Band vs. DJ: Which is Right for Your Wedding?

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a trumpet player in a mariachi band close up

When planning your wedding day, you’ll inevitably be faced with the question: “Live band or wedding DJ?” This tuning fork in the road (see what we did there?) may not seem like a big deal, but the way you answer this question is key to determining the overall tone (or tune?) of your reception.

Of course, there’s one thing you know without a doubt: you want music that will keep the dance floor packed and spirits high all night long. But how do you determine if a band or a DJ is right for your wedding? If you find yourself puzzled about how to answer this question, then you’ve come to the right place. In truth, the answer is different for every couple and every kind of wedding. So today we break down the pros and cons(iderations) about hiring either a live band or a DJ so you’ll be able to groove to the music you love all night long.

Piano player on keyboard

Photo Credit || Amelia + Dan

Wedding Bands

Few things can energize a crowd quite like live music—there’s just something about the beat of the drum and the charisma of professional musicians that gets feet tapping and bodies twirling. Undoubtedly, this human touch is what makes having a wedding band at your reception such a good decision. However, hiring a wedding band for your soirée isn’t quite as simple as you may expect. Read on to see if live music is the best choice for your music needs.

Black and white photo of live wedding band

Photo Credit || Aaron Watson Photography

Why we love live wedding bands:

  • A great live performance can quickly rouse a crowd, and a great rapport between singers or musicians and wedding guests is unmatched by digital tracks.
  • Live bands are great for themed music, as they often specialize in genres of music such as 1930s jazz, Motown and funk, or Latin salsa.
  • Live musicians can easily gauge when a crowd needs a tempo change, and can accommodate it subtly and effectively.
  • A band provides guests something to watch—if they can’t dance or just need a break to rub their sore feet, guests can sit back enjoy the show over a slice of wedding cake.
  • The band’s leader will frequently serve as emcee for your reception, so his or her comfort performing in front of a crowd should make announcing the evening’s important events a cinch.
  • With a live band, you can almost guarantee that your reception music will be one of a kind. The thought that no one will have danced to the exact same first dance song performed by these artists at that very moment is utterly romantic.
Trumpet player

Photo Credit || Waldorf Photographic Art

What you should consider:

  • The equipment and clearance area required for live bands can take up a lot of space. Make sure your venue can accommodate the musicians, their instruments, and their performance space.
  • Live bands tend to offer a smaller variety of music and requests will be limited. Many bands will have their own sound or style and will stick with what they know all night long.
  • Live music can be overbearingly loud in a small, enclosed venue. Just be courteous of old Aunt Susie.
  • Regular breaks will result in a lull in the music (although this can be supplemented by computer-generated tracks if you have the proper equipment).

How much does a wedding band cost:

  • Wedding bands are, on average, significantly more expensive than DJs, typically running from $3,000 – $10,000+.

Wedding DJ

Wedding bands may crush live covers of your favorite songs, but wedding DJs have the original versions and the artists you know and love right at their fingertips. This welcome familiarity, plus the variety of tunes that your DJ can bring to your wedding reception and the fact that DJs often cost less, are just a couple of the reasons why hiring a wedding DJ could be a great choice for you. Read on for more wedding DJ pros and cons.

wedding DJ and turntables

Photo Credit || Gronde Photo

Why we love wedding DJs:

  • DJs allow you to enjoy your favorite songs sung by the original artists. No other artist can replicate a DJ Snake-caliber beat drop, am I right?
  • Wedding DJs have a huge repertoire of music, which makes for a ton of musical variety. From crooner classics to Taylor Swift, your DJ can play it all.
  • Breaks are less critical, and may not even be required. While we know your wedding DJ will be working hard, it’s not like he’s exhausted from blowing into a trumpet for hours on end. Plus, with the magic of technology, a DJ can pre-set a series of songs to play while s/he takes a break without an obvious disruption in the musical flow.
  • DJ equipment requires very little space. Often a decent-sized card table in the corner with access to an outlet is all your DJ needs.
Wedding DJ at his laptop

Photo Credit || Jeanne Mitchum Photography

What you should consider:

  • A cheesy DJ can kill the mood. Thoroughly vet your DJ to make sure you love their personality and they know exactly what you want to hear.
  • Improvising song selections to liven up an unenthused crowd is harder for DJs because tempo changes are less natural, and it’s hard to end a song early without awkwardness.
  • A DJ can be boring for guests who don’t want to dance or don’t enjoy his or her song selection, whereas non-dancers would still probably enjoy the performance of a live band.
  • Your wedding DJ will most likely be playing an important role as emcee of your reception, so be sure s/he is comfortable addressing the crowd to introduce such important moments as speeches, dances, and the cake cutting.
  • Some wedding DJs still come with a LOT of equipment, and their oversized speakers and jumbles of wire might be an eyesore in the midst of your perfectly-planned reception décor.

How much does a wedding DJ cost:

  • Wedding DJs are often significantly cheaper than their live counterparts, costing on average between $500 and $2,000+ (not including other services they might provide, like lighting).
DJ at his turntable

Photo Credit || From the Hip Photo

So what factors play a role in your decision to DJ or not to DJ? As we’ve already stated, available space, musical variety, and the cost of vendors are all significant details to keep in mind when choosing between a wedding DJ and a live band. To facilitate your decision and pinpoint your musical priorities, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much space can my wedding venue devote to the band/DJ and dance floor?
  • What’s more important: an energized crowd or a wide variety of music?
  • What am I willing to spend on the musical entertainment? Which option is a better fit for my budget?
  • Do I want themed music or a specific musical genre played at my wedding?
  • Would I rather have original recordings or unique covers?
Couple slow dancing

Photo Credit || Christina Wehbe Studios

Don’t forget: it’s incredibly important that whichever option you choose, you love the personalities of the folks behind the mic. Nothing is worse than a cheesy DJ or bandleader, especially when they’re acting as emcee, so make sure you get to know their style well. Zola’s got tons of great wedding bands and DJs for you to choose from, and we have no doubt you’ll find the perfect entertainment for your event.  Now, where did we put our boogie shoes?



    • Kate Lynn Nemett says

      So glad you found it helpful, Caitanya! Are there any other topics you’d like to see on Zola’s blog? Please let us know!

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