By In The House Ent, Jan 6 2016 10:27PM
Congratulations! You're about to throw a party! Your child is about to have his or her Bar/Bat-Mitzvah, you just got engaged, or you've been tasked with hiring the entertainment for your company's holiday party (or, you just want to have a really great time celebrating some other special occasion). Now what?
You've set your date, locked down the venue, maybe you even have an event planner guiding your every move. How do you choose the best DJ for the job? These days, there are so many DJ's out there that it can be really difficult to figure out who will do the best job for your event. If you do have an event planner, then your task will be a little bit easier because he/she will likely have a few options for you to choose from (it's very rare that an event planner will only suggest one DJ company), but how do you choose from the options that you're given? What if you don't have a planner at your disposal?
Well, good news! I'm going to tell you everything that you need to know (and maybe a bit more), so buckle up! By the end of this, you'll know exactly what you need to do and how to do it.
First off, let's assume you don't have an event planner making suggestions for you. Start with what you know - have you been to a party in the last few months? Did you like the entertainment? Talk to your friends and see if they have recommendations. You can do a search if you come up blank, but I'm pretty sure that someone you know will have a great recommendation for you.
Once you have a few choices (ideally 3-5), you need to start doing your own research. Go through each company's website to learn as much as you can about what services they provide (some DJ companies offer lighting and photo services beyond the usual MC/DJ/Dancers/Sound services). You should also be able to get a general vibe about each company.
Now it's time to make some phone calls. By first contact, you should ideally have an idea about who you're calling and what the company specializes in (some companies specialize in weddings, while others do mainly Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs, and others do all kinds of events). In my humble opinion, every company should offer a face to face meeting between you and the DJ that they are recommending for your event. The reason I feel this way is very simple: if you get along with your DJ and like his/her vibe in the meeting, the odds are greater that you'll enjoy working with him/her much more. Besides, the meeting gives you the opportunity to ask all of the fun questions that everyone should ask any DJ before hiring them (and yes, I'm going to list them). Again, in my humble opinion, meetings should take place wherever is most convenient for you. More often than not, we'll take meetings at prospective clients' homes. I find that this setting is the most comfortable and convenient. Some clients prefer to meet elsewhere (company office, or at a coffee shop) and that's perfectly fine as well.
So, you've set your meeting(s), and your DJ shows up. Time to get down to business.
The very first thing I like to assess when meeting a new client is how we get along. Does the energy vibe? Are we on the same page? These are things that you need to think about as well. Beyond that, let's get into the questions that you should ask the DJ. I'll list them here in no particular order:
1. Are you insured? This should be a no-brainer - I'm only putting this in here because it will help you weed out the less professional DJ's (All reputable DJ companies carry liability insurance)
2. How long have you been doing this? Look for a specific answer. If the DJ tells you they've been doing it for "a long time" probe and ask how long. Most DJ's will be able to tell you right away. If the DJ looks uncomfortable or tries to dodge the question (any question for that matter) that's a red flag that means that he/she is newer at this (in and of itself, being newer is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's good to know) and is uncomfortable telling you.
3. Do you take requests? This is a big one, and I have a lot to say about it. I always take requests because I feel like every event is a collaboration between the guests and the entertainment. It enhances the party and brings everyone closer together. This doesn't mean that I'll play everything that's requested, unless of course, it's the person of honor (Bride/Groom, Mitzvah kid, etc..) that's making the request. A bride once told me a story about an interview that she had with a DJ before she spoke to me. She asked him about requests and his response was "If people are making requests, then I'm not doing my job" I laughed when I heard that. Having an open mind is important. I've done so many events where one person's request snowballed into a whole different set that blew the roof off the party. Bottom line: make sure that the DJ is open to requests unless YOU don't want the DJ to take requests from your guests (that's perfectly fine too).
4. What happens if you get sick and can't make it? This is another big one. Nobody wants to choose a DJ and then find out at the last second that they're not going to show up. I've personally been doing events for just over 18 years, and in that time I did a wedding with a liver infection, a Bar-Mitzvah with a 102 degree fever, and a bunch of events where I felt really sick. None of the clients ever knew about it. The point is, that unless a DJ has a life-threatening emergency or something to that extent, they should be at your event. In the unlikely event that something major does happen, the company should have someone of equal or greater ability on hand to take over. If they can't clearly answer this question, that's a problem.
5. Do you have backup equipment? With larger companies, the answer to this question should be a resounding 'Yes". With smaller companies and owner/operator companies, the answer might be that they are the only ones who use their equipment, it's new and taken care of, and it will work. That answer is ok too. Again, if the DJ is professional, this shouldn't be of too much concern, but I wanted to throw it out there just to be thorough.
6. Do you have any sample mixes you can send me? This is mostly so that you can get a feel of how the DJ operates. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on this, as programming (knowing what to play and when to play it) is way more important than beat-matching. Would you rather a DJ who plays the right song at the right time and blends the songs well enough to not obstruct the flow of the dance floor, or a technician who seamlessly transitions from one song to the next while scratching but plays songs that nobody has ever heard of? If you get someone who can do both, then you've hit the jackpot. In my opinion, at a private event (or non-club setting) programming trumps mixing every time.
7. How many events have you done? Tailor this question to the specific event that you're having. Sometimes, you'll get a DJ who says they've done 600 events, but only 1 was a wedding and the rest were Mitzvahs or corporate events. That's great if you're planning a Mitzvah, less so if you're planning a wedding.
And, last but not least,
8. What was your most challenging event, and what did you do to try and turn things around? No DJ has a perfect record. We've all done parties that just haven't gone our way and it's often things beyond our control that derail the event. One time, I was working a Bar-Mitzvah and the great aunt had a heart attack at the party. I did the best that I could to balance the gravity of the situation while still keeping things moving. It was a tough night. The DJ's answer to this question should give you insight into his/her mindset and how they operate.
There's one more thing I'd like to add, and it has to do with pricing. We know that everyone has a budget and most DJ's/companies are reasonable. It's ok to shop for price, but remember that you always get what you pay for. Some companies charge way too much, and others charge way too little. Find the happy medium. Don't let a few hundred dollars ruin a multi-thousand dollar event.
At the end of the day, go with your gut. If you feel that the DJ fits and is the right one for you, hire that DJ. If not, don't. Either way, make sure to meet with all of your choices so that you have a measure of comparison.
Hopefully, I've helped remove some of the guessing in a process that can be quite daunting.