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What Does a Boston Wedding DJ Cost, and Why? And Related Issues with Other Wedding Vendors

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!)

For more information, or to connect with me further:

http://www.DJJohnDudley.com
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/john-dudley/21/811/39a
http://www.youtube.com/user/DJJohnDudley
http://local.weddingchannel.com/Wedding-Vendors/DJ-John-Dudley-Entertainment-Wedding-Reviews?ProfileId=406669
http://www.weddingwire.com/reviews/dj-john-dudley-entertainment-chelsea/8964866f08b90265.html

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The Boston DJ’s Wedding Diary: T-Minus 315 Days: Dance and Shoot

Three hundred fifteen days left to live in Engagementland, and we are making moves. Alison and I have locked up both our DJ and photographer for the big day, after not a whole great deal of work and effort, actually. People keep joking with me when I tell them I’m planning my wedding… “So, are you going to DJ? Ha ha.” Look, I DJ’ed once for a shared birthday party for me and my brother, and it was horrible. Well, it was when I was still using CD’s, so every four minutes, I was pulled away from the fun to mix the music. Regardless, my wedding day is the one day I’m looking forward to having everyone else carry the load so I can put my feet up.

Our budget didn’t really allow for anything but a DJ, and I had just the man in mind: my colleague Craig Sutton at Sutton Entertainment [www.SuttonEntertainment.com]. Craig is a seasoned DJ and entertainment agent and event concept specialist who uses me frequently throughout the year for some of his most important corporate clients and wedding couples. He’s a fantastic guy with a really warm personality, and he’s really become a good friend. Obviously, in my stead, I would recommend using Craig to DJ your wedding. (Thinking about it now, I’m fortunate to have developed such a close relationship with Craig, because trust, comfort and personality-match do play huge roles in choosing a wedding DJ. It honestly would have been difficult for me to go through the process of vetting other DJ’s with whom I even have decent relationships. To this point in my career, I already had a deep appreciation for the comfort level – almost friendship – I try to develop with my wedding clients, and this scenario bolstered that further.)  Ideally, under different financial circumstances, Alison and I would have preferred to have a band and Craig as DJ. We’ve become huge fans of the ‘80s tribute band Fast Times here in Boston, and I’ve began developing a friendship with a couple of the guys in the band even. If you want a really fun dance party at your wedding and you’ve got the dough, look them up [www.FastTimes.biz] and tell them I sent you. You won’t be disappointed, promise.

So, with Craig’s services under lock and key (lucky he had the date free!), we moved on to picking the photographer – another apparently daunting task. When we had our first meal testing at the Hampden Country Club, they had their partner vendor in photography on hand in the room. We looked through the albums and pricing, and everything seemed reasonable at first glance. Alison sometimes tells me I should be a detective because of my attention to the tiniest details: I noticed in the only large format photo the woman had on display, featuring an entire wedding party, both a bridesmaid and the flower girl had their faces obscured by objects or other people. I thought, if this is the one piece brought along to demonstrate and sell their services, we might be better to look elsewhere. And we did. I’ve again worked with dozens and dozens of photographers on different weddings, and a couple did stand out in my mind, due both to their professionalism, personality, and methods. Unfortunately, when sharing these visual artists’ websites with my bride-to-be, their sites sadly didn’t do the photographers any justice, and I simply couldn’t talk Alison out of looking elsewhere…again. (This certainly reinforced for me the importance of the feel and user-friendliness of my own website, which is why I continue to work on it on a regular basis.)

We finally ran into a company called Classic Photographers at a wedding networking night we attended together. I had never worked with them before but we conversed with the owner of the company was very personable, attentive to our needs, and informative.  They are a “large” company with a subcontracted team of about 12-15 photographers in the Greater Boston area. The pricing (our main concern, besides skill set and personality) seemed a bit more modest than others we’d seen or heard, so we gave them a shot by setting up an appointment with their sales director, actually located at their sister-company Classic Tuxedos shop. Prior to our visit, we had been sent links to view about 8 or 9 of their photographers’ work (i.e. online albums); Alison chose her top four, and I narrowed those down to two. To our appointment, I brought along a set of 20 questions to ask your photographer, which I researched and printed out from the web. The salesman took the time to answer all of our questions are patiently and thoroughly as he could (Note: this is always a good sign, regardless of vendor). Although we hadn’t met or even spoken with our remaining frontrunner photographer (by the time we got to the appointment, one of top two had already been booked privately), we had a good feel for her work and style via the albums and the salesman’s background and familiarity with her. So, right then and there, we put down a small deposit on the services for our big day, and they set up a monthly payment plan with us (interest-free!)  up until our wedding. The total package includes six hours of wedding day shooting, an hour long engagement shoot in the summertime, 8” by 8” twenty page album, a DVD with all of our high resolution/auto corrected photos from both shoots complete full and unrestricted reprint rights. We went with Julia P., who is a personalized, artsy photographer and college photography instructor out of Salem, MA: here’s her stuff http://www.classicphotographers.com/featured/julia_p/index.php (Let me be frank here: I am generally not a big fan of “large companies” that are in the wedding business. With my business being primarily just me, when a couple hires me, they know exactly who they are getting, and what they are getting: that is, my personal care and attention, experience, and personality. To me, they’re not just another sale; you know, crunch the numbers, get the bare bones details, throw them into the computer, and leave well enough alone unless there’s an issue. Not to say some people don’t have success with the “big guys,” but generally my take on it is, quality sometimes tends to suffer with volume…and this just isn’t something you desire for your wedding day. But, with all that said, we decided to choose this company because the photographer’s work spoke to us, and definitely because the pricing was right – especially with the help of a $300 discount on the photography package when committing to use their sister-company for the groomsmen’s tuxedo rentals.)

Coming up in our next Diary entry, we will definitely be getting down to the dirty talk of budgeting (I really would have told you much earlier on, but to be honest, we’re doing things a bit ass-backwards ourselves, though we’ve tried so hard not to – hopefully it won’t come back to bite us!), and there also may be a guest-entry from my fiancée Alison on her dress shopping experience.  Thanks for reading!

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Feel free to drop us a line and learn more about us. (We’d like to learn more about you, too.)

John Dudley
Owner & Entertaining Entertainer
DJ John Dudley Entertainment
www.DJJohnDudley.com
John@DJJohnDudley.com
(617) 791-1001

~ Enlivening events throughout New England for more than 10 years ~

Proud Member of Global Mobile Entertainers Association &
Boston Young Professionals Association

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