11 Tips to Manage Event Music – and Your DJ

If you plan events for a living, chances are, you’re no shrinking violet. You’re used to being the boss and issuing orders, firmly but respectfully. You are, after all, the captain of the ship, with your hands on the wheel ‘till the last guest leaves. When it comes to music and DJs though, it’s not usual to want to take a back seat and let the DJ ‘do their thing,’ which, in theory, doesn’t seem like a big deal but in practice can easily cause problems, embarrassment or an empty dead dance floor if the DJ starts spinning in the wrong direction.

As with any other vendor, your DJ, no matter how well-known they are (or aren’t) is going to need to follow your lead – so open up the lines of communication long before doors open. Here are a few pointers to help you and your DJ make beautiful music together:

1. Check ‘em out – live.
Before hiring a DJ catch them in the act – as in go see them in action at their ‘office,’ be it a nightclub or special event. Before you actually hire them, see how they interact with the crowd – and how the crowd’s reacting to them so you’ll get an idea if they’ll work well with your group. If you can’t make it see them perform in person, send a colleague in your place, or ask to see a few clips of the DJ in action.

2. Listen up.
Never forget, you’re the boss. You’re writing the checks. Your opinion is just as important as the DJs, so don’t be intimidated by a DJ’s hipper-than-thou resume. Also keep in mind that you know the crowd, the DJ knows music – so let there be no confusion. Gently remind them that the process will be collaborative (within reason) and ultimately, you will have veto power.

3. Talk the talk.
Not comfortable talking EDM, Synthwave or Dubstep? Don’t know The Weekend from The Warlocks? Then bring along a musically well-versed colleague to the initial meeting to help guide the conversation. Outline expectations firmly but graciously, and tread lightly as the DJ temperament may be more artistic than corporate or business-like.

4. Share your musts.
If there are musical “musts,” that have to be included, let the DJ know before they start designing the playlist. In other words, even if the CEO’s favorite song is “Send In the Clowns,” appropriate or not, you and the DJ need to make darn sure it’s somewhere in the line-up.

5. Give ’em a clue.
To ensure your DJ has a solid understanding of the gig, discuss in advance the gathering’s mission, the theme, the message you want to convey and who the guests are. Also consider sending photos of previous events, and PDFs of relevant event materials, i.e., invitations, press releases, etc., to give them a feel for the big picture.

6. Silence isn’t golden.
Nightclub and hotel venues usually have standard audio set-ups that are compatible with DJ equipment and laptops. To be on the safe side though, be sure to triple check that the venue’s equipment is compatible with the DJ’s and vice versa. Ideally, a quick conference call between you, the venue’s AV staff and the DJ to discuss requirements should minimize the risk of any event day mishaps.

7. Do a test-run.
Insist that the DJ does a technical run-through, on-site, at the venue, with their laptop or equipment in hand at least 4 hours before doors open – and during normal business hours – so there’s time to rent additional items if needed. Also make sure the venue’s AV tech is on hand as well to answer questions and identify workarounds should technical issues arise.

8. Whoa, Nelly! Watch your mouth!
Let the DJ know in advance what is lyrically appropriate and what’s not – keeping aware of any potentially notable cultural, political or religious sensitivities. For corporate crowds as well, the fewer raunchy lyrics and f-bombs, the better. If the crowd is a more casual, non-corporate mix of ages and attitudes, there’s a bit more lyrical wiggle room, but remind the DJ to alternate styles so there’s something for everyone to dance to.

9. Meet the boss of me.
Before the event gets too far under way, take your boss to the DJ booth and introduce them to the DJ. Also, point out any other VIPs the DJ should be aware of. Let the DJ know that if a specific song request from the boss or one of the VIPs comes up during the event, they’ll need to be accommodated, no questions asked.

10. Have your DJs back – and sides.
Unlike the boss and the VIPs however, the average guest does not have the power to sway the playlist, try as they might. So, it falls on you to protect the DJ from the peanut gallery and constant interruptions. The best way to do that is to post a bouncer directly in front of the DJ booth entrance. If there are requests, the bouncer can pass requests along (or not) at respectful intervals. Should requests become excessive or aggressive, the bouncer can take it from there.

11. And now, the end is near…
Set a time and then cue your DJ so they know when it’s time to start tapering off the music, slowing the tempo down and dropping the volume. Next, start closing the bars down so guests start to sense that the evening is drawing to a close. From there, turn up the lights, open the doors and send your guests out into the night.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com

Kate Doyle Hooper

Kate Doyle Hooper

Since establishing her own company over a decade ago, Kate has produced just about every kind of event imaginable, from executive meetings and conferences to live music performances, mobile tours, fashion shows, celebrity gifting suites, and retail events for companies such as American Media, Bloomingdale’s, Conde Nast, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s BAZAAR, Hearst, Macy’s, Perry Ellis, Time Inc., Wilhelmina Models and Rodale, to name a few. Kate's editorial and advertising work has been published in Budget Living, ELLE, Fit, Civilization, Conde Nast Traveler, Esquire, Essence, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Men's Fitness, Men's Health and Shape, as well as on blog.cvent.com and weekendwalk.com.

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