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The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Wedding DJ

The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Wedding DJ

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Everything you need to know about hiring a wedding DJ for someone who has never hired a wedding DJ

There are so many options for hiring a wedding DJ out there. It can be overwhelming trying to narrow them down and find the one that best suits you!

Having a wedding DJ that doesn’t know what they are doing, does the same thing at every wedding, or doesn’t fit your vibe can bring down a wedding reception.

I’ve been a guest at weddings where the DJ sounded like a radio DJ from the ’70s. I’ve been to weddings where the DJ was too busy showing off his dance moves and hitting on the bridesmaids. I am sure you don’t want that at your wedding.

This guide will give you everything you need to know about hiring a wedding DJ.

Where to Find a Wedding DJ

The most common places for couples to find a DJ are probably Wedding Wire or the Knot. These massive directories are a great start but beware. Many wedding vendors are moving away from these sites ever since they merged and have undesirable business tactics towards vendors. 

An alternative that we like quite a bit right now is Zola. Formerly focused on acting as a high-end wedding registry, they have shifted into a full-service wedding source.

Did you know that the world’s second-biggest search engine is YouTube? Try searching for “Boston wedding DJ” here as well as in the other search engines. 

Referrals from family and friends are a great way to get started. Was there a recent wedding that you attended that had a fantastic DJ? Ask who they were. There is nothing any vendor loves more than working with friends or family of their previous clients.

Beware of websites like Craigslist, Thumbtack, and Bark. You may find an excellent DJ here, but these sites are like the wedding industry’s discount stores.

When Should You Book a DJ for Your Wedding?

As with booking any wedding vendor, you need to think about your priorities. The sooner you begin your search, the easier it will be to retain an in-demand DJ. Our couples usually book us between 12-18 months in advance of their wedding day.

How Much Should A Wedding DJ Cost?

Wedding DJ price points can be all over the place. Some seem too good to be true; other DJs appear to be out of their minds with their wedding prices. You don’t want to ruin your day with the cheapest’ professional wedding DJ’ you can find, so where do you start?

There are tons of wedding DJs in the Boston area, but which are the best value? How much does a wedding DJ cost? The average Boston wedding DJ price is $1500. This, however, doesn’t reflect the range of wedding DJ prices you will find in Boston, which totals can be between $600-$6000. 

When you search for wedding vendors in Boston, be it photographers, florists, decor, bakers, or anything else, you may find many different prices… but they are not all equal. You can buy a cake from Stop & Shop, or you can buy a cake from Montillo’s… they are both cakes… but well, have you had a Montillo’s cake?

It is essential to set your budget, but think about the impact entertainment has on your wedding reception while doing so. After food, the most memorable part of a wedding is usually the entertainment. If it’s good, the wedding is epic. If it’s terrible… there will be a lot of people making it an early night. 

Always be sure to ask what a quoted rate includes. Often you will find quotes that are for 4 hours. We find that most wedding receptions average 5-6 hours. The quoted rate should include all setup and breakdown times as well. Ask about overtime, but unless your wedding is on private property, it’s not likely that a venue will allow you to go over a set end time.

Most DJs are equipped to fully handle contract signing and payments online (if they cannot, this should be a red flag). Once a contract is sent, the standard waiting period is one week for signature and retainer payment. It is common to find a 50% retainer due at signing, with the balance due 14 days before the wedding date.

2020 taught vendors and couples that contracts are essential. Most wedding vendors will tell you that the initial payment is non-refundable. Be sure you understand your vendor’s cancellation policies. Many vendors have also updated their retainers and payment schedules based on lessons learned from COVID. 

There will often be a date that if a wedding is canceled after that date, the company will still hold you liable for the total amount. While this may seem insensitive, remember that dates are their inventory; if they are not likely to rebook that date, that is lost product.

Availability and Experience

Always ask how many other weddings your DJ has or will book that weekend. If it is more than 2, be concerned (on a holiday weekend, make it 3).

A popular question on all the wedding blogs is, How long have you been in business? I think this is a tricky question. Someone may have 20 years of experience, but is it the first year repeated 20 times, or have they progressed and evolved?

Ask them what they do to grow and evolve instead. Hesitancy will answer the ’20 year’ question.

When you speak with the company, are you talking with the actual person who will be the DJ at your wedding? If not, you need to find out who will be DJ’ing your wedding and when you will be able to speak to them. These should be easy answers.

Unfortunately, it is a somewhat regular practice for a DJ company to book a wedding and then go out and sub-contract another DJ to fill the date. This practice makes the DJ a commodity and not a talent. You want talent.

So let’s talk briefly about talent levels and price points:

Budget-Friendly Wedding DJ ($600-$1000)

This is the sort low to high DJ… you know what I mean… we’ve all done it shopping online. This may be a good way to buy a lightbulb, but probably not for something that plays a crucial role in your wedding day’s success!

Most DJs in this range ($600-$1000) are just starting in the field. This is very much a hobby or a part-time job for them. A budget-friendly DJ may not be insured or have appropriate business licenses. However, a professional friend offering a steal of a deal for your DJ is different from hiring a budget DJ. 

Mid-Range Wedding DJ ($1000-$1500)

The mid-range wedding DJ cost falls more in line with the national and local average price for a wedding DJ. The mid-range DJ has a few more weddings or events under their belt and takes it more seriously. They’ve been a club DJ or have been working in the industry for a few years.

Professional Wedding DJ ($1500-$4000)

professional wedding DJ on this level makes this money for a reason. They are talented and committed to perfection when it comes to your wedding day.

On average, a professional wedding DJ will spend somewhere between 10-30 hours preparing for your wedding day. This process can include multiple planning meetings, coordinating with other vendors on the team, and of course, curating playlists specific to your tastes!

This wedding DJ level is always available for questions, knows music, and is an excellent MC. 

Music

Playlist Curation

Wedding Playlist Curation

Why not just use a Spotify Playlist? Well, we love it when you give us a Spotify playlist because it gives us insight into your musical tastes. However, a good Spotify playlist does not a fabulous wedding reception make. 

“Get Low” by Lil’ Jon might be you and your friends’ absolute jam… but how are you going to make the work in with “Dancing Queen” after your mother told you it’s a must-play?

Professional Wedding DJs will usually have an online planning system to ensure that your wedding day goes exactly as you had envisioned. Our planning system makes sure that your wedding DJ stays on track; you choose what songs you want and which ones you don’t (we’re sick of “The Cupid Shuffle,” too).

You and your partner can choose your level of involvement in creating the wedding playlist; there is a balance between too involved and not involved enough. You should be able to give your DJ some genres, artists, and somewhere around 20-30 songs that cover your must-plays, play if possible, and do not play.

If you give your DJ a list of 100+ songs or dictate the order that the songs must be played, you are doing your DJ, your guests, and yourselves a huge disservice. Trust the process and the professional. There is more leeway with the cocktail hour and dinner, however. 

Do you take Requests?

While all DJs have a go-to list of the best wedding reception music, they should be willing and encourage couples to submit their requests. This helps to ensure that the music reflects you! 

Suppose you have an eclectic taste in music. In that case, some of your requests may not be appropriate for the dancing portion of the evening. Your wedding DJ should work with you to find the best spot for these songs, often during cocktail hour or dinner. 

There are several strategies when it comes to accepting guest requests. The first is to say no, but this is also the worst strategy. No matter what guidelines you give your guests or DJ, there will always be someone making a song request. Another option is to have a request run past you for approval, but this never works out well.

You are hiring a wedding DJ for their skill and knowledge. Just because someone makes a request, it doesn’t mean your DJ will play or has to play it. DJs are music experts; if they get an excellent request, they’ll know. When a terrible request comes their way, they’ll know. 

Should your DJ gets an obscure or interesting request multiple times, they may run it past you. This request could be a song from your past that seems out of place but has a story and may get a fantastic reaction from your friends. It is essential to let your DJ know of any of these that you may be able to think of in advance so they can be prepared.

A wedding DJ can play almost any song in these modern times. Beware of the DJ that promotes how many songs they have. If they don’t have something, as long as it’s available on the internet, they should be able to find a way to get it. There are exceptions, and even I have faced them, but they are rare. Promoting the size of your music library is a relic of the DJ past.

Random song requests on the day of the wedding may be more of an issue. While wifi is prevalent almost everywhere, it may not be strong enough for your DJ to download music on-site. No DJ should be playing any song off YouTube on site. Ever. Trust me. 

Pro Tip: Don’t select songs for your wedding because they are songs you think are supposed to be played at a wedding. This is about you. If you don’t want to hear, Don’t Stop Believing for the millionth time at a wedding, make sure to tell your DJ! If you need to hear Mac Miller because it brings you back, or you know your friends will go crazy, tell us! Specific requests that are genuinely representative of your tastes and help push the night over the top. Don’t just request songs because you’ve heard them at every other wedding.

How do you keep your music up to date?

The best answer to this is “by listening to new music.” 

Many DJs do not keep up to date with new music other than downloading a song when clients request it or only looking at the top charts every few months. Beware of DJs that talk poorly about modern music. There are plenty of them who wish the music was like what it was when they were young. We all know, or at least should know, that this is an unrealistic desire; every generation has those that look down on the newer generation. Do you want that from your wedding DJ? The best wedding DJ will understand and respect the newest music trends, even if they don’t particularly care for it.

Keeping up with charts, Spotify, Tik Tok trends, and the latest releases and remixes is a job in and of itself. DJs who are talented and valuable are highly adept at this skill.

Day of Logistics

Equipment

When you think of DJ equipment, the classic DJ setup is turntables. This doesn’t mean they are playing records, per se. They are using a digital system that connects with their computer to control their music. However, they can play actual vinyl records too.

One of the most popular setups these days is centered around a controller. This all-in-one unit uses the same turntable principles.

Every once in a while, a DJ will be offered to use the venue’s sound system. While this may seem convenient, it often is anything but. DJs invest a lot of time and money into building an excellent sound system that they know the ins and outs of and can run perfectly. Using a “house system” means that the DJ cannot guarantee the quality, and if something goes wrong, they may not be able to fix it as quickly. Occasionally, some venues double as professional music venues or nightclubs where the DJ may feel comfortable using the installed system.

Keeping On Track

Not every couple works with a wedding planner. We will help develop a timeline for your reception and share it with all the vendors to ensure everyone is on the same page. Do you have a wedding planner? Excellent, we’ll work with them to ensure we follow the hard work they have put in for you.

Your Wedding DJ becomes the voice of the night, it is your party, but they are the event host. Their job is to keep everything running smoothly and on time and make the necessary announcements based on the timelines!

Part of keeping on track is making sure that we are ready for anything. Our team will arrive at a minimum of 2 hours before your wedding to set up and test everything. Our extra early arrival also allows us to catch any day of curveballs that may head our way.

Check out our free Wedding Planning Guide. This workbook enables you to see more of what we do and help you no matter what wedding DJ you select!

Ceremony

The venue coordinator or wedding planner often handles the lining up of the wedding party. There can often be anywhere between 2-5 songs for the wedding ceremony processional. Your DJ must have a line of sight to the coordinator or a radio to make sure that music cues are made properly.

Cocktail Hour

This often seems like a period of downtime for your wedding DJ but is most assuredly not. While you’re taking pictures, mingling with guests, we’re going over the timeline once again with the planner or coordinator and making sure that everything is ready for the rest of the evening. We line up everyone to introduce the wedding party and give our final instructions for the grand entrance. 

Pro tip: Your wedding DJ should be saying each name back to each member of the wedding party to ensure they have pronunciation correct, as well as the order correct.

Dinner

The music for dinner shouldn’t be just throwing on Frank Sinatra and walking away. Dinner can be a great place to reflect your musical taste and truly set the vibe. Your DJ should start with more low-key music for the beginning of dinner. When dinner’s finished, if your guests are tapping toes, dancing in the seats, or singing along, they’ve been properly primed for the dance floor!

When you think about feeding the DJ, ask if your DJ requires a meal per their contract for themselves and their staff. It can go either way. At EventSmith Boston, we don’t require a meal but do appreciate it. 

If the venue/caterer plans on feeding the DJ when everyone else is done eating, it will be a wasted meal. Your other vendors are usually winding down at this point. However, for the DJ, this when they are starting the most crucial part of their job and won’t have time to eat.

Dancing

The logistics of dancing are pretty straightforward, right? Yes and no, some crowds are just not dancing crowds, but that doesn’t mean they are not having fun.

I am roughly paraphrasing this, but Mike Walter, a wedding DJ industry leader, has given an excellent presentation that I have been lucky enough to see twice. In “Why People Dance,” he dives deep into the psychology of dance and the social interactions needed for people to dance.

There are people who will dance to anything. There are the people that will need encouragement, whether from a significant other, a critical mass of dancing, liquid courage, or some combination of all three. Then some people won’t or are unable to dance, and that’s ok too; we still try to make sure they are having a good time.

As a DJ we’re always looking and scanning the crowd to see who is dancing or who looks ready to dance. In our minds, we are formulating a plan to keep the dancers dancing and draw more people to the floor. We may already be thinking 4-5 songs ahead. Still, we may turn on a dime in a different direction because our experience tells us to.

What Makes a Good Wedding DJ

Preparation

We spend hours preparing for your wedding (this is factored into our cost and any professional). In the months leading up to your wedding, we will interview you about your loves and dislikes and all your favorite music. We build out a detailed timeline and run-of-day sheet to ensure no detail is overlooked and no questions are unanswered on the day of! All our couples also have access to our online planning system, making it so much easier for us to coordinate!

Commitment

Hobbyist DJs are just that… hobbyists, investing time and energy into their hobby only as time allows. You share their obligations with them, as they may not be entirely focused on providing the best experience possible. Your wedding is the only event on our schedule that day. Your DJ will be present for you 100%! Our wedding DJ team will arrive extra early to run through the day and make sure everything is perfect!

Investment

A serious DJ will invest time and money back into their business. A professional DJ knows that DJ’ing is an art. This DJ knows that it’s more than just playing songs, it is knowing what the right song to play is, playing it at the right time, and in a way, no playlist on the phone could ever do.

They work to build their careers, attend conferences, join professional organizations, and network with event professionals of all types. A professional DJ will study music, stay up to date on current trends, and look for that obscure future hit or fantastic remix. Lastly, they keep their equipment up to date and top-notch and practice their art form.

Vibe Check

If you are a Peloton user like me, then you’ve probably heard Alex Touissant tell you to check your vibe and certify it.

Certifying your wedding’s vibe is the most crucial part of any DJ’s job. A wedding reception isn’t like a nightclub, although the right DJ can maintain that style appropriately. Your wedding DJ needs to play music that reaches all ages and walks of life in a way that keeps everyone engaged! This is often easier said than done, and a skilled DJ will be able to pick the right song at the right time to make everyone go wild.

 

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We’d love to be part of your wedding day contact us to see how we can help create an epic party for you.

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