Critical questions to ask your prospective DJ

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  1. Is the DJ available for your date?
  2. How will they make YOUR celebration unique?
  3. Are they an experienced professional, or a weekend warrior hobby DJ?
  4. What type of music do they provide and will they play requests?
  5. Can you meet with the DJ personally?
  6. What kind of equipment do they use?
  7. Do they have back-up equipment?
  8. Will they guarantee to personally be the DJ for your event?
  9. Are they reputable and will they provide you with references?
  10. Have they ever performed at your chosen location?
  11. How much do they charge?
  12. Do they require a deposit and a written agreement?
  13. Do they offer lighting equipment if you want it?
  14. How do they handle themselves on the microphone?
  15. Are you comfortable with them?


Are they available for your date?
Begin your enquiry by indicating the date, time, and location of your event. If the DJ is not available, there’s not much sense talking further! If the DJ you want has someone else ‘pencil booked’, they probably haven’t yet secured the date and he could take a paid deposit from you to book the date firmly. Don’t leave your enquiry as just a ‘pencil booking’ for the exact same reason!

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How will they make YOUR celebration unique?
What will they do to ensure that your celebration isn’t just a musical variation from every other similar type of event they’ve performed. If your event is a wedding, this question is all the more important. How can you avoid having a McWedding? If all the DJ can come up with is talk about ‘reading the crowd’ and playing music to suit, then they really aren’t making your event unique, nor are they tailoring it specifically to suit you and your style. Of course, if you actually WANT your wedding to be the same as everyone elses, please don’t book DJ Richard as you’ll be disappointed!

A great specific question to ask your DJ is “What was the last thing you did to improve your talent, skill or performance?”

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Are they an experienced professional, or a hobby DJ?
With sufficient experience, a professional DJ will be able to act as your Master of Ceremonies and smoothly direct and guide your celebration from start to finish allowing you to relax and enjoy the party. With experience comes confidence and knowledge too. Many things can happen during an event- some are expected, others are not. The experienced professional has the ability to handle any situation which may arise and will be able to react spontaneously to correct the problem as if nothing ever really happened.

The seasoned professional will also know how to introduce interactivity into the night in a tasteful and energetic manner. With this same experience, your entertainer will read the crowd and intuitively know what music to play at what time. A well experienced DJ/MC can give you some wonderful ideas for personalising your event to really reflect your personality and style.

Ask DJs what training they’ve done to improve their service in the last 5 years. Have they completed any industry-specific training courses or workshops? Have they attended international DJ seminars or workshops? Is your DJ consistently improving their service and skills? What do they have in place to ensure that they are continuing to offer an improved service?

Is your DJ running his (or her) business as a professional full-time occupation? If they are working in another job, or are doing the DJ thing as a ‘hobby which pays’, chances are that they won’t be as prepared, dedicated, or focussed on YOUR special event. DJ Richard is a full-time professional DJ. It is his sole income and his permanent career. Focussed, dedicated and prepared? Count on it!

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What type of music do they provide and will they play requests?
It’s your party! Will your prospective music entertainer cheerfully accept your suggestions? Can they provide a play list with a wide variety of songs that you can choose from? Will they play additional CDs that you may want to provide?

Let the DJ ask you questions also such as what you do or don’t want to hear. You want someone who takes an interest in what YOU want. You want a DJ who is flexible, and has a HUGE selection, so that any request from your guests can be fulfilled, providing it meets your acceptable music criteria. Unfortunately many DJs still work on the principle that “it’s got to be LOUD to be good”. A professional will concentrate on quality of the sound, not quantity and will spend time on the night ensuring that your seated guests can still talk comfortably while others are dancing.

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What are they like?
Does the DJ you’re considering tell you anything about themselves in their website or advertising, or are you hiring an unknown? Most people would like to know a little about the person who will be entertaining at their event, particularly if it’s a wedding, and a face to face meeting is the best way to achieve this. Most professionals should be happy to come to you, assuming you’re in the same region.

What’s their appearance and physique like? Will they drink or smoke on the night? These things may not be important to some, but don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting if the information is missing. If there are no photos or biography of them on their own website, are they hiding something?

Are they well groomed? Your DJ should be freshly shaved and clean with tidy hair, smart clothing and polished shoes. Will they wear a formal dinner suit (tuxedo), tidy-casual, or a T-shirt and black jeans? Find out ahead of time and make your preferences known. Different events command different attire. If you want your entertainer in a tuxedo or a theme costume, make sure you know whether there is an additional charge as most DJ’s in New Zealand don’t even own formal attire! Waiters dress professionally, so why not your entertainer?

When you meet with a prospective DJ/MC, how much effort do they put in to learning about your style, taste and preferences? Are they organised and clearly in control? Do they offer you any form of written plan to assist with your preparations? This person will be representing you in front of your family and guests. Make sure you are confident in your choice of entertainer.

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What kind of equipment does your DJ use & what is their technical expertise?
Determine if the DJ uses today’s professional technology. You are paying money for a professional and they should have modern, well maintained, quality equipment and know how it operates. Make sure it’s pro-grade equipment, not home stereo or consumer grade. Ask about the age of their gear, especially the critical components like the speakers.

There is a difference! You are hopefully hiring someone who takes their job seriously, so make sure they have made the investment in quality equipment. Ask if they own their gear themselves or hire it. If it’s their own, chances are it will be looked after better and they will know how to fix any problems that could arise.

Do they have cordless microphones you are able to use for your ceremony or speeches if required? Will they turn your beautifully prepared reception or function room into a mobile night club with overhead lighting trusses, huge black boxes and masses of cabling? It doesn’t have to be this way in this day and age! Take a look at DJ Richard’s equipment page to see how discreet a DJ’s set up can look.

Award Entertainment Ltd is an ‘Approved Operator’ of the Bose Professional L1 systems, endorsed by Wellington’s Bose Professional product agent, ShowPro Ltd.

Note: Find out what your prospective DJ will need from you- even today many New Zealand DJs require you to supply them with a table! Award Entertainment doesn’t need a table of course.

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Do they have back-up equipment on hand in case of an emergency?
Even professional equipment can fail on occasion, so it is important to know whether your DJ has extra components, or hopefully another entire sound system available to them. Usually, only the true professional DJs invest the extra money to ensure that everything works on your event date and backup systems are in place.

Booking a reliable DJ is a very important decision for the success of your event. Many of the cheap DJs only carry a single amplifier for example, so if it should fail, your night is brought to an early and disappointing finish.

The most important components to have back-up for are the music library and the music source equipment, be it turntables, CD players or PC. Find out about your DJ’s contingency plans in the event of an accident, theft or break-down of these items.

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Will they personally be the DJ for your reception?
This is an important one. If not, when can you meet the DJ who will work at your function so you can feel comfortable with that person and make sure you are on the same wavelength? Meeting with your DJ/MC is the only way to find out if they have the energy and passion for your kind of event. Passion can’t be faked.

WARNING! Some DJs will book your event and then pass it on to an apprentice DJ, a subcontractor or even a completely different company to play your night. Some DJs don’t even bother to turn up! Make sure you get what you are expecting.

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Are they reputable and will they provide you with references?
Do dozens of previous clients, local venues, hotels, photographers and other event professionals give you a great testimonial of the DJ? If the references are from previous clients, don’t be afraid to ask to see them. Ask to speak with other wedding professionals or to see the references on paper if you’re uncertain.

Are they a current paid member of an appropriate professional trade association, such as the DJ Association of New Zealand? Are they running their business as a limited liability company (Ltd), providing a dedicated GST invoice, or are they really just hobbyists?

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Have they ever performed at your chosen location?
Ask the DJ if they have ever performed at your venue before. It helps if they have a rapport with the staff, if they already know the place, how to get there, what the acoustics are like, the owners preferences and where the power points are. Knowing the venue makes it less likely that they will have any problems.

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How much does the DJ charge?
Not surprisingly, most professional, reputable DJs charge more for their services than a hobby DJ who is just looking to make a few extra bucks on the side. Question a company that is low in cost… there’s a good chance you will be putting the success of your event at risk in order to save a few dollars. Be certain that you understand their basic fee, set-up times, travel costs, overtime charges, due dates for deposits and balances, and arrival time.

Also, keep in mind all the time and money you already have committed to your event and the impact the DJ/MC has on how everything turns out. If the venue was average, the food was ordinary, the speeches were too long, but the entertainment was phenomenal, your guests will probably remember your night as a success.

The entertainment really can make or break your event. If your brother’s “friend” will do it for a few hundred dollars less than a reputable, experienced, professional DJ, think twice before jumping at the lower price. Paying a little more for a much better DJ and an assurance of an excellent night is usually a great investment.

Prices for mobile DJs in New Zealand currently vary from around $500 to $4000, with average operators charging $750 to $1200.

Note: Some cheap DJs may tell you that they do all the things that the higher-priced DJs offer, but if that were true, why wouldn’t they be charging what they are worth?

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Do they require a deposit and a written agreement?
If not, why not? If a DJ is serious about your event (and his business), he will want a signed contract and a deposit. The agreement should offer a guarantee that he will show up on the day and will perform for the times you have decided on. If there’s no deposit and no agreement, there’s nothing to bind him to your event.

A professional DJ will insist on a deposit to confirm your date and a contract/agreement is your protection. Here is DJ Richard’s Entertainment Agreement for you to download. It is in PDF format, but if you require it in Word, simply contact Richard and ask.

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Do they offer lighting equipment if you want it?
Perhaps you don’t want any effects lighting, preferring instead to enjoy the venue’s natural ambience. Will the DJ be happy to play without his or her lighting?

If you do want some effects lights, can your DJ provide aesthetically pleasing additional lighting? Modern effects lighting can really add to the liveliness and energy of the night and makes the dancing just that bit more special. Some DJ’s still use headlight-sized lights with a basic chase pattern. These flood the floor with light with no dynamic impact and are clumsy, bulky looking lights. A quality operator will usually offer a set of exciting effects lights that are elevated to avoid shining in the eyes of seated guests.

Advanced operators may offer intelligent lighting, which can be controlled by a system called DMX. The DJ can control the speed, pattern, colour and even direction of these lights, altering the feel and style of lighting to suit the occasion. For example, a Bride & Groom’s first dance might require gentle, smooth, romantic effects, but later on during the party a faster, more energetic, colourful and dynamic show is called for.

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How do they handle themselves on the microphone?
Announcements should be clear, concise, energetic, polite and not overdone. Usually your guests are not interested in hearing a DJ “ham it up” over the microphone. Does your DJ have any radio, television or acting experience? Have they acted as Master of Ceremonies before and do they have the wedding knowledge to handle last-minute changes of plan? Talking well on a microphone effectively is a skill that takes much practice and experience. Listen to how they speak with you on the phone- are they confident, eloquent and polite?

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Are you comfortable with them?
Once you feel you found an established DJ who ticks all of the right boxes, make your final selection based on personality. Some DJs like to steal the show. These DJs are always on the microphone and like to be very visible. The other end of the spectrum is the DJ with a lack of any personality who does nothing except play the music, while other entertainers are an even mixture of the two. Usually you can get a feel for style simply by talking to the DJ when you meet them in person.

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Conclusion
These are just some of the most important questions to ask to distinguish a true professional from an amateur. Some intrinsic qualities (attention to detail, business ethics, courtesy and politeness, the ability to spontaneously change the master plan when required, etc) may be more difficult to quantify unless you meet with that person.

One final suggestion is for you to carefully listen to not only what an event professional says when you ask questions, but how they say it. Do they speak with knowledge, passion, and a desire to really help you create a successful event? If so, you may have a keeper!

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