I was honored to teach a class a few weeks ago at Thee Wedding Warehouse to a few dozen brides and moms and maids of honor. There were photographers talking about how to pose for portraits, a caterer on questions to ask a caterer, an event planner on budgeting etc. I spent a few minutes on questions to ask a DJ on the occasion of hiring entertainment for a wedding or other social occasion. There are a new crop of people being introduced to our industry every month and sadly, they don't know what to expect, what things cost or even what questions to ask. Sadly, many people have resigned themselves to the thought that, those cheesy DJs... well, that's just the way DJs are, or, my friend works at a club, or, a guy at my office has an ipod and eclectic tastes in music and it will somehow be ok. The basis of my short seminar was just a few questions to ask a DJ to help new brides weed out the riff-raff. Every once in awhile, a hobbyist may hit a home run but I wouldn't want to gamble a big budget event on someone without a consistently good track record at weddings. Every time I hear a horror story about a DJ ruining an otherwise lovely event, I always find there had been an attempt to cut corners or save a few dollars by either doing it themselves with an ipod or having a "friend" or other beginner do it. Those kinds of things often ruin friendships if the event goes south. Additionally, wouldn't you want your friend to enjoy the festivities and not be burdened with working at your event?
A survey in 2008 found that a whopping 81% of brides wished, after the fact, that they had spent more time, effort, attention AND money on their entertainment choice.
All of the elements of an event come together to make a great event. They all represent the taste of the hosts, the religious or ethnic traditions, the budget etc. If a guest arrived and decided they didn't' care for the linen choice of the bride and groom, would they leave? Even if there were a disaster such as the cake sliding off its pedestals, would they leave? If the DJ stinks however, they will eat the meal and look for the first opportunity to call it a night.
Here are some of the questions: Are they insured? How do they answer the phone and respond to you as a professional business person? Professional equipment with redundancies or at least back up equipment on the event site? Will they take requests? How will they dress? Will they be yakking on the cell phone or flirting with the bridesmaids or outside smoking all night? Do they know proper etiquette for your event? Will they provide a written contract? Will they play offensive or overtly sexual music? Will they use profanity? Do they belong to a professional association or trade group and as part of that, have they committed to any code of ethics? When meeting with an entertainment agency, are you talking to a salesman or the DJ that will actually be playing your event? None of these provide any guarantee, but they will go a long long way toward getting someone that will provide the vision you have had for your event since you began dreaming of it when you were 9 years old.
I finished my seminar with a bit of education on budgeting. As a DJ, I know where I'm at in the food chain of this industry. I'm one of the last two or three professionals to be considered and hired. I'm not bothered by that. What does bother me is when I'm asked to cut my price for no other reason than, they didn't budget for it and they already spent their money on other things. Well, I guess you'll be left to the abilities of a hobbyist or beginner DJ that will work for less.
If the linen chair covers are the most important thing, that's fine- budget for the best. If the food is the most important, find the best caterer out there and spend the money on it. If the expensive venue with the view of the lake, mountain, city etc is the most important thing, put that first and everything else has to adjust around that. Believe it or not, I have had people in my career who actually moved their wedding date to accommodate me- when I was available, because I was the most important element of their wedding and everything else had to fit in after that.
Just prioritize the elements of your event and then work your way down and adjust your budget but don't get to the end and ask professionals to cut their price without offering some other consideration. I'll flex my price on off peak events, I'll take payments, I'll cut some of the extra equipment- the real value is in my personal expertise anyway. I can make the event happen with my DJ computer and a couple of speakers. I do love to provide all of the extra technology in sound, lighting, video projection, extra sound system for the ceremony itself with a mic for the officiant, live piano playing etc but those things cost money and take time to set up and if you can't afford them, let them go or throw us a bone.
Lastly, if you find a professional that you like, book them! To be booked more than a year in advance is not uncommon. If you wait, you may get who is left over and not who you want.
Here I am sitting in the front row making a point about something during the question and answer session after my part of the seminar. Thanks to Christine Valenzuela from Kiss the Camera for the pics that day. Some cheap fast food may be fine on a Friday night with the kids for a treat after a week of school and soccer and everything, but that won't work on the occasion of your wedding. How about some filet mignon from the best steak house in town?