A recent trend in wedding planning has been to "provide your own" disc jockey (DJ)--you know--hand your Uncle Larry your iPhone, plug in, and "party on, Wayne." And whereas I admit this is a tempting option in order to save money, my years as a wedding venue owner have taught me otherwise. Over the years, I've literally been to hundreds and hundreds of wedding receptions, and I can confidently say this--the ones that are most successful, most fun, and most memorable are the ones that hire a professional DJ, someone that "does this for a living," and knows the musical ropes.
Nothing against your Uncle Larry, of course.
Either way you decide to go, here are some things to consider when planning the music and dancing portion of your most important evening.
1. Check Your Venue's Policies and Resources
Many venues actually require a professional DJ, since they may not have their own sound equipment or simply have too much money tied up in their sound equipment to risk things to chance. Just think what could happen if your do-it-yourself DJ spilled a double whiskey and soda on your venue's expensive soundboard. There goes your honeymoon couple's massage. Nope--best to hire someone who has their own equipment and will travel.
In the event that you do provide your own music, remember that most people these days stream their music from a music service like Spotify or iTunes. The downside to streaming is that sometimes the sound files are of lower quality. Plus, they require a reliable internet connection, and just imagine if your venue's WiFi decides to reboot in the middle of "Butterfly Kisses" or "Celebration." Exactly--it won't be pretty.
2. Consider What a Professional DJ Brings to the Table
One way to think of a DJ is as a host. After all, he's the one with the microphone, the one all of your guests will be looking to in order to know what to do next. Is it time to eat? When do we dance? Are we going to catch the bouquet now? For this reason, you want to look for someone who's friendly, presentable, and confident. The day is about the couple getting married, of course, but the DJ guides the evening and helps set the mood. We've all been to those weddings when the rap music started way too early and no one got out of their seat. A good DJ can read the room, get people involved, and waits until Grandma goes home before playing Sir Mixalot.
Broc Barton, a DJ with Elevate Entertainment in Springfield, Missouri, says, "Choosing a DJ is a remarkably important part of your event. This person has one of the single greatest impacts in the entire experience of your reception celebration. Modern Bride Magazine conducted a study that shows that, 6 months after your event, 81% of your guests remember the entertainment above anything else!"
Also, although it's something most people don't think about, playing music at an event like a wedding often requires a music license. Even if you've purchased music for your personal enjoyment, those music rights don't actually extend to group settings and large audiences. A professional DJ should be licensed, however, so that's one less thing to worry about.
Plus, do you really want to be the one to decide whether or not "Friends in Low Places" goes on your playlist?
3. Ask All the Right Questions
When looking at DJ options, naturally you'll want to know if they're available on your date and what they charge, but be sure to ask if they charge a flat rate or by the hour. I've seen more than one DJ start packing up before the bride and groom even leave, and I'd suggest finding someone who can commit to the entire evening. Again, they are your host for the evening, and they should be there until the evening is officially over.
Ask if they provide a free consultation. This is standard in the DJ world, and they should want to know what songs are most important to you and your guests. The DJ should be able to "fill in the blanks," of course, but if you have a special idea for the garter toss or favorite line dance you can't live without, take those requests to the meeting.
Ask them what works and what doesn't. Any DJ worth his salt knows that the days of The Macarena are over. Ultimately, you want a DJ who's enthusiastic not only about your event, but also about music. I don't know anyone who doesn't want a hip, happening party, and that relies almost solely on music. So ask any potential DJ what their favorite songs are. What do they like that gets people on the dance floor and shaking their booties?
Lastly, remember how much you love music.
For some reason, music is inseparable from our lives. Even our hearts "beat." We all have songs that make us perk up, make us move, and even make us cry. The next time you watch your favorite movie, imagine it without the soundtrack. It wouldn't be the same. Likewise, a huge (huge!) part of your wedding will be the music that's played, so we suggest that it's more than worth your time and money to find someone you trust with your personal soundtrack. If your Uncle Larry is a professional, hire the guy. If not, give him and yourself a break, hire an expert, and don't worry about anything except how to do The Cupid Shuffle.