Never hired a DJ before? Here are some things to consider

How to vet and evaluate mobile DJs

If you have been searching for a mobile DJ for your wedding or event, there are probably a few things you have noticed while looking at all the different websites out there.  Most notably, all mobile DJs make similar claims and use the same sales pitches.  How can you tell who to hire, and how can you filter through the marketing gimmicks and sales pitches?  Having worked for 25 years in the mobile DJ business, I would like to share some tips, advice, and things to consider when vetting a DJ for your event.

First and foremost, you need to decide what it is you are looking for in a DJ.  Are you simply needing someone to put together a playlist of music to play in the background at your event?  Are you looking for an interactive DJ and MC to handle the formalities of your reception?  Are you looking for a true DJ who can put on a professional mix show and rock a dance floor?  The truth is, not all DJs are created equal and in the mobile DJ world you have DJs of different skill levels and capabilities.  Each type of DJ works well in different roles/positions in the DJ world. Let's look at three basic types of DJs:

  1. Radio DJs/Podcasters-  Radio DJs, podcasters, or "broadcast personalities" introduce and play music that is broadcast on AM, FM, digital or internet radio stations.  They often work on the side as mobile DJs and usually use verbal narration to segue between songs. 
  2. "Programers"- These are DJs who put together a program of music, (a playlist), and then play those songs one after the other with out much actual mixing, usually just using a laptop.  This type of DJ just fades from one song to the next with out much creativity.  These DJs are often found playing music in bars, "cool" retail stores, weddings, and other venues where background music is needed. Most mobile DJs fall into this category.  You probably saw one of these DJs at a local bar during Karaoke night.
  3. Pro DJs- These DJs mix and play music in nightclubs, in concert/performance venues, and at music festivals where the emphasis is on dancing.  They always use turntables, CDJs, or controllers to mix music, and music is mixed in a way that you don't know where one song starts and another one ends so as to maintain the energy of the dance floor.  All of the DJs that work for Remix Mobile DJs have spent years working as Pro DJs!

When deciding on the type and skill level of DJ you are looking for, it is best to figure out what you need for your event.  If you really want a dance party, the Pro DJ is the obvious choice.  If your event is going to be a more laid back affair, maybe with an older crowd, and dancing is not as important, then a programmer will certainly fit the bill.

So, once you have figured out the type and skill level of the DJ you want, you then need to figure out which mobile DJ company fits what you are looking for.  Below I have outlined some tips on how to read past the marketing and sales pitches:

First and foremost, all DJs will say, "we only use professional equipment."  What does that statement even mean? What else would they use? The thing to know is that as far as Pro Audio and DJ equipment goes, just like with any other consumer good, there are tiers of quality.  There are entry level brands, mid level brands, and premium brands, and each brand has different grades of equipment in their own product line ups.  The entry level brands and base model gear may be "professional equipment," but it is not much better or louder than the stereo you probably have at your house!  Most of the newer and beginner DJs are using entry level equipment, and that is why they charge so little. Would any touring DJ, big name performer, or anyone truly concerned with sound quality use that equipment.  Probably not.  This is true for everything from microphones and speakers to DJ decks and controllers. Cheap gear is prone to feedback, extraneous noise, hums, and ultimately gear failure (usually at the worst time).

Truth be told, you can walk into a pro audio retail store and for $1,500 walk out the door with enough equipment to call yourself a DJ.  This is how a lot of new DJs get started (I started my career 25 years ago with a $50 mixer from radio shack).  That $1,500 sound system however is going to sound terrible.  Cheap audio gear, especially low end microphones and entry level speaker systems, will hum and buzz and are prone to static and feedback.  High quality gear has processors and supressors to control unwanted sound elements in order to provide crystal clear sound.  A beginner DJ will have just an amplifier that runs a pair of speakers.  A true pro will have speakers and subs and a whole rack of processors, limiters, compressors, and equalizers to make sure everything sounds perfect.

My advice, ask a perspective mobile DJ just what type of "professional equipment" he or she will be using.  Ask what brands of equipment they are using, cross reference that with a Pro Audio dealer such as Guitar Center to see just where their equipment falls on the spectrum of quality.  You can also ask to see pictures of their equipment, if there are not any on their website, to verify what they are telling you, and to verify how new or worn out their equipment may be.  As a company we replace and upgrade our equipment semi annually to make sure it is presentable and reliable.

The next thing to be wary of are promises DJs make such as, "WE HAVE OVER 30,000+ songs!!!"  This advertising tactic for mobile DJs is outdated and tells you a lot about how tech savvy that DJ may or may not be, or if it may be time for them to retire.  We are living in a digital age with technology advancing so quickly it is unbelievable.  DJ equipment is changing and advancing just as fast as cell phone technology.  With the advent of wireless internet and super fast cell phone data, a DJ should be able to download any song on the fly at an event.  A better mantra for DJs should be, we have every song!  If your DJ can't figure out how to download music at an event, they probably don't know how to use the rest of the technology that is available to them.  A true modern DJ will be able to download and incorporate any requests you or your guest make on the fly.  Having a library of 30,000+ songs was great when DJs were using CDs and records, but in today's mobile DJ world, it is nothing worth bragging about.

The next thing you will notice, is that every mobile DJ company will essentially say, first thing on their website, "We are the best mobile DJ company in...," or "We are the leading mobile DJ company in...," Best according to whom?  My advice, look for reviews of the company or real life client testimonials, preferably from a source that can be verified.  This will tell you how great the company is.  If they are truly that awesome, they won't have to tell you themselves, you'll be referred to them!  Look for any awards a company might have wone or any recognition or press they might have received.

FREE STUFF!!!  The next thing to be very wary of, are mobile DJ companies that try to be a one stop shop for your event.  If they are offering mobile DJ services which also include up-lighting, photography, wedding ceremony services, a photo booth, and videography, all at one great price.... run away.  There is a mantra in the business world, you can't be everything to everyone. You also can't be great at everything. This is certainly true of wedding vendors.  If your DJ is offering to run a photo booth, take your photos, and DJ all at the same time, do you think any of it will be great?  Be very wary of free add-ons and upgrades or all in one service providers.  

This actually leads to my next suggestion.  Seek out a mobile DJ that specializes or has extensive experience with weddings.  On your wedding day there will be a lot of moving parts and you need a DJ who can coordinate all of the pieces and make them work.  You need a DJ who is flexible and can adapt to changes easily and who can take charge and solve problems should they arise.  You want a DJ who knows how to work with other vendors so that for example, he doesn't facilitate your first dance or cake cutting while you photographer is in the bathroom.  A wedding is also a very different event from say playing at a nightclub or sweet 16 birthday party.  When we play a nightclub we know the crowd will be from 21 years old up to about 35 (give or take).  The music play at a club is mostly top 40 and hip hop.  With a wedding we have to make sure everyone from your 98 year old grandmother down to your 14 year old nephew has fun.  A great wedding DJ will play a mix of music that will appeal to all ages.  Inexperienced or amateur DJs often make the mistake of simply playing top 40 and hip hop at wedding usually alienating the over 40 crowd. 

Finally, we come to the thing that I find the most absurd.  DJs all promise on their sites that they are the best DJ in the area, or they are the number one party DJ, but have you noticed the one thing missing from most all mobile DJs websites?  Demos!  You are hiring a DJ to mix music and make people dance. Why do companies that mix music for a living not have demos of their DJs at work on their websites?!  When vetting a DJ, ask them if they have demos of their work.  Listen to their demos!  If they don't have a demo, ask them to make you one.  Technology makes it easy, and any modern DJ can record a demo using laptop.  In the modern world it has never been easier to reach an audience.  DJs have services such as mixcloud and soundcloud to promote their mixes to the world for free, yet 90% of mobile DJs don't. Why?  I don't know.  Maybe they don't want an audience to enjoy their skills, or maybe they are just a programmer and not an actual performer or artist. 

--DJ Mitch Fortune is a 25 year career DJ and owner of Remix Weddings.  Mitch has traveled the globe, and the country as a DJ.

Not all DJs are created equal

There is a  huge disparity between the equipment DJs use, the level of professionalism they may have as an MC, how much experience they have coordinating weddings, and when it comes time to dance, their overall mixing skills they may have developed over the years. Weddings are a very unique type of event with a lot of moving parts.  There are formalities and protocols that need to be followed and that requires a true pro to stay on top of everything.