7 Important Tips for Working with Event DJs

The right DJ can make or break the vibe of your event. Here are some tips for getting it right.

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Booking a DJ might be one of the most high-stakes moments of event planning.

The right performer can significantly influence the overall atmosphere, energy, and memorable moments of the gathering, setting the tone for the entire event and creating a seamless flow from one moment to the next. DJs can reinforce an event's theme, enhance the emotional impact, keep attendees engaged, make real-time decisions based on crowd reaction, and serve in an all-important emcee role.

So, how can you ensure every beat aligns with your overall event vision? We asked some veteran DJs to share their top tips.

1. Start your search by considering your specific event's needs and audience.
“There are of course lots of amazing DJs available for any event, and you are going to be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding talent," says Robert Corrall, a veteran DJ and the founder of Second Song.

"It's about getting the right balance of talent, style, and professionalism for your event," he continues. "Sometimes, you might just need a steady hand and someone who can come in and do the job well with no stress. Other times, it might be about a wow factor or something that is going to stand out." To Corrall, the key is identifying what's most important to you and your audience before you begin your search. 

2. Do your research.
Ideally, you can ask other event professionals in the area for referrals. "I find event professionals are pretty responsive in helping each other source trustworthy vendors," notes Lee Dyson, the owner of Hey Mister DJ. If you're in an area without an existing network, he suggests finding and posting in existing groups for event professionals, like ones on Reddit or Facebook. 

"Having a third-party testimonial is always best—but next would be to check out the DJ’s website and social media, and request a live (unedited) DJ mix to review," Dyson adds. Lee Dyson is the founder of Hey Mister DJ, a 19-year-old collective of DJs and entertainers.Lee Dyson is the founder of Hey Mister DJ, a 19-year-old collective of DJs and entertainers.Photo: Courtesy of Hey Mister DJ

3. Recognize that different DJs have different specialties. 
All DJs are not created equal! Dyson, who has made videos on this topic, notes that while most professional DJs can adapt to various environments, different event types lead to different challenges that an experienced DJ should be ready for. "
At corporate events, you often have co-workers or teams from different regions or countries who might feel uncomfortable letting loose," he points out. "This underscores the crucial role of a DJ’s room awareness and crowd-reading ability."

Corporate events can also have an elaborate run of show, which can add complexity, Dyson notes. "A good corporate DJ needs to be comfortable following a show caller on comm/radio with many moving parts happening simultaneously," he says, adding, "I find corporate events or award shows are more likely to have last-minute changes right before or even during the run of the show, so a great corporate event DJ needs to be highly adaptable and able to flex on the fly."

While weddings may be less likely to have last-minute changes, Corrall—who primarily works in the wedding industry—notes some other unique challenges. "A wedding is a long day; it takes place in multiple areas of a venue and really requires a lot of mental energy from the DJ (in tandem with other vendors) to be thinking about every scenario and pulling on all your experience to ensure it runs smoothly," he points out. "There is just elevated emotion, stress, and pressure at a wedding, too."

Robert Corrall turned his decades of DJing expertise into Second Song, a DJ and live music boutique he founded in 2019.Robert Corrall turned his decades of DJing expertise into Second Song, a DJ and live music boutique he founded in 2019.Photo: Courtesy of Second Song4. Personality matters. 
DJs are one of the few event vendors who interact directly with your attendees—so it's important to make sure they're the right personality fit. "I know there are events that I am not a good fit for, and I wouldn't feel confident or comfortable having to perform at those events," says Corrall. "For instance, my style as an emcee is to be fun, warm, and engaging, but I am not the type of emcee to tell jokes, teach dances, or be out on the dance floor with guests. So if that is what they are looking for, I'd rather pass it on to someone who is a better fit.”

For this reason, Dyson emphasizes the importance of having a phone or Zoom conversation before booking a DJ. "There are so many people who have amazing social media presence but are new and lacking the experience required to deliver a flawless corporate event," he explains. "On a phone chat, you can usually flesh out the DJ’s level of experience with a few key questions like: 1) What is your general approach for a corporate event with an extremely shy or diverse audience? 2) What influences the decisions you make during the night regarding music programming? 3) What do you do if nobody is dancing?, and 4) How would you define your DJ style?”

5. Communicate clearly.
It's crucial for DJs to have a comprehensive understanding of the event, including the theme, demographics, and desired level of engagement, notes Dyson. "
When we receive an RFP without crucial details such as the venue layout, event length, number of guests, or equipment/lighting requirements, it can be challenging to provide an accurate proposal," he explains. "Most DMCs and event planners want a fast turnaround on pricing, but if they don’t already have all these details when contacting us, we end up ping-ponging with a few emails to ensure we send an accurate proposal.”

Clear communication during the event is also crucial. "It’s very frustrating when someone comes up and tells you to 'pick up the energy,' and 10 minutes later someone else tells you to 'bring down the energy' in the room," Dyson says. "We always prefer to be introduced to our main point of contact when we arrive so we know exactly who we should be taking directions from during the event."

6. Explain your vibe and general music preferences—but trust the DJ to fill in the gaps. 
Remember that your DJ is the music expert for a reason. "
I feel like our job as the DJ is to unlock the vibe and music the client is looking for, and then be able to pull in our own ideas so that it matches the end outcome they are looking for at the event," says Corrall. "Everyone has a vision of how the event will go, and everyone has music they love and want to hear. Sometimes those two things don't match up, so our job is to be able to fill in the gaps and structure the music in a way that makes the event a success—with enough of the personal touches and style of music requested."

Corrall likes to have clients share a Spotify or Apple Music list, or even a few favorite songs via email or phone call. "Basically, what I am looking for is maybe one list that is a guide, and then a shorter list of maybe five songs that are the absolute must-plays," he explains. "Then I know those songs are special and I am not only going to play them, but time them right."

7. Say thank you!
Other than ensuring your DJ is fed if the event stretches longer than four to five hours, Corrall emphasizes how far a simple "Good job" or "You sounded great tonight" can go. "
At the end of the night, just one person saying that to me can make such a difference and send me home in a great mood," he says. "So now whenever I am out anywhere—whether it be a restaurant, bar, wedding, or any kind of show—I will always make sure to do what I can to drop in a 'Great job tonight' before leaving. So if you enjoy the music, try and give the DJ a little fist bump before you leave.”

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