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Band Vs. DJ – Which Is Better For My Wedding?

Man playing guitar in a wedding live music

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Most couples tend to agree that one of the most important and yet often underrated factors that contribute to the atmosphere of a wedding and reception is the music. But the music is vital precisely as a means to accent and complement the joy of the event without overshadowing it.

When it comes to music for weddings, two main options stand out – live music courtesy of a band or recorded music brought to you by a DJ.

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Which is the better option of these two and are there any alternatives?

Pros And Cons Of Having A Live Band vs. a DJ at Your Wedding

Live band performing in a wedding

There are lots of things to consider when it comes to choosing between a band and a DJ. To make matters even more complicated, a lot of these factors are pretty subjective and are a matter of personal opinion.

The Pros Of Hiring A Live Band

  • Having a live band play at your wedding is a unique experience that will likely be one of the most memorable aspects of your wedding. That is, if the band is good enough. A good wedding band will turn your reception into an event that’s unique and personalized. Why listen to the same “wedding songs list” at your wedding that plays at every other wedding too when you can commemorate your reception with something special?
  • A cool band is a sight to behold – and that’s something that a lot of people enjoy. While most people love dancing at weddings, a good band is not just great to dance to, but also to simply watch and listen to. All the non-dancers at your wedding will be much happier with a band than with a DJ.
  • Live bands are great for themed “period piece” weddings when their repertoire is made to reflect a certain era like the 1930s, the 1960s, the 1980s and so on.
  • Live musicians can be great at gauging the crowd’s needs and preferences and playing to them. They are also excellent at quick transitions which is usually a weak spot for most DJs.

The Cons Of Hiring A Live Band

  • The average cost of a wedding band vs. a DJ is several times higher. Whereas most DJs in the U.S. will cost between $500 and $2,000, depending on various factors like the state and the DJ’s brand, a wedding band will usually cost around $4,500-5,000 with some going well over $10,000. The reason for the much higher price is simple – a band will have multiple members while a DJ will usually be alone.
  • The band’s setup won’t be too flexible in terms of how complex the equipment is to move and set into place. This can be a problem when you want there to be music in multiple different locations (ceremony, cocktails, reception, etc.)
  • Bands require a lot of breaks as they usually can’t play non-stop. Most bands have a repertoire of 20-30 songs and with a break between every 2-4 songs. Effectively, a band will fill just half or two-thirds of the time with music – the rest will be silence or recorded music.
  • A band’s volume level is also harder to control. There could be a certain degree of control, depending on their equipment, but it’s not comparable to how precise a DJ can be with the volume of his/her music.
  • Reliability is also a factor as the human element shouldn’t be ignored. Live music is a complicated thing to organize and mistakes happen – much more often with bands than with DJs whose job is much more simple and fool-proof.
  • Bands also offer a much more limited number of songs compared to DJs. Even if the band is truly great and can play dozens upon dozens of songs, it’s still not even close to the number of songs a DJ can play.
  • Some people prefer the studio-version. Live performances are, indeed, special, but a lot of your guests would rather listen to the perfect and well-known studio variants of the songs they know and love.

The Pros Of Hiring A Professional DJ

DJ performing in a wedding
  • On average, a wedding DJ will be several times cheaper than a band. Yes, there are some really expensive DJs out there, but those are outliers – in many states, you can get a good DJ for less than $1,000.
  • A DJ will offer a lot more songs and music options for your wedding – from every song you may have heard in its studio version to various wedding and celebratory jingles that are fun at weddings.
  • Setup flexibility is also very noteworthy as a DJ can easily join in any part of the wedding.
  • A DJ will require little to no breaks either as he/she can easily take quick bathroom breaks or eat & drink while the music is playing.
  • With a DJ you can tweak the interactivity he/she is going to have during the wedding. You can have a less-intrusive DJ that plays quiet music or a very interactive DJ that narrates the party and plays loud music.
  • Wedding DJs also offer a very reliable experience – few things can go wrong with a DJ’s performance and you can be 99% certain of what you’re going to get out of them before the wedding has even started.

The Cons Of Hiring A Professional DJ

  • As good as even the best DJs are at their job, they don’t bring the atmosphere of a great live performance.
  • Improvisation can be tougher for a DJ despite the extensive equipment they often have because DJs can’t cut and switch songs as naturally as a live band.
  • A DJ with an annoying personality can outright ruin your entire wedding where a band can be asked to focus more on the music and not on acting as an emcee for the wedding.

Alternatives To Wedding Bands And DJs

One common alternative to a wedding band or DJ is an iPod / laptop wedding? While there are times where this can be an economical, convenient option, it doesn’t work for everyone. The reasoning here is that you can’t simply hook up a playlist and leave it be – you’ll still need someone to operate the playlist, switch songs when the mood needs to be changed and the crowd needs to be worked. And if you don’t have this person, you’ll have to turn to a professional.

Another option is to have a musical friend or family who’s willing to handle the music for you do the job. If you have a friend who sings and plays guitar, for example, they might be happy to play at your wedding. Combined with some recorded music, you’ll be able to make the event special, intimate and unique by including such a person in your day.

The job of a DJ or a band isn’t just to make noise – it’s to create the perfect wedding atmosphere and tone that guarantees everyone’s enjoyment. And when a wedding has several dozen or even hundreds of guests, this task requires an expert’s touch.

Yes, hypothetically, an amateur friend or family member could do that as well. If you know someone who’s dabbled in amateur DJ-ing, has a talent for it, wants to participate in such a manner at your wedding, and your communication and coordination are good enough – you can go for it. Although, even then we’d suggest that you ask this person to do their homework and watch, read, and learn as much as possible about professional wedding DJ-ing.

Which Should I Choose?

People dancing at wedding

With all that being said, what’s the best thing to do? Well, as you can see, a lot of the factors are quite subjective with only a few of them being fairly straight-forward and objective. So, here’s a list of the main things you need to do and consider before you decide:

  1. What’s your budget? If you’re short on cash, a wedding DJ is a more affordable choice.
  2. Do you want music to dance to or a performance to watch? Of course, a band will also play music that can be danced to but for a lot of people they’ll also be nice to just sit down and observe. A band often ends up being a central focus and the spot where the action is happening. A DJ, on the other hand, will play much more music overall, and offer more dancing opportunity but might be boring for people who don’t want to dance at all.
  3. What type of music do you want? Different DJs and bands will have different repertoires so whichever of the two you end up choosing, make sure they play the music you want.
  4. How much variety do you want? A DJ will generally be able to offer a much wider range of music choices where even a great band will be able to play just 20-30 songs.
  5. How much space is your reception going to have for the performer(s)? Bands take a lot more space than a DJ and his/her setup. An additional question is whether you’re going to need their services in several different locations or just in one?
  6. Next, make sure that you carefully vet the band or DJ of your choice – go over their repertoire, carefully read their site and portfolio, make sure that you listen to them play at least several times (don’t crash another couple’s wedding, just go over their records), and if possible, get a reference from a friend who’s taste you trust.
  7. Last but probably most importantly,  whatever choice you end up making, be sure to go over all your requirements with the band/DJ, tell them exactly what you want as well as what you categorically don’t want. It’s smart to prepare an extensive list of everything before you start prepping with the band/DJ so that you don’t miss anything. Whichever of the two options you choose, the more customized and personalized the whole experience is, the better. 

Because the music of a wedding is one of the most important aspects of the entire day which sets the tone for the event, choose wisely keeping your budget, wedding theme and style in mind.