Band vs. DJ for your wedding reception? If you can afford it, you can have the best of both forms of entertainment.
Learn the ins and outs of hiring your wedding band or DJ, and the truth about some of the most common stereotypes.
● Myth No. 1: A DJ will talk too much.
You’ve probably heard about (or been to) weddings where a DJ, in a misguided attempt to emcee, talked more than he spun, with cringe-worthy results. But an experienced wedding DJ will only speak when it’s appropriate. “Every time a DJ speaks, he should have something important to say, which you and he planned in advance,” says the national president and executive director of the American Disc Jockey Association, Dr. Drax.
To ensure that your DJ doesn’t abuse his proximity to the mic, be specific about when you want him to talk and when you don’t. If you’re nervous that yours is a chatterbox, consider sending an example of what you find inappropriate. “You can find a litany of bad DJ videos on YouTube,” says Dr. Drax. But handle with care so as to not offend.
● Myth No. 2: Bands take a lot of breaks.
One common concern about hiring a band is that each 40-45 minute set they play will be followed by a 15-20 minute break filled with music from a compilation CD — and that bored guests will vacate the dance floor. But you can manage your band’s need for downtime so that it doesn’t disrupt the party too much. Ask the band members to stagger their breaks so there’s live music throughout the night (it may cost an extra fee); guests will stay entertained and the dance floor will stay full.
● Myth No. 3: A DJ will play cheesy tunes.
Worried that your DJ has his mind set on Y.M.C.A. and the Electric Slide, when you’re thinking more along the lines of Brown Eyed Girl and Unforgettable? It doesn’t have to be that way — your DJ wants to play what you want to hear, but you have to communicate your tastes clearly. Don’t rely on words alone, since terms like “dance music,” “rock,” and “slow songs” are vague and can easily be misinterpreted. To make sure you are on the same music style page, give him a playlist and a do-not-play list. “Brides and grooms should be able to customize the playlist,” says Dr. Drax. “People today have grown up with choice and personalization, and good DJs understand that.”
● Myth No. 4: You can control everything.
One caveat to the last idea: You can give your DJ a mile-long playlist, but you shouldn’t try to micromanage the music. To some extent, your lists should be guidelines for the mix master, not hard-and-fast rules. Your DJ should know the genre you’re interested in, but let him choose the best way to mix the music — after all, it’s his job to keep people on the dance floor.
Give your band some flexibility to react to the crowd and adjust the tempo accordingly. “When you hire somebody to bake a cake, you can tell them what flavors to use, but you don’t try to tell them how much flour or what kind of sugar to put in,” says Dr. Drax. “It’s the same with DJs — you need to trust that they know what to do.”
● Myth No. 5: Bands love line dances.
The days when it was de rigueur for a wedding band to encourage a conga line are over. But if you’re worried about that kind of thing, be sure to see the band in action before you sign on. Ask for a DVD of a previous performance to get a sense of how they interact with the crowd. You should also try to see them live. But you can’t crash somebody else’s wedding — find out if you can drop by to watch them play at another type of event. Just keep in mind that you can’t alter a band’s style as easily as you can tweak a DJ’s. If their live act is rambunctious and interactive (complete with line dances), then asking them to change might hamper their performance, and you’re probably better off going with a different group.
● Myth No. 6: A band can’t offer enough variety.
You’d be surprised by the musical depth a quality wedding band can offer. One indication that a band has versatility is if they have more than one singer — if they have both male and female vocalists, for example, chances are they’re open to a wider range of songs. Though a band may specialize in a style (like big band or soul), they’re professional musicians and should be able to stray at least a little from their niche.
And if a few of the songs you have your heart set on aren’t in the band’s repertoire, simply ask them to learn the songs before your wedding — most bands will learn between three and five songs if you give them enough notice.
● Myth No. 7: A DJ will save you money.
Although a DJ almost always costs less than a band, that doesn’t mean you should cheap out on this vendor. “If you’re willing to pay for a top-notch DJ, you can get way more than somebody to play songs,” says Dr. Drax. “A great DJ will talk to your photographer and tell him which songs are coming next. Photographers capture the Kodak moments; it is the DJ’s job to create the opportunity for them to occur.”
Dr. Drax knows a DJ who got a tape of the groom singing You are My Sunshine to his mom as a little boy and created a custom mix, bringing tears to everyone in the room during the mother-son dance. On the other hand: “I heard a story about an inexperienced DJ announcing a father-daughter dance, unaware that the bride’s father had passed away,” says Dr. Drax.
Although the old adage “you get what you pay for” isn’t always true, when it comes to your music it’s certainly advice to consider.
● Myth No. 8: Hiring a bar band is a good idea.
Unless they also have a lot of experience with weddings, using a band or DJ that’s oriented primarily with nightclubs is risky, since they won’t be adept at pleasing a diverse crowd. “It’s much smarter to find somebody who has experience in wedding entertainment,” says Dr. Drax. “If your wedding will be mostly your college frat buddies, then maybe your favorite campus band will be great.” He’s quick to point out though, that if you’re inviting co-workers, grandparents, and children, the entertainment should offer something for everyone.
● Myth No. 9: You have to hire a DJ or band — you can’t have both.
If you can afford it, you can have the best of both forms of entertainment. Either hire a DJ to spin while the band is on break (and to be your emcee), or divide the evening into two portions. Another option is to hire a band for your reception and a DJ to spin at the after-party. Or, if you can’t spring for a whole band, see about combining just a few live musicians with a DJ. Some companies create packages where, for example, the musicians will play for the ceremony and during cocktail hour, then complement the DJ during the dancing, by adding percussion to a hot Latin set.
● Myth No. 10: Slow songs first, followed by faster tunes after the cake-cutting.
Some couples request that their entertainers play ’50s rock or big band-style songs early on to please their older guests, and then switch over to more lively beats so the younger crowd can dominate the floor until last call. But it can be more fun for you and your guests if you have your band or DJ mix it up throughout the night.
Alternating between speeds, styles, and eras of music will keep wedding guests of all ages more engaged and encourage them to broaden the range of music they’ll boogie to, with truly memorable results.