Things To Consider When Planning Your Event
So, I want to preface this page by saying that as an entertainment professional with over 30 years under my belt, I feel like it is my responsibility to attempt to lead my hosts down the path that leads to the best possible outcome.
This means that if I get your planner back and see that you have made an insertion or changed the order or done anything that I think presents a potential issue, I will politely point it out.
I do this because I think it is my duty and because it is why I feel like I am worth more than the average entertainer -- I try to see potential situations before they happen and do what is necessary to ensure they all go smoothly.
If you tell me this is still the way you want it, then that is exactly the way it will happen -- it is your day!
These are only my personal and humble opinions. If someone has a different opinion (and many will), please don't take this as bible and verse. There are unique reasons and situations that may call for things that are other than what I will say here.
These are general statements that should be true 95% of the time. These bits of information will hopefully give you a broader knowledge and help make your day what you want it to be.
Ultimately, it is your day and my main goal is to do whatever it takes to make it you happy. I want the event to go exactly the way you want it to be! I will make suggestions, I will point out potential issues and I will present options, but in the end, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer -- I will do what you ask me to do.
What type of entertainment should you hire?
This is a HUGE decision. How much do you have to spend? How important is dancing? What is the size of your group? There are lots of other options out there other than DJs.
Do you use a local, well known band? Do you let a friend or family member play an IPod? These are all choices, and any may be right for you, but you have to weigh the benefits against the possible pitfalls.
I am partial, of course; but in most cases, I think a DJ is your best bang for the buck.
He or she provides a sound system, not just for the dancing but for the entire event. A DJ will play the entire reception which includes the portion when the guests arrive and the bridal party are finishing pictures, the dinner, the ceremonial parts (cake cutting, toasts, first dances, bouquet and garter tosses, etc.) and the dancing.
A good DJ will run the event for you, make all the announcements, make all the transitions, insure nothing is omitted, and keep you on schedule.
A DJ will have a solid sound system, a wide array of lights and an impressive collection of songs, video and karaoke to choose from.
A DJ will have experience and be able to help you plan things like floor plan and traffic flow. They should be able to offer keen insights on special portions of the reception and how to make the event run smoothly and be fun and memorable.
Unfortunately, this is an option that gets picked for many small events because it is virtually free.
For some it works out, for many others, there are major regrets. Lets face it, it is free and free sounds good. I get that there are budgets to consider and free works great for a budget. What will the sound system quality be - what speakers are being used?
The little bluetooth speaker sounds good, as long as you are within 10 feet, but how about the people at the table on the other side of the room? How good will it sound if half of your group is trying to dance?
Can the speaker be turned up for important points or when you have many bodies on the floor, or is it maxed out all the time to try and fill the room?
If it is maxed out, does it sound good or is it distorted and cracking? Is there a microphone for the toast, blessing the food, or the grand entrance?
Also, who is manning the ipod? How large is their selection of songs? If they are relying on the internet, what if the WIFI crashes or is non-existent at the venue?
Do they have the ability to switch songs to create the right mood?
What does it sound like when they change songs, is it smooth or do they shut it off in the middle because they want to play a different one?
When it comes to the dance, will they play a wide range to please everyone or just what they like?
Bands can be a cool choice! A band may add big name excitement and many love the fact that it is "live music".
Typically bands are pricey, generally 2 or 3 times as much as a DJ. Bands are only the dance. Usually, this means you have no music for the time your group is there while you finish pictures or during dinner.
Bands have microphones, but no one to lead the toast or cake cutting.
Once the dance starts, most bands only have lights on themselves, none on the dancers.
Also bands take breaks. Typically a band will play a 30 to 45 minute set and then break for 10 to 15 minutes.
Also, consider their range. Some bands have a wider range than others. By range, I mean, can they play rock, country, disco, top40, Sinatra - or just a few?
If all these things sound good, go for it. I have several friends in bands and they can be a awesome choice!!
If you choose a band and you can afford it, you might consider a band and a DJ. I have done several shows where this was the case and the duality really added to the night.
One example would be when I did Stephen Boudreaux's reception:
Stephen is a buddy and the drummer for several local bands to include Oreo Blue & Honeyjack.
The band got top billing: they were on the stage, front and center while I set my stand up off to the side. I was there to welcome the guests, make all the announcements, and play music for the cocktail hour and dinner. After dinner, I was there to run the cake cutting, toast and first ceremonial dances (where he hid a microphone and actually serenaded Brin Marie).
I then introduced the band and they started doing their thing, while I put lights on the dancers. When they took their breaks, I fired up my system and played until they are ready to come back on.
I talked to the band in advance to make sure I didn't step on their toes and play anything they had planned. This is a great option because it widens the range of music.
Maybe the band is great, but there may be favorites your crowd would love that isn't in their wheel house. Most bands can't do everything and having a DJ too allows anything and everything like brand new songs that just hit the radio.
If you can afford both, this can be a fun option.
Dance Floor Size
This is one of those situations where less is more.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you need or want (for shock value) this enormous floor. I have done school dances where there were less than 100 kids and we were using half a basketball floor as the dance floor. I would have 80% of the students out there and it still looked empty.
People are funny; the fuller the floor looks, the greater the chance you have of people joining in that might not otherwise.
There are some exceptions, but generally speaking 15' x 15' (or even 10' x 10' in some cases) is generally enough. If someone wants to dance and the floor is full, they will do so on the edge.
Dance Floor Placement
Generally speaking, you want the entertainer's back against a wall with nothing behind him, not even a walkway to a door or restroom.
Directly in front of him you want his table with his equipment and then the dance floor directly in front of that.
If possible, you want the wall behind your entertainer in a corner or on the short wall; so, the majority of the room is in front of him (not beside and definitely not behind).
Sound and light will only travel in one direction. The set up I have described will direct both sound and light into the room and toward your dance floor and the guests evenly. This is the best set up to fill the room.
The new rage is to try and put the floor in the dead center of the room and this is about the worst decision you can make. It looks great on the planogram, but it has a large negative impact on the effectiveness of the lights and sound.
Think of it like this: your goal is to have a clear, appropriate level of sound throughout the entire room, so all of your guests can enjoy it. If the floor is in the center of the room and the DJ and his/her speakers (usually 2 speakers) are on each side, which way should he/she point the speakers?
If you point them at the floor, you create dead areas behind them which is where many of your guests are. If you point them outward, toward the guests, it sounds terrible on the floor.
I will also say that you should always put your entertainer right beside the dance floor. I know this sounds like no brainer, but you would be amazed at the times I have shown up to a venue and they have me set up in a corner that has tables with people or food in between me and the floor.
This is bad for several reasons:
One of the main reasons to have an entertainer is to have a person to interact with the crowd and to start and maintain the flow of the party. It is really tough to accomplish this when you are detached - when you are not right beside the dance floor.
The other issue becomes the sound and the lights. Most set ups will be the table with the gear and then three tripods. On one side is a speaker and on the other is a speaker and a light pole. Now, if you stick the DJ in a corner, you have an issue with the dance floor. Most dance floor lighting is made to be projected down onto the floor. This is impossible from across the room.
You have a similar issue with the sound. Yes, it will carry to the floor, but you want the main concentration on the floor. If your set up is across the room, the concentration is there, not on the floor.
Plus, if you have a good night and the party intensifies and the volume goes up, your guests between the set up and the floor have to endure the highest volumes in the room.
Another thing I will mention is the importance of having your entertainer where the action is. What I mean is that I can only control and interject if I can see what is going on. So, when you make your floor diagram, keep this in mind.
For example, if you put your cake table in another room away from the DJ and the dance floor, I can't run it. Likewise, if you put the head table and other tables in another room, I can't play a role in the toast.
I am a huge proponent of lighting! I think that the lighting in a room plays a crucial role in the success or failure of the event, especially if the goal is dancing.
Above and beyond all else, I think the lighting needs to be appropriate. In many cases the absence of light is what is needed. Every event calls for different levels of light.
The reality is that many people are self conscious about the way they look and dance. The perception is that in the dark, people feel safer and are far more likely to dance.
If you are having an event in a room with windows and the goal is dancing, take the time to cover them with black material or construction paper. If the room only has bright overhead lights that are on/off and can't be dimmed, let's address it.
I did a show at the Mount Magazine Lodge that had this issue -- the room was awesome, but it has overhead lights. Even at their lowest setting, it was too bright for a party atmosphere.
We put red uplights around the walls and turned the overhead lights completely off.
Not only was the room the bride's color, but we created a setting the was excellent for dancing.
The perfect situation takes almost all of the light out of the room except the lights used by the entertainer.
I can totally change the mood with the lights. If I want to pump up the crowd, I can make my LEDs (which are just like the older par cans) bright and changing colors to the beat of the music. I can add in a few motion lights or even lasers, if appropriate, that are scanning the room and creating excitement and energy. Now if I want to slow it down, my LEDs change to a solid dark blue (or any of 1000 different colors) and I dim them to 30 or 40% and turn on the mirror ball which simulates being under the stars - the room is now settled and very romantic.
Refrain from using Christmas lights or at least talk to me about it.
If you string Christmas lights everywhere, you greatly reduce the effectiveness of any dance floor lights. Think of dance floor lights like a lamp in your living room - do you switch on the lamp if you already have a bright overhead light on? Usually not. It is the same with my dance floor lights. If you plan to do this, your Christmas lights will make the room so bright that there is no need for any dance floor lighting.
If you plan to do this, there is no need for mine because it won't be dark enough for them to have an impact.
Length of the Event
Ok, I am paid by the hour, so you are welcome to have your event for as long as you want. As a matter of fact, that is why I price my events a flat rate for the first 3 hours and then $75 for each additional hour. I have many situations where we plan a party for 3 hours and when I approach the host about ending it, they want to pay $75 then and extend - GREAT!! The longer it goes, the more money I make.
Honestly though, I think this a place where some hosts will occasionally stumble. I have had 5 and 6 hour parties, but these were situations where the group stayed so we extended it.
Generally, I think you are better off to have a short intense party rather than trying to spread it out to fill a preconceived notion. For example, a 16th birthday party: 2 or 3 hours is plenty. If you are specific that you better be here when it starts because it is only 2/3 hours - they will. You end up with the full group the whole time and it is a blast.
On the other hand, if you go 3 or 4 hours, all it does is allow the guests to spread out. I have found that you end up with people coming and going and never really having them all there at once.
This can be the same situation at a reception -- in many cases the brides try to go until midnight and this is a tough task for the guests, especially if the wedding ceremony is in the afternoon like 3:00 or 4:00. When planning the time for the reception, keep in mind that your guests arrive before the ceremony, so if you factor the time starting from 30 minutes prior to the ceremony, it is a big commitment to stay for a 4 or 5 hour reception.
If you want a full crowd all night and plenty there for the send off, you might plan for a shorter time and extend if it seems like a good idea during the event.
I would also caution brides about scheduling a gap between the ceremony and the reception. Too many times, I have seen this go terribly wrong.
There are three probable outcomes. While there are many factors that will play a role, generally, if you do not have the ceremony directly after the reception, you will lose a high percentage of the guests.
Many people will just go home after the ceremony or plan not to go to the ceremony and just show up for the reception. If they do show up after the scheduled break, they might end up leaving early because of the cumulative time.
Another option is that they will just go on to the reception and sit and wait. This is awkward.
The last option is that they will show up after the break, but then they won't stay long and you end up with a small group at the end.
Party Planning Sheet
Please take this seriously. You are paying for me and all of the aspects of the event and you want everything to go well - the planning sheet is important.
Whether it is a Wedding Reception or a Corporate Christmas party or anything in between, I send out a planner. When I get it back I thoroughly review it and then I use it the night of the event.
Be sure to be complete and give me as much information as you can. The more information I have to work with, the better the event will be.
Don't wait until the last minute to fill it out. Sit down as far in advance as you can and fill in the planner as completely as possible.
If you send it back and change your mind about something, I am only a text or email away. If you wait until the week of the event, say for a reception - you are so busy and overwhelmed with the other components, that you won't give it the time it deserves.
Predetermined Songs & Requests
This is a touchy subject with some hosts but I think it is important to mention.
First let me say that my shows are always appropriate. Unless a host gives me specific instructions otherwise, I don't play explicit lyrics, heavy metal or gangster rap; so, it doesn't even need to be addressed.
I am an artist with over 30 years experience and the reason you are paying me as much as you are is because I have developed an ability to read your guests and make song choices that will create a fun party!
Let's look at requests. Yes, I take requests all night and do my best to incorporate them into the show.
One thing I may do, is approach you, if I get lots of requests for something you specifically said no to on the planner. For example, say you put on the planner - no participation at all. I get tons of requests for the YMCA. I may approach you, tell you I have gotten lots of requests for it and would you like to reconsider.
Whatever you say is final; so, if you again say no, I will not play it, but I wanted to make you aware that the requests were being made.
I also want to stress that I don't play all of the requests. My hope is that in the planning process, I have gotten to know you well enough to have an idea of what your dream is for the event and whether the song works to make that happen. Some songs won't work for your scenario and I will make the decision (with you in mind) not to play them.
I want to share a quick story: I got a call from a potential bride that asked about a negative comment she had seen about me not playing another group's requests.
I found the comment and pulled the file for that event. The show was 2 years prior, at the Embassy Suites in Rogers, and I remembered it as being great and her leaving happy. I even remembered getting a hug and a tip.
It really bothered me, so I tracked her down. She had relocated to Seattle. When I called to inquire, she said that the comment was because her son (who was 12 at the time) told her afterwards that I wouldn't play any of his requests.
Thankfully, I had kept the request sheet, which I made a copy of and emailed it to her. His requests, mostly verbal, but thank God some he had written down, were for Top40 songs full of sexual overtones and foul language - one even had a bad word in the title which he had written on the request list. She apologized and thanked me for not playing them.
I am not a prude. I liked some of his requests - one is even on my phone in a favorites file. Unfortunately, I had to be mindful of the whole group and I didn't feel like they were appropriate; so, I couldn't include them.
Back to hosts making requests ahead of time. It is your event and I want to make it perfect for you, which means playing songs that you like.
Yes, I want your input, but I have to be given some latitude to entertain your guests. I encourage you to flip over the planner and tell me a few songs that you definitely want included. Generally, I would say to give me 8 or 10 specific songs. Then give me general statements like: I don't want any country, my family loves Elton John, no line dance, no kid songs like the Macarena, etc. This gives me direction but doesn't box me in.
If you are an audiophile like myself and want to play a larger role in song selection, we can make that happen too. Here would be my recommendation: give me the list of 8 to 10 must plays. Now compile a list of "try to work in" songs.
This list can be as long as you want it to be and will be a great tool for me.
First, any songs that made your list that I don't have, I will get just in case I need them. Now that I have your list, I get to know you and have a better idea of what you really like.
Say a song made your "try to play" but not the "must play" and the night of the event, you want it played. Simply come up (or send word) that you would like to hear it. I'll pull it out and build a set around it. This still leaves me space to make it fit with the other songs being played and keeps the flow smooth.
If you want to give me this huge list of the songs you want played "for sure" and that's it; sadly, I am not your guy - you need to shop and find a different entertainer.
Yes, that sounds like it would be an easy night for me, but that isn't the case.
Instead, your event tanks and you and or your guests want to blame me. I have seen events where the host submits a list of 70 or 80 songs that they definitely want to hear. This is a recipe for disaster. First, lets take an average 4 hour reception: the dinner and formal parts take 45 minutes to an hour leaving 3 hours for the dancing. The average length of a song is 3 minutes so we will average 20 songs in an hour. With the three hours we have approximately 60 songs. This means you have already set me up for failure. Your list of must plays is longer than physically possible; so, the one song I omit is your favorite, leaving you disappointed.
Furthermore, an exact list leaves me no wiggle room. If I know I have to squeeze 70 songs into a slot that is only big enough for 55 to 60, I am unable to take requests. If Grandma comes up and wants a dance with Grandpa to Sinatra, I have to say no, it isn't on the list.
In most cases, a specific list also makes the night choppy. It limits how I can transition from set to set because I only have your list to pull from.
The last thing I have to consider is that every show is a reflection on me. If you give me a list of songs that are the only ones that I can play and the night goes poorly, no one knows it is your list; they assume it was me making poor choices.
If your list is 50% slow, love songs; your group is snoozing and wondering why I am playing so many slow ones. If your list is heavy on one genre it could be boring to a large portion of people there.
Again, it is your day and if you want to pick every song at the reception, this is 100% your right, but in this scenario, I am not the DJ for your event.
Usually, asking for requests on RSVP invitations is a mistake. This creates a situation much like I described in the paragraph above.
If someone feels strongly enough about a song, they will come up that night and request it. Those are the ones that should be given attention and usually the ones that will get the most dancers.
I find that asking for requests on invitations gives you a strange list of songs. In many cases, everyone feels compelled to list something. You end up with some bizarre choices. If they get played, you have 1 person seated tapping their foot, while the rest of the group is looking around wonder why I would make such a strange choice.
Plus, if you ask and they answer, they will then sit there the whole time waiting to hear what they asked for (even if they have no intention of dancing to it). If it isn't played, all they remember about your event is that the DJ didn't play their song. I think asking for requests on invitations is a lose-lose situation.
Let me begin by saying this is not a slam on Planners. The good ones can play a huge role in the success of your event.
What I would suggest is that you decide what their role is in your event. I think they can be helpful in the PLANNING. They can be instrumental in helping you budget, organize, develop fun ways to personalize, select vendors and coordinate, all of which happens before the reception. The good ones can save you time and money in the long run.
At the reception, I think you need to predetermine who is running the event - the DJ or the wedding planner. Every vendor has a function at your reception and it is important that we all know what you want that to be.
90% of my receptions are without a wedding planner and in this case, I am the facilitator. I learned many years ago, that it was easier to take the bull by the horns and make sure things go the way they should because in many cases, I would be blamed if not. Consequently, I have created and use a three page, pink wedding planner.
I send out a planner for every reception that I do, with the express purpose of collecting everything I need to know to do my job (as a DJ and an Emcee) effectively.
The second page is an actual outline where you tell me the order and what is to be included and excluded. The planner is all about you and the event, not about me. You fill it out the way you want things to be and I follow it the night of the reception. I come to you, the host, before key transitions to ensure you are prepared; then, with your approval, I move on to the next portion.
Some pieces require more set up than others. I may have to prepare the best man for his toast, tell the bar to pass out the champagne, make sure the uncle has the microphone to bless the food, alert the photographer or videographer that we are about to do something special.
When there is no one else to do so, I run your event for you.
If your plan is to have your wedding planner or someone else in attendance run the event, this is 100% cool with me, but it needs to be done properly.
I am responsible to have music and announcements ready to transition from each portion to the other.
If someone other than myself is to run the event, he or she needs to understand that for me to do my job properly, I have to know the order and be given an opportunity to be ready.
They need to have a copy of my planner (or me have a copy of theirs) and make an honest attempt to follow it.
The planner is created by the host, making decisions in advance and this needs to be honored if possible.
Yes, after 30+ years of managing functions, I understand that in some circumstances, there will be things happening on the fly and impromptu situations. I can adapt and roll with the punches, but these unexpected twists should be the exception, not the norm.
Just like I will inform the photographer before all picturesque moments, I need to know when major transitions are about to take place to be prepared.
The example I would give is the cake cutting. Before a planner takes a couple to the cake and starts the process, they would ensure the photographer is present and ready to shoot. I need the same heads up, so I can announce it and have music ready to go.
Again, it is not about me, it is about your event being the best it can be. If things start before I am told, there is no music or announcement and this makes this much less fun. Too many cooks will spoil the stew. I recommend you choose who is doing what and make it clear beforehand so things go well!.
Grand Entrances at Weddings
I love these and think they are under utilized.
Many of my brides make the decision to nix the grand entrances and I think this is a missed opportunity for fun and recognition.
All that needs done, is to have a list and order of who will be introduced. Have the participants collected when you arrive from the pictures and before you enter the reception. Then, lets have some fun. Play some upbeat music and use it as a chance to recognize your attendants and set the table for the fun that is upcoming.
Example: I did one event with a grand entrance and we treated it like announcements at a basketball game. Think announcer voice: 'All the way from Hot Springs Arkansas, your Maid of Honor … BRENDA RILEY and she is escorted by Greenland's High School football coach MR JACKRABBIT and your best man … Mark Armstrong!'
It is just fun and a way to wake up people who have been in the room waiting.