Wedding Entertainment: Band Or DJ?
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
For those weighing entertainment options for their wedding day, the two most popular choices are a DJ or a band. Historically, it has always seemed a bit more upscale or elegant to hire a band. After all, a DJ has often been perceived as some corny guy who shows up, plays a few tunes, throws on his DJ voice, a tux and then, proceeds to get into his groove. Ready for another line dance? The DJ is more than ready to lead “The Macarena.” In recent years, however, the role of a professional DJ has taken center stage and now, couples have far more options in DJ services. From custom crafted playlists to lighting and decor, professional DJ entertainers are much more flexible in what we offer.
The evolution of the professional DJ is a fascinating one. What was, at one time, crates of records, a disco ball and cheesy banter, is now a polished professional complete with a digital library, ambience lighting and interactive appeal. The art of entertaining for a wedding celebration has changed. With that change, couples should expect a greater level of showmanship & value. Your wedding DJ is responsible for pre-planning assistance, timeline design, an early arrival, efficient set-up, an aesthetically appealing DJ booth, song selection, emcee duties, program director and so much more. If you’re not sure what to expect from your wedding DJ, please see my Blog post… What To Look For When Looking For A DJ!
It’s no secret… I believe that a professional, well trained DJ offers a great bit more flexibility and value than a band. Having spent the greater part of my life as a professional wedding DJ and in training DJ talent, I enjoy what a DJ can bring to a performance. Make no mistake, I love live music! There are, however, distinct differences, between a live band and a professional DJ along with the type of energy, they bring to a wedding celebration. Each offer their benefits and each provide a different angle of entertainment. Let’s take a look…
DISCLAIMER: When going through this topic, we are going to compare apples to apples. In no way will I suggest that your family member's band is comparable to a professional DJ and likewise, we won't compare your cousin the DJ to a top flight band.
Cost – In nearly all cases, bands will cost significantly more than a professional DJ. Remember, when comparing cost, you must compare “like” variables. A top level professional DJ will always cost less than a top level band. The same will be true with a lesser experienced DJ and a lesser experienced band. While costs vary, you can expect a top tier band to cost $5000 or more for up to five hours while a comparable professional DJ can be booked for $2500 or so. Likewise, you can expect to pay less for lesser experienced bands and DJs.
Length Of Performance – When booking a five hour wedding reception, you should expect a band to perform for 45 minutes and then break for 15 minutes. So in effect, when paying for a five hour performance, you’ll get just short of four hours performance time. Typically, when a band takes a break, the energy takes a break as well. With a professional DJ, your five hour reception is five hours of performance time. There should be no breaks (except for announcements) as your DJ will be “at the helm” for the entire performance time.
Ceremony, Cocktails Or Reception? – A band’s set-up is not as flexible as that of a DJ. Once the band is set-up, they are set for the evening. This makes it tough for a band to accommodate your ceremony, cocktails & reception… unless all three are in the same location and the layout affords the band to remain in one location for all three. If not, then there will be an additional cost to you, for other music options.
Meals – Quite simply put, providing a meal for a professional DJ and possibly their assistant is a lot lighter on the wallet than providing meals for a six person (or possibly more) band, their road crew and staff.
Contract/Rider – Both a DJ and a band will require certain “accommodations” in their contract. A DJ will likely require table space, electricity and that’s about it. A band’s contract may require overnight accommodations, lots of stage and backstage space, access to your event space hours in advance, a “green room” and more. These are matters to consider when booking a band and your venue space. Certain additional accommodations may require an additional fee, charged by your venue or an event supply company.
Professionalism – While it is unfair to assume that a DJ will be more professional than a band in every case, keep in mind that with a DJ, you have one personality to mesh with. You can share your vision with the DJ and feel confident that your message was communicated accurately. On your wedding day, your DJ will see you through the day, adding personal attention to details. With a band of several members, you’ll have to rely on one or more members to be on the same page and/or communicate your message effectively to the remaining members. There are lots of moving parts to assemble and in some instances, not all parts work in “concert.”
Who’s The Emcee? – Band members, while no stranger to the microphone, may not be the best choice as your emcee. Their style, attention to detail and polish are not always that of a professional DJ. A wedding DJ is familiar with all announcements and is prepared to adjust, as needed, to accommodate last minute changes to the script. Also, with a DJ, you’ll have one emcee who your guests will look to for guidance.
Who’s Song Is It Anyway? – You’ve got a great group of guests who are ready to dance and one of your requests is up next on the band’s set list. Are you prepared to hear the band’s version of “Despacito?” Are your guests going to enjoy a different rendition of “Unchained Melody?” With bands, their sound is their sound and it may be tough to derive a version of one of your requests, based on their talent. When working with a professional DJ, you’ll get the songs you want, as you know them. Remember, your requests for songs are based on the version of the song you know and love… not a cover version.
The Big Break-Up – You’ve done your homework, you’ve checked out the band and love their sound. You paid a deposit and now you’re six months away from the big day. What happens if a band member leaves or the lead singer ventures off on their own? A band’s sound can change as their personnel changes. The band you heard during the audition may sound significantly different than the band you have on your wedding day.
Aesthetics – With a DJ, you’ll have one or two tables, draped and skirted in the colors/theme you’ve set for your event space. Equipment should be neatly stored and displayed to compliment the look you want. A band will have a lot more gear, need a lot more storage space and aesthetically, their gear may not appeal to your overall theme.
Flexibility – Options are typically a good thing. So in the case of a DJ, you’ll have the luxury of choosing different services from one vendor. A professional DJ will likely offer options such as uplighitng, screens, gobos, custom mash-ups (Click Here for a sample of our music mixes) & more. A band may not be able to accommodate these options, making it tougher for you to “one stop shop."
Request List – Bands have a great sound and often, a vast set list. But what if they don’t know some of the songs that you’d like to hear? What about the latest songs to hit Billboard’s “Hot 100?” Will your wedding band know the latest songs? Your DJ will have access to just about any song imaginable. From Retro & Catalog songs to the latest hits, your DJ is able to play the tunes you want, on demand!
More Moving Parts – While we do not want to think about “what if” scenarios, your wedding day brings together lots of moving parts. With a band, the more moving parts/members they have, the more chance there is for something to go wrong. Will all band members, set-up staff, sound engineers and support staff arrive on time? Will their sound check take place during your ceremony? With a professional wedding DJ, there’s a lot less equipment, one person (two if a DJ assistant accompanies the DJ) and the potential for errors to arise is greatly lessened.
In The End – Last but not least, your event space is booked for a block of hours. From start to finish, your must allow time for set-up, “getting ready” time, ceremony, cocktails & reception time. Then, you must have time for your vendors to breakdown and clear out. A band, will likely take a significant amount of time to break down and load out with all of their gear. This, quite possibly, is time that adds to your facility’s rental cost. Extra hours of time will equal extra money. A DJ can easily breakdown and be out of the facility in less than one hour. This will fit within your contracted time, thus saving you the additional rental cost.
I've often found that while people see and want to listen to a band, they more typically want to dance to a DJ's set. This may matter to you, depending on the type of entertainment you'd like to create at your celebration.