Hiring a Wedding DJ with Talent

wedding dancingWhen it comes to your wedding, you should have the best. As you know, there are different degrees of quality with respect to liquor, food and venues, the same hold true for Disc Jockeys as well. There are bad ones and good ones…and then there are really talented ones.You can’t tell how talented a DJ is just by how much they are charging, you have to learn more about them. That means asking the right questions and getting answers that make sense. Just like in real life, there are a lot of people in business out there that talk a good game that they can’t deliver.If the price sounds too good to be true… there’s a reason for that. For a wedding in the Chicago area, the avg. price for a Pro DJ with standard package is between 900-1500.00. Of course, there are always add ons to consider as well.Yes, there are DJ’s that charge less. Much less. Good luck with that! That’s where many horror stories come from.

If your DJ has genuine talent and love for their work, it will show. Use your instincts. Watch out for “used car salesmen” types that use high pressure tactics. It’s VERY important to meet your DJ before you hire them, or at the very least, talk on the phone with the DJ…not the salesman.

Why Does It Cost So Much To Hire A DJ?

Average cost of a DJ in Chicago is between 1000-1400 for a basic set from a PRO.  DJing is an expensive hobby… and if a DJ decided to take it to the next level, and offer professional DJ service for people in his area, that cost skyrockets! So where does that money go?

  • Equipment: DJ equipment is expensive. A rig that includes enough sound and lights for an average 150 person wedding can cost between 8000 and 10000 dollars. Then of course, after you buy that, you need backup equipment as well. Lets say you were to rent equipment from somewhere for a day. Rental costs are usually 10% of total cost usually.
  • Website: Designing a website can cost a lot as well. A well designed site can cost a couple grand, easy. Even if you can design the site yourself, there’s still hosting costs and client software that add up.
  • Advertising: It takes money to make money. Advertising costs can be tremendous. I spend more money on advertising each month than I do on my car loan.
  • Insurance: Liability Insurance and Property and Theft insurance is a must… it’s also expensive.

What Does Your DJ Actually DO?

DJing is a lot more than just pressing “play”.  It’s work!  There is a lot going on “being the scenes” that you may not even see! Here is a quick overview of the skills a good wedding DJ MUST have in order to produce a perfect wedding for you and your family.

Programming Skills This is absolutely the most important part of being a DJ. What does programming mean? It means playing the right song at the right time in the right order. Every crowd is different and a good DJ knows this. Your DJ should have a good grip on every kind of music from the 40’s through the latest releases. Your wedding will likely have guests of all ages, right? Everyone has different tastes, and a good DJ will do their best to play something for everyone there. You NEVER really know what you are going to play.This is where the term “reading the crowd” comes in. When I DJ, I form this intangible “connection” that I have with the crowd. It’s a combination of using my instincts, experience and resources to answer the big question, “What do I play next?” This is a skill that takes many years to develop.Anyone can take a list of music and play it from top to bottom.    The order the music is played should flow nicely, not jump dramatically from genre to genre with no segway. Playing songs that don’t go together well creates a very choppy atmosphere for your guests. Believe it or not, there are plenty of Disc Jockeys who are little more than an expensive iPod set on shuffle.

A talented DJ can look at your request list and weave together a smooth playlist of music that gives all of your guests something to enjoy. Experienced DJ’s know exactly when when to slow things down with a slow song and also how to build up the energy and top it off with a super hot song that everyone loves!

Microphone Skills  — Have you ever been to a wedding where you couldn’t understand a word that the DJ or Best Man said over the mic?  It’s the DJ’s responsibly to make sure that doesn’t happen!  A talented DJ can enunciate clearly and doesn’t stumble over their words or those tough to pronounce names.  The DJ should be confident and be able to think quickly on his feet without using the word “ummm” or “uhhh” over and over.

All wedding DJ’s should know when the right time to speak over the music and know how to do it in such a way that it sounds smooth and the message is heard loud and clear!

It should also go without saying that a talented DJ doesn’t jabber on the microphone or crack corny jokes at your guests expense.  This happens more often than you might think.


Management Skills — Your DJ will be coordinating and communicating with the venue staff, photographer, videographer and Bride and Groom so they know what is going on at all times! There are a lot of people involved, and they all need to be kept informed by your DJ. Your DJ should be giving everyone involved a heads up so that there are no surprises. I always let my clients and their families know that something is about to happen so no one misses anything important! If plans change, people need to know. A good DJ is aware of this and doesn’t leave anyone out of the loop.

Things happen! Cameras have batteries that need changing, servers might need 5 extra minutes to clear the tables and the brides dress might need a quick fix before the first dance!  Remember, most people at your wedding will be drinking, so a good DJ will make sure that everyone is where they need to be before anything is announced.

I guess you could say that a DJ is kind of like a plate spinner. They have to keep numerous things working in harmony.

I have heard of DJ’s introducing the “Father – Daughter Dance” while the Father of the Bride was not even in the room! A disc jockey with good management skills can take whatever the night throws at them without getting rattled or becoming absentminded.


Improvisational Skills — Even though every detail at a wedding is planned out, things rarely run on schedule. Any number of things could delay an event. Dresses needing quick repairs, important people needed to step out of the room for a second, items are lost… the list goes on and on. Often times, plans change with no warning. If your DJ gets flustered easy, his performance could really suffer.

If your DJ is very good, they will know exactly what to do no matter what happens. Ask DJ’s you meet with for some examples on what they’ve done to keep the show going!

Back Up Plans — Every DJ should have them. It amazes me how many DJ’s don’t have them though. Laptops Crash. CD’s Skip. Equipment fails. Sometimes plans change. I always tell young DJ’s that I mentor, “It doesn’t matter how good you are when it all goes perfectly, it matter how you react when it all goes wrong.”   This is true for MANY jobs.   Your DJ should be experienced enough that they are cool under fire and prepared for almost anything.

What else can a talented DJ do?

Now lets talk about some of the skills a DJ can possess that sets them apart from their competitors. These are “the little things” that make the difference.



Mixing and Blending — This is a skill many mobile and wedding DJ’s claim to have, though few have actually mastered. I know this because I am the guy that other DJ’s come to for advice and pointers on creating smooth mixes and transitions with music. I’ve got a real passion for mixing and blending that stems from my days as a House music DJ in the clubs. I also produce music, so I have a very good understanding of how music is put together, so I can put them together like Lego bricks for your guests. Most Mobile DJs will fade out one song and then start another. A Disc Jockey with mixing skills and go from one song to the next seamlessly. It’s WAY better than the status quo of NOT mixing. I’m sure your DJ will say “yeah, I can mix.” Don’t take their word for it. Ask for video proof. There’s a lot of misconception of what the term “mix” means.   A lot of folks (including DJs) think that it just means “to play music.”.   It doesn’t.   Mixing actually means “to get from one song to another smoothly so that no one notices the song changes.”

Sampling and Sounds — Sometimes a well placed sound effect is a fun way for the DJ to interact with the crowd. This one really requires quick thinking! Utilizing a sound byte from a movie or song can accentuate a speech or convey a message to the crowd. For example, a very nervous Best man was makinglight of the grooms poor golf putting skills during his toast. A well placed “na-na-na-na-naa” from the movie Caddyshack got a good rise out of everyone…including the Best Man who seemed more comfortable speaking afterwards.

Scratching and Technical Skills — Scratching is another skill that takes a very long time to develop, but certainly isn’t necessary to rock a wedding.   There is definitely a right and wrong way to do it.   It’s a very difficult little trick to pull off.

A talented DJ will use his scratching skills to accentuate, not overpower the music.   If it’s done well, it can add some flair to the music and your guests will enjoy seeing something different for a change. The real skill comes in knowing the crowd. It’s not something you can or should do at every wedding. The trick is knowing the difference when this is ok to do and when it’s be better off not attempting.


Get someone who loves their work

kid at wedding

Having Fun on the Dancefloor!

Learn what other brides and grooms have said about the DJ your considering.   Ask people you know for a referral.   Ask your venue if they have any recommendations or suggestions.   They see a lot of DJ’s “behind the scenes” and they know who is good to work with.  There’s a lot of non-verbal clues as well.   Check out your DJ’s website?   Is it helpful?   Does it look like it’s 20 years old?   Is your DJ insured and can prove it?   Does your DJ take advantage of many of the legitimate review sites like WeddingWire.com?

I ~LOVE~ my job. I ~love~ music and I ~love~ a good party. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be working with some of the coolest couples in the Chicago area.  When you are being introduced, I want you to get goosebumps on your arm. I want your guests to overwhelm you with an incredible amount of positive energy that you’ll remember  the rest of your life.  You’ve put a lot of passion into planning your wedding, you DJ should feel the same way!  There are lots of great DJ’s with fantastic attitudes and work ethics.   Getting to know your DJ and feeling comfortable with them is a wonderful feeling and can take lot of weight off your mind!

Big Company or Small Company

There are 2 kinds of DJ companies out there “Single Op” and “Multi Op” Single Op’s are companies where the owner is the sole DJ and is likely the most COMMON company out there.

Multi-Op Companies : These are companies that have 5 – 20 DJ’s on staff. Generally, you can expect this to be a collection of “average” Disc Jockeys. They’ll provide your withadequate service. Nothing to fancy, nor too shabby. Multi-operation companies will only pay their DJ a fraction of the amount you pay them, which means that you’ll likely be choosing from a group of “weekend warriors” or inexperienced DJs. Heck, most of the time, you won’t even MEET your DJ till a month before the wedding! You’ll likely meet with a sales rep who is good at…selling. I’ve seen a lot of cases where the salesman isn’t even a DJ. Does this mean that Multi-Op DJ companies suck? NOT AT ALL! I’m just letting you know how they really work.

Yes, there are some high end multi-op companies that have rigid standards, though most run like any other sort of business that focuses on keeping profits high and expenses low. And, just like any large business there are people that have been with the company for a while and ones that leave. Check to see reviews of the DJ you are assigned. Have they been with the company very long? Is it possibly that the DJ Chris you were assigned isn’t the same DJ Chris from the reviews? Any bad reviews? Check review sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot and Yelp.

Distinct Advantage :The company has a large pool of employees to pull from in case of an emergency.

Distinct Disadvantage: The DJs themselves have little to lose if their performance suffers. The truth is, the review, potential referral business and the lions share of the money goes to the company. Most of the DJ’s are simply average contractors.

Single Op Generally a DJ who has been in business for many years and the company is centered around that DJ. For example, my company, Conquest Entertainment is built around myself, not other DJs. Single Op DJ’s have a vested interest in the client and will almost always make for a better DJ. These DJ’s have a lot more to lose and tend to have more experience and talent than what you will usually find at a multi-op DJ company.

Distinct Advantage: The DJ is often more experienced and more talented than a DJ at a multi-op company… and single ops generally charge as much as multi-ops! Distinct Disadvantage : Because it’s generally one person, there will likely be fewer points of reference than a multi-op will have,

Of course, you’ll have to still be rigorous with your search using advice that you read in this very blog :).