The Two Most Important Things You Need To Know
1) NEVER ASSUME what the DJ should already know. It's your event and you know what you want the DJ to do - the DJ can only guess until completely informed. You need to give your DJ as much information as possible.
2) When you pay for the services of disc jockeys - YOU ARE THE BOSS and THEY WORK FOR YOU. Tell them in advance what is needed, required and expected. It's their job to bring the DJ equipment, have and play music that you contracted for, be dressed appropriately for your event, etc.
You probably hear and read a lot about "You Get What You Pay For"
I agree with that statement but nobody tells you the real reason why. So I will:
THERE AREN'T THAT MANY PEOPLE YOU CAN REALLY COUNT ON
It's just that simple. What percentage of the general population can you count on to do things right? Getting what you pay for means choosing which attributes you want your DJ to have: Ability, Dependability, Knowledge, Equipment, Experience. Usually on that scale of 1 to 5 attributes needed to be a DJ, the more you choose the higher the cost. But also the more you can count on your DJ.
In todays world, it's easy to find friends and neighbors with iPods willing to play their music through a boombox or house system at your event, cheap. But that alone is not enough to call them DJs and that's not why you pay for a DJ.
You pay a DJ for one basic reason: You Depend On Them To Show Up and do a good job. That includes being on time, properly attired, conducting themselves in a manner appropriate to your event, having the music YOU want and blending songs together with no pauses, if necessary provide a wireless microphone and be good at public speaking - making announcements or motivating a crowd, have good sounding equipment, have lights for dancing if needed, have back-up equipment, to sometimes depend on them to read the crowd and create a good atmosphere, be responsible enough to sign a contract so YOU are protected.
But wait - that was the main reason but not the only reason. There's more!
DJs aren't getting hired for those moments in someone's life that don't matter but for the special moments that DO matter and accompanied by memories that will last a lifetime. From birthday parties to elegant weddings, a DJ can enhance or ruin a lifetime moment and memory. That's pressure.
Very few people are capable of handling that presure and being responsible for the mood of a group of people, dealing with conflicting orders during an event, being dependable and contractually thorough, pleasant to deal with, adapting to changes or things that might go wrong at an event, actually own or supply what they claim [telling the truth with no misrepresentation], not getting drunk on the job... I think you get the idea by now.
That's why "you get what you pay for".
Note: Speaking on behalf of all the Good DJs and DJ services, we realize it is a privilege to be included in your event and take personal pride in helping to enhance that moment. Most of us automatically do what is possible to make sure your are very satisfied to thrilled with the job we do for you.
How To Choose and Get The DJ You Want
To get the DJ you want, there are topics to discuss and questions to ask
(The cost of hiring a DJ also depends on the answers to these topics & questions)
1) Make a list of exactly what you want your DJ to do and not do. Just play music and don't talk? Want the DJ to make announcements and maybe play the role of an MC? Do you want your DJ to be sophisticated at all times? Be interactive? Be a party animal? Be a singer or don't sing? Also be a karaoke host or no karaoke? Be what is commonly referred to as a normal DJ?, etc.?
TIP >>> Most DJs cannot handle all these different facets so you need to choose one that is capable of honoring your wishes. Some DJs prefer to be singers or karaoke hosts more than a DJ. Some won't be an MC. Some don't talk, others won't shut up. Some are strictly sophistcated, some insist on being the life of the party. Now that you know this important starting point, some will be perfect for your event.
TIP >>> What is an MC? An MC (a.k.a. emcee, announcer, master of ceremonies) is someone designated to make announcements and/or guide attendees during formalities, events at an event, games, special moments, etc.
2) KNOW THE MUSIC THAT YOU WANT PLAYED. This is obviously very important. Make sure the DJ will have the music that you want at your event. Do you want a variety of music or perhaps just Club, Top-40, Oldies, Hip Hop, Country ...? Try to find a DJ that specializes in the music that you want.
TIP >>> Variety music DJs are the most expensive because they have to be knowledgeable about many different types of music and deal with the astronomical cost of buying many more CDs/Downloads plus time learning/listening more than someone specializing in just one type. Not too many DJs will have a printed list of the music they own especially if their music collection is huge and constantly updated. However, in their websites, many do list what they have or offer access to their music databases. In any case, you need assurance that what you want will actually be at your event.
3) Do you want a DJ with a set music program or be flexible? Take requests or not? Play your requests on demand or when they feel it can be fit in without altering the dance floor or mood? As always, this is completely up to you. I can't stress this strongly enough - get the DJ that will do it your way. Another article, under the heading "How Much Music Do I Need to Select?", illustrates this point.
4) Make sure the DJ has the right equipment for your event. Be sure to state the approximate number of people who will be attending (some DJs don't have equipment to handle large events). State whether event is indoors or outdoors or both. Will equipment have to be moved from one place to another during the event? If some specific equipment will be required such as a wireless microphone, tape or CD players, make sure the DJ service has this since not all do. Lights, fog, bubbles, novelties like inflatable instruments or theme? Want them or don't want them - tell the DJ before getting a rate estimate (price quote).
5) Ask how much experience they have working events similar to yours. If it doesn't make a difference, that's OK. But if something absolutely has to go right it would be to your advantage to have someone with experience who can deal with unexpected last second changes, twists, curves and turns that always seem to come up. A good DJ can help smooth over potential awkward moments.
6) Match the DJ to place of event. If a DJ is using turntables (playing records/vinyl) or not using anti-skip cd players, the area used by the DJ must have a rock solid foundation or music will skip or stop. If there is a stage, it too has to be solid.
7) Due to direct sunlight on equipment (a bad situation) or threat of rain, not all DJs will work outdoors using their own equipment.
8) Digital [MP3/Wav Files] versus CD, Vinyl and other formats. Which is best?
Can't say. Honest! All formats can do a great job and have advantages & disadvantages. Just insist that the music you want is brought to your event, that the DJ has the ability to properly segue (blend songs together) and will continuously deliver good sound, and in case something goes wrong... have with them a back-up laptop, external hard drive or cd player so the music never stops.
• In the case of MP3s/music files (computer/laptop systems) ask if there is some type of emergency back-up music playing capability in case of a hard drive going bad or a corrupted program (not a music file - but the program that controls the music files).
• Vinyl record users require a rock solid floor/stage and might be limited to the amount of music brought to your event.
• DJs using CDs should be using anti-skip cd players (when performing, three cd players should be available in case one quits working).
TIP >>> Here's a general guideline for digital music: 256 MP3 is good, 198 Wav is good. A lower number is lower quality. Conversely, a higher number is higher quality. Through headphones it's little difference, but through a P.A. (DJ sound system/commercialspeakers) it could be a big difference unless the P.A. is equiped with extra sound enhancement. It's OK to ask laptop and pc DJs what type of files and their associated kbps number (256, 198, etc., or comparable quality rating) they use at events.
9) After signing a contract, do you want an additional meeting (or meetings) in person before your event to go over details? Not all DJs can do this - especially part-time DJs who make their living from a different line of work. Find out before hiring a DJ.
DJs For Weddings, Banquets and Formal Events: specific questions to ask
1) Do they know how to work with photographers, videographers and related personnel? Don't take this for granted. It's imperative everybody coordinate their actions so that important moments are handled, photographed and videographed correctly.
2) Will they set-up their equipment before your guests arrive? Will that cost extra?
3) If you don't have an event coordinator (someone to oversee formalities and other details), can the DJ help you with this? The good DJs can.
4) Do they own or rent formal attire? If they rent, will you get charged extra?
Contracts For DJ Music Entertainment
What You Should Know BEFORE signing a DJ Contract
• The obvious should be on all contracts: Name of the DJ or DJ Service with contact info - phone number & address (your name and contact info should also be on the contract). There should be a place for both signatures - yours AND the person responsible for your DJ. Place of event, date and type of event, start & stop times should be on the contract. The total cost and any conditional or potential additional charges should be clearly stated. Deposit and any payments should be noted. Get a copy of the contract.
• Discuss the venue (place of event) and any pertinent info such as address, phone number, if there are stairs and no elevator, indoor/outdoor, smoking/non-smoking, if the venue has specific load in/out times ... DJs might charge more for labor intensive venues (long distance to set-up area, flight of stairs, etc.) or venues that require an extra long time to load in/out (major convetion centers, etc.).
• Get a copy of the contract at the moment you sign it. Example - I use a contract with the customer copy attached so the copy is immediately handed to the customer. This means nothing can be changed behind anyone's back. This protects you and the DJ service. Contracts can always be amended (changed) later. If this happens, make sure you both add signatures to changes and you receive an amended copy.
• Total Price: Make sure agreed amount is phrased "Total Cost", "Total Charge", "Total Price", "Final Cost", etc. "Total" or "Final" are the key words that you want in writing.
• As with any event, circumstances could create a "maybe" or "what if ..." situation. Be sure any additional or conditional charges are clearly defined in the contract. Too many misunderstandings occur when people just assume ...
• When signing a contract, keep in mind that whoever signs the contract as a customer/client is legally responsible for paying the DJ service. Example: if you sign a contract but someone pays on your behalf and the check bounces, YOU are legally responsible for the contracted rate, additional bank charges, plus any other additional incurred fees and charges - not the person who bounced the check.
• Most DJs have their own contracts and usually require a deposit. Some have non-refundable deposits, some refund deposits up to a certain time or if they can re-book that date. Ask!
• DJ start and stop times - BE SPECIFIC - and here's why: though some DJ services charge a flat rate (a set price regardless of the amount of time), some charge by the hour, many charge by the half hour after a basic time (usually about four hours).
TIP >>> State for how long you need the DJ service by total hours AND start & finish times to avoid any misunderstandings. Just because most DJs know that when you say total hours or start & stop that means being prepared to make announcements and play music during all that time, don't assume anything. Ask if set-up/tear-down is part of "Time On The Job". Sounds silly, but a rare few use showing up as their start time (when they pull onto a venue property: still in their vehicle, not set up, not ready to perform). Ask! And beware: at least one DJ charges extra just to bring the equipment in and out.
• Necessary equipment: Is a wireless microphone required? Tape player? CD player? Ability to connect a laptop to their P.A. for sound if someone brings in a video presentation? Not all DJs provide these services. Some DJs only use computers (MP3 style) and don't have anything else, some only use CDs, some a combination, so if you want the DJ to play something that will be, for example, brought on a cassette, CD or laptop by someone other than the DJ, then the contract should state that the DJ will be able to accommodate you. For a large group, a powerful P.A. (amps & speakers) is required.
• Lights or even a different amount/type of lighting might cost extra. Fog or bubbles may cost extra. Inflatable instruments, novelties and props may cost extra. If you want them or don't want them, decide ahead of time then state it (with any costs) in the contract.
• Take requests? No requests? Any specific music that you don't want played? Any specific music that has to be there? If it's important enough, get it in writing.
• Do you want the DJ to play your requests WHEN you want them played regardless of the effect on the dance floor or will dancing and the mood be most important? If it makes a difference, get it in writing.
• At for-profit events, you or the DJ might prefer monetary compensation be based upon tickets sold or number of attendees instead of a pre-determined rate. Ask.
• Attire: such as a tux, suit, casual, theme ..., don't assume anything. From elegant wedding to beach party, if it makes a difference, tell the DJ and GET IT IN WRITING.
• Will it cost extra if you supply a list of specific songs to be played at your event?
• At your event, who does the DJ answer to? Too many people attempt to tell the DJ what and when things are to be played. Be clear about this before event.
• If outdoors, who is responsible for power (electricity) and shelter for the electronic DJ equipment? You? The DJ Service? Banquet facility? State it in the contract.
• Bottom Line: Whatever you want the DJ to do or don't do, get it in writing. Never, but never assume! When in doubt or something is very important - GET IT IN WRITING.
General Advice For Hiring/Booking DJs
Question: What should you expect from DJs?
Answer: To at all times conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to your event. To fulfill all conditions in the contract. Held legally responsible only for damages that they may directly cause.
Question: What do DJs expect from you?
Answer: To be promptly paid - AND - given all the information required to make your event a success [as explained in the contracts section]. You should include from whom the DJ takes orders. You will be surprised and irritated at how many people at your event - that you are paying for - think they can tell the DJ what to play and when to play it.
Protect Yourself: Make sure the DJ service will sign a contract. Do not accept someone's word that they will show up.
Booking a DJ means the same thing as Hiring a DJ. No difference.
DJ Equipment: Try to hire someone using commercial equipment (also called professional equipment) and not home equipment for reasons too numerous to mention here. This is the first step in avoiding horror stories. If the DJ you're talking to doesn't know the difference or is unsure, they're using home equipment.
• Mobile DJs should have a minimum of the following for most events: lots of music, music player(s), amplifier, speakers, microphone, mixing board or mixing program, and at least one extra grounded heavy duty extension cord. They should also be able to offer lights or lighting effects, wireless microphone and cord attached microphone, some on-site back-up equipment (extra amp, CD players or music files Hard Drive, microphone, batteries, etc.), event work sheets, paper and pen.
• Using vinyl records or using a supplied banquet table is not a sign of a lesser quality DJ. Some egotists would like you to pay a lot extra simply because they paid more for their set-up or because at your event they will have their DJ companies names prominently displayed for advertising purposes. An ego set-up is worth the extra money only if the quality or capability is better than most AND the DJ operating it is better than most.
• DJ with Karaoke: Though a rare few do, most DJs do not offer CD+G/MP3+G karaoke including monitors, karaoke song lists, extra microphones ... (+G means "plus graphics": on a monitor, you can see the words to songs you are singing). Some karaoke hosts offer to act as a DJ, but this is usually unwise unless you have budget constraints and no other choice - only exception is if karaoke company is also supplying full DJ capability including no pauses between songs and lots of DJ music - NOT just karaoke versions of real music. Unless a service can simultaneously supply full karaoke & a complete DJ service [meaning the DJ part has a large amount of music and can blend songs together without a pause in-between every song].
• Match the DJ to place of event. If a DJ will be using vinyl (using record players, turntables) or not using anti-skip CD players, MAKE SURE THE FLOOR AND STAGE ARE SOLID: when people jump up and down during songs and the DJ set-up is not on a solid foundation, songs will skip or be stopped entirely. Most people don't think of this ahead of time. DJs using music files or anti-skip CD players can play almost anywhere.
The Individual DJ
Ask if they own or borrow/rent their equipment and music (owning is better). Do they own or borrow/rent transportation for their DJ equipment? (owning is better). Do they have back-up equipment and a back-up DJ? (except when getting a low priced DJ is the most important thing, yes is better). If required by the venue - the place where your event will be held, does the DJ have DJ Liability insurance? (an answer of yes would be necessary). How much experience do they have for your type of event?
A Few Final Notes
For the record, the best DJs, DJ services and agencies will make all this easy for you. Most everything above is just to protect yourself from the "every little detail costs more" group, some bad ones and those not qualified to work at your event.
Some DJs use each event as a blatant "audition" for future work and prefer to always look good in the hopes of getting more jobs. These types of DJs will first try to impress potential future customers (your guests). Others will try to satisfy and impress you first. The reason I mention this is that many times, people who are paying for the DJ service will request music that is non-danceable or a mood killer which then reflects negatively on the DJ. Some DJs will take that chance, some won't. I will now remind you that each DJ service IS a business and that nobody wants to look bad.