Wedding reception entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes, but a DJ is one of the more modern options available that has become an increasingly popular choice over live music. That said, not all DJs will be suitable for wedding receptions. And the ones that are might not be suitable for your wedding reception. So, let’s break down how to narrow down your wedding DJ options to one—plus, get into the top questions you should be asking. Consider this your wedding DJ checklist.
Typically couples choose between DJs or live entertainment like a band. You can also forgo both options and DJ your own wedding (an ambitious choice!) or figure out some combination of the two. If you’re on the fence, here are some benefits of a wedding DJ.
- It’s cost effective. Compared to a live band (or other live entertainment), DJs typically boast lower rates. This isn’t always true, but generally speaking, DJs require less housekeeping costs. Bands require more man power and potentially more travel costs because of their equipment.
- Hear your favorite music—the way you remember it. Don’t get us wrong: We love a wedding band. That said, if you chose Elton John’s “The Way You Look Tonight” as your first dance song because it conjures a specific romantic moment for you, it’s nice to know it will sound the same way as the time you fell in love with it. The same can be said when it comes to listening to any of your wedding songs post-celebration.
- DJs can read the crowd. All performers should have some ability to read the room, but DJs have the unique ability to be able to shift musical direction with just a few key mixing elements. Bands, on the other hand, will typically have to finish out a song even if the crowd doesn’t seem to enjoy it. Bands also tend to have a set lineup that they stick to for formal events.
At this point, you’ve likely already booked your wedding venue, caterer, and perhaps officiant. In that case, we’re sure you’re well-versed in the process of researching and narrowing down your potential vendors to a few options.
Once you’ve chosen your top three DJ options, contact them to make sure they’re available on your wedding day first. If so, schedule a call, in-person meeting, or even FaceTime appointment to talk. These meetings are your opportunity to get all of the intel you need to choose your wedding DJ. Here is a list of questions you want to ask:
Before diving into the details, it’s paramount that you start with the basics. These important questions will inform you of a DJ’s availability and experience, as well as give you an idea of their schedule.
Are you available for my wedding date? As with all wedding vendors, this should be your first question. Ensure that a DJ available for your wedding before taking the time to speak or meet with one-another.
How long have you been DJing? Right away, you want to get an idea of how much experience this vendor has. Make sure this potential DJ is seasoned and prepared to work professionally.
How many weddings have you worked? There’s a difference between DJing at a music venue and for a wedding reception. Inquire about how much wedding experience this DJ has under their belt.
How many weddings do you perform at per weekend? Do you perform at multiple events in one day? Get an idea of how busy (read: potentially overwhelmed or tired) this wedding reception DJ may be on your weeding day or weekend.
Will you or someone on your team be the day-of DJ? Some DJs run their own businesses featuring solely themselves. Other companies have a lineup of DJs available. Ask if the person you’re speaking with would be the one at your wedding and, if not, if you could at at a point get in contact with who will be.
How do you get a shy crowd moving? Not all crowds are quick to rush the dance floor. One major perk of hiring a DJ is that they know how to get (and keep) a party going. Ask how they handle a situation in which the crowd is slow to get started.
Do you have references I can reach out to? The biggest reassurance you can get about a wedding vendor will come from their past clients. Ask if they have references you can reach out to that will recommend them and speak to you about their work.
Chances are you got a feel for this DJ’s music style via their website or social media. Even so, it’s important that you learn more about their catalogue and style so you aren’t met with any surprises.
How would you describe your style? House, Top 40, country, classics—plenty of DJs specialize in a specific type of music. Make sure yours aligns with the kind of music you want played on your big day.
How often do you update your music catalogue? If you’re looking for more current music, it’s crucial to know how often a DJ updates their music collection. You don’t want to run into a situation where you’re looking forward to hearing last month’s hit radio song, only to find out that your DJ’s music library isn’t that up-to-date.
Do you use a predetermined set list? Many DJs will have a pre-made setlist they can play or that you can build off of.
Can we make the playlist? Say you know your musical taste—and the taste of your guests—incredibly well. Ask if it’s possible that you and your partner curate a list of songs—as well as a do not play list.
Do you have any samples of your work? If you can’t find samples on their website, ask if you can be sent some via email.
How do you handle song requests? Odds are, at least a few of your guests will approach your DJ with song requests. Inquire about how they handle these, if they take them at all.
Will you also act as emcee? From your wedding party’s entrance, to your father-daughter dance, to toasts, you may have a lot of announcement that need to be made throughout your reception. These are typically made by the DJ, but you’ll need to make sure this is the case.
These details might not be as exciting to discuss at the music itself, but they’re equally—if not more—important to your wedding planning.
How much equipment do you require? Be aware of the DJ equipment they’ll need/will bring on your wedding day to get an idea of the set-up.
Would we need to provide any separate equipment? It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes there will be a type of equipment that you need to provide, yourself. Ask if they’ll need a microphone, cables, or other tech equipment.
How do you handle equipment malfunctions? Will you have backup equipment? Ideally, nothing will go wrong during your wedding celebration. However, sometimes things happen. Be aware of what this DJ will do if a piece of their equipment malfunctions mid-reception.
Can you provide wireless mics for the wedding ceremony? It’s easier for everyone if you stick to one sound system throughout the day. If you don’t need to rent out a microphone from elsewhere, that’s a nice plus.
Are you familiar with our reception space? Ask if they’ve worked at your reception location before. If not, they may need to show up earlier to figure out how to set-up.
Do you plan to use lighting or special effects? Strobe lights, video screens, sparklers, projectors—many DJs have special effects set-ups that can be included in a music package.
Do you handle set-up and break-down? Ensure that the DJ and/or their team will handle the setting up and breaking down of their equipment.
What will you wear? Wedding themes and formalities varying greatly. For that reason, your DJ should wear something that won’t make them look out of place.
If you’re unable to perform on the day of, do you have a backup plan? Most wedding vendors have a backup employee or contact they can reach out to in the event that they can’t make it to your wedding last-minute.
Can you provide us with a full itinerary for the reception? If you have a wedding planner, chances are you’ll create an itinerary with them. If not, however, it may come down to you and your DJ.
The bottom line is usually one of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding on wedding music. However, it isn’t as simple as asking what they charge. Discuss all potential fees and every option available to you.
What are your rates? Do you charge by hours, packages, or both? Inquire about how this DJ charges their clients. They may set prices for different packages or change by the hours that they set-up and are playing music.
Do you have packages available? What is included? Packages make it easy to see what all a DJ can offer you—and for what price. Ask for a detailed breakdown of each package available.
Do you have payment plans? Some vendors will allow you to pay in installments, while others will require a down payment, then a final payment.
Do you have an overtime fee? Often, couples will get to the end of their wedding reception and ask the venue if they can extend their hours. In this event, make sure you’re aware of your DJ’s overtime fees.
Will there be additional fees? Transportation, parking, etc.? Get an outline of every item you can be potentially charged for or are expected to pay.
What is your cancellation policy? In the event that you need to cancel or postpone your wedding, don’t get caught with surprise rules. Ask what cancellation, reschedule, and refund policies they have in place.
Do you have the required insurance? Liability insurance is a must. Be sure that your DJ has it, plus any insurance that is required by your city or venue.
When can we expect a quote and/or written contract? When you’ve discussed all of the above and are ready to sign on the dotted line, ask when you can expect to receive a full contract.
While choosing your wedding DJ doesn’t have to be the very first thing on your wedding checklist, it shouldn’t be one of the last either. Once you choose your wedding venue, make wedding entertainment your next focus. Like venues, sought-after DJs book up quickly. So, don’t hesitate to start your search, especially if your top choices are popular in your area.
Like we said, not all DJs are meant to be wedding DJs—it’s a broad title. Wedding DJs are specific experts in how receptions flow and how to choose music that suits many demographics. Be sure to immediately cross off any DJs without wedding-specific experience (unless you’re having an unconventional reception or if you’re asking a friend to DJ, of course).
Wedding DJ can still mean a lot of different things. So, it’s important to keep your style and wedding vision top of mind. If you’re more old school and a fan of music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, for example, pursue a DJ who specializes in music from those decades. If you’re more into rap or pop or other more modern genres, you want to find a DJ who’s well-versed on the top of the charts.
The easiest way to narrow down any vendor search: word of mouth recommendations. Ask your family, friends, colleagues, whoever if they hired a DJ they loved. Even if they’re not engaged or married, they may have recently attended a wedding with a DJ that really wowed.
Of course you can also always trust the Internet to help you start your search, too. We recommend starting with a vendor search from a reputable wedding source. We’re biased but Zola makes the vendor search process basically seamless. You can read vetted reviews from real couples, find out what services each DJ specifically offers, and more. It’s an easy way to taper your search to at least a handful of options.
As you conduct your Internet search, pay special attention to any trends you see in reviews. For example, look out for any mentions of tardiness—you don’t want anything to hold up your reception once you’re ready to party.
Before you solidify your wedding DJ, be sure to get hammer out all of these details in writing. Be sure to include any notes on special requests, including certain song recommendations, exact start and end times, who will actually DJ day-of, etc.
Once you choose your DJ, you’ll likely be tasked with coming up with a list of must-hear songs, another list of absolutely-do-not-play songs, and a list of nice-to-hear-but-not-necessary songs. After that, your DJ will take it from there.
Just like that, the search for your wedding DJ is on. Now that you’re prepared with the right information and know what to ask a wedding DJ, you’re ready to hire the vendor that’s going to help create the best wedding for you. However, if you do need some help with how to find a wedding DJ, begin over at our pre-screened wedding music database.