Hitched 2.0: 10 Questions To Ask A Potential Band Or DJ

Some might argue that the music is the most important part of a wedding reception. After all, the location could be perfect; the venue could be beautiful; and the food could be delicious, but all of that will fade into the background if the dance floor is empty. The right music gets you and your guests in the mood to celebrate and dance all. night. long. And the key to getting the right music? Getting the right band or DJ. It’s important you find someone who not only will play the tunes you like, but will do so with a style and personality that keeps the crowd happy. Narrow down your selection by asking potential bands or DJs these 10 questions.

1. What’s your style?

With live bands, it’s a bit easier to discern style: Watch a performance, either live or on video, and you’ll pick up on the band’s energy, personality, and of course, musicality. But with DJs, it’s a bit trickier. Some like to fade into the background and simply press play on your favorite songs, while others prefer to “emcee” and get on the mic here and there. Before your initial meeting, ask yourself what you want in a DJ: Do I want someone who interacts with the guests between every song? Someone who encourages people to get on the dance floor? Or someone who announces key things like toasts and cake cuttings, and keeps quiet the rest of the time? Then, ask the DJ what his style is, and how it fits in with your goals.

2. Can we provide “must-play” and “never play” song lists?

Any wedding band or DJ worth their salt will have an extensive music repertoire or library to tap into for your reception (but it’s worth asking how many songs they have available anyway). You probably don’t want to just give the musicians free reign to play whatever they want from that list. Ask how you can go about requesting specific songs (Is there an online system? Do you just send an email list?), and how many of those songs he can guarantee to play. And, perhaps more importantly, ask about providing a blacklist of songs you absolutely don’t want played. Overwhelmed? Your DJ or band may have sample lists or suggestions for good and bad songs to play, based on actual wedding experience.

3. How do you handle requests from guests?

Let’s be honest: After a few glasses of champagne, your guests are going to get loose, and they just might think they’re dancing at a club, rather than a wedding. Which means, they’ll beeline for the music source whenever they can, requesting everything from “Shout” to “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” This can be tricky: Your DJ or band has limited time to play all the songs you previously requested, so adding in extras could get in the way. Not to mention, you don’t want inappropriate or terrible songs being played at your wedding just because a drunk guest requested them. Then again, saying no to said drunk guest could result in some attitude, so it takes a professional to do so properly.

4. Do you play ceremonies and cocktail hours, too?

When we started researching music for our wedding, we immediately assumed we’d have to find separate vendors for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. Not the case: Plenty of DJs are willing to play all aspects of the wedding, as long as the set-up works for them (I imagine it’s too difficult to fit a full band in most ceremony settings). If everything is taking place at one venue, it could be easy simple for a DJ to just shift rooms when needed—and make things simpler for you. If there ceremony is in a church five miles from the reception and the DJ has to pack up and relocate, it gets more complicated—and probably more expensive. But hey, it’s worth asking.

5. Do you work with an assistant?

Again, this is more a question for DJs than bands (though who knows? Maybe bands travel with a separate sound guy or something). While it may seem like a one-man job, getting all of the equipment set up and ready, cuing up the right songs at the right time, and dealing with those drunk-guest requests can’t possibly be easy. An assistant can help ensure everything runs smoothly.

6. Can we see you live before we hire you?

Anyone can talk a good game, right? But when it comes to performers, the best sales technique is letting people see them do their thing. Some DJs or bands you get in touch with may have videos of themselves you can check out online, but plenty don’t (Seriously, not one DJ we talked to had quality videos available). Ask if they have any upcoming gigs you can check out. If you’re lucky, you may be able to hang out in the back of an actual wedding (with the bride and groom’s permission, of course) and see for yourself if a band will work for you.

7. Can we tell you what to say?

Some of this goes back to the question about the DJ or band’s style. If he says he doesn’t like to talk at all, he’s probably not going to be too keen on taking your script suggestions, either. But if you do find someone who acts as a sort of emcee for your wedding, dig deeper and find out how willing she is to take notes on what to say. Like, do you want the DJ to read a little story about your maid of honor as she’s being introduced? Or maybe you have a funny message you want him to say during your father/daughter dance? Find out how flexible and willing the band or DJ is to take direction—just don’t expect anyone to be your puppet for four hours straight, reading from a 15-page script without deviating. That’s just crazy.

8. Do you include any other elements, such as lighting?

I was surprised to find out, along with the whole music thing, our DJ offers dance-floor lighting, a photo booth, and even up-lighting for the rest of the room. It could be more cost-friendly (and easier on you) to get all of these things from one vendor, so go ahead, ask the DJ or band what’s else they’ve got for you.

9. How much space do you need?

Bands, not surprisingly, take up a lot of space. Even DJs need room for equipment. But each individual band and DJ has a different set-up; while some can squeeze into a small corner, others will need a full 20-by-10 foot space. And because it would really suck for you to hire a DJ or band only to find out at the last minute that they can’t properly set up at your venue, you should probably ask in advance.

10. What’s your back-up plan?

Chances are, a back-up plan won’t be necessary. But you never know what could happen to prevent your band or DJ from showing up on your wedding day. So, to put your mind at ease, find out what he’d do if that’s the case. Is there a backup within the same company? A friend who can step in? Whatever it is, make sure it’s a plan everyone is comfortable with.

Hitched, our weekly column about getting married, is back! This time around, we’ll be walking down the aisle (well, in spirit) with writer Emma Sarran, who will be sharing her thoughts on long engagements, the institution of matrimony and that godforsaken wedding industrial complex every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter!