A post about DJ rates

Hey Mr. DJ.,  

My fiancé and I are in the process of planning our wedding.  We’re shopping vendors, and we’re noticing that DJs are the one vendor that doesn’t have a standard price range.  We’ve found them from $300 to $3000, and they all look good.  It’s hard to tell the difference.  How much should we expect to pay, and how do we distinguish the good from the bad?

Thanks in advance for your help.


Anna Bujitt

This is a good question, and one that I’m sure many people seek the answer to, but are not even sure who to ask.  It’s unfortunately true, that you can find part-time, amateur DJs for as little as nothing these days, and some that will charge what seems like an unreasonable amount of money for essentially just “playing some music”.  I wish I could sum it up by saying you get what you pay for, but that’s not always true either.  Some wedding DJs who charge the highest rates do so only because they’ve been DJing weddings since the golden era, but are not current in their style of DJing or their music.  The short answer is, for a good DJ to do the job right, you should pay somewhere in the mid-hi area of the $300-$3000 range you’ve mentioned, or $300-$400/performance hour (as of 2014).  This is assuming that your DJ is providing your sound system as well, and your guest count is no higher than 200.  Here’s the long answer…  

There are a handful of key factors that should be taken into consideration when a DJ is deciding their rates, so let’s go over those;

How long have they been in business?  Not how long have they been DJing in their bedroom, how long have they been making money from DJing events, and how often do they have gigs?  The more time they’ve spent DJing gigs, the more chances they’ve had to do things wrong, and make sure they’ll never make those mistakes again.  Most DJs will spend their first few years DJing with an experienced crew, kind of like an internship, to learn the ropes and cut their teeth.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t give a newbie a chance, but newbies should have newbie rates.  And if it’s your wedding day, you may want to consider someone with more experience.  

What type of experience do they have?  They may be the baddest club DJ on the planet, but that doesn’t mean they know how to handle the prep work that goes into a wedding.  It also doesn’t mean they’ll have the level of professionalism required when dealing with wedding clients, or guests making requests.  And sure your younger guests are going to love that nightclub style of mixing and music, but are Mom and Dad going to like it?  It’s an important day for them as well, so you want to make sure they have a good time too.  Your DJ should be versatile with their styles, and should know which style to play, and when.  It’s certainly a bonus if they do currently play at any public venue on a regular basis.  This will keep their music selection and their performance caliber up to date, as well as offer some relevance in the DJ world, so you know they’re not just a bedroom DJ who’s charging a lot simply because they know they can.

Do they have a professional website?  If this is what they do for a living, there’s no reason not to have one these days.  Their website should have pictures of them in action, a description of who they are and what they do, and should definitely offer some music samples.  I often hear about “wedding DJs” that don’t have sample mixes, and their excuse is “every couple is different, so it’s impossible to make a sample mix, as every couple will require a different mix”.  Not true.  It’s possible to make a mix that shows a sample of a DJs range and ability to mix and transition between songs, regardless of the songs in the mix.  A DJ’s demo mix is their resume, and to not have one is the equivalent of walking into any business with no credentials and asking for a job based on trust.  

Do they have a Yelp page, or another place you can read reviews from past clients?  If not you can ask for references, but most career DJs theses days will have some online reviews you can read.  

What equipment will they be using?  If you saw them at a club and they were using turntables, you may have that vision in your head, and that vision may be shattered if they show up to your wedding without turntables.  FYI, most DJs are capable of rocking a wedding just as well without turntables, so don’t feel like they have to have them to do a good job, but I find that most of my clients prefer them aesthetically.  Will they have a subwoofer?  Is their equipment up to date and in excellent shape?  For weddings, it must be.  Will they have a reliable, wireless microphone for toasts and announcements?  If they’re handling the sound for the ceremony, do they have a specific sound system dedicated to this?  If they just plan to plug a lapel mic into the same system they’re going to be DJing on, there’s a good chance that will not go well.  What kind of car do they have?  It should be a spacious vehicle that can obviously carry the amount of equipment needed to DJ a wedding, and then some.  And it should be reliable.  If it’s a ’95 Ford focus, I would consider this an issue.

Do they have insurance?  Most venues may not ask for it, but do require all outside vendors to carry at least a $1mil special event policy.  It’s almost never needed, but you’d hate to find out the hard way that your DJ isn’t covered if something happens.  And on that note, if they were to run a cable past a doorway or across a walkway, what would they do to make sure no one trips over it?  Don’t be afraid to ask them this.  

Are they professional?  Do they have a well written contract?  Can they offer a formal estimate?  Do they have music forms to fill out.  Do they respond to emails or calls in a timely fashion?  If you’ve scheduled a meeting with them, in person or by phone, were they on time?  Do they accept credit cards?  Do they have a business license?  I wouldn’t sweat it too much if they don’t, not many DJs do.  but it does show a level of professionalism if they do.  

Do they have a staff or an assistant?  I don't but my rates are lower than most.  If you hire through an agency, you typically pay more, but it's money well spent.  You have a team of people, each of whom is dedicated to a different aspect of preparation for your wedding to make sure it's a flawless event.  And should something unforeseen happen that prevents your chosen DJ from performing on that day, you're sure to have an adequate replacement on hand.

Do they have any formal training?  That question is really just a bonus, but I feel it’s an important factor when it comes to one’s rates.  Most DJs won’t have any sort of formal DJ training, as DJ schools are a fairly new concept still, and most career DJs didn’t take classes to learn their craft.  But other types of training can apply.  I went to school for audio production and sound engineering, so I know acoustics very well.  I know how many speakers it’s going to take to accommodate any number of guests in a particular space.  I know best speaker placement for acoustics, as well as  pleasing aesthetics.  I know how to properly wire my system, and how to troubleshoot problems with it, should they occur.  I also took classes in business and got my degree in auto mechanics, so I know how to manage my business properly, and the chances of me getting stuck on the side of the road on the way to your wedding are slim.  Any schooling or form of training may apply, so never hesitate to ask about any they may have.  

Do you like them?  If you’re considering a particular DJ for your big day, the chances are good that you’ve spoken to them by phone, or otherwise.  So what kind of vibe did you get from them?  Are they friendly and genuine?  Are they asking the right questions?  Are they asking good questions you haven’t even considered?  That’s a good sign of a seasoned veteran.  Do they seem like they’re being overly agreeable and giving preset answers to your questions just to get the gig?  How do they present themselves, physically and otherwise?  Ask how they will dress at your wedding.  And furthermore, ask about their presentation in general, Do they have a table and linen?  Most caterers or venues will provide the DJ a table and linen, but not all.  It’s good to know if your DJ will come prepared.  Will they do their best to make sure cables aren’t seen and equipment is thoughtfully placed and presented so if it makes it into some pictures, which it most likely will, it doesn’t stand out?  Presentation is a key factor that is quite a bit more important at a wedding or corporate event than at a club.  If you’re hiring through an agency, it’s important that you meet with any DJs they’ve selected for you before making a decision.

Also, do they MC, and to what level.  You should understand that a DJ and MC are two different things, and in hiring one you should not assume you’re getting the other.  Any DJ should be comfortable on the mic, and okay with making general announcements, but they should not be expected to do any extra curricular entertaining on the microphone, or “crowd hyping”.  This is a special talent in itself, and one should expect to pay quite a bit more for this, even if it means hiring someone other than your DJ to handle this task.  On this subject, most people these days are quick to tell me they don’t want this type of MC at their wedding because they find it annoying.  But in all reality, some crowds need this type of encouragement to get on the dance floor after a long day of standing in the sun and drinking and eating excessively for free.  Consider this, and be realistic about your guests.  Keep an eye out for a blog post on this subject in the very near future (www.djvon.com).

If these questions are answered in a manner that satisfies you and makes you feel 110% confident that they are going to do the best possible job of DJing your event, then you should expect to pay around the high end of that range you’ve mentioned, assuming that they are providing a sound system, and that your guest count is no higher than 200.  If you don’t have that kind of budget, then consider which of these factors aren’t important to you, and expect to pay less to a DJ who might not meet all of this criteria.  But anything less than $200/hour, you're entering dangerous territory.  If you do find a DJ that meets all of this criteria and they’re rates are on the lower end of the spectrum, that’s a red flag in itself, and there’s a good chance you’re going to find out the hard way why they are so cheap.  For such an important day, don’t risk it.  

Good luck and best wishes,

Von Woo

**There are many helpful lists of questions to ask your potential DJ online, but too many can be overwhelming.  Not to mention, most aren’t written by DJs, so they venture into territory that does not fall under the umbrella of a DJs responsibilities.  And one major misconception is that all DJs are fully programmable.  They should be versatile and willing to accommodate, but if you’re favorite genre is country and my background is in hip hop and dance clubs, I may not be the right DJ for you.  Here’s a link to what I think is a good short list of questions to ask your DJ.