How would you like David Guetta or DJ Tiesto to handle your wedding? No? But these guys are the best DJs in the world! A wedding DJ is a special breed of DJ. Even with an understanding of that, it can still be challenging to know exactly what you should be looking for.
Pulse Entertainment lists the three most important wedding DJ skills as knowledge of music, ability to read a crowd and play to a diverse audience, and the ability to manage the flow of the reception. Please note the absence of what most people would refer to as “DJing” (i.e. beatmatching, using turntables) from this list. A good wedding DJ is the host of your party, an entertainer, a Master of Ceremonies.
Let’s break the three important wedding DJ skills down and take a deeper look. First is their knowledge of music–a good wedding DJ needs to be versatile. They should know what Zapateados are. They should know what to play when someone requests break-dancing music. They should know Chris Le Deux has a cult following among country music enthusiasts. They should know Frank Sinatra as well as they know the Black-Eyed Peas. They should know the difference between Bassanova and Samba. They should know that even though “Fight for Your Right to Party” by the Beastie Boys seems like it would be a fun, sing-along, party song that it always inevitably empties the dance floor—even to crowds that danced to other rap songs, other 80s songs, and other party songs. The only way you’ll know if a DJ has this knowledge is by picking their brains a bit.
The second crucial wedding DJ skill is reading a crowd. Personally, I majored in Sociology and love it when people ask me, “What do you do with a Sociology degree?” I read wedding crowds! While it might just look like I’m spacing out behind my table, I’m actually watching to see if toes are tapping under the dinner tables so I can know what a crowd likes even before they get up to dance. I’m listening to dinner conversations because guests will frequently say to each other, “Ohhh, I love this song!” as they eat. I’m watching to see if lips are singing along. While you’re eating, I’m studying. Not only do I size-up your group, but I also carefully watch the general crowd reaction to songs. For example, if two crowds don’t dance to “Fight for Your Right to Party” then I take it out of rotation.
How can you know if a DJ is good at reading crowds? Ask them what they look for when sizing-up a crowd. A short answer pretty much tells you how much time and attention that DJ puts into crowd reading—not much. A good wedding DJ will be able to speak volumes on this topic. If you feel like you instantly clicked with a DJ, this may be because the DJ was “reading you” and knew how to best approach you! Also, talk to the DJ’s past clients and ask how appropriate the DJ’s music was for their particular crowd.
The final characteristic of a good wedding DJ is their ability to manage the flow of the reception. What does that mean? Does the DJ look around to see if there are champagne glasses full of champagne in front of your guests before announcing the toasts? Does the DJ know exactly when the last guest has been served dinner so you can start the toasts and keep things moving? Does your DJ check with the caterers to make sure they’re ready to slice 100 pieces of wedding cake before announcing your cake cutting?
You will know right off the bat if a DJ will be a good Master of Ceremonies or host by asking them how the two of you will prepare for your wedding. If they ask you to meet in person or set up a one-hour Skype interview in which they’ll be filling out a detailed questionnaire (versus saying “just send me a playlist”), then you know you’re dealing with a trustworthy wedding professional. Also, evaluate how the DJ talks and carries him or herself. Do they make eye contact and have a firm hand shake? If not, you probably can’t expect this timid person to suddenly become a confident public speaker and leader at your wedding.
The last thing you want is to have to make 300 trips to the DJ booth during the reception to say, “Can you announce the toasts now?” and “Can you turn the volume down?” and “Can you change this song please?” A good wedding DJ is evaluating and moving constantly—they are walking the perimeter of the room to see how the volume sounds. They are asking the caterer if they are ready to put out champagne for the toasts. They are adjusting a strobe light an inch to the left so it doesn’t shine in grandma’s face. Don’t be afraid to ask a DJ how much time they spent behind their table at the average wedding.
In addition to these three crucial areas, consider a DJ’s equipment, price, professional association memberships, years of experience, reviews from clients, and over-all customer service and attitude.