January 19, 2020

Why bar mitzvah DJs charge the big bucks

Even though weddings, corporate parties and birthday celebrations keep DJs busy throughout the year, a new study reveals that you’ll probably pay more for one to play “Hava Nagila”  — or anything else — at a bar or bat mitzvah.

The national survey results, released earlier this month by Thumbtack, an online marketplace for freelance and small-business professionals, indicate that DJ services cost an average of 32 percent more than those for weddings and 93 percent more than birthday parties. In real dollars, that means a DJ’s bar mitzvah fees — which average a little more than $800 — are $200 more than weddings and nearly $400 more than birthdays.

“As bar mitzvahs have become more lavish affairs, the demands on DJs have become more involved in terms of the services they are providing the kids and their parents,” said Jon Lieber, chief economist for Thumbtack.

“The bar or bat mitzvah DJ is doing a whole lot more than just putting on records and letting them spin,” Leiber continued. “He or she is involved in getting the kids actively involved in the party. He’s got the job of emcee, and is responsible for announcing the young person being bar mitzvahed. He’s interacting with the participants for much of the entire reception, and certainly more so than with a birthday, corporate party or a wedding.”

The Thumbtack study was based on 300,000 DJ requests through the service. It revealed that 25 percent of parents planning a bar or bat mitzvah budget more than $1,000 for a DJ. 

In Los Angeles, the numbers showed that DJs were in the middle of the pack, charging $880. Philadelphia was the most expensive market, with an average bar mitzvah DJ rate coming in at $1,100. It was followed by Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; and New York City.

Although Thumbtack doesn’t have the data for all DJs, many high-end DJs use the service and the sample is fairly representative of the overall market, according to a company official.

Andrew Langsam, founder and owner of Southern California’s Get In the Groove Entertainment, said there are many reasons why a DJ — or DJ event team — can be an expensive investment.

“You need to have a broad understanding of different genres of music and how to appeal to a wide demographic of people, from ages 5 to 80,” he said. “You not only need to have the ability to play the most popular music, but also appropriate music. Customers also need to understand the DJ requires a different skill set than what’s required for a corporate party.”

Langsam stressed that a good DJ or team needs to keep a group of 20 to 100 kids occupied, entertained, involved and engaged. That task can be particularly difficult for those who have attended dozens of bar mitzvahs over the course of a year.

“You need a very creative bag of tricks in order to entertain kids who may be 30 to 40 parties deep and are a bit jaded,” he said. “An experienced bar mitzvah DJ … will always have something fresh and new at the ready.”

Joel Macht, president of SpotlightLA, which claims on its website to be the largest DJ company in California, said there are several reasons bar mitzvahs can cost more than other events. Part of it has to do with how many team members are required and all they have to do.

“It’s not just hiring somebody to spin records, but creating a milestone event that will [have] an emcee — the Ryan Seacrest of your event — who will be out and involved with the crowd, running games, setting up the photo montage, explaining how the candle-lighting works and so on,” he explained.

Macht said some bar mitzvahs not only include DJs and emcees, but also dancers, lighting techs and visual specialists. The cost could run between $2,000 to $8,000, depending on the services, he said. Parents are not just paying for a DJ, but a whole team of people with special skills. It’s a similar concept to deciding whether a two-piece band will suffice for a wedding or if the couple wants an 11-piece big band. 

Michelle Navon, owner of My Party Production, said that in contrast to weddings and corporate parties, the dance floor is always full at bar mitzvahs, and few people leave the venue during the course of the party. She said any DJ her company hires must be able to “read the people he’s entertaining” and keep guests engaged from the moment the guests arrive to the time the last guest leaves.

“The biggest responsibility a DJ has at a bar mitzvah is to keep the energy levels of the guests going and ensure the bar mitzvah teen has the time of his life,” she said.