The motivation for this article arose as a result of a post on a bridal forum in which I participate. A future bride posted the following list of questions which were seen as desirable to ask when searching for a wedding disc jockey. The future bride had stated that she had also posted the same questions on another bridal forum and that a certain DJ, which also happened to advertise on that forum, had replied to her post stating that they had found the list of questions silly and verging on being offensive. This future bride was concerned that she, and other brides, would be at risk of offending other potential DJ entertainers, but as no indication had been given as to which questions were offensive, this bride was seeking my professional opinion. Personally and professionally, I did not find any of the questions offensive or silly and proceeded to provide detailed information on why a bride would ask each particular question, answers likely to be received and what the bride should be looking for in the answer to ensure they are able to find the perfect DJ for their wedding ceremony and/or reception. In my reply to the post, to give the bride some perspective, I also provided details of how DJ:Plus! Mobile Disco Entertainment conducts it’s business in relation to these questions – this information has been removed from this article in order to avoid accusations of deliberate self promotion, which is not the aim of the article.
• Are you insured?
All your wedding suppliers including the DJ should have public liability insurance. A significant number of wedding reception establishments will require that any contractor/vendor who enters their premises provide evidence of current public liability insurance. If it cannot be provided, that particular supplier will most likely refused access due to the potential risk it represents to the venue. If your venue has this requirement and you have engaged a supplier that does not have public liability insurance, you will be left with one of the two following options;
1) Source another supplier who has current liability insurance, or
2) Personally arrange public liability insurance cover for your selected supplier/s.
Unfortunately both these options are far from acceptable. Please let me explain further:
In the first option, you probably selected a particular supplier because there was a connection; they can deliver exactly what you are after and/or are within your budget. Because the supplier does not have insurance you are now placed in a situation where you have to repeat the search process to source a suitable replacement supplier – one that has current public liability insurance. Depending on when the venue informs you of this requirement (often the week of the event) there may not be sufficient time to secure an acceptable replacement; you may be left with little choice or no choice and is just an un-needed and un-necessary stress in the final days leading up to the wedding. Some venues may even insist on the supplier providing Risk Assessment Plans/Risk Management Plans and certification that all electrical equipment is PAT tested (tested as safe to use by licensed tester) in addition to Insurance Certificate of Currency.
Personally arranging public liability insurance cover in order to avoid the situation outlined in the previous point will mean you will be at the mercy of the insurance companies – think about it, you are a once off customer, requiring insurance for one night only and for one of the most important days of your entire life, Do you think the insurance company is going to be reasonable? – off course not, you will most certainly be charged a hefty premium, and the closer to the event, you can expect that the larger the premium will become.
How do you avoid this situation?
Ascertain if your venue has any of these type of restrictions/conditions prior to making any booking or before you commence engaging any contractor/s that will be required to be on the premises on, before or after the day of your reception.
Prior to booking your entertainment (or other supplier), ensure that they have appropriate insurance, you may pay a little more for a supplier that does, but this is an indication that the supplier is probably a professional and takes their role seriously – no true professional would be without liability insurance, it is just not worth the risk. Further, you may find that the more expensive supplier could ultimately be a less costly option than if you engaged a cheaper supplier and had to personally cover them for public liability insurance.
• Are you the DJ that we will have? Can we meet the DJ assigned?
It is important to ascertain who your DJ/Entertainer will be and if possible make time to meet with them PRIOR to booking. The purpose of this is so that you may assess the DJ with regards to how they present and whether they are likely to fit in with your requirements. During the meeting, the DJ should be asking you questions about what type of reception you are after, what styles of music you envisage is required and they should be providing worthwhile suggestions and advice. In addition, details of their service and how they propose to make your dreams become a reality should be explained. At the meeting pay attention to their manner, how they are dressed, how they answer your questions, how passionate they appear about what they do, their enthusiasm – as these things will be a good indication as to the type of service you can expect to receive, the dedication the DJ has to their profession and care they will ultimately take with your reception.
Meeting a DJ that works for a larger DJ Agency (Multi-operator DJ Service with more than one DJ) will be near to impossible as these types of providers generally have very high staff turnover and you will most likely only be able to have contact with the DJ allocated to your reception in the week leading up to your event.
• Can we have a do not play list?
Can be an issue as there may be some particular songs or styles of music which due to personal preferences you may not wish played at your reception, even if requested by one of your guests. In addition, there may be particular songs which could bring back bad memories and/or potentially upset either you or your new spouse on the day, any such songs should be at the top of the Do Not Play list. When specifying styles of music not to be played, it is important to not exclude styles which have tremendous mass appeal, even though they may not align with your personal musical preferences. If these styles are excluded, music which will appeal to the majority of your guests will not be played with the potential result that your guests may leave early as they are not enjoying the evening. A good professional DJ will be able to find a balance between meeting your musical requirements and satisfying the majority of your guests.
• Can you act as Master of Ceremonies?
Having your DJ act as master of ceremonies (MC) can be a cost effective way of covering this role – provided your DJ knows proper wedding protocol, is experienced in public speaking and guiding and directing the flow of events at your reception.
When you ask this question, you will receive one of the following answers;
No – which means the DJ does not have the necessary experience to perform this role and/or the confidence to speak in public, wedding protocol knowledge, etc.
Yes, however there will be an additional cost for this service – It will be up to you to make sure the DJ has the experience to adequately perform this role however.
Yes – the DJ is more than happy to carry out this function inclusive of the agreed fee. Again, make sure the DJ has the necessary experience to perform this role and effectively act as your spokesperson
No, however a separate professional MC for an additional cost can be provided- You are now hiring two suppliers through the one source and largely diminishes any cost effectiveness to be gained in asking your DJ to also perform MC duties.
• Can you cue songs to play at a certain part?
Some couples wish to have a song played from some specific point or just a certain segment of a particular song. In most cases this should be possible without any problem; in some instances however, it may be difficult to achieve for valid reasons. The type of media your DJ uses may also impact the ability to effectively meet your requirements in this regard.
It really depends on what is required and needs to be discussed in detail on a case by case basis.
• Do you charge for travel?
DJ’s should not charge an additional fee for travel within the metropolitan area of the locality that they service. Obviously if a client wishes to engage a DJ to perform outside the metropolitan area serviced, then charges may apply – you will appreciate that there is additional time required to get to and from the venue & additional fuel for which the DJ will need to be compensated. Subject to distance and finishing times there may also be a necessity to provide overnight accommodation and possibly meals.
• Do you have a Demo for our consideration?
The problem with any demo is that, with regards to a DJ, it may not be representative of what you desire and wish played at YOUR wedding. It may contain all the types of music or styles which may not be suitable for your event, but that does not mean that a particular DJ cannot cater to your requirements. The other thing to keep in mind is, no one will ever distribute a bad demo and how do you ascertain that it was actually produced by the particular DJ you are considering and/or been edited to remove undesirable elements?
Video/DVD material is very much like a demo CD. If the DJ has had footage edited to only show “highlights” of the best parts of any or various performance/s, then they will appear at their very best throughout the whole presentation and this may not be truly representative of an actual performance.
Video/DVD material can be useful if you have the opportunity to view un-edited raw footage of a particular individual DJ’s performance at an event where they are executing a multitude of formalities expected from a professional entertainer.
• Do you have a list of references?
References can be used to independently verify the type of service that the DJ provides. These should only be used as a guide as obviously no DJ, or any other supplier for that matter, will show you or supply you with names of referees that will not give them a less than glowing review. It may also be somewhat difficult to determine the authenticity of the reference/referee.
• Do you have a list of selections we can choose from? How long is it?
Professional DJ’s have their music list cataloged in order that they can easily locate a particular selection when required. This being the case, it should not be a problem to provide a listing for their clients. The larger the music library, the more choice you will have and the more likely that the DJ will have your special song/s. Unfortunately of course, no DJ can have every song – what is more important is that they have a good selection covering a variety of styles that will be able to please most crowds. Having 30,000 tracks of heavy metal will give you great choice if you like this genre, however it will be unlikely that any of it would please your guests.
• Do you have an assistant?
The reason you may wish to ascertain this information is that there is some comfort to be gained in knowing if the DJ has an assistant – it will allow quicker set-up, allow someone to operate the equipment whilst the DJ has a toilet break or is performing certain other formalities.
Most professional DJ’s do not have an assistant; in the event that they do, it should never be more than two. Assistants may also mean that you will incur indirect added costs in the provision of a meal and/or refreshments.
• Do you provide a contract guaranteeing your services?
This question ties in somewhat with the earlier question of who will be performing at the event. It is extremely important that you always obtain a contract which specifies all the key elements of the event such as date, the name of the DJ who will be performing, start time, end time, performance fee, payment terms, overtime charges, travel expenses (if any), venue details, customer details, cancellation details and any other terms and conditions. Some DJ’s will offer a specific guarantee – bear in mind that if they have a contract they are in fact guaranteeing the provision of the service (although most will exclude “acts of god” and the like).
• Do you provide a microphone for speeches?
The DJ should provide at minimum a corded microphone to be used for any announcements and the speeches inclusive of the hire fee. Ideally they will provide a UHF cordless microphone. This allows flexibility to move around and not be restricted in any way by the length of the microphone cord. In addition a microphone cord strung out across the floor does not appeal visually and may represent a potential hazard. Some DJ’s will charge an additional fee for the use of a microphone and/or cordless microphone.
• Do you provide lighting effects, smoke/bubble machines?
Lighting effects, smoke and bubble machines add atmosphere, enhance the mood, add excitement and will assist in enticing your guests onto the dance floor. Most DJ’s will provide, at the very least, very basic lighting effects consisting of a few flashing coloured globes. Others will provide more elaborate setups up to and turning your venue into a nightclub if you wish. Smoke machines enhance the effect of the lighting as the beams reflect the smoke particles creating a visually pleasing and exciting effect. Unfortunately, unless your venue is able to isolate any smoke detectors, your DJ will not be able to use a smoke machine. Older venues or heritage listed venues do not necessarily have smoke detectors and smoke machines may be able to be used in these venues. With regards to bubble machines, they can provide a wonderful effect especially during the bridal entry, cake cutting or bridal waltz. The downside is that they can cause your floor to become slippery and may be the cause of a serious accident – so some venues will not permit use of them.
• Do you require a deposit?
A professional DJ will require a deposit in order to confirm the booking. You will appreciate that some commitment is required on your behalf to indicate that you wish to proceed with the booking. The payment of a deposit confirms to the supplier that your intentions are genuine. Some DJ’s will not require deposits, but be warned that some of these DJ’s will cancel bookings because they can secure a higher rate for the same date. A professional DJ will supply a contract and require payment of a deposit.
• Do you require a parking space?
Providing a parking space for your DJ or entertainer will facilitate the load in and load out of the equipment required for your reception. Some venues will allocate a parking spot for the entertainment, others are not as considerate. It is recommended that if at all possible, you provide a parking spot, it will make your DJ/Entertainers life easier and will not be the cause of angst prior to the reception even starting – which will undoubtedly affect the performance.
• Do you take and play requests?
Most DJ’s will take and play requests, this allows all guests to have the opportunity to ask for their favourite song. You can instruct the DJ not to take requests if you wish, however this may upset some of your guests. If your DJ is taking requests ensure that they vet the requests for appropriateness of style and whether the song requested may contain lyrics which could be considered offensive by other guests.
• Have you performed at our location before?
Finding out if the DJ has performed at the location is important in that they are already familiar with the facility and may have a relationship with the catering staff which will assist in your event running a lot smoother. However, just because they have never performed at that venue previously, does not mean that there will potentially be problems at your reception. If the DJ takes all the right steps and adequately prepares, these will certainly be avoided.
• How do you get the guests up and dancing?
A good DJ will be able to read the crowd and be able to play appropriate music which will entice people on the dance floor, once the dance floor is full, a professional experienced DJ should be able to keep them dancing.
• How do you require payment?
This should be specified in the booking confirmation and also clearly explained to you when you are making your initial enquiries. Payment for most professionals will consist of a deposit to confirm the booking with the balance payable either just before the event or on the day of the event. The DJ should also specify in what form the payment will be accepted i.e. Cheque, Money Order, Credit Card, Cash Only, Direct Deposit, etc.
If you have your heart set on a certain supplier who has impressed you immensely, but may be a little outside your budget, speak to them, there may be some arrangement which could be mutually agreed to allow for a series of regular payments over an agreed time frame that will progressively cover the fee. In this way you can have a high grade, experienced supplier and you can spread the burden of the cost over time. True professionals will not compromise on price, they have certain standards to maintain and any compromise on price will ultimately be reflected in a lower standard of service provided.
• How long for and where do you take a dinner break?
Under no circumstances should a DJ eat any provided meal at the console. It is totally unprofessional, visually unattractive and bad etiquette. A meal break, as long as it in no way interferes with scheduled proceedings, should be for no longer than it takes to eat the meal (10-15 minutes) and the meal should be consumed in some other area away from the reception. Some couples wish their suppliers to feel like guests and go to the extent of provide seating with the guests for the photographer, videographer and entertainers – if you wish to do this, ensure that they do not abuse your hospitality, they should only be seated for the meal. Also under no circumstances should your suppliers be consuming alcoholic beverages.
• How long have you been in business?
Ascertaining how long your DJ has been in business will give a good indication as to their experience, commitment to their profession and that they are just not in the business for a “quick buck”. The greater the experience the more benefit to you as they will have encountered many, many situations and can advise you and have the know-how on how to avoid actual and potential undesirable situations. Of course you will need to analyse the response to this question, as some operators will say 20 years experience, however this may be that there a five DJ’s and collectively they have 20 years experience yet individually they may have four or less.
• How much for overtime?
It is important to ascertain exactly how much it will cost if you and your guests are having such a great time and, venue permitting, you wish to extend for longer than originally anticipated. It is also vital that these charges are detailed in the booking confirmation. Some not so professional operators will impose a hefty premium to extend beyond the agreed finish time and essentially hold you to ransom – this is why it is essential that these rates are agreed and documented in advance.
• Is your equipment up to date? Is backup available? Is it their own equipment?
These questions can be important, but it is essential that you do not get too caught up in equipment, as the DJ with the oldest equipment can sometimes give a better performance than the DJ with the best and latest equipment. If you put in the time and effort in finding your Wedding DJ, you should be able to find the DJ with the best/very latest equipment and will also deliver the best possible performance. Having the latest equipment also minimises the risk of failure, older equipment can, due to age, be prone to developing problems.
This conveniently leads to the next part of the question, should a failure occur, the DJ should have back-up equipment available on-site so that your reception is not ruined. Having back-up equipment available at another location is not acceptable as the time required to retrieve the equipment or arrange for it to be delivered would be sufficient enough to disrupt the flow and mood of your reception. It really needs to be on site so the time required to rectify any problem is kept to the absolute minimal or not noticed at all by you or your guests.
You will of course appreciate that no DJ can carry a complete duplicate system to every event, so when asking this question make sure the explanations given are feasible and would cover any major failure.
Asking if the equipment is actually owned by the DJ can give you some insight into the commitment they have towards their profession. If a DJ makes a significant investment in quality equipment, this is generally an indication that they are serious about what they are doing and it is just not a hobby. Unfortunately of course, technology has meant that entry level DJ gear can be purchased quite cheaply these days and just about any body can call themselves a DJ – again this is why you need to ask lots of questions. Agency DJ’s are not normally permitted to own equipment and are required to use equipment supplied by the agency, which does not normally matter to the DJ that works for these agencies as they are usually hobby DJ’s or just starting out and do not have the funds to purchase equipment. This equipment used by agency type DJ’s tends to be at the lower end of the quality scale and is reflected in their lower price point.
• What are your set-up time and requirements? E.g. Does it require a certain power wattage? Do you do a sound check before hand?
The DJ should make contact with the venue directly to ascertain when they are able to gain access to the room on the day of the event and any restrictions imposed by the venue. Depending on the amount of equipment and the service provided, a differing amount of time will be required for set-up. Typically, a DJ should allow at the very minimum an hour for set-up. The amount of space required, will also vary from DJ to DJ depending on equipment. Most DJ’s should however be able to set up in an area of around 4 metres by 3 metres. The majority of DJ’s will require a 240 Volt, 50hertz, 10amp electrical power supply. Where normal power supplies are not available, a safe, properly supervised generating system operated by qualified persons would be required. It would be very rare for a DJ to require three phase power. All DJ’s should carry out a sound check prior to the commencement of the event. The will allow setting of appropriate sound levels, adjustment of tone, compensation for the particular nuances of the room and elimination of feedback from the microphone. If a DJ does not carry out a thorough sound check they are compromising on providing the very best sound from their equipment.
• What happens if you are ill?
This is a good question as it allows to ascertain what will happen if the DJ you have engaged in unable to perform due to ill health. If you have engaged an agency DJ, the agency will just substitute another DJ on their books for your event. Beware however, that during peak periods even the agency DJ’s tend to be booked out and if the DJ becomes ill and is unable to perform during this time, you may find that even the agency cannot provide a replacement DJ. Sickness tends to be more of an issue if you engage a sole trader and if they have no contingency plans in place to cover such situations. If you are engaging a sole trader make sure you find out exactly what plans they have to cover this type of situation should it arise.
• What is your attire for the event?
Another important question; The majority of weddings are formal events and as such the DJ should be dressed in a manner which compliments the event. For weddings, unless it is a very casual affair, I feel the DJ should wear a suit or at minimum jacket & tie. You certainly do not want your DJ to turn up dressed in jeans and T-shirt. Insist your DJ wears a suit and have it noted in the contract.
• What is your cancellation policy?
Sometimes the unexpected can occur and for some reason you may need to cancel. If this were to occur, you need to know what the procedure is and what liability you will have with the DJ. All professional DJ’s will have a cancellation policy. You will understand that weddings do tend to book a fair way in advance and once a DJ has booked that event, they are rejecting any further work for that date. Depending on how far before the event you cancel, you may be liable for an administration fee, a percentage of the full fee or the entire fee. All these cancellation terms must be detailed in the booking agreement.
• What is the best way to contact you? What is the maximum time you will take to reply?
It is always reassuring when someone you contact gets back to you within a reasonable timeframe. In today’s technological age there are many methods to contact your DJ, old fashioned landline, mobile telephone, email and SMS are the most common methods. Your enquiries should be answered within 24hrs. However if you yourself cannot be contacted when the DJ is trying to respond, you really need to allow more time. Please also allow more time if contact is made on the weekend as the DJ is usually working and cannot respond as quickly due to being focussed on the weddings for that weekend.
• Can we watch you perform at another wedding?
You can certainly ask however in my view the answer the DJ should give is NO! Why? Weddings are a private event. Firstly consider if you would like strangers at your wedding checking out the DJ or lurking at the door, my guess is that you would not. Secondly, it is my view that the DJ should be entirely focused on your wedding and not be distracted by trying to impress potential future customers – they should be directing their energy in making your wedding the best wedding reception ever!
• Do you adjust the volume to suit the atmosphere?
A professional DJ with professional sound equipment and experience in performing at weddings will easily be able to adjust the volume of the music to suit the particular moment. Typically, during pre-dinner drinks and dinner, the volume should be at a level where guests can easily converse, yet if they wish to listen to the music, the music will be at a volume which can also be heard. During dancing, the volume will normally be increased, but not to a level, that is so loud, that guests who wish to converse are unable to do so without yelling. The DJ should be willing to readily adjust the volume if you or your guests consider it at an inappropriate level.
• Do you charge extra to find and play our song if you don’t have it already?
Some DJ’s will go to the effort of sourcing any key songs that you wish that is not part of their current music library as part of the service they provide, without any additional cost. These DJ’s understand the significance this particular song has in your life, the special meaning and emotional bond that it holds. They understand that playing the song at the right time, it will enhance the moment, evoke sentiment and create memories which will last forever. On the other hand there are some DJ’s that will not go to any effort to source a special song for you.
It is also important to understand that at times a song is unable to be sourced due to the fact that it has either been deleted and no longer available, is an obscure track of some obscure album or other very valid reasons. At other times you may find that the song may have only been available on a limited edition disc issued with another album and is no longer readily available or is available, but at an exorbitant, unjustifiable cost due to its rarity. Of course this does not necessarily mean that you cannot have your song, if you have a copy, most DJ’s will be only too happy for you to bring it along and play it for you at the appropriate time.
• Where do you get your music?
The answer you receive to this question can give an insight into the ethics and professionalism of the DJ. If the answer is “from the internet”, this can only mean that either it is purchased of a legal music site or downloaded illegally using file sharing software. Most, of course will never openly admit that they download music illegally, they will probably say that they purchase music from the internet – be aware that in the main, music obtained from the internet is a compressed file, which means it has had elements of the song stripped out to reduce the file size. Whilst this compressed music may sound of an acceptable quality on an Ipod or MP3 player, when amplified at several hundred watts, you will most probably find that the quality has been compromised somewhat. This may be more evident if the DJ uses very high grade equipment.
There are a number of industry services which provide regular legal compilations (in both electronic and CD format) for disc jockeys, radio stations, etc. This is an easy way for a DJ to keep up to date with the latest music. Whilst the frequency of new material varies from service to service, a subscription to one of these trade specific services would indicate a commitment to the maintenance of their music library with the latest releases.