When it comes to creating an event guests will enjoy and remember, few elements have a greater impact than the music. The wrong tunes and patter can break an otherwise beautifully thought-out celebration while a personable MC and just-right background music or floor-filling songs can make it epic.
We spoke to the top DJ’s in the event business for tips on how to assess and choose the perfect DJ/MC for your event — read on to host your best party ever.
But first, meet our panel of party music pros:
Kareem K.W.O.E. Wells, founder of Chicago-based FLOW Entertainment, Inc, has become known as the “King of the Mitzvahs” for his passionate presence. He books events 3-4 years in advance, regularly speaks at schools and other organizations (including a TEDx Talk), has created a youth foundation, is a signed recording artist, and is featured in a CNN Big Story.
Jack Farmer, founder of Los Angeles’ eponymous DJ Jack Farmer, is fervent about creating moods and memorable emotions at events. He began his DJ/MC work while at the Art Institute of Los Angeles in 2011 and became hooked on helping people have a great time. He draws raves for his positive energy, enthusiasm and talent.
Brandon Joseph, founder of Chicago’s DJ Rock City, has been a DJ for more than 20 years. Though he’s based in the midwest, his influence is worldwide as he travels globally to entertain at high-profile events — including the 2004 Olympics in London. He’s turned tables at Chicago’s hottest clubs and has a passion for rocking corporate events.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DJ?
To understand how to choose the perfect DJ for your event, you need to know what makes a good DJ in the first place. Here’s what our experts had to say.
Ability to “read” a room
You want your music professional to be able to make changes to impact the mood of the event — whether getting guests on the floor or getting them talking to each other. All three DJ’s interviewed noted that being able to read a crowd is paramount. Farmer says, “It’s important to be self aware enough to notice what’s working. I pay attention to what’s happening and make sure I’m guiding the experience.”
Kareem adds that, as the MC, he gauges the crowd and, “I may go to my DJ and ask him or her to switch it up. Being a recording artist and a music maker has taught me that reading a room is all based on picking up on emotion.”
Familiarity with wide-ranging musical styles
Rock City says, “A DJ can make or break a night with their music selection as it determines the flow of a party. Anyone can play a Spotify list of jams. The real skill is in being able to curate and look at your crowd and try to give them an experience. How do I make everyone in the room have that moment of ‘oh man that’s my song!’ I like to try to put them in the experience of how they felt when the first heard that song — where they were and what they were doing.”
Farmer agrees, saying, “There’s nothing worse than an empty dance floor with a pumping song — you have to match the vibe, rather than make the vibe match you.”
Good presence on the microphone
This is a little harder to define because it looks slightly different for every type of event and host personality. However, when you have a sit-down discussion with your potential DJ, you can get a strong idea of their personality and how they would manage an event like yours.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?
There are lots of factors in choosing the best entertainment for your celebration, among them comfort level, experience, and recommendations.
When you meet in person with a DJ, the first thing you should be assessing is your comfort and connection with the individual. Kareem says, “That connection is what will be evident at the party. If you don’t have a vibe or connection, it’s a work for hire. The personal relationship is what I care about — I become part of your family history and, guess what, you become part of mine.” In fact, he feels so strongly about this point that he doesn’t call hosts his “clients” but instead refers to them as his “families,” and will turn down work if he doesn’t feel that connection himself.
Farmer adds, “Consider if you would feel comfortable introducing this DJ to your family, friends, co-workers, etc. Also, do you trust him/her? You have to have trust that they will show up, play the right type of music, and bring energy and a high level of engagement. It’s a gut-check that you like the person and are confident that they will do a great job.”
Rock City agrees and says, “If you can sit down and hold a conversation, you’ll know if you like the person within the first couple of minutes. If you don’t love your DJ, you won’t love your party. You’re a team.”
Rock City advises that you research your potential DJs — where they’ve played and who they’ve played for. He says, “Their resumé should speak for itself. Look for a good, working DJ who is in-demand and works a lot of of events.”
In addition to ensuring the DJ is busy and actively working, Farmer suggests considering their specific experience in the exact type of event you’re hosting. “Not just ‘have you ever DJ’ed at a wedding or on a roof,’ but ‘have you ever DJ’ed at a wedding on the roof of the Roosevelt?’ If so, ask them to tell you about that experience. It will tell you exactly what to expect,” he says. “Also, check their online reviews and look at their events on sites like PartySlate — if all you can find is one image of them on Instagram in their garage with their ‘set-up’ then you have your answer about their experience level.”
Kareem adds that for Mitzvah-type celebrations, even the experience of the dancers matters. “You want adult dancers that will respect the guests, are professional, really good at engaging the guests (including kids) and managing the mood.”
“Any DJ can edit a video to make an event look amazing but the best thing you, as the host, can do is go actually check out your potential DJ in action. If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to ask for recommendations,” says Kareem.
Rock City adds that questions like, “Who are your repeat clients?” offer a good judge of energy and skill. He’s been working holiday parties for the same companies for 5-10 years in a row; being asked back is a strong indication of how well the DJ entertains.
Farmer also suggests asking your venue, planner and other vendors if they’ve worked with the DJ you’re considering or have any they’d recommend.
“Music — even background music — carries a party and creates a mood,” says Rock City. In other words, choose your entertainment carefully. Some parting words from Kareem, “Choose a DJ that isn’t going to come entertain you but instead come celebrate with you.”
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