More and more “professional” green-thumbed (and often part-time) DJs enter the Boston wedding marketplace each and every day, armed with hard drives of music freshly copied from their friends or the Internet, gleefully ready to showcase for you brides and grooms their months of seasoned experience, and anxiously beating up very trustworthy and reputable, truly professional DJs, on the basis of pricing. As such, I feel it is my duty as one of the latter-referenced professionals to help educate you, the bride and groom, or family member or friend assisting in the planning process, on what genuinely goes into a genuine professional’s performance, and what the real end-of-the-day fiscal takeaway is for your DJ (or other wedding vendors, for that matter) after all the hard work is finished.
I’ve been a full-time DJ in the Greater Boston wedding (as well as corporate and private event) market for more than two and a half years now. I was part-time for more than eight years prior to 2010. Making this switch, from operating in a part-time capacity while working a steady 9-to-5 during the week, to putting everything — especially my family’s financial well-being — on the line, was and remains to be an often risky and scary proposition.
I am proud to run my own small business. I am proud of the services I provide, the vast majority of my customers are a joy to work with and for, and the testimonials I receive from brides and grooms (and their parents and other family members and guests alike) drive me to keep doing what I am doing. I’m even more proud to say I’ve managed to grow into a full-time venture despite a down economy. But I cannot say it has been easy, or will grow much easier moving forward. As I mentioned earlier, there has been quite a lot of competition lately, mostly on the basis of vendor pricing.
Let’s get down to brass tacks: dollars and cents. Most truly professional wedding DJs nowadays in the Greater Boston and Massachusetts markets, are charging in the range of $1,200 to $4,000+ per wedding for their packages, all depending of course on many details, including but not limited to: venue, travel, size of wedding, time of year, date, last-minute scheduling availability, length of day’s events (number of hours), specific setup complexity and requirements, and specific services needed or requested such as number of system setups for ceremony, cocktail hour, and the main reception area, dance floor lighting, uplighting, photo booths, slideshow services, and more.
Not even being specific to weddings, have you ever overheard someone say (or even said yourself), “Where does this guy get off charging so much to play music off a laptop for a few hours?”
First off, so you know from the start, when a full-time career wedding DJ receives a check from you for all the time and effort put into your wedding day, he or she does not run to the bank, cash the check, abandon all of life’s responsibilities (including paying taxes and bills), and jump on a plane to the Bahamas for a week in the sun.
Hypothetically, let’s say that the professional DJ you have hired has quoted you the minimal $1,200 for a bare-bones five-hour wedding package, which you feel is reasonable. You actually shopped around, and in the process, turned down a few other folks quoting $1,500, $1,700, $2,000. Let’s presume this is the DJ’s career and sole means of surviving — how he takes care of his family, feeds and clothes his kids, pays his mortgage. While most people with a 9-to-5 job have a steady paycheck year-round, hopefully and generally have half-decent health benefits, paid sick and vacation time, and a basic company-matched retirement plan, many professional wedding DJs in the Boston area do not enjoy these “luxuries,” including the DJ you’re hypothetically hiring here.
In addition, these DJs do not usually have five or six available days to work each week, in order to make a decent year’s wages; it is more like only a couple of “bread-and-butter” days (i.e. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays). [Note: This is not to say these are the only "work days" for the DJ, which we'll discuss a bit later.] So, even if the wedding DJ was fortunate enough to book a wedding on every weekend date, it would be a maximum of 156 bookings per year — which, so you realize straight away, never happens, especially in New England, considering only a brave few decide to marry during the potentially treacherous winter months, and most couples avoid getting married on or near certain other dates, such as Thanksgiving, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Easter, etc. Also playing a role in a limited number of potential wedding dates for a DJ: many couples wind up choosing the same handful of most popular dates each year, which are usually Saturday evenings, holiday weekends, and quirky dates like 10-11-12, or 9-10-11.
The DJ pays higher taxes right off the top: 9-to-5′ers pay 50% of the Social Security and Medicare pool contributions while their companies put in the other half; this is not true for sole proprietors, who pay 100% of those taxes themselves. So, the $1,200 paycheck comes in, and 30-35% goes right to estimated tax payments. So, now the “big payday” is down to, say, $780. This DJ then needs to put aside a small piece, toward his own retirement planning, because no one else will help with that: let’s call it only a minimal 5% (read: not enough). Now, the score is $720. He hasn’t yet paid his even modest monthly advertising bills, monthly liability and disability insurance premiums, monthly website expenses, monthly equipment purchases and maintenance expenses, and other expenses related to the wedding services he’s providing you (e.g. $35 for a roll of extra wide tape to ensure your guests don’t trip on any wires and get hurt; $15 to get the tuxedo dry cleaned; the $25-$60 in gas, tolls, and lofty Boston parking garage fees; $10 on fresh reliable high-end batteries for the wireless microphone on which your best man and maid of honor will deliver their toasts; $5-$25 on unique to your day mp3 purchases, and more). This is not an exhaustive list by any means. For the sake of argument, the DJ is now taking home just under $450, and needs to help run the house hold, and finally try to squeeze out a few bucks left somewhere to actually spend on something fun and leisurely.
Something to bear in mind: this may have been his only booking of the week. This is not to say he did not bust his behind on the other days: the methods he employed to help you find him in the first place; the time he spent on meeting you, helping you feel comfortable during the initial conversations and booking process, via phone calls, emails, and/or in-person meetings; the time he spent during the weeks leading up to your big day, helping you plan the flow, your music, your tastes and preferences; the time he took to reach out and coordinate everything with your other vendors; the time to load his vehicle the day of your wedding, hours before he plays the first song; the time traveling to your venue, loading in, setting up, on hands and knees taping wires across the floors, sound checking, all, again, hours before the first announcement is made or song is played.
Then, it’s show time, and your DJ musters every bit of experience and confidence he has, to strive to justify the immense trust you have placed in him for making the biggest day of your life, absolutely perfect — this is a pressure few people may ever experience in their 9-to-5 job.
After five or six or seven hours of giving his all to you and your guests, everyone heads home (or continues the after-party, hopefully!) — well, everyone except the DJ. He remains up to an hour after your party ends, packing up, staying later than even some of the catering/wait staff, and then getting ready for the seemingly long night-ride back home.
If you chose a career self-employed photographer, videographer, wedding planner, florist, or other vendor, please keep in mind that in many respects, the time and care spent on your wedding day (and for some, like photographers and videographers, the hours and hours of post-production time spent after your wedding day, too!), and the subsequent final financial benefit to the professional, are similar to those I’ve expressed above.
So, please take care to be conscious of all that will go into your wedding day, and while understanding the budgeting concern we all share, remember how valuable your chosen vendors will be one of the most important days of your life — please try to do right by them. (And my wife just told me to add a final note, based on many conversations she’s had with me over the years: a hand shake and sincere eye-to-eye “thank you” at night’s end goes a very long way!)
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On the first Saturday of September, on the historic, lush green grounds of The Old Manse in Concord, MA, Christian and Dinah were set to be married. For a couple who together appreciated the outdoors and all it had to offer, this was the perfect site for their wedding day. The gravel drive brought you to the front doors of the modest home where famous American philosophers Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau did some of their finest thinking and writing. Adjacent was the white tent topped with sails waving joyfully in the light breeze, under which the couple’s wedding guests would enjoy an evening of food, music, and celebration. Down the soft path to the lower yard we went, strolling between small apple trees, arriving at a fairytale ceremony site, stream and antique boathouse in the rear, set in the foreground with a large stone, representing the strong foundation on which this marriage was being built. Just steps beyond lay the site of the first shots of the American Revolution. The sun was bright; the air was fair.
An instrumental duo provided soft music for the ceremony, and we provided the Justice of the Peace, and the couple’s guests, with wireless microphones. Two features of this ceremony were unique to me, and I loved them both. First, the Justice of the Peace passed the wedding bands to a guest and asked they be passed around to each person in attendance and that everyone make a prayer or wish for the couple. Also, later in the ceremony, an opportunity was presented to the guests, in which they could share aloud a story or well-wishes for the couple. It was great to see so many people have the confidence to speak and make the ceremony that much more special and memorable for Dinah and Chris.
Following the ceremony, guests partook in cocktail hour on the lower lawn, as the bride posed for photos in the nearby field, the sun’s rays complementing her lovely complexion. Up the hill and under the tent, the final touches were put on the dinner and dancing area. Once everyone was there and seated (greeted by “lobsters” at their seats!), the bride and groom themselves were introduced grandly into the tent, to a long round of applause, and made their way to the dance floor for their first dance to “Moves Me Deeply” by Will Kimbrough. We then introduced the Father of the Bride for a welcome toast, who in turned brought up his new son, the groom, who introduced the rest of the head table himself (and did a tremendous job!).
Dinner music was a mix of the couple’s love for blues, classic country, and bluegrass, including a set of bluegrass cover tunes of classic rock songs that we found. This wedding was a bit offbeat, and in following suit, so was the cake cutting ceremony – they actually did a pie ceremony, with several flavors of freshly baked goodness from a farm just down the road in Concord! We helped them find the perfect song: “Country Pie” by Bob Dylan. After a joint parents’ dance, the dance floor opened up, the party went strong for several hours into the night, and the guests were able to indulge in the delectable baked treats. The last song of the night, “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, was a real hit – an upbeat song with a very sentimental touch.
Big thanks to the bride and groom, Dinah and Chris, for letting us be a small part of their big day. Shout outs to the day-of wedding coordinator Karen Murphy of Celebrations by Karen F. Murphy (http://www.celebrationsbykfm.com), Becky and crew at East Coast Grill (http://eastcoastgrill.net), photographer Matt Grazier (http://www.grazierphotography.com) who took photos a million times more amazing than those we took and display here, Sperry Tents (http://www.sperrytents.com), pie provider Verrill Farm (http://www.verrillfarm.com), and of course, the managers of The Old Manse.
Somehow, following a long, raucous post-wedding rehearsal dinner at the local Polynesian pop-spot, Hu Ke Lau, I still wake up bright and early in our master suite at the Hampton Inn Chicopee, with two of my groomsmen stirring in the adjoining room. Through our negotiations with Sandy at the hotel, we had procured one of the hotel’s two master suites for our wedding weekend, for two nights, one of which was complimentary (a stipulation we set with the sales manager, upon our block of rooms selling out), the second of which was at the discounted rate we arranged for our guests’ standard rooms. [Note: A friend of mine in the hotel industry in Boston once told me that it costs a hotel approximately $17 per night to maintain most rooms, so when you bargain for a hotel block for wedding, be polite but hard-nosed, as now you know the whole story.] Some of the guys stayed with me, while some bridesmaids stayed over at my mother-in-law’s house with my bride.
That morning, after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel (something other local top-brand hotels in the area did not offer), I took off with the maid of honor to receive the manicure my mom-in-law had so lovingly and readily booked for me. This was only the second ‘mani’ of my life, accepted only slightly less reluctantly than the first. As we ventured out we encountered rain, and according to the Weather Channel, we could still expect a solid sixty percent chance of rain well into the early evening. We kept our fingers crossed. Rain aside, we had other issues that weighed on our minds, namely Alison’s father, who was now guaranteed to miss the entire wedding day due to the status of his health. He found himself bed-ridden in the intermediate care unit of the hospital instead of rightfully by his daughter’s side at the altar. (Although both Alison and I were raised Roman Catholic and still practiced our faith, a church marriage was one of the few wishes her father and mother held most dear.)
The fantastical thoughts and discussions I had shared with Alison and family the few days leading up to this one now turned more pressing and realistic: What if I could set up a Skype teleconference between that isolated hospital room and the warm interior of St. Stan’s? After the salon appointment, I, with the support of my best man, his fiancée, and my new cousin-in-law, ventured to my new dad’s bedside. We had many concerns, including being able to tap into the hospital’s restricted wireless signal, positioning the laptop so that everyone could see one another later in the day, properly instructing and trusting hospital staff to operate the program and accept the incoming call when the time came, and of course, ensuring that my father-in-law would be found fashioned in the crisp white tuxedo shirt and berry bowtie we brought along with us. (The man had always been an impeccable dresser, and we would certainly not have this day be different from any other.)
With the grace of God, everything worked out at the hospital, and again with His grace, the same would happen when my best man’s fiancée called the laptop from the Skype application on my Evo 4G inside the church at 3:25pm. I could not thank her enough as she offered to walk around the altar and crowd during the Mass, connecting the world of that hospital room and the world of the wedding. We made our way back to the hotel with safety in mind, as we encountered yet another flash downpour.
After returning to the hotel in the early afternoon with an unnatural sheen to my finger caps and a glowing optimism toward my new father being able to virtually attend the wedding, following one quick check-in phone call to my lovely bride, I did what was natural to me in times of growing pressure: I chatted with anyone and everyone (read: procrastinated). At some point – only an hour before the limo bus was to arrive and transport my groomsmen and me to St. Stanislaus Basilica – I made my way to the room and began getting ready. Within an hour, I found myself boarding the bus with my groomsmen and others, popping open a bottle of champagne, and rolling toward to the church, with rain smacking the windows.
In the third installment of Our Wedding Retrospective, you’ll get to read about and even see photos of the ceremony, so stay tuned!
As our Friday wedding date approached, we watched the weather carefully. Although both the ceremony and the reception were taking place indoors, the travel into and out of each, and the travel on the several miles of road between the venues (i.e. the safety of our guests) were still a concern of ours. And this is putting aside the fact that we had planned very carefully in order to ensure that in the event of sunshine, we would have a perfect opportunity to photograph at our reception venue with a glorious sunset as a backdrop, overlooking a lush and multicolored valley. There was more than a week of bold sunshine leading up to our rehearsal dinner, and more sunshine on deck, slotted for after our wedding had ended. As much as we planned and hoped and followed the meteorologist’s every word, the sad truth was we would be going about our wedding day in the rain, with an inevitable 70 to 80 percent change of precipitation. But we were determined to make the best of whatever situation came our way.
In actuality, weather issues aside, both Alison and I needed to have our optimism on high gear anyway. About two or three weeks prior to the wedding, Alison’s dad, who has a history of heart and respiratory problems, was admitted into a Springfield area hospital, where he was to have another important procedure pertaining to his heart condition. Under normal circumstances, this procedure would understandably take a stressful and frightening toll on an individual and their family. With tons of final wedding preparations to nail down and organize, it became a taxing time. It was a bittersweet final path to the Roman Catholic Church marriage, to which her parents so thrillingly looked forward. We did not know how everything would turn out, though hoped Alison’s dad would make it through the procedure unscathed and recover in time still to walk his beloved daughter, my bride, down the aisle.
With tears in at least one person’s eyes at any given time, we worked together with my bride’s mother, and cousins and friends, to finish the following:
– writing out and packaging with lace ribbon the guests’ party favors / seating cards (glass coasters shown here; a link can be found in our last diary entry);
– welcome (“goodie”) bags for our guests staying in our select hotel block (at the Hampton Inn in Chicopee, a fabulous hotel with nice amenities including a full complimentary breakfast and a can-do staff) which included personalized bottles of spring water (labeled them ourselves with “Alison & John’s Wedding”), chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies from a Springfield area bakery, small autumn-scented votive candles, a schedule of wedding day events and key addresses/directions, and mints that read “thank you” on them;
– writing, designing, printing and assembling programs for the ceremony (which we made on Alison’s mother’s home computer — they came out very classy without too much fuss);
– packaging / organizing everything to be brought to the church and the reception hall (i.e. pew bows, Unity Candles, remaining centerpieces, guest book/matted photo, etc.), and the list of who was to bring what, where.
We couldn’t have finished everything in time without the help of our family and friends. Furthermore, we would never would have had time to finish other vastly important items — like writing our vows!
Two nights before the wedding, we sat down and came up with our pledge to one another:
John/Alison, my best friend and partner,
You love me, and I, you.
You inspire me to be a better person.
You inspire me to change the world.
You remind me to care for myself.
You remind me to breathe.
You are imperfect, but you try your best.
You forgive readily, and are always forgiven.
You accept me for who I am, and you make me stronger.
You are my rock in times of frustration and sorrow.
You are the light of my day.
These things I promise in our marriage together;
I commit to progress, not perfection.
I commit to strength in God, our family, and friends.
I commit to the practice of patience, listening, passion, and compassion.
I commit to be true to you, in good times, and in bad.
I commit to care for you, in sickness and in health.
I commit to love and honor you all the days of my life.
After finishing our vows, we also needed to connect once more with our photographer and DJ, to apprise them of a couple last minute changes to the day, especially the fully yet sadly anticipated absence of Alison’s dad.
At the end of the day, we both felt quite accomplished — and exhausted — and slept like babies. What was in store for us the next morning? Yes, you guessed correctly: manicures.
Stay tuned for the riveting second installment of Our Wedding Retrospective!