How much does a professional DJ cost and how can I fit one in my budget?

When brides and grooms start planning a wedding, they have so many decisions to make…what date to get married, where to get married, catering, photographers, invitations, the cake…the list is endless. And then of course, there is your reception. You’ve spent a lot of time planning your big day, and you want your reception to be the perfect ending to your perfect day. So the question you might be asking is “How do I  fit a professional DJ in my budget so he can make my reception the best ending to my perfect day?” Here are some suggestions.

The first thing you to need to do is realize just how important your DJ is to your reception. A professional DJ does a lot more than just “handle music” and is the one vendor who will make or break your reception, and your whole day, because if your reception isn’t a success it then puts a damper on your entire wedding experience. Did you know your family and friends will rate the success of your reception by the entertainment you choose?,  It’s true, six months after your wedding your guests will not be talking about the prime rib they had, that delicious punch, or even the flowers and decorations….they will be talking about dancing and how much fun they had on the dance floor. Your DJ will be the vendor they remember most about your wedding reception. That’s why it’s very important to choose quality entertainment and choose a professional DJ. In order to choose the right DJ, it’s important to choose your DJ early on…he should be one of your first vendors you choose.

Booking early and your budget.

Yes, budget is a very important issue. Consider booking your DJ as one of the first vendors (if not the first vendor)  when planning your wedding. Booking your DJ early on has it’s advantages. First, a lot of DJ companies (like SN DJ Entertainment) may give you a discount if you book 6 months or more in advance. Second, booking early gives you the chance to work out payment arrangements with your DJ so you can afford a professional.  Most professional DJ services will work out a payment arrangement with you if that is easier. Too many times brides and grooms will book all their other vendors, spend thousands on the other things like the cake, the invitations, chair covers, and so much more. Then, they wait until the very last minute to book the one vendor that will make or break their reception…..their DJ. By that time, there may not be enough money in the budget to afford a professional DJ, so the bride and groom will choose a “cheap”, or “unprofessional” DJ. Make sure you make the DJ a priority by booking him very early on so that you can make sure you have money in your budget to hire a professional DJ. (To see some tips on getting the best deal, please check out this blog post http://sndjpensacola.com/blog/2013/01/05/getting-the-best-deal-on-a-dj-for-your-wedding/)

Here’s what you don’t want to do when shopping around for a professional DJ

Before we talk about how much you should expect to pay for a professional DJ, let me tell you what not to do. You don’t (I repeat do not) want to call a bunch of DJ’s then hire the one that quotes you the cheapest price or automatically dismiss a DJ because you think his prices are out of your range (and we are going to talk about how much your DJ budget should be and how much you can expect to pay for a professional DJ in a minute). You will probably find some DJ’s that will be really cheap, but they probably aren’t going to meet your needs because they aren’t professional. At best, you may get the same service you would receive if you got an Ipod, hooked it up to two speakers, and let it run yourself. Cheaper is definitely not better.

Here’s what you want to do.

When shopping for a professional DJ, what you do want to do is shop around, schedule consultations, and hire the DJ that will best meet your needs and leave the most positive impact on your wedding. Many brides and grooms have gone to DJ websites, found the prices (if they are listed), decide they are too expensive, and then didn’t look at what all the DJ service has to offer.  Look at what the DJ offers first, even if you think his prices are expensive. You may find he is the right DJ for you, and if you dismiss him because his prices may seem too high, you will probably be missing out on a great DJ and one who will leave you long, lasting, memories. In the end, you want to make sure you hire the DJ service that is the most professional and will leave you with most positive memories, which brings me to my next point.

How much should I expect to pay for a professional DJ?

That actually differs depending on where you live, but since I’m in Pensacola, Florida I am going to talk about what brides can expect to pay in this area. (If you are reading this and you live in another area, please keep in mind professional DJ’s may cost more or less in your area depending on your market.) In Northwest Florida and South Alabama, you can expect to pay at least $600 for a professional DJ, and that’s for a  very basic package (4 hours of performance time) without any extras such as up lighting or your initials monogrammed on the dance floor. So knowing that, you should budget at least (bare minimum) $600 for your DJ, but also keep in mind if you want any extras, the price will be more and could cost up to $1,500 depending on what your preferences are. But, what you need to consider is if you hire a professional, that price will include planning, preparation, labor, a basic light show, plus what you actually see the DJ do at the reception. (For me personally, I spend an average of 25-30 hours on one wedding counting everything from the first consultation until I arrive home after the wedding.) I have different wedding packages brides and grooms can choose from which range from a basic reception to having “everything” including a second sound system for their wedding ceremony.

I know some of you reading this might be thinking $600 seems like a lot of money, but is it really a lot of money when you are talking about a lifetime of memories? Would you rather spend at least $600 for a professional DJ who will leave you and your guests smiling at the end of the night saying “Wow, that was the best reception I have ever been to!”, or would you rather save money, pay $200 for an “unprofessional” DJ who (at best) would give you the same service as if you hooked an Ipod up to two speakers and put it on auto? Is $600 really too expensive when you consider your DJ serves as your planner and director? This is your wedding, and you want to look back 20 years from now and regret nothing. Is $600 really too much to have that assurance that you will be able to look back at your reception and remember the fun memories?

Renting a sound system and hooking up an Ipod, good idea or not?

Some couples have considered renting a sound system and doing it themselves. A couple of things to think about if you are considering taking this route. Most sound shops, resorts, and dealers who “rent out” sound equipment usually charge an average of $500 to rent the equipment, and that’s just basic sound equipment. For $100 more, you could have a professional wedding DJ (with equipment, including a light show). Second, if you take this route, somebody will have to “watch the music” and attend to it, meaning either you, one of your friends, or a family member will have to “change the music”, meaning they won’t be able to enjoy your reception. Again, for $100 more you can have a professional DJ and won’t have to worry about this.

“I can’t pay $600 for a DJ for my reception even though I really want a nice event.”

Now let’s say $600 is completely out of the question, you aren’t going to be able to spend that for a professional DJ. Or let’s say you don’t really want all the “traditional” wedding reception events. Before you hire a cheap, inexperienced DJ (which you will probably later regret), you still have a couple of options to consider:

1. Consider having just a regular “party” after your wedding instead of a “reception”. Yes, you can do this and this is a service I offer to my clients. Let’s say this is your second marriage, or maybe you really can’t afford a “full” wedding reception but you still want a memorable event with a professional DJ, then see about having a “party” instead. Party packages are cheaper than wedding packages because there isn’t as much “planning” than goes into a “party” like there is a “reception”. With a party, you’ll still get a professional DJ with a professional light show. The only real difference is you wouldn’t get all the “traditional” wedding reception events (for example there wouldn’t be a first dance, father-bride dance, wedding party introductions, etc). It would be similar to what you would get at a corporate Christmas party or banquet. In Northwest Florida and South Alabama you can expect to pay anywhere from $400-$600 for one of these events. (But again, this is a “party” and not a “reception” so you would pay less because there are less services and planning involved.) Be sure to ask them if they offer this service (most DJ services would substitute a “party” for a “reception” if you asked them. But, because wedding receptions are more expensive DJ services may not tell you they will substitute a party for a reception, which saves you money so make sure you ask about it.)

2. ***VERY VERY LAST RESORT! Consider using a home stereo system and hooking up an Ipod. This should be your absolute last resort. If you can’t afford a professional DJ or a party alternative, then hooking up an Ipod and playing music yourself would be a much better option than hiring an unprofessional DJ. Again, this is something I do not recommend, but it’s better than hiring an inexperienced, unprofessional DJ, who would give you (at best) this same service.

Remember, if you consider your DJ very early on you can fit a professional DJ into your budget. Most of the time when brides and grooms realize they can’t afford a professional DJ, it is because they didn’t consider what one would cost in the beginning. The most important question you need to ask yourself is “Does this DJ have the experience and professionalism that I would like at my wedding?” The question you don’t want to ask yourself is “Does this DJ fit my budget?” because we already discussed that a professional DJ will cost at least $600, so budget shouldn’t be an issue. (Tip: Professional DJ’s are not cheap, so if you see a DJ advertising below $600, say in the $150-$400 range for a wedding reception, chances are he is not professional. Remember cheap entertainment is not good and good entertainment is not cheap.)

So now that we’ve talked about budget, let’s say you have already set your budget prior to reading this blog and you weren’t aware that $600 was the minimum you should expect to pay for a professional wedding DJ. That’s okay, all you need to do is go back over your budget and look at things you really don’t need, and make some cutbacks. I can’t tell you where to scale back, but I can tell you the two vendors you want to make sure you don’t cut corners on are your photographer and your DJ, because those are the two vendors you and your guests will remember the most and the ones who will leave the most memories.

I’ve seen many brides and grooms on a budget go on to have wonderful weddings and were still able to afford a professional DJ, and we will talk about some of those in another blog.

Remember, when you start out doing your wedding budget, be sure to set aside at least $600 for your DJ budget so you can have a wonderful reception!

If I can help you out in any way, please feel free to email me at stacey@sndjpensacola.com.

See you in the next blog!

Stacey Noles is a professional mobile DJ in Pensacola, Florida. You can visit his company website by visiting www.sndjpensacola.com.

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