My Neighbor’s Friend Is a DJ!

It’s easy to distinguish between a DJ “wanna-be” and a professional entertainer, at least it is for me. But I have 34 years’ experience in this business, and I realize the difference is not always obvious to someone seeking to hire entertainment for an event.

Everybody knows somebody who “is a DJ.” Every kid with an iPod thinks he is a DJ these days.

But you wouldn’t hire a person to prepare your tax return simply because he has a calculator.

The American DJ Association has published a list of Ten Questions to Ask Your DJ, to determine if you are dealing with someone who is striving to be more professional with their DJ business. All are good things to know, such as level of experience, professional equipment, and liability insurance. But these Ten Questions are minimum qualifications.*

There are minimum qualifications that everyone should have before claiming to be a “professional” anything, whether it’s a DJ, a plumber, or a doctor. The letters MD after your doctor’s name mean he is a trained professional, with a high level of education, experience, and licensing, just for starters. There are credentialing requirements for continuing education, testing, and insurance. Similar standards apply for attorneys, accountants, engineers, managers, and other professions.

Sadly, there are no such minimal standards for the title “DJ.” Anyone can just declare that they are a DJ. No training, no degree, no license, just claim the initials. Caveat emptor!

In fact, some of the ADJA Questions for DJs are almost silly, such as having to ask how a DJ will dress for your event. A true professional will own several tuxedos, suits and costumes, and carry a spare shirt in case of an unfortunate coffee spill. Experienced wedding DJs have a collection of ties, vests and cummerbunds to match bridal colors. But would you ask your doctor if he owns a lab coat?

Asking a DJ (or DJ wanna-be) “Do you have a wireless microphone” is a bit like asking a doctor if he owns a stethoscope.

Even the question about professional equipment falls short, as it is not clearly defined. Since every kid with an iPod thinks he’s a a DJ, the market is flooded with cheap “entry-level” DJ equipment. There are even “DJ In A Box” kits out there.

Such low-end gear is not reliable and cannot survive the rigors of professional mobile use, and top pros will not even risk it as backup gear. It is frequently seen in pawn shops and yard sales.

Would you want your doctor to use “Cat Scan In A Box” when your health is at stake? The milestone celebrations in your life such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, reunions, and retirement, deserve professional tools and talent.

Becoming a professional presumes that you have the right stuff – talent, training, and tools – to do your job. That is the bare minimum.

But being a professional means just one thing: in addition to talent, training, and tools, you have the experience, business acumen, and repeat customers to earn a living at your craft.

It’s what we do.

*So how do you know if a DJ is a professional? Easy – look at their past customers, references, and reviews and awards.

9 Responses to “My Neighbor’s Friend Is a DJ!”

  1. In one form or another, our sole job in the wedding industry is to set and manage expectations. There are a lot of people out there who have gone to what we would consider to be a boring or average or below-average wedding as far as entertainment goes.

    To that end, there really aren’t too many people who have had a chance to see the opposite, and that is why “my neighbor’s friend is a DJ”. If your expectation is so low that you think that all you need is a playlist of music at your wedding and not someone to lead and entertain, then this somehow seems like a good idea. Me personally, it’s less about “gear” or “music”, it’s simply that the consumer doesn’t realize that there is anything better out there.

    Many of the calls we receive are from what I would term “professional bridesmaids”–women who have at least 10 bridesmaids dresses hanging around in their closet from the past few years. Wedding season for women seems to run in their circles. Regardless, their primary concern is that they’ve seen so many weddings and none of the entertainment has stood out to them as being memorable, and THAT is a travesty.

    So therein lies the rub, how do we educate people? Just as Scott has done here with this article. Read, learn and see that there are better alternatives out there for your wedding.

    Best of luck,

    • Thanks for your well-informed professional input, Randal. And you hit the nail on the head when you said it’s a travesty when entertainment is so mediocre that it is not memorable.

      My bridal clients all say they want their weddings to be memorable.

      Sadly, many of my wedding clients tell me horror stories about bad cheesy DJs who were memorable, but better left forgotten. The memories are bad when price is the deciding factor, instead of quality, experience and professionalism.

      Professional entertainment costs more, but not much more. The difference that an experienced, polished professional entertainer brings to an event far exceeds the slight difference in price. In fact, it’s often the “make-it-or-break-it” element — good entertainment is the life of the party, and a bad DJ can be the death of it.

      NOTE: Randal owns and operates Randal Stout Entertainment, and is an officer and Past President of the DFW Chapter of the American DJ Association.

  2. Jon Stricklan Says:

    I say a hearty “AMEN” to both of these commentaries. TALENT is very difficult to define and is very subjective in this industry. BUT that is exactly what we are paying for when it comes to hiring anyone in any business, from our flooring installer to our surgeon to our DJ. I for one would love to heighten the awareness of quality of talent and the reputation of the entertainment professional in our industry.

    • Don’t you Baptist choir directors say a hearty “AMEN” to almost everything?

      NOTE: Jon owns and operates Fresh Spin Entertainment, and has real, genuine, actual real-life singing talent! He wants to be a DJ when he grows up.

  3. I see these challenges every day. The phone rings, and the person says, “I am getting married, how much do you cost?” I am ready to cringe at the thought of being evaluated based on “How much do you cost?” Frankly, I get quite a few people that never call me back when they find out what my fee is for a professional, highly trained entertainer that will not ruin their wedding. Almost everyone in my market is “cheaper” than me, and most are hobbyist type DJs that have a day job, and this is not their profession. From the car salesmen at the Honda store, to the cop in our town, all think they are DJs because they have equipment and music.

    This is what I do for a living and weddings are my profession and passion, and I am outstanding at what I do. I just wish the brides could know what they don’t know to ask.


    • Thanks, Alan, and well said. The difference between a professional and a hobbyist is tremendous, when it comes to performance quality, far more than is reflected by price.

      DJ Scott

  4. […] who “is a DJ.” This is a frequent topic among professional entertainers, and has been discussed in this Blog […]

  5. I’m not going to say who, but there was actually a presenter at Wedding MBA 2010 this year that proceeded to tell the attendees that “brides don’t care about experience these days.” My jaw dropped. Most people gasped.

    Taken out of context, this sounds horrible. In context, it was almost worse. She was discussing marketing materials, and in short said that mentioning you have 34 years in the biz is not going to make a bride want you (I am going on 16 myself, BTW).

    Fortunately, there were many people that decided to stand up and shout, letting this presenter know that we are doing a disservice to clients everywhere if we do not show our abilities and experiences. The presenter backtracked a little bit, however the damage was done.

    We all started somewhere, but I can certainly say that the things I’ve encountered over the years make me better prepared at preventing a disaster on the most special day of my clients’ lives.

  6. […] much advice is floating around the Interwebs, much of it conflicting, about DJ professionalism and prices. By definition, a “professional” does it for a living, not a hobby or a […]

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