Read the Full OfficeNinjas Event Planning Series:
Experiential Events | Digital Tool Belt | Venue Checklist | F&B Planning | Photography & Photo Booths | Audio Visual | Event Design | Live Music | Corporate Gift-Giving
What’s the difference between an event and a party? A function and a celebration? A cocktail hour and a soirée?
A DJ, or live music, sets the tone for an event and communicates to guests what kind of experience they’re in for. While a chill jazz band says, “Have a martini and relax,” a dope DJ spinning old-school hip-hop says, “Put down that drink and get on the dance floor!”
Who you hire depends on your intended vibe—but not everyone with an upright bass or a turntable knows how to read a room and play what guests need to hear.
In this installment of the OfficeNinjas Event Planning Series, we’ll share our tips for choosing event entertainment, as well as our comprehensive list of questions you need to ask a potential vendor.
ENTERTAINMENT DO’s & DON’TS
Before diving into the list of vendor questions, we have two broader, more universal pieces of advice.
DON’T hire a DJ or band with only wedding experience.
It’s tempting to think “I had such great time at Sarah and Phil’s wedding. Their DJ was phenomenal—let’s hire him!” You have to remember that Sarah and Phil’s DJ had the benefit of a captive audience, familial love, and a festive occasion. A DJ at a corporate event has to work a lot harder to get the accounting department on the dance floor. Book an entertainer who has experience working conferences, corporate galas, and office parties.
DO consider booking through an entertainment agency.
An agency considers your requirements, preferences, and budget, then does the searching for you. For OfficeNinjasIRL events, we’ve worked with the pros at Gatsby Entertainment and Absolute Entertainment, and doing so has only saved us time, money, and our sanity.
Any reputable agency will vet all of their DJs and bands before including them on a roster, so you won’t have to worry about being stood up, ripped off, or disappointed. And you won’t waste time in a Google rabbit hole searching for the right act. If you’re asking, we couldn’t be happier with Jordan Khan Music Company, who totally rocked our socks at the IRL event in Dallas.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, schedule an in-person meeting with each potential vendor to ask some important questions and get a sense of their energy. These answers will make your decision process easier and help you plan the entertainment portion of your event.
These standard interview questions weed out amateurs and give you a sense of the entertainer’s taste and style.
- How long have you been in the business? (Note: There is a big difference between a professional DJ and someone who DJs as a side gig. Save yourself the headache and go with a reputable professional with several years of experience.)
- How many corporate events have you done this past year? Can you put me in touch with the event planners?
- Can you share live, unedited videos or recordings of the DJ/band?
- Has your DJ/band played for my type of audience before?
- Are there any other services you provide, such as lighting design or audio visual support (Note: Some entertainment agencies provide these services in-house, and it may be more cost effective to bundle them rather than work with a separate audio visual company.)
- Have you worked with my event venue before? Do you require any special arrangements or equipment, such as additional electrical outlets or storage space?
- What’s your emergency back-up plan? What happens if the DJ or one of the main band members is sick the day of the event?
- Can we meet with the DJ/band before the event?
Money talks … except when it comes to hidden fees. Those are typically pretty quiet. Get the most bang for your buck and avoid surprise charges with these questions:
- What is your pricing for my event’s date and time? Is there a better price for certain months or days of the week?
- How much is the deposit and when is it due? When is the final payment due?
- Are there any additional fees I could potentially incur? What about lighting, linens, travel expenses, or charges for special musical requests?
- What is your cancellation policy if I need to cancel or change the date of my event?
- What happens if the event goes beyond the specified time? How much is the overtime rate?
Great entertainment feels spontaneous, but everyone behind the scenes knows it doesn’t just happen. Avoid event-day snafus and technical difficulties by addressing logistics well in advance:
- Do you have liability insurance? (Note: Most venues require this of all vendors.)
- Who will be my main contact the day of the event?
- Do we need to rent any equipment or instruments, such as speakers, drapes, or a piano?
- What kind of space or stage do you require for the DJ/band setup?
- Do you plan to use any special effects (e.g. fog machine) or lighting?
- How much time do you need for setup, sound check, and breakdown?
- How many breaks will you need, and long will each one be? (Note: Make sure the DJ/band has a plan for appropriate “filler” music.)
- How do you handle song requests?
- What’s your backup plan if there’s an equipment malfunction?
Despite all the time you spend on research, negotiations, and planning, your guests only see the entertainers and the final performance. Ask these questions to make sure everyone’s on the same page regarding announcements, song lists, and the overall vibe:
- How extensive is your music library? What genres can you cover? Can I give you a specific list of songs I want (or don’t want) to hear?
- What will the DJ/ band wear? (Note: If you have a theme or look for the event, ask the DJ/band to dress accordingly. For example, if they typically wear Hawaiian shirts, you may want to ask them to dress more formally for your black-tie affair.)
- How do you ensure a comfortable sound level for all guests? What happens if we need to increase/decrease the volume?
- Can you act as the event MC and make announcements?
- How do you encourage a shy crowd to dance? (Note: This is important for events like office holiday parties!)
Lastly, here are a few important (but often overlooked) details to cover before your event.
Make sure your contract is super detailed and iron-clad.
You can ask all the questions you want, but if you don’t have the answers in writing, it doesn’t matter.
Any good DJ or band will ask you for a playlist.
Spend some time thinking about this. If you’re short on ideas, get input from an event planner or a colleague who frequently attends events. And remember that a “don’t play” list is just as important if certain music isn’t appropriate for your event.
Get the cell number for your day-of contact.
It could be the booking manager, DJ, or band leader. If there’s an issue, an office number won’t be helpful for an evening or weekend shindig.
Take care of your entertainers!
Make sure to order a meal for the DJ or band members, and keep extra bottles of water on hand.
Do you have any event entertainment success (or horror) stories to share? What’s your advice for avoiding problems and guaranteeing your guests a good time?