How much do you want the entertainment to interact with your guests? This will mean the difference between hiring an understated pianist who plays during cocktail hour, a circus troupe who twirls above the crowd's heads, or a comedian who wanders the aisles with a microphone.
Would you like live or recorded music? Live bands can adjust their playing to suit the mood of a crowd in real time, but bands are generally more expensive than DJs and take up more space. DJs, on the other hand, require outlets and electrical power that acoustic bands do not.
Want a little something extra? More exotic entertainment options include: singers, emcees, jugglers, impersonators, magicians, caricaturists, fortune tellers, mimes, acrobats, aerialists, dancers, inspirational speakers, dove/butterfly release specialists, animal handlers, and costumed performers of all kinds. You may also consider hiring a children's entertainer if there will be a separate room for your guests' kids.Hiring the Right One
Once you figure out what category of entertainment you'd like, interview several contenders even if you like the first person you meet. The process will give you ideas of what you want and don't want, as well as what price range to expect.
As with any vendor, it pays to hire someone you trust. Ask friends who have hosted parties and weddings if there are particular entertainers who stood above the rest. If you're the only one in your social group who requires a banjo-playing Cher impersonator, though, you can still get a sense of their professionalism from seeing videos of the entertainer in action. If you are making contact over the Internet, make sure the video you're watching is recent. If a live band is in your area, go to see them perform. You can ask any entertainer to put you in touch with a reference. You can also ask your other vendors if they know of any entertainers with rave reviews.
Pick an entertainer whose personality meshes well with the mood of your reception, especially if they will be addressing the room with a microphone. You might want someone who gets everyone dancing and laughing, or you might want someone who can blend unobtrusively into the background. When you're certain you know whom you want to hire, book your date as far in advance as possible to ensure availability.
Make sure you see eye-to-eye on what style of music you like. Some amateur DJs will try to second-guess the client because they "know what will get people dancing." Make sure the DJ is willing to play any songs you require. The customer is always right! Similarly, if you give them a "do not play" list, they should stick to it religiously. If there are particular songs you want, request them with plenty of time to find the tracks. People with larger music collections aren't necessarily better; it's more important to find someone who has songs in your chosen style.
Discuss your entertainer's outfit before the big date. You don't want your DJ showing up looking like Weird Al (or maybe you do). It's a good idea to go over the entire setup with them ahead of time, from the equipment they will bring to the amount of set-up and cleanup time they require. Also, agree on the amount of self-promotion that's appropriate. Do you want your entertainers handing out business cards? If you are using musical entertainment, you may also want to know their stance on audience requests.
Always verify that your entertainer has performed at your specific type of event before. For example, wedding DJs will already be familiar with wedding-appropriate playlists. There are certain songs, however catchy, that are inappropriate due to depressing or breakup themed lyrics.
Addressing the Logistics
It's essential that your entertainment be a good match for your venue. Check with both parties beforehand that there is enough space, electrical power and flattering acoustics. You don't want to hire an aerialist troupe in a venue with 15-foot ceilings. It also helps if your entertainment has already established a good working relationship with your venue ahead of time. Verify that your venue doesn't charge extra for outside entertainment if they have a house entertainer.Before signing a contract, ask detailed questions to prevent unexpected charges. Arrange a fixed price ahead of time, and set expectations for how long the event will run. You don't want to find out about overtime fees after the fact.
Verify you will get the same person you have interviewed. Don't let a large company send an amateur on your wedding day because they overbooked the pros. Hire the owner of the company, if possible. Make sure you know how many assistants they will be bringing, especially if you plan to feed them dinner.
Have them speak in detail about what equipment they will be using. If they can't tell you how it works, you may be looking at an amateur. If you want something that requires specific equipment, like karaoke, you'll need to find someone who specializes in the set-up or rent it yourself. Always double-check that you will not be responsible for renting any equipment they do not currently possess.
Go through the entire timeline with your entertainment so they know to tailor the performance to your event. There will usually be times you'd like them to start and stop the music for speeches or videos. Or you may want to hear specific songs at specific times (like if the bride's father has always wanted to enter a room to the Star Wars Imperial March).
Quiz your entertainment about their backup and contingency plans, and make sure they meet with your approval. What if they get sick, or the equipment breaks? Will you get your deposit back? Always look for entertainers with insurance, just in case an accident happens. It doesn't hurt, no matter what, to also have a simple sound system and some nice CDs ready. Just in case everything else fails, you'll still have music.