What to ask your DJ BEFORE the wedding!

The wedding itself was perfect!
Everyone showed up on time for the ceremony, the flower girl and ring bearer didn't trip going up the aisle, your mother only needed 10 handkerchiefs, and your fiancé remembered all his vows.

Dinner was great, too! The food was hot and delicious, and the MC kept the crowd in stitches. Even though you may never want to kiss your new husband again, especially if you hear one more spoon hitting a glass, it all went well.

So then why did everyone leave so early?
And why do you have this sinking feeling that the whole thing was a flop? OK, so the DJ played two songs that you all knew and then went into a very loud session of club mixes and rap.

You were willing to overlook his torn jeans, and red and pink Mohawk haircut, but it was a bit much when he decided to take to the dance floor after his 8th beer and treat us to his own form of dancing.

Sound familiar? Even if it doesn't, it can and does happen all the time. When planning a wedding or any party where there is going to be music and dancing, the DJ is often the most overlooked item. Why? Because most people feel that the DJ is the least important aspect of the whole night. Think again.

You could have the most perfect wedding ceremony, the most beautiful church or hall, the best dinner ever, and the most entertaining MC.

But the thing that most people will remember about your wedding is the reception, because aside from your immediate relatives and best friends, that is what most people look forward to when they are invited to a wedding. The food! The party! The music and dancing!

The fact is, if the food and/or the DJ is bad, this is what most of your guests will remember.
But if these things are good, your wedding or party will be forever remembered as one of the really great times a group of people had together.

So how does it happen that the DJ is so overlooked? One word—budget. By the time money has been put out for the "must haves", such as the wedding dress, tuxedo rentals, bridal party clothes and gifts, rings, flowers, church/hall rental, limousine, decorations, photographer, hair, invitations, food, wine, and honeymoon, there's not much left over for a DJ.

And unfortunately, you usually get what you pay for.

However, there are ways to ensure that you get value for your money. It's all a matter of knowing what to look for and asking the right questions.

The first thing to do is to find a DJ in your area. It is advisable to use a company that operates in the same area where you plan to hold the reception, otherwise you will most likely be charged travel time.

Pick three companies that sound suitable and call or e-mail.
Give them an hour to get back to you. They will get back to you within that time if they want your business badly enough. If not, it is better to pick another company to query. 

Some disc jockeys have full-time jobs elsewhere and consider the disc jockey business a sideline. You must decide whether you want someone who is fully dedicated to the business, or someone who is only doing it as a secondary source of income.

The first question to ask is obviously price.
The disc jockey company will need to know how many people will be attending, how many hours the DJ will be needed, and the size and location of the hall/venue.

The size of the crowd is not as important as the size of the venue, because the disc jockey will be more concerned with what kind of equipment he will need for your party, and this will be based on the size of the hall/room.

For example, if your party is going to be held in a smallish-type room such as you would book at a hotel or conference centre, you would only need a basic sound system. By "basic" I mean that it has to have more "oomph" than the system that sits in most household living-rooms, but it also doesn't have to have the extra amplification that would be needed for the bigger halls.

A basic disc jockey system consists of: two good speakers, a mixing board, two CD players and/or a computer, and a professional set of music (more on this later).

If you are having a large reception and/or a party in an older, bigger hall, you will need a bigger system. In most cases this means that you need extra amplification added to the "basic" system.

Usually all this means is more powerful speakers, or some kind of "booster". There should not be a big price variation between the two systems.

The important thing is to make sure the disc jockey company has a system that is powerful enough to "drive" the venue.
The bigger the space, the more powerful the system needs to be. There are some instances where even a small space will need a more powerful system.

For example, I once did a party on a small cruise ship. The crowd only numbered about 100 and the room was fairly small, so we figured on our small system. Wrong!

What wasn't taken into consideration was that the room was on a ship, so it was long (the length of the ship) and low ceilinged. I was placed at one end and had the speakers positioned to shoot out sound the whole length of the room.

The trouble was, there was a tiny dance floor in front of me, a full bar in the centre that literally split the room in half, and tables and chairs filling up every other bit of available space.

So even when I pushed the sound to full capacity, I was only barely reaching the bar in the centre (after cutting through all the tables, chairs and bodies). The result was that all the people sitting near me almost went deaf from the sound, while those seated around the bar or behind it couldn't hear the music at all.

On top of that, I risked having the system blow on me and then there wouldn't have been any music at all. It's kind of hard to call in for a back-up system when you're on a boat.

Had we been able to take a look at the venue before doing the party, we may have decided on a different system (for example, four smaller speakers mounted on stands in each corner, using the two by the DJ to control the dance floor at a louder level, while the other two could be used to play music to the rest of the crowd and entice them onto the dance floor).

There would have been a minimal extra cost for this system, but at least it would have been a successful party.

This is why one of the most important things to ask the disc jockey company for is a free consultation.

A consultation is so beneficial to both parties if you have never heard of the DJ company before. However, if you have been to an event where the disc jockey company was playing and this is the reason you wish to hire them, a pre-consultation is not necessary. You already know you like this company.

If you do require a pre-consultation, it should take place at a time that is convenient to you, even if it's a Sunday afternoon or a weekday night, and at a place of your choosing. I like to go to the client's home, where I think they will be most comfortable. However, if this is not comfortable for you, don't hesitate to ask to meet in a nearby coffee shop or similar venue.

If the disc jockey company wants to charge for the consultation, then you're barking up the wrong tree. If they're not confident that they can do the best job for you, then the only money they're expecting to make is from the consultation. Sort of like a literary agent charging a "reading fee" for looking at your manuscript.

There are no set prices in the disc jockey business.
A reputable company will charge $550-$1,200 for a basic system. If you are quoted anything lower than $500, be very cautious. This is truly an industry where you get what you pay for. The price you are quoted usually depends on what time of year it is, the company's level of service, expertise, size of music library, quality of equipment, reputation, as well as any add-ons to the system (like extra speakers) and what kind of event it is.

For instance, you can expect a lower charge for a retirement party in February than a wedding in June. Like most businesses, DJ's have their slow seasons and busy times. The high seasons are May to September (weddings), Christmas, and New Year's Eve.

You can expect to pay higher during these seasons because these are the "high-demand" times. So if you were to get married in January, you would probably pay a lower price than if your wedding were in May.

Some companies offer different packages, with add-ons like lights, mirror balls, fog machines, etc. These things just make the price higher and are totally unnecessary for most events, especially weddings where you have a lot of older guests who don't appreciate flashing lights. Not to mention that it totally takes away from the romantic twinkle lights and candles that have already created a wonderfully romantic atmosphere. Lights don't make people dance; music does! They are great, however, for school dances and theme parties.

With weddings, there is an extra cost involved if you want the DJ to also do the ceremony music.

This price will vary depending on whether the ceremony is being held at the same venue as your reception, or whether it's somewhere else altogether. Travel time will come into effect here, especially if your ceremony is being held at a venue that is quite far from your reception venue. The cost of a ceremony, if at the same place as the reception, is usually anywhere from $150-200. Here again I caution you: many DJs do NOT know how to do the music for a ceremony, and/or do not know a thing about ceremony etiquette. This is the most important hour of your day—do not let a DJ mess this up for you. Be very, very sure that the DJ you hire for your ceremony actually knows what a ceremony IS.

Another thing that can change the price quoted to you is the length of the event.

Depending on the season and the equipment required, as discussed above, you should get a general flat rate from most of the disc jockey companies that falls into the same price range.

This flat rate should include setting up the show at a time that is convenient to the hall/hotel, providing cocktail and dinner music, playing all the "core" songs, such as First Dance, Cake Cutting, etc., and then providing a full night of dance music.

Most events happen between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. This is a normal night for a disc jockey. If you decide, at 1 a.m., that you want to go longer and it is okay with the hall/hotel, then the disc jockey company has the right to charge an extra fee. Usually it's another $100 per hour, and it must be paid up front. You should ask how much this cost is, in the consultation stage. It is also proper etiquette to give the DJ a cash tip at the end of the night, but only if he/she has made your event everything you hoped for. Just as you would with a waitress/waiter, you're not going to tip if the service was lousy.

There can also be extra costs involved if you have an early ceremony and then want the DJ to stay and play music until the reception room opens.

For instance, you may have a 2 p.m. ceremony on the lawn outside a venue, after which your guests will be served drinks and appetizers on the lawn until the room inside opens at 5:30 p.m. This means that your DJ would be playing from 1:30 p.m. (background music while guests are being seated) until 5 p.m. outside. He/she would then have to pack up his stuff, take it inside, and set it up again in order to be ready for the 5:30 p.m. reception indoors. If your reception ends at 1 a.m. the DJ would have then been providing music for 11 hours, all total. This is a very long time.

Once you've established what price range you're looking at, which also answers the question of what kind of equipment is required for your event, the most important thing to know is what kind of music library the disc jockey company has.

Contrary to popular belief, CDs are still the best kind of library to have. For many young people who have grown up on computers, there is the misconception that CDs are "dated" and it is impossible to get the same music on CDs as you can on computers. I ask a simple question of you: "Where do you think the music on the computers comes from?" Most of it is from CDs!! And if sound quality means anything to you at all at your function, then you most definitely will want a CD library.

The problem today is that the advent of illegal downloading brought us a whole new set of DJs, and most of them are REALLY bad. The death of CDs, as we know it, has also brought about the death of music knowledge. People are absolutely convinced that the song they just downloaded, that lists Tim McGraw as the singer, is gospel truth. I've had the worst time trying to convince a groom, for example, that Amazed by Lonestar was NOT Tim McGraw.

I had another bride who wanted Good Morning Beautiful by Steve Holy as her First Dance. She was absolutely convinced that it was Rascal Flatts. She gave me the copy she had taken from the Internet and so I took it home and put it in my CD player, along with the original Steve Holy CD. I went back and forth many times, just to make sure. The song she had taken from the internet was most DEFINITELY Steve Holy. However, she absolutely refused to believe me and even made gift CDs for her guests where she listed Rascal Flatts as the singer of this song. And guess what happens from here? Those 150 guests take that CD home, and then some of them download that CD into their computer and start file sharing. And suddenly you have 150,000 people who now think that Good Morning Beautiful is being sung by Rascal Flatts. I am a music fanatic, and this is a complete atrocity to me.

My company uses a mixture of PowerTrakks and Promo Only CDs. These are CD music libraries that are made specifically for DJs and sold only to registered disc jockey companies.

The PowerTrakks library is comprised of songs from as early as the 1930's up until the 2000's. There are close to 190 CDs in this library, each of them with 18-20 songs on each disc. They offer a huge variety of music, ranging from oldies, classic rock, disco, country, 80's, old-school 90's, grunge, alternative, punk, etc. Every category is covered, even standards like the chicken dance, polkas, novelty songs, Christmas carols, wedding marches, etc.

The Promo Only library comes from a Calgary-based company. They have many different libraries that you can subscribe to, and then you are sent a disc each month from that library that has 18-20 songs on each disc. I subscribe to three different libraries. One of them is called Mainstream, and this includes all the latest popular radio songs. It can include anything from Michael Buble and Jason Mraz to David Guetta, Pitbull, LMFAO and Kanye West. It covers popular adult contemporary through to the latest R&B, Hip Hop, dance and pop.

Another library I receive is Chart Radio. With this subscription I receive two CDs each month instead of one. This is the most up-to-date library of radio hits that I've ever seen. It includes the newest pop, R&B, dance, rap, Hip Hop, alternative and club hits.

Last but not least, I subscribe to the Country Collection as well, which includes all the latest JRFM country hits. Between the PowerTrakks and Promo Only libraries, we are able to keep up with at least 95% of all guest requests.

On top of these libraries, I supplement our music catalogue with CDs that I buy. We do our best to make sure we can supply every song that an event asks for.

For example, you may want some obscure song by an unknown artist from Greenland as your First Dance. Trust me, this happens. It is up to the disc jockey company to try and get this song for you. If you are being asked to supply every "core" song for your own event, then you have chosen the wrong DJ company.

Every professional disc jockey company will supply you with a form that will ask you for the specific "core" songs you need, what kind of music you require in general, the age group of your party, etc. They will then use this information to match up an appropriate DJ for your event.

Another thing most people don't think about when they hire the guy with the computer, is licensing. The PowerTrakks and Promo Only sets are fully licensed by the Audio-Video Licensing Agency (AVLA) and are only sold to bona fide disc jockey companies. Most computer libraries are not licensed. This means that if an agent from the AVLA happens to show up at your event and the disc jockey is using unlicensed music, that AVLA agent has the right to not only confiscate the music, but to shut down your event. It may not happen very often, but are you willing to take that chance?

It is up to you, as the client, to ask as many questions as you can about the disc jockey company who will be providing the music for your event.

Make sure, for example, that they don't give you the 20-year-old club DJ for your father's 80th birthday party. If you want a lot of country music played at your event, make sure you will be getting a DJ who knows country music. I have heard horror stories of events where country music was required, and the DJ played one Shania Twain disc all night because that was all he/she knew and had.

You also want to ensure that the DJ will dress appropriately for the occasion.
Showing up in jeans and a lumberman shirt for a wedding is not appropriate, and certainly not professional.

Another thing that you should discuss in your consultation is the type of venue that your event will take place at. Describe it in as much detail as possible so that the disc jockey company representative will know what type of equipment will be required.

If you can, also go into detail about how you plan to lay out the room, because this is also very important.

For example, I recently did a wedding in a large hall. They had placed me on the stage, hovering over the head table, with the speakers pointing out to all the other tables.

To the far left of the stage was a huge empty space, almost another room, that they decided would be the dance floor.

As soon as I walked in I saw that there would be a problem and I suggested to the people setting up the hall that they put the head table and other tables in the space to the left and leave the space in front of the stage for the dance floor. They said "no."

So after dinner, when it came time for the first dance, everyone gathered in the room to the left. One minute into the song, I had at least four people come up to the stage to say that they couldn't hear the music.

When I turned it loud enough to reach the other room, the people who still remained sitting at their tables in front of me complained that it was too loud.

After the third song, everyone promptly got together and moved all the tables and chairs into the space at the left, leaving the space in front of the stage as the dance floor.

It took about 40 minutes to do this, which seriously cut into the party. This could all have been avoided had there been a consultation to discuss the layout of the room beforehand.

Another common mistake concerning layout is putting the DJ directly behind the head table, with a speaker at either end.
For one thing, people like to take pictures of the head table, and no one wants the DJ to be part of the shot. Also, if background music is required during dinner, this is the worst place to be playing it.

In order for the music to be loud enough for all the guests to enjoy, the DJ usually must drown out any hopes of conversation at the head table, as well as all others in close vicinity.

And because most wedding parties put their parents and grandparents closest to the head table, this is where most of the complaints will come from.

A good rule to remember is: the older the person, the softer the music.
It is also important to note that people with hearing aids are particularly sensitive to loud music and should be placed as far as possible from the speakers.

To get the maximum enjoyment from the music, it is advisable to give the disc jockey company as much information as possible about the layout of your room and then listen to their advice about where to place the DJ. You will avoid many, many problems this way.

To establish a good working relationship with your DJ, there are a few basic rules of the game.
If the DJ is providing background music before and/or during dinner, feed them! Some disc jockey companies are now putting it into the contract because it is so often overlooked.

There is nothing worse than setting up for a gig at 4:00 in the afternoon and then watching a crowd of people eat a wonderful dinner while you play music for them. Meanwhile that DJ is listening to his/her own stomach growl until 2 or 3 in the morning (when most DJ's get home). A happy DJ is a fed DJ.

Eating is one thing, but drinking is another. Some people feel that the more their DJ drinks, the better the music will be. Wrong! It's fine to offer the DJ a glass of wine with dinner, but nothing more.

Having an inebriated DJ is not only inexcusable and very unprofessional; it can also be your liability.
If your DJ gets into a car and causes an accident after your event, you could be held liable, depending on the venue and the circumstances. If your DJ is drinking at your event, you should report it to the disc jockey company.

The DJ is also responsible for ensuring that he/she plays the music that you and your guests request, to the best of his/her ability. At the same time, you must also respect that your DJ knows what he/she is doing and is trained to read a crowd, and will play accordingly to try and make the event as fun for everyone as possible.

Especially at a wedding, this means that a wide variety of music is necessary in order to please such a diverse crowd of people.

The older people will ask for waltzes, oldies and classic rock, while the younger group will ask for current club hits and radio tunes. In between will be the disco, rock, Latin, country, etc. requests. The thing to remember is: if your crowd is happy, you should be happy. Telling the DJ to switch to AC/DC when the entire room is in the middle of doing the Macarena is just plain silly. Sure it's your night, but do you want to be the only one who thought it was fun?

On the other hand, you have a right to be mad if your DJ has been bopping behind the machine to Lil' Wayne for the last 10 minutes while your guests have been leaving en masse. A really good DJ incorporates most of the guest requests into the night, smoothly segueing from one type of music to another in order to keep the floor going.

Having said this, remember that some requests are harder than others to incorporate. For instance, the guy who asks for Hotel California at midnight, when the floor is in high gear with current dance hits, is most likely not going to hear his request unless there is a "wind down" period at the end of the night. The next time a guest complains to you that the DJ didn't play his or her request, ask them one simple question: "What song did they request that wasn't played?" You'd be surprised at some of the answers. Don't just assume that the DJ wasn't doing his/her job.

Your DJ is purely a professional music player.

They are not responsible for adjusting the room lights, moving the tables and chairs, holding onto other people's drinks, looking after your guests' children, or finding someone's phone at the end of the night (all things that have been asked of them, believe me). I've even been asked to put wax down on a dance floor so some guy could dance properly!! We also often get asked if we have tape, safety pins, sewing needles, staplers, and paper, among other things. We do not: we have music.

It is the responsibility of the DJ to play that music to the best of his/her ability. It is our responsibility to remain true to the style and feel of music that you have envisioned for your event, and to combine your needs with those of your guests so that everyone leaves your venue feeling like they really enjoyed your event, EVEN if they didn't dance.

Music creates so much more than just a full dance floor. It creates ambience, it generates feelings of well-being and nostalgia. It defines a whole roomful of people, whether they're dancing or not.

If you hire a company who can do all this for you, then your event will be remembered as a really good time long after it's over, and all the credit will go to you.

If you don't take the precautions to get a good disc jockey company and thus wind up with a lousy DJ, your event won't be remembered (unless as a disaster) a year later, and only you will recall that at least your dress looked nice. Okay, so maybe your mother will remember the dress too.

© 2012 Linda Enos, May not be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Party Central DJ Services - 604-862-4295

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10 questions
to ask your DJ

1. How much do you charge?
Party Central DJ Services charges $650 to $1,200 (plus GST), depending on the time of year and your specific requirements. We would be pleased to give you an exact price quote for your wedding. See Our Services for more information.

2. Do you charge by the hour, or do you charge a flat rate?
Our flat-rate fee includes cocktail music, dinner music and the dance itself.

3. Do you provide free consultations?
We provide free wedding consultations second to none, in the convenience of your own home or a place of your choosing.

4. Do you provide any resources to help in planning our music?
Yes, all of our clients receive our exclusive, 28-page Party Central DJ Services Wedding Music Info-pak. It includes a worksheet for your own 13 "core songs," a List of Popular First Dances and a Sampler Song List with over 600 songs.

5. What kind of equipment will you be using? Will it be adequate for our venue?
We use top-of-the-line, professional sound equipment (Denon, Cerwin-Vega, Peavey, QSC and JBL,) more than adequate for any venue.

6. How large is your music library?
We have one of the largest CD music libraries in the lower mainland.

7. Is your music library licensed for professional use?
Yes. All of our music library is fully licensed.

8. Will you be able to accommodate our specific song requests for our 13 core songs?
Yes. We guarantee it.

9. Will you be able to take a wide range of song requests from our guests? Can you provide ethnic music?
We can meet up to 98% of your guests' requests because we have an extensive music library. In addition, our ethnic music library includes Bhangra, Hindi, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, and German music.

10. What will the DJ be wearing?
Our DJs are always dressed professionally, with shirt and tie, dress pants, and/or blazer.

To get the maximum enjoyment from the music, it is advisable to give the disc jockey company as much information as possible about the layout of your room and then listen to their advice about where to place the DJ. You will avoid many, many problems this way.

If your DJ is professional, good at what he/she does, and happy (meaning fed and treated with respect), then your event will be remembered for a long, long time after as a really good time, and all the credit will go to you!