There’s an old joke that if you’re throwing a party you shouldn’t tell the caterers, florists, or any other service provider that it’s actually for a wedding, because they just might charge you a very large premium. When analyzing Thumbtack booking data, however, we were surprised to learn that wedding DJs are not the most expensive type of DJ.
It turns out that when booking a DJ, the event that will cost you the most is a bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah DJs are 32 percent more expensive than wedding DJs and 93 percent more than the average birthday party. Perhaps it’s time to update the joke. Never tell the DJ that the event is a bar mitzvah!
This got us curious: Why are bar mitzvah DJs so expensive? Aren’t weddings supposed to be where you end up paying a lot?
The bar/bat mitzvah is the pinnacle of a young person’s Jewish life. The celebration of the bar/bat mitzvah, which translates to “Son/daughter of the commandment,” goes back to the Middle Ages. When a Jewish person turns thirteen (in some traditions, it is twelve for girls), the individual is considered an adult within the community. He/she is now able to read from the Torah, Judaism’s most holy text, and is considered accountable for his/her actions. In the Jewish tradition, it is the day a girl becomes a woman, a boy a man.
It is also the first time that a young Jewish person gets to throw a huge party.
These parties are partly a recognition of the fact that preparing for a bar/bat mitzvah is a lot of work. To be ready for one’s responsibilities at a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, a tween has to spend hours studying every week for many months. These responsibilities usually include reading a number of passages in Hebrew from the Torah and the haftarah (a commentary on that week’s Torah portion).
To celebrate this coming of age, and the hard work of their child, parents often pull out all the stops for a reception party.
Hosting these parties can be hugely stressful for both parents and the bar/bat mitzvah boy or girl. At all ages, throwing a party can be a nerve-wracking experience, but as a tween, the failure of a party can feel like the end of the world. So how do you stack the cards in your favor? How do you make sure your party can’t fail?
Pay up for an awesome DJ.
The following chart shows the average price of DJ services for different types of events on Thumbtack. While it is possible to hire a DJ for less or more for each type of event type, this is what the average person pays.
The average price to hire a bar/bat mitzvah DJ is $812. This is nearly $300 more than the overall average cost of hiring a DJ and almost double the $420 a DJ gets paid on average for a regular birthday party.
DJing a bar/bat mitzvah involves much more than just spinning some records. The job is to be the life of the party. Thirteen-year-olds don’t have much practice on the dance floor and the DJ has to help them lose their inhibitions. They need a guide to show them how to limbo, hora, and electric slide. One parent using Thumbtack requested a DJ who knows how to “get the crowd involved,” and another parent wanted a DJ to “get the dancing going, lead games and contests, and ensure a fun time for all.”
A bar mitzvah DJ is the director of the show: he or she is much more a master of ceremonies than a headphone-wearing song mixer. In advertising its DJ services, the company SpotlightLA explains:
“Music, while very important, is only one piece of the puzzle. Our professional Bar and Bat mitzvah DJs will keep the party rocking. Energetic and atmospheric lighting, interactive and immersive décor, and the ability to enroll your guests into a vision of the perfect event…”
We spoke to DJ Mike Burchard of B_Entertained DJs about the difference between DJing a Bar/Bat mitzvah compared to a wedding. “As a mitzvah DJ you definitely need a different set of skills,” he said, “I tell my guys to ‘think like a kid’ when it comes to mitzvah DJing and MCing versus for a wedding, where your focus is more on the formal.”
Burchard wants his DJs to be “silly and goofy” while still maintaining control over the kids. Certain DJs can’t do it. “Unfortunately some guys can’t let go and be a kid again,” he told us. “They are the ones who have a more difficult time as a mitzvah DJ.”
Given the charm offensive required to be a good bar/bat mitzvah DJ, it is no surprise that Clueless/Anchorman star Paul Rudd started out on the mitzvah circuit. Rudd has acknowledged that having to keep the party going was a taxing experience.
Paul Rudd, DJing a bat mitzvah (and helping a girl cheat at limbo).
In order to get a great DJ, bar/bat mitzvah parents understand they are going to have to spend.
When people request a DJ on Thumbtack, they are asked for their estimated budget. For all other event types besides bar/bat mitzvahs, the majority of users budget between $400-$600 for DJ services. For bar/bat mitzvahs nearly a half of our users budget over $800 for a DJ, and about a quarter are prepared to pay over $1,000. The following chart shows the percentage of people budgeting over $1,000 by event type.
For some parents, the pressure to spend on bar/bat mitzvahs has become intense. What was once a simple celebration for family and friends has become, for those that can afford it, an opportunity for lavishness. At the most extreme, parents have forked up for appearances by celebrities like Justin Bieber, Nikki Minaj and Maroon 5. For one bar mitzvah, the family paid backup dancers to be part of the bar mitzvah boy’s dramatic party entrance, an elaborately choreographed dance to a Christina Aguilera song. The Daily Beast referred to this escalating extravagance as the “Bar Mitzvah Arms Race.”
The vast majority of Jewish parents are not involved in this arms race. In fact, some Jewish parents are appalled by this spending, and see it as going against the spirit of the occasion. One Rabbi even wrote that the excessive nature of Bar mitzvah celebrating amounts to “idolatry.”
Perhaps all this upwards spending pressure has led to the surprisingly expensive market for bar mitzvah DJs. When some parents are paying $15,000 for DJ Dillon Francis to play their bar mitzvah, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pay nearly $1,000 for a less famous one. At this point, hiring a bar mitzvah DJ is actually closer to hiring a full live band for a birthday than a DJ for any other type of event.
DJ Mike Burchard explained to us that for his company, the base rates for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs are actually similar, but that the bar/bat mitzvahs can end up being more expensive because people so frequently ask for additional staff and services. Particularly, people often ask for for additional dancers and videographers. Many bar/bat mitzvahs have specific themes. To fit these themes, “[families] will add on services that have never been or seen at a mitzvah before,” Burchard says, “and we always try to make it happen.”