Let me first start off by saying I am not a DJ. I am a photographer and videographer and have no ties to any particular DJ. My opinions are my own and completely unbiased. My perspective is that of a photographer/videographer who wants you to have the memorable (for the right reasons) wedding of your dreams.
Weddings are expensive, we all know that, and couples are looking to cut costs wherever they can. However, I see so many brides nowadays going without a DJ, or looking for the cheapest one they can find (with a budget that only fits a glorified button pusher). However, an actual professional DJ can make or break a wedding day, and have a lasting impact both on the way you and your guests remember the day.
Something I hear a lot: "We're just going to use Spotify. We'll create a playlist, get a friend to push the button, and save ourselves thousands of dollars."
In order to believe this, you need to look at a DJ as a glorified button pusher. However, a good one is not.
Can you have a wedding without a DJ? Absolutely! But only if you're having a small casual event with no dancing. If this does not apply to you, keep reading.
Here are my top 5 personal reasons why I DON'T think this is a vendor you should skip:
1) They provide quality equipment.
This saves you the money, and hassle, of renting or purchasing your own. I've even heard couples proclaim that they've bought a sound system, as if that negates their need for a DJ. These two are not the same. Can you DJ your own wedding? In a very technical sense, yes? But would I ever recommend that? No. Your DJ's setup - computers, music library, uplighting, lasers (although I highly recommend against lasers as they can burn your photographer's camera sensor, turning a $2000-5000 camera into an expensive paperweight in seconds), sound board, mics, cables, speakers, etc - can cost tens of thousands of dollars. One DJ I worked with had two wireless handheld mics that he said cost $2000. The audio quality was next level. These things aren't cheap. The karaoke machine you bought at Sam's Club is not equivalent. If you are hiring a videographer, they will likely expect to get a feed of the ceremony audio and speeches from the DJ's soundboard. However if you DIY or use someone with cheap equipment, their devices may not have the right outputs to match the videographers, leaving you without audio or them relying on a backup source that may not be crystal clear.
They should also have backup gear. I recently worked with a DJ who told me his first computer had glitched and he was using his second. I also worked a wedding were the power went out mid ceremony and for half of the reception. The party flowed almost as normal because the DJ had professional speakers with a battery backup. Would your cousin or friend from college have brought two computers just in case? Or keep things flowing without power? Or would you have been left with silence?
Many professional DJs in this day and age also come equipped with a requests system - whether on paper or using QR codes, so that guests can choose what plays, making them feel a part of the day, and improving your chances of having the packed dance floor you dreamed of.
2) They entertain.
This means getting on the dance floor themselves if that's what it takes to get the party started. However, not every good DJ is a dancer. Be sure to feel out the personality and portfolio of the one you're considering to decide if this describes them or not, based on which type you are looking for. You may even be able to ask for a video of them in action. If you are planning on a full, hyped, dance floor, there is nothing more important than an experienced professional DJ who matches that vibe. I did not have a DJ at my wedding because the ceremony was at a church with a pipe organ and the reception was at my parents house. I doubt if we had one friend or family member including ourselves who would have felt comfortable dancing. But for couples who dream of those special first dance memories, the tears streaming down the parents faces, and a packed dance floor full of friends absolutely making fools of themselves boogieing down, this will be absolutely impossible without a good DJ. That crazy bridal party of yours still requires someone playing their favorite songs, smoothly transitioning between them, and keeping the atmosphere hype. Spotify, even Premium, isn't going to have the same effect.
3) They Emcee.
This means announcing the names of the bridal party when they enter the reception. And it means announcing when important events like the cake cutting and bouquet toss are happening. An experienced DJ coordinates this with other vendors, in constant communication to make sure they don't announce dinner before it's ready, or announce that the first dance is happening right as the photographer is sitting down to eat. They also should be communicating with your planner, photographer, and videographer to ensure that things are still going as scheduled. If the photographer realizes the sun is setting quicker than planned and you still haven't done couples portraits, but the DJ hands out the mic for speeches, delaying your portraits by 30 minutes, you may find yourself in the dark. Literally. You may also find yourself at the end of the night with a list of the reception activities you had planned but forgot or ran out of time to do. Your DJ should use their mics for good, grabbing one to let guests know when the exit is happening, and any special directions for where to stand or when to light their sparklers, as directed by the photographer/videographer.
4) They make sure the right songs are played at the right time.
I recently saw a business being badly reviewed by multiple members of a single wedding because the DJ/planner had made the wedding day such a shambles. He caused the ceremony to start 30 minutes late as he tried to figure out how to work his sound system. And the wrong songs were played during important times, leading to so many embarrassing moments.
There's nothing worse than being in the zone, arms linked with your father, about to walk down the aisle, when the bridal processional begins to play... and it's not the right song. You can either walk down the aisle anyway and resent it, or awkwardly mouth to the button pusher that that's not the right song.
And these reasons are just as true for the ceremony and first dances as for the Cha Cha Slide. I've seen many couples opt for bluetooth speakers and Spotify. They also end up with ads and phone notifications sounding through the speakers, spoiling the quiet romantic mood of their First Dance as husband and wife.
5) They read the room.
Your cousin who owns a Beats Pill and an iPhone lacks the certain je ne sais quoi of someone who does this multiple times a week. A professional should have the wisdom and discretion not to play a song full of F-Bombs for a reception full of kiddos and grandmas. They should watch your face and the crowds reaction to quickly and smoothly fade out a song that people seem to have a distaste for or that gets them off the floor. And they should act as a living playlist - choosing the next song based off of what people are enjoying and responding positively to.
They also read the room by knowing which of their tricks to pull out when. Many DJs are so excited with the atmosphere of bright colored lights dancing around the room, that they don't stop to think or ask whether you would like these used during First Dances, and whether you want yourself to be purple in your photos (or black and white since DJ lights are a pain to edit around). These lights have a time and place, and slow dances are not it.
How to tell if hiring a professional DJ is right for you:
Desire romantic First Dances and a packed dance floor.
Would be thoroughly embarrassed or upset if the wrong song played.
Want to ensure your song selection is appropriate for your audience.
Want your day to flow smoothly and with organization.
Are hiring a videographer and desire clean audio.
Do not feel the desire to spend the time, money, and research to get equipment yourself.
Want someone who comes with an extensive audio library of every song you could possibly want.
Want additional services like a monogram projected on the center of the floor, cold sparklers to make your First Dance next level, or a smoke machine so that you can feel as if you're dancing on the clouds.
In Conclusion: While no one is perfect, including professionals, and things can still go wrong, hiring someone who is experienced, professional, and charges enough to back up these claims, can mitigate a variety of potential issues.
So now that you've decided this is something you shouldn't cut corners on, what does that mean for you?
I recommend hiring a DJ that charges at least $1000, or $250/hr. However, don't be afraid to spend much more than this if you find someone who checks all of your boxes and matches your vibe or offers additional services that you desire. This is not a recommend budget so much as a minimum.
Make sure you choose someone who uses contracts and handles things in an official way so you don't end up with a no show or someone disorganized who double books or cancels when something better comes along.
How long do DJs play at weddings?
If you already knew or have determined from reading this that a DJ is important to you, don't choose too short of a package. I highly recommend booking them for the ceremony (including time to get setup beforehand) so that you can have clear, beautiful, smoothly transitioning processional and recessional music. Ask your DJ before if they will mic the officiant or groom so that guests, including grandma, can hear the vows and so your videographer can get a clear feed. Not all DJs use lavalier microphones so double check whether yours plans to mic someone during the ceremony or just play music. The best package is one that starts 1 hour before the ceremony ends around the same time you plan to begin packing up. The party is over when the DJ leaves - you're left with silence after - so plan accordingly so that his time ends when you want your party to end.
If you and your guests love to party, or you desire your ceremony to flow smoothly, hire an experienced, professional DJ to facilitate a successful and memorable event from start to finish.