The Pros and Cons of Hiring a DJ

How the right professional can be an asset to your reception.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a DJ

Photo: Shawna Herring

When planning the music for your wedding, it is important not to underestimate the effect of entertainment on a ceremony and reception. The right music is essential in order to create an appropriate backdrop and desired tone for your event.

Today, couples increasingly turn to the services of a disc jockey for wedding reception entertainment. While live music offers the excitement of an actual performance, a DJ can offer convenience, a diverse selection, authentic versions of songs, better volume control and, usually, lower prices. In addition, a DJ is likely to have the most recent hits and any special or unusual songs that a band may not have learned yet as part of its repertoire. Some couples are even hiring a DJ to alternate with a live band throughout the reception. This arrangement creates a mixed, vibrant playlist that keeps the environment on the dance floor young and fresh.

As with all the other components of your wedding ceremony and reception, you will need to select a DJ very carefully. The DJ will be providing at least four hours of music and will be responsible for much of the reception’s success. Therefore, the DJ you select should be organized and experienced, offering creative suggestions (instead of just relying on you). The person you select should also be open to your ideas and input; after all, it is your wedding.

One subject worth raising is style. It’s important to ask each professional how he or she approaches his or her role at a wedding. Some couples prefer a DJ who interacts with the group and sees himself as a showman, possibly as big a part of the action as the guests. Other couples prefer a DJ who sticks to the sidelines, fulfilling the role of emcee without commanding the spotlight. The bride and groom should always be the stars of the event, and this is best achieved when the DJ acts in a supportive capacity, creating the right mood with the music and using his or her polished skills to usher the festivities along at the expected pace. How visible and vocal you want your DJ to be is up to you, but be sure to ask to eliminate any last-minute surprises. Requesting a video of his or her work at an actual event is an easy way to determine whether you and the DJ are both on the same page.

A truly professional DJ will schedule a personal consultation well in advance of the wedding date. Here, all of the details of the reception will be determined, including an itinerary of events and music selections. Personal tastes vary, and brides and grooms each have specific songs and announcements that are important to them. Special ethnic or religious songs should also be discussed so the DJ has ample opportunity to secure the recordings, if necessary. There may also be songs that the couple does not want played during the reception, and these songs should be duly noted on the itinerary sheet.

The DJ should also present you with a written contract that itemizes everything he or she will provide at your wedding. If you have requested a particular DJ, make sure that his or her name is listed in the contract. Also make certain the DJ has professional backup equipment readily available should something go wrong. When you sign the contract, a typical deposit amount of one-third to one-half of the total contract amount is customary to secure the DJ’s services.

On the day of your wedding, expect the DJ to arrive at least one hour before the start of the reception. During this time, he or she will set up, do a sound check, confer with the catering/banquet manager and photographer/ videographer and review the celebration’s itinerary. By working and coordinating with these other professionals, the DJ can ensure your reception will run very smoothly.

A DJ’s real talent is not only an extensive knowledge of music but the personality, emcee ability, coordinating skills and sense of mood and pacing he or she possesses. A good DJ will vary the format of music to please the entire audience and be willing to take requests from the guests. During lunch or dinner, background music is played while the guests are socializing. Light jazz, standards and classical music work very well at this time. As time progresses and dancing begins, the volume level should be loud enough for dancing, but low enough to talk over. An experienced DJ should “read the crowd” and determine the proper pace of the event, alternating different music styles and tempos to please as many different age groups as possible.

The DJ is also responsible for coordinating the various special announcements and events–special dances, cake cutting, toasts–that will occur throughout the wedding and making sure that the photographer and/or videographer are available to document each special moment.

Costs will normally be determined based upon the specific requirements for your event. A small backyard wedding reception is completely different than one at a large venue with 400 guests. Generally speaking, professional disc jockeys charge an average of $1,200 to $1,800 for four hours of entertainment, which can be a third of the cost of hiring a live band or orchestra.

The personality, convenience, savings, song selection and flexible sound system of a DJ add immeasurably to the energy and style of your wedding reception. Whether you’re planning an elegant party with a traditional ambiance or a hip fete with a nightclub feel, the chameleon-like ability of a DJ to adapt to any style makes for a strong choice.

Opening photograph by Shawna Herring