Interviewing potential vendors is like going on an awkward first date — you both hope there's chemistry, but it can be confusing to know exactly what to say (even for a Wedding Editor like myself!). Follow our new "10 Questions to Ask..." blog series with experts from each field who will break it down for you step-by-step. I'll share hard-earned real bride advice along the way, so you know how to spot the best vendor for your needs. This week, contributors DJ Kev Sakoda from Scratch Weddings and Vito Namio at Dash of Class Entertainment show you how to scout an amazing DJ.
1. Is this your full-time business? Are weddings your primary focus? What clubs, lounges, and corporate clients have you performed for in addition to weddings?
Determine whether they are a well-rounded, successful entertainer who can bring a level of expertise and versatility to your event. "You want to ensure that your DJ isn't a one-dimensional part-timer, but a true performer whose had varied and extensive experience performing in front of different (and tough) audiences," said DJ Kev Sakoda. It's fine if your prospective DJ mainly focuses on weddings—DJ Vito Namio performs at well over 100 per year—as long as they squeeze in some time for other types of parties as well.
Beware if a potential DJ bad-mouths former clients (whether they're corporations or individual brides) or their competitors. My fiancé Jason and I once met with a vendor who told us about an event that "wasn't his best work" because the client was a huge bridezilla! This made us wonder: Who's not to say he wouldn't whisper about that crazy-demanding web editor from Bridal Guide afterwards?
2. How do you customize the music experience for each couple? Can you help with song lists and providing suggestions?
Find a DJ who will create a soundtrack for your wedding that is based on your style, taste, and vision for that day. "One size does not fit all—if your desire is to have a mosh pit at your wedding, then you will need to deliver that and anything else you want, for that matter," said Sakoda.
A skilled DJ will gladly accept your must-play and do-not-play lists, no matter how short or long. Namio tells his brides upfront that they are in control of the music that will be played and they need to allocate time to work with him to ensure smooth timing for their event.
"All of the aforementioned can only be achieved with an entertainer who is flexible and willing to listen. It's easy to come up with lists of songs to play—determining the placement of the music (e.g. cake-cutting and bouquet toss) and how it fits into unique themes is the real challenge," said Namio.
3. How do you get the crowd pumped?
There are all kinds of incentives that DJs use to encourage guests to storm the dance floor, whether it's asking couples to join the newlyweds for a good-luck dance or playing a meaningful throwback song from the bridesmaids' college days.
Ask them how to get the crowd pumped, but, more importantly, listen to their music demos or watch wedding performances to get a sense of how they will interact with your guests in person. Interviewing prospective DJs is certainly helpful, but hearing them in action will really seal the deal.
"You want to make sure your DJ understands how to read a crowd, build up the energy and then keep it up. There should never be a lull—your DJ needs to have the ability to blend all sorts of genres to acmodate everyone and keep them on the dance floor," said Sakoda.
4. How do you handle song requests?
"There could be instances where the client directives are diametrically opposed to the guest requests. How a DJ strikes a balance to deliver on the couple's desires—while still satisfying the guests' requests—determines the skill and experience of the DJ," said Sakoda.
Some DJs (with the permission of the newlyweds) may tell partygoers that they need to stick to their playlist, but they'll do their best to fit in their song, while others will appoint a bridesmaid or relative to screen particular requests (so that the DJ doesn't need to interrupt the new Mr. and Mrs. mid-dance).
5. Can I hear some examples of mixing and blending different tracks?
When mixing is done correctly, you probably aren't even aware of it. The DJ should be able to blend between songs seamlessly; you don't want guests to become bored by a ten-minute long Queen rendition! However, when this technique is performed incorrectly, you'll be able to discern it instantly: "When there is no mixing or blending, there is awkward silence between songs (it's the same thing as your iPod)," said Sakoda.
6. What sound equipment do you utilize? Do you have back-up equipment?
DJ equipment is just as important as musical instruments. "Turntables allow the DJ to have hands-on control of the music and the ability to manipulate it instantly. A simple touch can change the sound, speed, and tone," said Sakoda.
Ask if your DJ is certified and knows all of the ins and outs of connecting a system. "We allow our equipment to operate without overdriving it, which is when guests start to complain about it being too loud (sometimes referred to as 'muffled' sound). When I play at a wedding, you will hear every word, nice and crisp, at a moderate level; I guarantee guests will still be able to talk at their tables while others are showing off their latest moves on the dance floor," said Namio.
Backup equipment is also essential: DJs should always have the equivalent of a "flat spare" on hand, whether it be a microphone, computer, mixer, etc. Don't forget to ask how soon before the reception they plan to arrive and how long it will take for them to set up.
7. Have you played at our chosen wedding venue before? If not, can you make a site visit beforehand?
The sound varies drastically depending on the room where your reception will be held. Don't underestimate the importance of a site visit: The lighting technician at my wedding reception told me that they've had crises with brides who chose DJs that didn't know how to work the room's acoustics. The sound on the microphones was so poor that the tech couldn't understand the garbled instructions through his earpiece!
Namio recommends that brides ask prospective DJs if they can set up appointments to visit such locations. "This allows us to become acquainted with new staff members, learn their rules for vendors, and plan correctly for providing the correct equipment for acoustics and lighting design. At the same time, we offer to provide these establishments with insurance certificates and updated company information. With these steps, they know we mean business," said Namio.
8. Do we have our choice of DJs to select from, or is one automatically assigned to us depending on date availability? What happens in case of an emergency?
"We believe choice is important: No two weddings are alike! You should have a choice of top DJs that fit your style and personality, and have the proper experience and skill for your wedding," said Sakoda.
Namio agrees: "I personally spend quite some time with my clients to answer their concerns in detail and make suggestions when called upon. In turn, they learn more about my experience and everything I bring to the table. Now, imagine investing all of this time and not being their MC/DJ on their wedding day!" he said.
It happens more often than you'd think: At one meeting, a sales rep tried to us to sign a contract before we even met with our prospective DJ! He happened to be in the building that day, so Jason and I got to say hello briefly, but the company's impersonality still rubbed us the wrong way.
9. What other services do you offer (e.g. lighting, HD video screens)?
Some DJ packages come with extra services such as intelligent lighting and video screens. "Next to lighting, video screens are our most requested option. I like to explain it as personalizing your day: Imagine watching memories roll by on the screens while you're sharing that first dance. Then, you can add a few photos to enhance the parent dances as well," said Namio.
Remember to get any details clearly outlined in your contract. Also don't feel pressured into signing up for extra amenities if you don't need them. When I told one DJ that my venue came equipped with intelligent lighting, he told us their lighting was still necessary for a true "club-like" experience. Next!
10. Why should I choose you as my wedding DJ?
I always like to throw in a curveball to see what they consider to be their best attribute: Is it their amazing sound equipment? Their can-do-anything personality? Or is it their professionalism and dedication towards making your wedding a success? Hopefully, all of the above!