go if you are trying to save money.  Remember though, you get what you pay for.  We got more than what we paid for.  How many weddings were you at where several guests commented it was the best DJ they've ever seen?  Our wedding was like that.

There are plenty of inexpensive DJs out there who will give you a wonderful evening. Some of you may not want all the glitz and flash we had. Some of you will be happy with an informal DJ who DOES do the condo or bar circuit. We just wanted to shed the light on it and abuse our First Amendment rights by stating many of our opinions on certain subjects. We did find the DJs however, to be the easiest of all the wedding industry people to work with. And you don't have to spend $1600!

Can I Have This Dance?
 
We had a beautiful, mystical grandiose 7:00 minute New Age piece called Antarctica  from the album Themes - Best Of Vangelis  playing as our guests ascended up the twin spiral staircases into the ballroom.  Our DJ liked our choice of this song and may use it at future weddings. If you decide to have CD's played at the ceremony, I highly recommend Hymne  as a great song to walk the bride down the aisle. This song is also found on Themes - Best Of Vangelis. This spiritually classy moving piece of new age excellence was popular on the Gallo Wine TV ads in the late 80's. If you want to hear what Hymne sounds like, click here: Hymne.mid   Keep in mind, the CD sounds much better, and much more grandiose and ethereal than than the cheezey midi file.  The MIDI file is not a recording of the actual song, but a playback of a synthesizer that was saved as sort of a "player piano" type file that your sound card can play.

 
We supplied the CD for our First Dance to the DJ, which was The romantic Anyone Can Light A Candle from the excellent Jon & Vangelis album Page Of Life.  One of the truly greet songs in existence. The First Dance for the rest of the crowd was "And When The Night Comes  from the Jon & Vangelis album Private Collection.  This is in my opinion one of the top CDs ever made from two incredible music talents. Both songs will leave your guests breathless. The music is a reflection of your unique personality. If you want to leave your guests impressed with how classy the music was at your wedding, these songs here will do it.  They are refreshingly unlike any music you normally listen to.

Some useful sites for you to use:

WeDJ.com  is a great resource you can use to lookup Djs and Photographers in your area, along with other merchants. 

This one offers some tips on avoiding some common DJ scams:  http://www.musicdj.com
Good luck, and let me know how you did in your search for the perfect wedding DJ!

 

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