I’ve been meaning to write this for years now, and I’ve finally felt that I’m in the right place in my life to tell it. This is one of my favorite bride stories:
A bride named Nikki was referred to me by one of my favorite venues, a cowboy themed ranch in the hills of Corona. She loved my videos and web content and was adamant about booking the venue and having me as part of her big day. She was incredibly sweet over email and phone, and even sent me an adorable photo of herself and Keith, her fiance. This personal touch really made her stand out. People can be incredibly impersonal and defensive, and I suppose they have a right to be when shopping in our industry, which at times seems to be full of blood sucking sales people.
I made a custom contract with discounts for being Organ Donors (that’s a good sign) and awaited her signature and retainer. A few days pass and she gets back to me telling me that she and her FH had decided to not hold the wedding at the ranch, but instead to hold it at her house, and she also asked for a meeting. I went to meet with Nikki and Keith at their home which was a few miles from my apartment. What I found was a salt of the earth, hard working couple who just bought a fixer-upper in a humble neighborhood.
Holding back the tears noticeably forming in her eyes, Nikki tells me that for the cost of the venue, they could repave their driveway of their home, and though it killed her to sacrifice her dream wedding day, they had decided that it would be best to start off their lives one step ahead, making improvements to the house.
I was utterly floored by this revelation. I knew how much the ranch meant to her from the conversation I had with her days ago, and for her to put her future as a mother to the children who will grow up in this home first, really spoke to me. We created a new contract based on the changes and I went back to the office on a high.
When I got to my computer to follow up, I was reminded of a Miranda Lambert song called the House That Built Me. The second verse goes like this:
“Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From ‘Better Homes and Garden’ magazines.
Plans were drawn, and concrete poured,
And nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream.”
This song was already 3 years old by this time, but whenever it came on the radio, this verse would make me cry (and it still does). I become nostalgic for a past that I never had. To me, it describes the values that the people in our country had, once upon a time. Fathers worked hard to give their wives the homes they wanted so that their children could grow up strong and moral. Things are different now. Just as the middle eight goes:
“You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am.”
I feel that we’ve lost our way as a society, chasing after bigger and shinier things for pleasure and status. To meet a young couple in their twenties, especially in Orange County, that intrinsically understood what ultimately mattered to them made me really reconsider the life that I wanted for myself.
Needless to say, this was one of the most memorable weddings I had DJed, and the only regret is that it was on a Friday before another wedding that weekend, so I couldn’t stay longer when they wanted to keep the party going. Nikki and Keith are by far, one of my most memorable couples.
If you’ve never heard the song, buckle up, and listen to the words closely:
Looking for tips on how to hire a wedding DJ, and want to know what potential problems and issues await? Read on:
When shopping for a wedding DJ, you’ll come to realize that there are two major categories: Single Operator and Multi Operator companies. Single-Ops have one owner, and the company name is usually the DJ’s alias, while Multi-Ops have a more vague name and might have multiple owners, one owner with multiple DJs under their wing, or multiple owners with multiple apprentice DJs. For the scope of this article, we will focus on the pros and cons of Multi-Op DJ Companies. Let’s start with the pros, then talk about the 7 things that they don’t want you to know.
What they want you to know:
You can rely on the company to answer phone calls or call you back right away during listed hours, and expect a quick response from someone if contacting via website or email. This is because there are multiple owners or employees to service office work and there’s someone at the showroom or warehouse at all times, which brings us to the next point:
There’s usually a headquarters where you can visit and feel assured that you’re not dealing with some fly-by-night business that’s operated out of someone’s den, or worse, a con-artist!
If the DJ that was assigned to you happens to have an emergency situation, the company has the resources to quickly replace them and avoid a disaster.
Multi-Ops tend to have great marketing materials to inform you about their DJs, like videos of them MCing live, or testimonials from their past clients. They also tend to have more reviews because they might service 3 weddings per Saturday, while a Single-Op can only DJ 1 at a time.
So with all this, what could go wrong?
The 7 Things Multi-Op DJ Companies DON’T Want YOU to Know
Often times, most of what you pay goes into business overhead first, then owner profit second, THEN the payment of the performers. It’s not uncommon for DJs and MCs to make $300 (between the two of them) on a reception. This can really affect who your performer is, especially on the smallest accounts on a busy Saturday. If the owner(s) do go out, chances are they are servicing the highest paying contracts, and if you’re just having a reception and didn’t go with the décor lighting, Ceremony service, etc, you’re more than likely getting a lesser DJ. Sometimes they moonlight and you can find them through other channels at a fraction of what you paid (albeit you won’t get the services from the company leading up the wedding day).
These are less established DJs who are new to the wedding industry and have fewer than 100 weddings completed and don’t take ownership in the brand, or have a reputation and livelihood to protect. Your wedding is nothing more than on-the-job training for them. If you’re planning on getting the whole shebang from this company, this is less of a concern, but you’re probably going to fall into this category if you’re choosing a company as a price-conscious bride.
Because the performer on the day of your wedding has less incentive to perform at your wedding than what you might think after what you spent with the company, they are more liable to quit at the first sign of resentment or discomfort, get fired for diminishing results (might be right after your wedding) or blow things off at the last minute.
You’d be surprised how many calls I get throughout the year from brides, especially when there’s a local NFL game coming up in a few weeks. But don’t worry! The company has another guy just like him to take his place right away! 😀 This happens much more often than you might think. Take a look a this recent bride’s story.
Okay, so you you’ve booked the bigger package and you were lucky enough to get an owner to perform at your wedding. If there is a no-show or meltdown taking place at another wedding, the owner is probably going to be making phone calls to solve that situation during setup, which can delay your event.
Because these employee / contract DJs makes significantly less than the owner, they live more precarious lives. It could be engine trouble. It could be a flat tire. We’ve all been there. I empathize with anyone trying to make ends meet, but don’t you deserve a DJ that’s focused on your best interest on your wedding day?
Because the performer is less in contact with you, the relationship might be pretty impersonal. You may have spoken to this person once over the phone and they are now running your reception. This might not bother you depending on who you are, but a little rapport goes a long way on your wedding day!
TOO MANY COOKS:
Going back to one of the strengths of Multi-Ops; their ability to respond quicker, also reveals a weakness. Because there are numerous staff members speaking with you, and because client management systems are not always intuitive or effective, you might be repeating what you already explained in detail to two or even three people on the phone. This leads us to another related problem:
The largest Multi-Ops often have a dedicated receptionist to answer calls and emails. This sounds great until you find out that the first girl you spoke to and really felt a connection with A) was an intern working there for the summer or B) was using the position to test the waters in the industry, or as a stepping stone to hone their skills for their next career move (probably to become a coordinator). It’s uncommon for a company to have the same receptionist for more than two years, unless it’s a family owned business.
The person you speak with at the beginning of your consultation, say 9 months before your wedding, has often left by the time you call two months before the wedding, and sometimes the emails you sent them have not made it to the new hire, in their entirety. Why would it? That last person is off to do bigger and better things with their lives! In the meanwhile the new hire is learning how to use the client management system, and they are not proficient with it until they’ve had a few months with it. Then soon after, they are gone again!
If your wedding is used as a marketing subject, you can expect extra bodies to be photographing or filming your grand entrance and first dance, which is not only unsightly, but often also means there are more people to feed (vendor meals!). Every once in a while, you might have a prospect bride crash the beginning of your reception to watch your DJ live in action, just to see if they might want to book the company.
These are issues that come up much less often, and most companies have the commonsense to ask you for permission before moving forward with it, but you probably won’t hear about it until about a week before your wedding when everything is coming down to the wire. My advise for this is, don’t give in without some sort of concession.
So in summary:
Multi-Ops definitely look better on paper when you’re shopping. This is because a majority of their resources go into how they appear to shoppers, and not on how they deliver to clients. Your experience with them while you are in the market, isn’t indicative of their service after you’ve bought from them.
You might notice this in many other industries, like apparel for instance. Fast fashion outlets have bright and shinny advertisements and retail stores. They sell you cheap products on compulsion and emotion, and they are designed for you to throw away after a handful of wearing. If you want the good stuff that last, you’re better off visiting a boutique store where a small experienced staff has poured their blood, sweat and tears into designing and delivering a product they can stand behind, their expression of beauty, to the highest bidder.
It would be unfair to generalize all multi-ops as bad, or all single-ops as good. Certainly, there’s a spectrum for both. These are just some of the concerns that you deserve to be empowered with when shopping for a wedding DJ. Please don’t end up on a bridal forum a few months, or a year from now to warn others of how poorly you’re being treated.
I though it might be helpful to abstract what I mean by an apprentice or lesser DJ vs an owner or pro. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers mentions a “10,000 hour rule”, in which “Super-Stars” are made after 10,000 hours of working within a discipline. Weddings can take 12 ~ 30 hours to complete from the first call to the moment the DJ unloads his truck after the wedding. Most DJs will probably agree that 20 hours is typical. So a DJ who has performed 500 weddings is a “Super-Star” according to this definition. I will call this the “Master Wedding DJ”. In order to get to this level you must first complete the following experience levels, and each level gets progressively harder as you move up, just like an RPG:
At the time of writing, I am at about 300 weddings under my belt which puts me at the expert level. However, my mentor has OVER 2000 under his belt! That basically makes him a Grand Master twice over! I’ve seen him do things that completely blows me away in terms of coordination and making announcements, and also marketing with bridal consultants, which is his main stream of referrals. I’m working hard to hopefully be where he is in the next 10 years, but the gulf between us is like the difference between Daniel LaRusso and Mr Miyagi. I will need to Crane Kick my way into Super-Stardom!
In my defense, I have easily more than 10,000 hours of mixing records under my belt over the past 20 years, and I do consider myself a master of the mix, but again, I have mentors in that field that totally blow me out of the water too. Learning never stops!
There’s been a trend of couples asking their guest to send in a song request along with their RSVPs. Is this helpful? Should you do it?
With a little planning, the song request (suggestion) thing can be a great idea. It would be wise to put a disclaimer on the invitation card that their song might not make the list, but that they are helping to create one. Say you have 120 guests with 120 different selections, and they expect to hear their songs for 3 minutes. That would be a program of 360 minutes or 6 whole hours. There simply won’t be time for the you to get married or to have your First Dance!
The best strategy is to create one set of top priority selections, including your parent’s first dance, and the request from the bridesmaid who remembered THAT special moment during college. Label these MUST PLAY. Second, spreadsheet the rest of the suggestions and identify the songs which you agree with, and requested frequently, all the while exercising veto power.
Remember that there is only 60 minutes to each hour so for cocktails and dinner, you’re limited to about 17 ~ 20 songs each. You get about about 30 songs per hour you can program at maximum during dancing, depending on how fast the DJ mixes the songs.
Last but not least, don’t forget to leave room for music that YOU and YOUR FIANCE are actually dying to hear during dinner & dancing!
This is a video on a well produced Latino wedding reception I did at the Dove Canyon Country Club in Dove Canyon (adjacent to Coto de Caza / Rancho San Margarita) neighborhood in Orange County, CA
The couple had an awesome vision for the wedding, and I was honored to bring it all to life. They used Blended Uplighting, Monogram Lighting (often referred to as GoBO; Go Between Optical), Cake Spotlighting, Sweetheart Table Spotlighting & an Area Wash for the Dessert Table.
Once the sun went down, the room was perfect! Lighting is definitely recommended in this room, during the Fall & Winter months, when the sun goes down earlier in the day.
I find myself more often at Coto de Caza’s Country Club, but would love to be at this one more often. The couple was super sweet and grounded, and really appreciated my work. I’m looking forward to being back there soon!