Choosing a Wedding DJ

“Does our choice of wedding DJ really matter?” Yes, absolutely! But navigating how to choose a wedding DJ can be tough. I’m here to help and I brought a Connecticut wedding DJ professional with me.

Remembering how my wife and I chose our wedding DJ, and also remembering whom we chose, I contacted my friend Sal Fusco of After Hours Events of New England to ask him some questions. That led to this guide, in which I’ll tell you how to choose a wedding DJ.

Video Summary: Choosing the Best Wedding DJ

Sal and I met up, socially distanced, at the beautiful Saint Clements Castle in Portland, Connecticut in the fall of 2020. Check out the video summary on my YouTube channel and then read on for the full post!

Quick Summary: How to Choose a Wedding DJ

Here are the most important wedding DJ factors to consider:

  1. A wedding DJ does much, much more than just play music

    Yes, when we hear “DJ,” we immediately think about music and dancing. But, a real wedding DJ facilitates much more than this.

  2. Wedding DJs are definitely not one size fits all

    All of your wedding vendors will have their own approaches and personalities. This goes for your DJ, too!

  3. It’s best to book your wedding DJ far in advance

    The good wedding DJs are in demand. So, find and book yours well in advance of your date.

  4. No, a wedding DJ can’t just play music off of someone’s phone or YouTube

    Copyright and licensing is a huge, confusing world. When it comes to weddings and music, DJs can only play songs for which they own the rights to do so.

  5. You should care about a wedding DJ’s equipment, especially their backup stuff

    Wedding DJ equipment, even modern DJ equipment, can break. Make sure that your prospective DJ’s approach to trouble is acceptable.

  6. There are a a couple of red flags to watch out for when looking for a wedding DJ

    Again, it’s about more than just music. Watch out for a prospective DJ’s presentation through advertising and clothing on a wedding day.

  7. Apparently, TikTok music is really popular at weddings these days

    You read that right. Social media is literally permeating every crevice of our lives, including wedding music!

Question 1: What do wedding DJs actually do besides play music?

After Hours DJ Sal Fusco.

This is honestly the best place to start. As with each of your wedding vendors, if you don’t know what you’re paying for, it’s hard to know what you’re actually looking for. To summarize: wedding DJs do much more than just play music.

The Emcee Aspect

As a big music fan myself, when I hear the word “emcee,” I immediately think of MC Lyte, a popular rap artist from the 1990s. It makes sense because “emcee” and “MC” are synonymous: they refer to a “master of ceremonies.” This is really the main function of your wedding DJ

Sal explains in the video, “There’s so much more involvement [than just playing music] that DJ should have when at your wedding. There the one who’s kind of going to direct traffic for doing special events at the wedding…They should be able to use a microphone.”

If you’ve ever been to a wedding and did NOT hear the DJ’s voice throughout the day, that should be concerning. Regardless of style or personality, you should definitely be prepared to ask prospective vendors in this area how often they are on the mic when you consider how to choose a wedding DJ.

They Should Also Help You Plan

You should be meeting with all of your prospective (and hired) wedding vendors. Along with your wedding planner and photographer, your DJ is the next vendor who should play a significant role in planning your day with you. From the get-go, feel your prospective DJ out from this aspect. Ask them about how they would help you plan, handle last-second meetings, and interface with the others on your wedding vendor team.

As Sal suggests, “If you think it’s a stupid question, ask it anyway! We’ll laugh about how funny it sounded instead of you crying about it [because of] how important it was later.”

Question 2: Are wedding DJs pretty much one size fits all?

Human beings are unique in their personalities. Actually, research suggests that understanding your own (and your partner’s) personality can help you quite a bit in life. Correspondingly, for something as personally and socially important as your wedding day, it makes sense to choose a wedding DJ whose personality meshes with yours.

Accordingly, when it comes to something as emotionally-involved as your wedding day, you’ll probably want certain wedding vendors to match your particular energy preferences. As far as how to choose a wedding DJ, energy/personality compatibility with you and your partner should be near the top of your list.

It’s All About Energy

Sal puts it best in our interview, explaining, “Do you want someone who is interactive? Do you want someone who is very low-key? It’s hard to find a DJ who can do all of that.”

Following from that advice, consider the following possible scenarios. If:

  • The high-energy / extrovert party characteristic is prominent in your relationship (i.e. you’re both this way or the partner who cares more about the reception has this trait), an exciting wedding DJ who can hype the crowd is probably best for you.
  • A low-key / introvert party characteristic is is prominent in your relationship (i.e. you’re both this way or the partner who cares more about the reception has this trait), a laid back wedding DJ with a soothing approach is probably best for you.
  • Your relationship doesn’t have a prominent party characteristic, it may be a good idea for you two to consider your guests’ personalities. Will the crowd be mostly high-energy or low-key party types? Are you and/or your guests going to be more likely to want to dance the night away or enjoy group conversation all night?

Keep in mind that back when you two were dating and then when you or your partner proposed, it probably wouldn’t have happened if your energies weren’t compatible. Similar should be true for your wedding DJ.

If You’re Really Unsure About Wedding DJ Personalities

If you two really have no idea what type of wedding DJ personality to seek out, that’s where I think that referrals can really help you. For example, if you’ve already booked your wedding photographer, keep in mind that you probably clicked with that person. Therefore, seeking more vendors with a similar personality and/or experience may be a good idea. For example, would asking that vendor which Connecticut wedding DJs they have had good experiences working with.

Question 3: How far in advance should we book our wedding DJ?

How to choose a wedding DJ.

Now that you understand what your wedding DJ should be doing for you and how you should match up on a personal level, it’s time to start thinking about actually booking them. When considering how to choose a wedding DJ, make sure that you factor this into the equation.

Sal describes that six months before your date might be too late. He further explains, “Realistically, when you find a facility [venue], you want to find your photographer and DJ almost immediately.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a farm venue, a mansion, a ballroom, the perfect jeweler, or your DJ. Start early!

This is especially true right now in our state since the Covid-19 restrictions are about to be lifted quite a bit. So, once you find your Connecticut wedding DJ and other vendors which are important to you, you’ll want to book them as early as possible for your wedding before another couple gets them.

Question 4: Our wedding DJ can just play music off our phones, right?

This may be the most confusing piece of advice yet. Let me preface this section with the following: I’m not a lawyer (and neither is DJ Sal), I’m just someone who has a basic understanding of how copyright and licensing work.

Let’s suppose that you have a music service subscription, such as Spotify. Now, picture this:

  1. You’re driving in your car and playing music through your own subscription
  2. You’ve having a private party with friends and family at someone’s house, your significant other uses your phone to log into their separate subscription, then plays a playlist
  3. You’re at your wedding, you ask your DJ to play “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac but they don’t have it in their catalog, so you hand them your phone so they can use your subscription to play it

Numbers 1 and 2 should sound familiar and fine; under my non-expert opinion, they both are. But when it comes to playing music at events and/or for the public, you can’t just “pass the aux cord,” from a legal standpoint. This is basically why you and your guests just can’t hand your phone to your wedding DJ and expect them to play music from it.

The Answers Are Buried in the Terms in Conditions

When you sign up for any of these music services, they make you read and then agree to a long list of terms and conditions before you can actually pay and create an account. Buried in there are phrases such as the following, from Spotify’s agreement:

The following is not permitted for any reason whatsoever: 1…performing or displaying to the public, broadcasting, or making available to the public any part of the Spotify Service or the Content…

Spotify Terms and Conditions

While the world of music, record companies, and legalities is pretty complex, the relevant premise is quite simple. None of us actually “own” the songs, we simply “own” permission to listen to or play them in certain ways. These “certain ways” are pretty much defined by the record companies, then are channeled to the subscription service providers. When we create a free or paid account, when end up explicitly agreeing to the conditions.

As I understand it, this is a direct carryover from the old days. Remember records, tapes, CDs (which I loved), and buying individual MP3 files from Amazon and Apple (which I still love)? The latter are digital ways of listening to music like Spotify, so that’s a little more familiar. The former forms of buying music involved physical packaging that typically contained the licensing info.

Question 5: Why should we care about their equipment?

Connecticut wedding DJ Danny O stands in front of his laptop while playing music at The Overlook at Geer Tree Farm.

As a wedding photographer, there are multiple reasons that I show up to weddings with more than one camera. The most important one, however, is that cameras can break. The same goes for wedding DJ equipment!

“Do you have backup equipment?” Per Sal, you should ask your prospective wedding DJ this question. He admits, however, that everyone will answer with “yes.” Therefore, he stresses that this follow-up question is really important: “Where is that equipment the day of my [wedding]?”

One Is None, Two Is One

Weddings are expensive, both in dollars and time. Therefore, you and your partner should think about the possibility of things going wrong. I don’t recommend that you waste your time with any vendor who fails to make you comfortable regarding emergencies. Connecticut wedding DJ or otherwise!

As a matter of fact, wedding vendor downtime can potentially have a huge financial effect on you. All of us, from planners to DJs, spend a considerable amount of time, money, and practice getting good at what we do. There’s certainly a “you get what you pay for” factor involved, so don’t let price/cost be your deciding factor! Sal brings this up about halfway through the video. Here’s an example to illustrate his point:

  • Pretend that your wedding budget is $8000 and you have an eight-hour day planned.
  • You’re down to two wedding DJ finalists and you pick the cheaper one to save some money. The cheaper one, your selected DJ, doesn’t have a great backup plan for when things go wrong. You ignore that, however, to save some money.
  • Two hours into your reception, your wedding DJ’s equipment breaks. By the time they get things figured out, an hour has gone by. You and your guests have just been sitting there during that time.

How much money did you really waste? Well, $8000 divided by eight hours is $1000/hour. Hindsight is 20-20, but maybe you should have gone with the wedding DJ who had a contingency plan that they could articulate to you, even if they cost a little more.

Question 6: Are there any other wedding DJ red flags to watch out for?

Sal shared the following wedding DJ red flags:

Wedding DJ Red Flag 1: Playing Music Illegally During Events

As touched on earlier in this post, Sal calls it a “red flag” if a wedding DJ offers to play music from a guest’s phone. He describes, “DJs cannot legally play off of someone’s device. They don’t own that [license to the] song, so they legally can’t do that. We can’t play off YouTube. Again, illegal; we don’t own that song.”

As far as music on YouTube goes, it’s not even supposed to be there in the first place unless specially licensed. I remember back in the day when I was an ignorant grad student. Posting videos of myself and my training partners in the gym to YouTube was a hobby. One such video was pulled because it had Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” playing in the background. Copyright laws are real!

If you’d like to hear some more on the topic, check out the video! Sal goes into more detail about how wedding DJs can actually be investigated and fined for playing music that they are not authorized to.

Wedding DJ Red Flag 2: Egregious Self-Promotion

Sal puts it perfectly: “Do they have signage? This is something that really isn’t appropriate at a wedding. If someone really is interested in that person [the DJ], the [will] simply just come up to them and ask for a business card.”

We’ve all seen this, whether at a wedding or some kind of other event. Large signs or banners, or maybe someone who keeps verbally announcing who their company is. To Sal’s point, this can be a bit much and detract from what really deserves your guests’ attention: you two.

Wedding DJ Red Flag 3: Dressing Poorly

For this one, Sal provides another gem. “Another thing, and very important thing, is how the DJ will dress.” From basketball jerseys to unlaced Timberlands, he points out that the full gamut of unprofessional wedding DJ clothing is out there.

DJ Sal once again makes a great point: all of your wedding professionals should be presentable on your day. He points out that this is a perfectly acceptable question to ask your vendors during initial meetings.

Personally, I tend to wear all black, with no logos, like a ninja. You can check out Sal’s style in the photos in this post.

Question 7: What kinds of music is popular at weddings nowadays?

Yeah, I spend way too much time on social media. But I admit, I was surprised to hear Sal describe a connection between it and wedding reception music:

“Tiktok is taking over the world, everyone!”

Sigh. But as a nineties kid, it was great to hear Sal say that that decade’s music is popular at weddings these days, too.

Backstreet Boys, anyone?

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  1. It does make sense to find a wedding musician that’s known for their experience and musical taste! I have a friend who wants to get married as soon as his girlfriend accepts his proposal. I should talk to him about finding one of these professionals before their big day!

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