Per my bio, prior to moving to DC and launching my own company, I worked for a high-end music production company that produced bands and DJs for upscale events and weddings in New York City. The owner was a fantastic businesswoman - and working with her taught me a ton about owning a small business, how to offer high quality services and products, and especially about what a wedding looks like from a vendor’s point of view.
Because of this background, I’m admittedly incredibly picky when it comes to DJs and bands. So here is my advice to you, some thoughts and things to consider when interviewing a DJ or band:
LIVE, LIVE, LIVE
For bands, especially, you’ll often be shown video and/or you’ll listen to some audio recordings of the band. Make sure you’re listening to or seeing real, live footage. You want to make sure the band and performers you hire are great in person, live. That’s difficult to prove since you can’t crash a wedding and since getting good quality live footage at a REAL event is difficult (the background/crowd noise can really affect the quality). So I generally recommend looking for a company that recorded their performers live - usually in a studio but sans crazy mastering and without too much editing.
Who the hell is that?
Make sure the performers you see in your meeting (or hear) are the actual people who will be at your event. Sometimes companies will sell you by using certain videos or recordings of people who are actually already booked elsewhere or frankly, don’t even work for the company anymore. Ask for a clause in the contract to guarantee the same performers - and real sticklers can even ask that all the performers be named in the contract. Note, however, that these are people and people get sick, get hurt or get pregnant (!) and might not be able to be there due to an emergency - so I’m sure the company will also insert a clause to cover emergency situations which is more than reasonable.
How do they run the event?
Everyone has their own style. So this is my own personal opinion based on attending and working many events and weddings: I think the music should motivate the crowd and should do the talking. Be sure there are no cheesy announcements and your DJ or band leader isn’t mic happy. No one cares about them. They care about you, they care about dancing, they care about having fun. Get off the mic.
Whether hiring a DJ or a band, I recommend that you avoid strict sets. A good band leader or DJ will be reading the crowd constantly and changing the music accordingly. My old boss was incredible at this - she specialized in a cuing system with her band so that there weren’t ever basic set lists. Instead, she visually cued them to go into another song, based on what she thought worked best for that specific party. Incredible.
Ask them if they integrate music - “integrate” is a great word and is what I personally think a good party needs. When you integrate music - for example, seamlessly transitioning from Otis Redding to Rihanna - you keep people of ALL ages on the dance floor. If instead, you have a motown set, and then an 80’s set, and then a 2014 set - only the people interested in that music will be on the dancefloor. Keep your guests on their toes by not knowing what danceable song is coming next and you have a packed dance floor.
Pay attention to what kind of performers your band members are. I think there’s a fine line between high energy, exceptionally talented singers, and over-the-top, can tell they wish they’d made it as a pop star, barmitzvah-motivating pushiness. A good performer should energize and motivate the crowd by being rad. That’s it. They shouldn’t NEED to get out in the crowd. They shouldn’t need to shout instructions over the mic (“get your hands in the air!!”). They should blow their minds with their talent and energy. Simple as that.
A couple other items to make sure are either in the contract or discussed:
1. Talk about their attire. What will they be wearing? Will it match your vibe? Tuxedos at a casual barn wedding doesn’t make much sense, and flashy costumes with too much skin at a formal affair wouldn’t be appropriate.
2. NO DRINKING. You want them to stay hydrated. Of course. They’re working their butts off and sweating profusely. But no alcohol should be consumed. Ever. End of story.
One final note is that I personally think that a band or DJ is where you should spend your money. You want quality - you can’t skimp in this area or your party will suffer. And believe me, I’m all for budget weddings and saving money - hopefully by now you all know I’m a practical lady to a fault. But you have to pay for talent. And when it comes to DJs and bands - you need the good ones.