16 Questions to Ask a D.J.
by Thomas Ohlendorf
plus my own answers to each question

1 - Is the DJ available? Begin your conversation by indicating the date, time, and location of your event. Keep in mind that some DJ companies subcontract their services and they may always indicate that they are available; most of the time there is not a problem with this.

I do not subcontract DJ services, so if I tell you I'm available, I will be the DJ at  your event.  If I am not available on your date, then I can assist you in finding another local DJ who is available if you'd like.

2 - Will the disc jockey you speak to be the one who performs at your event? Be aware that some DJ companies act as booking agencies that assign many DJ's to functions they book. To avoid any last minute surprises, make sure that you have spoken with the person who will be performing at your function before you book the event. Don't let your event be a training session for someone with little or no experience.

I am a sole proprietor, so when you speak to me or e-mail me, you are communicating directly to the one who will DJ your event.

3 - Is the disc jockey willing to meet with you for an interview before you hire them? It is important that the DJ you choose be a serious professional who is willing to dedicate time and effort to your event. This commitment should start before any agreements are made, and a dedicated professional should be happy to meet with you to answer any questions.

If possible, I prefer to meet at the location where the event will be held in order to go over all the planning of how everything will be laid out.  If the venue is inaccessible before the event date, then an alternative meeting location, such as a coffee house or sandwich shope, will be used to at least go over the details of time scheduling, music selection, and any other important issues.  If the venue is a great distance away and impractical to meet (such as over 100 miles away) then every effort will be made to get all the details via e-mail.  I prefer e-mail for the details because it is a written record of what is discussed so nothing will get accidentally left out.  I also still like to have an e-mail correspondence after the in-person meeting(s) so any last-minute issues can quickly be addressed before the day of the event.

4 - Can the disc jockey supply you with references from previous clients and properties at which they have worked? A recommendation from another person is a great way to find out if a DJ is right for your function. When you ask for references make sure you get previous clients and properties at which the DJ has performed.

I have some references publicly available on my References Page.  If you would like additional personal references, I can supply you with their contact information.  I do not put people's private information directly on my web site, but will ask past customers on an individual basis for permission to give you their contact information if you would like additional references.

5 - What kind of experience does the disc jockey have and does he/she have it in the event type you are booking? Many events follow a specific format. It is essential that the DJ be familiar and experienced with the format of your event. Choosing a DJ with adequate experience will help to assure that your event runs smoothly. An experienced DJ will be able to handle unforeseen circumstances and work in coordination with the photographer, caterer, and other services.

Most of my DJ experience is in wedding receptions and school dances.  I started in 1999 gaining experience by doing, and learning from others along the way.  I now regularly participate in active discussion groups with other professional DJs so I stay up to date with the latest trends.

6 - Will the DJ use professional equipment? Make sure that the DJ uses only professional audio equipment. Pro audio equipment is made to handle the demanding conditions that are required of a mobile sound system. A system comprised of only pro equipment is far less likely to fail and will look and sound better than a home built system.

I use the same audio equipment that is used for live performance rock band concerts.  These speakers and amplifiers are actually a step above average pro DJ audio equipment, ensuring reliable performance and excellent sound quality and projection.  I have scalable sound systems where I can accommodate audience sizes ranging from 50 people to well over 5,000 people.

7 - How does the equipment look and what is the expertise of the DJ with it? Yes, the equipment does make a difference. This does not mean that you have to be an expert as well, but it would not hurt to peruse some of the professional DJ equipment manufacturers to get some information to be armed with when you talk to your DJ. Also, remember, more than likely you will be spending good money on decorations for your event; the DJ's equipment should not spoil that. Also, it should not be consumer grade equipment. Remember, Uncle Jack's stereo might sound great in Uncle Jack's basement, but, it may be barely heard when put into a banquet hall of 300 or more people.

For the appearance of my equipment, all of my equipment is basic black, and either carpet/felt finish or hammerhead liner finish (similar to spray-in truck bed liner protective coating).  If in a wedding reception it is desired that white material or flowers or whatever decorative arrangement would like to be used to cover or "hide" the speakers, the decorations coordinator of your event is welcome to do so.
As for my level of expertise with the equipment, I am extremely knowledgeable and experienced.  I also have a Bachelor's degree in Electronics Engineering Technology that gives me that added edge of in-depth knowledge of my equipment all the way down to each little electronic component inside every device.  I also understand the physics and geometry involved in how the acoustics of a room affect the sound and how to make adjustments to compensate.  I even use sound measuring and testing equipment to further fine-tune the system.

8 - Will the DJ be involved with the planning of your event? A DJ should do far more than just play music. They should become involved with the planning of the event. The DJ should be available to you prior to your function to discuss music selections and coordinate the event. By combining your suggestions with their professional input, an itinerary should be prepared before the function. This will allow the DJ to focus on the itinerary of your function while you sit back and enjoy it.

I will be as much involved with the planning of your event as you want.  If you are coordinating an annual event that you've been doing for years and have the itinerary set in stone, then you have everything already under control and I will take all the cues from you.  However, if you are new to the experience and would like my input on ways I've seen it done before, I will be glad to make suggestions and work together with you so the event tuns out like you want.

9 - Will the DJ host the event and interact with your guests? The DJ should do more than just play music and should be prepared to handle any announcements and special events throughout your event. There are many options for specialty games and crowd participation dances which can enhance any event. Whether you prefer wild or mild, you should be able to decide exactly how interactive the entertainment will be before the event takes place.

I am always prepared to grab the microphone and make announcements or direct the crowd to activities and attractions.  I also often conduct interactive games and give basic instructions for specialty dances when desired.  But, my level of interaction will again be completely up to you.

10 - Will your disc jockey be suitably dressed for the occasion? It is important that your DJ looks the part by dressing in formal or semiformal attire, depending upon your preference. Be sure to specify the type of apparel that your DJ should wear. There should be no added fee charged for formal attire.

I can dress in a suit and tie for formal occasions, or business casual for less formal, or even as casual as shorts and polo shirt for a pool side party.  Whatever is appropriate for your event will be worn, naturally with no added fees.

11 - Is your disc jockey willing to discuss musical selections ahead of time, and are they willing to play requests, particularly if they are suitable for dancing? It is important for your DJ to know exactly what type of musical preferences and entertainment needs you have for your event. They should be willing to listen to your ideas and suggestions. They should make themselves available prior to your event to discuss selections. They should be earnest in accepting the songs you have chosen to be played as well as those you have chosen not to be played. Special requests should never be a problem and your DJ should be willing to play them where they are appropriate.

I love playing requests, and I do my best to accommodate so long as the request is appropriate and also acceptable by the hosts.  I also think a "no-play" list is very important to get established early on.  Example: some people are sick and tired of the Macarena or YMCA, while others still can't get enough of them.  If you are of the former, then that is for what the no-play list is used.

12 - Will your disc jockey arrive on time? Punctuality is a necessity, and as professionals they should be aware of their responsibilities to their clients. Normal time spent setting up and removing equipment is not a part of the entertainment fee.

I always arrive plenty early so I have adequate time to change clothes if necessary, get a drink of water to cool off, be playing background music to make sure all is ready to go, and be working on queuing up songs and going over lists long before the first guest arrives.  This is another reason why I use a flat-fee based pricing system instead of an hourly based pricing system.  No unexpected charges for "overtime", and I'm not rushed to set up or tear down in order to maintain a time limit.

13 - Can your disc jockey provide a written contract? It is extremely important to have your booking confirmed in writing. All terms of the agreement should be in writing to avoid any complications at a later date.

I always provide a contract that details the time and place of the event along with what is expected of me to provide as well as give you assurance that you have exclusively secured my services for the time and date indicated in the contract.

14 - Will you play my CDs? Honestly, there is no guarantee that your CD is in playable condition. If it skips, who gets blamed? Instead, talk to your DJ about the songs that you want; many times if your DJ does not have a particular song he/she will get it if it available.

If a song you want is commercially available and you give me plenty of time to get it if I don't already have it, then I will certainly go out and purchase a CD on my own initiative.  If it is a CD that you have made of your own recording or of a friend or family member, then I will at least need to review it for playability and sound quality (a poorly recorded CD can actually damage speakers if the audio is severely clipped or over modulated).  In any case, plenty of advance warning is required.  If you bring me a CD 5 minutes before starting time, I will probably have to decline playing it.

15 - Is there backup equipment on hand? Murphy's Law is always present, so it is important to know whether your DJ has extra components, or hopefully another entire sound system available to them. Any number of circumstances may arise between the time you book your Disc Jockey and the date of your event. Booking a reliable Disc Jockey is a very important decision for the success of your event.

I always travel with backup equipment, and in some cases could actually have 2-3 complete systems operational at once.  So far, I have never had the need to use any backup gear, but it's always there just in case.

16 - What is the DJ's music source? Many DJs are using Computer Playback Systems (CPSs) these days. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, the music they play from their CPS could come from unlawful downloads; this is a problem. Ask your DJ where he obtained his music. If he said it was downloaded, ask where because there are pay download sites available. If he uses one of the music sharing services, RUN FORREST RUN. Even with the legal download sites, still be suspicious because the quality cannot always be guaranteed; that is, degradation may have happened in the transfer, the encode may have been bad on the site, the encode may have been at an unacceptable bit rate, etc. If the DJ indicates that he did the encode, find out the source of the original encode.

I use a computer for playing music.  It allows me to instantly search for a song and queue it up for play as well as many other benefits over playing CDs or cassettes or vinyl.  Most of my music I encode myself directly from my CDs.  However, for many older selections, the original recordings were not all that great, especially selections from the 1920s through 1950s, so the encoding on my computer can not be any better than the original.  For all modern recordings though, I use variable bit rate compression set to the highest level of sound quality.  This ensures a clean sound without those annoying "digital artifacts" making the music sound "swirley" or distorted.