People always ask me, what the difference is between a professional DJ and an amateur and what do I need to know? Well there are LOTS of differences and most are obvious answers and some not so abvious. What should you know before you decide to hire a DJ? Well, here is just a small handful of items that you should know about a DJ before you decide to hire them. There are a lot more than what is listed here but I wanted to cover at least the most crucial items for you to know, so grab a comfortable seat maybe something to drink and here we go!
Knowing how to MC/Host your reception and speak eloquently on the mic. Making announcements and talking on the mic is a large part of our job as a DJ. Just like knowing how to DJ and mix music, we must also know how to talk properly on the microphone. Unfortunately many DJs today focus so much on the actual DJing part and forget to also learn how to speak in front of audiences using proper microphone etiquette so that your guests can hear and understand what the DJ is saying.
Being able to entertain you and your guests and having good energy. Weddings are supposed to be a fun, exciting and memorable time. Having an energetic and uplifting DJ to compliment your wedding reception will make your experience so much more memorable. You want a DJ that can interact with your guests and can think quickly. The DJ should be the catalyst of your wedding reception and they should be able to create excitement and energy for your guests.
Having the proper diverse and "Clean" music library. Most wedding receptions involve people of all ages and demographics. That is why it is so important to hire a DJ that has the proper music library they can play at a wedding reception. The last thing you want is to hear cuss words or foul language in your music when you have your parents, grand parents and small children in the same room at your reception. Also what you and your friends like may not be exactly what your parents or grand parents want to hear. A professional DJ will have an entire music library that can please anyone and everyone of all ages groups. Make sure they are able to play all genres of music to suit everyones taste. Regardless of anyones age, your DJ should be able to play music for any type of crowd, old or young.
Keeping you on track. On your wedding day, you're going to want to have a set schedule of events so that you have enough time to do all the things you want to do that day. This includes things such as the cake cutting, first dance, father/daughter dance, month/son dance, etc. An experienced professional DJ will know how to keep you on track and will help you stay on schedule throughout your entire reception from beginning to end, working closely with your vendors such as wedding planners, catering, photographers and more.
Being familiar with the venue and setup logistics. One of the biggest questions and concerns I get from my wedding clients is my equipment setup and logistics of setting up in the proper area. In many cases for me, more than likely I have already DJed at that venue before in the past so I am already familiar with their floor plan and layout. In the event I am not, I like to try to take a walk through of the venue with the bride and groom before the wedding day. If I'm not able to for one reason or another, I will simply go by the sketch floor plan that the bride and groom provides. When hiring a DJ, if they are not familiar with the venue always ask them to either do a walk through with you or at the very least ask them if they carry an ample supply of cables and neccessary equipment to accomidate any size room and any shape room. Most professional experienced DJs will be able to setup in any size and shape room regardless of doing a walk through or not, but less experienced DJs may not be good at this so I always recommend you schedule a venue walk through before your wedding day. Better safe than sorry.
DJs should be able to help you with your song selections if needed. Many times, the bride and groom don't know what song to play for their special dances (i.e. Mother/Son, Father/Daughter, bridal party dance, etc.). As a DJ, it's our job to help you select some songs that work welll for these types of dances. Over the years of DJing weddings, we know what works well and what doesn't work so well and as an experienced DJ, they should be able to recommend songs to you that you can use. Choosing the wrong song can make these special occassion dances awkward at times so our job is to make sure that doesn't happen.
Working closely with your other vendors. The DJ for your wedding does not work alone in most cases. Typically there is a photographer, videographer, caterer, photobooth operators, wedding planners, etc. A DJ should be able to work closely with all of your vendors and communicate with them well so that they are all on the same page and don't miss a beat. Photographers and videographers especially need to work closely and communicate well with your DJ. The last thing you want is for them to miss a shot because the DJ didn't tell them that you guys were going to cut the cake and they were not aware.
Using professional quality high end equipment and back up equipment. Like DJs, when it comes to audio and lighting equipment, you get what you pay for. Professional high quality DJ equipment is not cheap and with the popularity of DJing today, it's pretty easy to find complete low quality DJ systems for less than $600 at your local electronics store. Just recently I saw a complete out of the box DJ system for sale at Costco for only $599. While this may work fine for a small backyard BBQ or a birthday at cousin Tom's house, this system is not what you want your DJ to be using at your wedding. Make sure your DJ is only using top quality professional grade sound and lighting equipment to DJ your wedding. Ask them what brand of DJ equipment they use and also ask for photos if they have any. Just by doing some simple research on the web on the brand of equipment they are using, you can tell if you're working with someone who is a professional or a low budget amateur. Even with high end equipment, it can fail. Rarely does it happen, but it can happen. That is why you should always make sure that your DJ brings a back up system or extra equipment with them.
Playing the right songs for your guests and knowing how to read a crowd. Believe it or not, there is a lot of psychology involved when being a DJ. We have to know what to play at the right moment simply by looking at the crowd and reading their body language and facial expressions. Body language is everything and knowing how to read a crowd is something that takes years and years of practice. It's the difference of having an empty dance floor and having a packed one. An experienced professional will know how to read a crowd and will know which song to play at the precise moment to keep the people dancing. This skill is probably one of the hardest skills to learn for most novice DJs. Even a professional DJ will have many moments where they are not sure what to play for the crowd. So like anything else, we will simply try a song, hold our breath and see if it works. The big difference is that an experienced DJ will know that they have to have a back up "go to" song ready to go in case the first song they are playing doesn't work for this crowd.
Being able to be flexible and make changes at a moment's notice. This becomes especially crucial when it comes to floor plan logistics and working on a planned schedule. Many times there may be some last minute changes that need to be made. Maybe the DJ console has to be placed in a different area because they need more room for tables. Maybe the song the bride and groom chose for their father daughter dance won't work. Maybe the flower girl is taking a nap right before the wedding party grand entrance. Maybe the ring bearer is having a temper tantrum as he is about to be announced. As an experienced DJ, we have to be prepared for these types of events and know how to handle the situation and simply work around the problems.
Dressing for the occasion. As elementary as it sounds, you would be surprised how many DJs don't know how to dress properly for weddings. I've seen DJs come dressed in jeans and polo shirts for a wedding. Always be sure to ask what they will wear for your wedding and make sure they come dressed in a nice dress shirt, slacks and tie. Today I see less and less DJs wearing tuxedos but if they choose to wear one also, then more power to them I guess.
Power cables: Always bet on black and tape em down. I mention the color of power extension cables. Why? A lot of amateur DJs will try to use their backyard bright orange power extension cords that they got from Home Depot to power up their equipment. Orange cables are fine if you're mowing your lawn or doing some construction work in your garage, but this is your wedding. As important as it is for a DJ to sound good, their setup should also look good too. Make sure they are using only black extension power cables and also make sure that all the cables are taped down properly with gaffers tape. The last thing you want is for someonoe to trip and fall over a loose cable.