What’s the going rate for a wedding DJ or Entertainment? How do I find a “good” one?

Recently, on more than one occasion, I received a couple of e-mails requesting information about my services only to find out that I was not available for the date. Shortly after I received follow up e-mails with the same exact question, “Could you tell me the going rate for a good DJ”? 

That is a GREAT and simple question with a not so simple answer. The questions you should consider is, are you looking for a DJ, an entertainer or both? And what will you be happy with for yourself and your guests.

First, the term DJ has come to mean many things, so, let’s break it down.
By definition a Disc Jockey or “DJ” is “a person who introduces and plays recorded popular music on the radio”. As time has gone by it has evolved into a term for someone that plays music at a wide variety of locations.(The mobile DJ) In general they just play music, one song to the next with little or no interaction. They will make minimal announcements and most likely stay behind their “booth” during the event. 
Next you have an ENTERTAINER. This is your MASTER OF CEREMONIES, M.C. or emcee. This is the person who is the “front man or woman”. They will coordinate with the venue and other vendors. They will make announcements, will spend little time behind the booth. Engage with your guests, lead “group” dances and guide your reception from one phase to another. 
Lastly, you have a combination of both. The DJ/MC. These are the people who will do it all. Play music, make announcements, keep the flow going in the right direction, be both behind the booth AND out on the dance floor. Coordinating the music, order of events, vendors and dance floor activities. 

So which one do you need? There are advantages to each: 
With just a DJ, depending on their skill, you could get a very low rate. If all you need is someone with equipment to play music, take requests and make minimal announcements. This option will most likely be inexpensive but do not expect too more than music. 
 The DJ/MC is the next step up. This is a single person who will make announcements, do some coordination and get out on the floor from time to time when they are not restricted to being behind the booth keeping the music going. They do more than just a DJ and some can be a lot of fun but because they are just one person, they have limits to what they can do. The cost for this option will be a more than a DJ alone. 
Then you have the entertainment team. At minimum, a DJ (like in the first example) playing the music, ensuring it is non-stop with a good flow. Playing requests if needed. You also have a master of ceremonies. They do not have to worry about the music. They can keep your guests engaged and involved. Be primarily on the dance floor and interacting with guests. The better ones will coordinate with other vendors to ensure nothing is over looked and make sure the minor details are not missed. They are fun, personable but not “over the top”. The entertainment team may also have assistants, dancers, lighting techs and more. The rate for a team can vary depending on what you need, who and how many. This is a great option for most people who want to make sure their event has maximum fun, great music and interaction. 

When you are looking for the right entertainment for your reception you will have to weigh out what you would like and the benefits of each. Are hiring a DJ to just play music, a DJ/MC for music AND some announcing OR an Entertainer/DJ team for the best of both worlds? All of that goes into what a company will charge. 

Now to dig a little deeper. The world of the “Mobile DJ” has evolved. In 1986 I started out as a DJ my senior year of high school. I was 17 and played for my friend’s house parties. When I was 18 I DJ’ed my first school and quickly learned that I would have to evolve into a DJ/MC if I wanted to keep 200 plus students engaged, involved and not running around the gym and hallways. That led me into providing entertainment at office/holiday parties, anniversaries and weddings. For the first 15 years I was the lone DJ/MC at all of my events coordinating it all but having the time of my life while the guests at my events danced the night away!!! Then as my career evolved I found that for many events, more and more people were looking to me as the go to person for what to do next. It made sense, I was playing music, I had the microphone to make announcements, I was on the floor and in the public eye so people just assumed that I was one in charge even if I was the person getting paid the least just to play the music. It was just assumed that the DJ was the person who ran the entire show. So I evolved again. I hired a DJ and began spending more and more time on the dance floor. I would get asked where the bridal party should meet, when would the champagne be poured for toasts, where were the bathrooms located? At one wedding, a guest brought their dinner up to me and said, “Could you bring this back to the kitchen and let them know my steak is cold”!?!?! 
 That brings up an interesting question that MANY people (who are having an event) overlook because they just assume it will “HAPPEN”. What will “happen”, you ask? That everything will happen the way that you think it should. My question is whose job is it to make sure your reception will happen as you envision? Is it the venue who is responsible to make sure that the champagne is poured before the toast is announced, who is responsible to ensure the parents are in the room BEFORE “parent dances” are announced? Is the photographer in the room for introductions? Are the lights dimmed enough to promote a dancing atmosphere? Is it the DJ’s job to make sure everything happens? Most people will say it is the venue’s responsibility for some, photographer’s for some and the DJs for others. BUT, what if you are at a location without a “banquet manager”? For example a rented Fire Department Hall or Community Center type of location where someone unlocks the door, gives you their phone number and says, “Call me if there is a problem”. Then, that person gets in their car and drives away? Who is now responsible? 
In my opinion for all of the examples above, for those locations that have a banquet manager, a room captain or no one at all, it IS the DJs responsibility to ensure that things should happen the way YOU envision it. Or at the very least, as you expect it. I know that there are MANY DJs that disagree and here is where the original question comes full circle. 

THE GOING RATE FOR A DJ/ENTERTAINMENT is a direct reflection on the knowledge, experience and the service that the entertainer/DJ can and will provide for your event. The going rate for a “DJ” depends on what YOU are willing pay for or sacrifice for your guests and yourself as a client.  

The short answer is that you will spend $800 to$1,200, for BASIC entertainment services. Rates actually vary from a few hundred dollars on up. Yes you could pay as little as $300 to $400 dollars for a wedding DJ. Chances are, however, you will have a good horror story to share with the group after your event. 

The long answer, factors for pricing include, experience and quality of the DJ/Entertainer, is it just ONE person, a DJ/entertainer combo or a company that sends a person for each “job”. (DJ, Entertainer, lighting tech, event coordinator). The date/location & times could be factors. Plus what additional, your entertainer provides. For example, up lights, monogram or photo booth to name a few. 

The “average” for a DJ in this area of Upstate NY (Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga, Lake George, etc.) is about $1,000. Rates fluctuate on different factors. The premium time being, late Saturday afternoon & Evening. Some companies offer discounts during the winter months, some will offer discounts for Friday or Sunday events AND you could get a better rate if your reception is earlier in the day vs. prime time on a Saturday evening. The rate may be a little more if you add “extras” , Up-lights, monogram, party favors & giveaways, if you need an additional sound system for your ceremony, to name a few. Do they carry insurance and can they provide you proof of insurance? 

If you notice I did not use the term “Qualified”. The reason for that is, just because a person charges a premium amount for their services do not mean they are a skilled or a “QUALIFIED” professional entertainer/DJ. There is no licenses required to run an entertainment company or to be a DJ. There is no mandatory classes or schooling. There are many “DJs” that do not even carry insurance. ANYONE who can play music from any source can say they are a DJ. Whether it be from their $100 iPod, home stereo, lap top or a state-of-the-art professional sound system that can run upwards of $10,000. 

So what do you? The important things to do when looking for the right entertainment is to MEET with the person who will be the ACTUAL “leader” at your event. Even if you saw “someone” from a company but it will be someone different from the same company. Meet the person that will be your “DJ or entertainer. NOT ALL ENTERTAINERS/DJs ARE CREATED EQUAL. If there will only be one person doing the DJing and/or announcements at your event, meet with THAT person specifically. If it is an “entertainer” who will be leading the way for you and your guests, meet directly with them. Not the office, not the assistant. Check out their videos, client comments, talk to them one on one and ASK QUESTIONS. It may sound good over the phone but NEVER assume that person will do what you THINK they should be doing. Will they be wearing a Stylish suit or Tux? Will they be in Khakis or shorts and a tee-shirt? Will they make announcements? Do they carry back up equipment? What Kind? ASK THEM. If practical, talk with a couple of past clients if you can or watch videos. Some companies have multiple DJs working for them so this is very important. What the “office” says might not be what YOUR Entertainer/DJ understands. Make sure that the style and personality of the “Front Man or Woman” is something that YOU like. Also, have that person named as your entertainer IN THE CONTRACT!!! Along that point, make sure you GET a contract. Just because it is your brother’s friend does not mean a thing. Trust me, I have been called, more than once to try and clean up the mess of a “family friend”. 

I was talking about this with another client who had to convince her fiancée that spending over $1000 was a good investment for the entertainment, my response to her, in-short was, that it is hard to fully understand the investment until you have had a bad experience by going with an inexperienced or “budget DJ” and then it is too late. With DJs and entertainment, the cliché “you get what you pay for” holds true but it is just as important to do your “due diligence” to research and INTERVIEW your potential entertainment.

In closing, there really is no easy answer to the questions, “What’s the going rate for a wedding DJ or Entertainment? And how do I find a “good” one? It all depends on if you will be happy or not with many of the things mentioned above and a few other things. How much time you spend researching and what part of your budget you are willing to invest in your entertainment will also play a big part. Take your time, start early and do your homework! 


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