They call it the Wedding Markup - or, if they're feeling dramatic, the Wedding Tax.
Every year or two, a reporter somewhere finds out that most wedding companies charge less when they provide services for non-wedding events. They'll do an story where they call a caterer or DJ asking for a quote for different services - one wedding event, one anniversary or corporate party.
When the wedding quote is higher, the reporter "breaks" the news like it's a scandal.
Bad spin? Yes.
But fake news? No, not really.
Here's why our DJ company bills more for weddings than for non-wedding events - and why an engaged couple should look twice at any company who doesn't.
Weddings are more expensive.
At Backthird Entertainment, we have lots of different wedding options. Clients booking just a DJ with us typically spend in the $1400-1800 range for their entire Chicago-area wedding, while clients who include live music might spend $3000 or more.
What about non-weddings? If we get a call to provide music for a company holiday party or a school homecoming dance, live music services will cost about the same as at a wedding. But our DJ services are often 30-40% less.
We're not alone. Each business does things differently, but typically you can expect event planners, photographers, entertainers, and hair & makeup services to bill more for wedding work than other event work. Meanwhile: Venues, caterers and transport services might NOT bill more for weddings - though they probably do bill more for some calendar dates than for others.
So why do some of us have different rates?
Because a wedding service is a different service. It costs more because it IS more.
1. Weddings are custom services.
Every wedding is completely customized to suit the people who'll be there. It has to be: You don't want the same party that some other couple had last week.
Your wedding's just more personal than that.
Here's the checklist our DJs use while they're preparing for a non-wedding event:
And here's the checklist they follow when preparing for a wedding:
The wedding checklist is only one step longer - but each step assumes a much higher degree of customization.
- For party clients, we're checking in before the event and then playing what we know works best.
- For weddings, we're building a customized agenda and personal song requests, then talking with the couple to review it all blow-by-blow. Then it's usually time to adjust a second time, buy music and build custom mixes.
It's an entirely different service because weddings require an entirely different service. This week's high school prom won't mind if we play the same set of songs as last week's high school prom... but when it comes to this week's wedding couple, everything needs to be customized from scratch each time.
That's DJs, but it's just the same with all your wedding services. Would you want any less?
2. Weddings require specialized skills.
A wedding is complex - and your vendors' job is to make it as easy as possible for you and your guests. That means good wedding vendors aren't only customizing services - we're also relying on a completely different set of skills when we work weddings.
Here's the list of minimum skills new Backthird DJs have to demonstrate before we'll certify them to perform at private parties:
And here's the list of ADDITIONAL skills DJs must demonstrate before we'll certify them to work at your wedding:
Wedding work draws on a deep well of specialized knowledge and experience. There are customs, traditions and industry shorthand your vendors must know if you want your wedding to feel like a wedding.
I can't speak for every vendor, but at our DJ business that knowledge represents a very real investment of training and rehearsal time and money.
And if we sent a DJ to your wedding without that training, you wouldn't much like the result.
Non-custom, non-specialized weddings are bad weddings.
So what are your options if you want to keep your wedding costs down?
Here's what I DON'T recommend: Don't book non-wedding services for a wedding event.
It may seem tempting to tell vendors your event is "just a party" - or to find that DJ who does weddings at non-wedding rates. But non-wedding rates means non-wedding services, and in my experience that doesn't work.
Example 1: Wedding photographers will often work in pairs to increase coverage for your day and make sure your key wedding moments don't get missed. At non-weddings, photographers often work solo. So those events cost less.
But are you ok with your photographer missing that picture of your first kiss, your big entrance or your parents' joyful faces because he's understaffed and can't be everywhere at once?
If not, you're not ok with non-wedding photography.
Example 2: Wedding DJs learn your wedding party's names, direct events, coordinate with you to build the right agenda, put together custom dance requests - and play great music. Club DJs play the music, but don't do the rest. So they cost less.
But are you ok with your DJ not announcing key wedding events, not understanding how your venue's schedule works and not basing her mix on your personal music tastes?
If not, you're not ok with a non-wedding DJ.
If you don't want to cut corners, own it. There are lots of other ways to keep your budget down: Reduce your guest list. Cut back on "extra services." Or get extreme and go without some services altogether! It might be better to have no DJ at all than to have a terrible DJ.
Just don't book services that make your wedding WORSE as a way to keep your budget down.
Sometimes the long way is the only way.
A wedding vendor who charges more for weddings than for other kinds of parties is like an Uber driver who charges more for a ride to the airport than a ride up the block.
I could call this the "airport markup" or the "airport tax." But the truth is: It's just a longer trip.
It costs more... because it IS more.
So's your wedding. It takes more customization and more specialized skills than almost any other party you can hire for. Vendors ought to put the extra time and training in to get your party right. Be wary if they won't.
Because just like that airport drive - a shorter trip won't get you where you want to go.