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Should You Have a Band or DJ for Your Wedding Reception Music?

Can’t decide who should play your wedding tunes? Here’s everything you need to know to find the right music maker for your day.
by The Knot

There’s no doubt about it: Music can make or break a wedding celebration—think of it as the heart and soul of a reception. Hiring a talented band or DJ (or both!) is a given. But how do you find exactly what you want? It starts with asking yourself some basic questions—specifically, what type of entertainment suits your personal taste, budget, space allowances, guest demographics and killer dance moves best. Here, we list five things to know before you make your music choice.

1. You have a few things to consider.

Vibe: The type of music you pick can set the tone of your wedding and solidify a theme. And it’s the thing people most often remember. Think about what musical genre best reflects your personalities and inspires the ambiance you want to create: ’70s disco or a romantic string quartet? A throwback big band feel or kick-off-your-shoes rockabilly? The way the music is delivered—by live band or DJ—also affects the atmosphere. The type of music you want may also dictate your decision too—big band sounds are generally best live, for example.

Variety: Regardless of whether you choose a band or DJ, be sure they play slow and fast songs, as well as old and new tunes to encourage all guests to hit the dance floor.

Budget: In the price war, DJs generally cost less, and prices vary depending on equipment requests and whether it’s a weekday or weekend. A 12-piece band, for example, will generally be more expensive than a DJ, since there are more people to pay. (There are always exceptions; well-known DJs can be just as expensive as live bands.) Band prices vary by the number of musicians, the amount of time you want them to play for, day of the week and what time of year it is.

Space: Have your heart set on an eight-piece band? You first need to check whether the reception site has any restrictions on the number of musicians and pieces of equipment you may bring in, and whether there are any electrical power supply or noise limitations. For example, a registered landmark may not allow you to use large speakers. Ask these questions before you start scouting.

2. A band has its pros and cons.

There’s nothing like a live wedding band to get a crowd excited and create a sense of sophistication. A good bandleader will play the master of ceremonies at your reception, interacting with folks on the dance floor, paying attention to the “feel” of the room and selecting music accordingly.

  • Pros: Live music is, well, live. You and your guests will experience the pleasure of a performance. Anything can happen to raise the excitement level, from an infectious horn section interlude to a moving solo.
  • Cons: Bands can be more expensive than DJs. Also, no matter how great the band, they can’t have the repertoire of a standard DJ, who can keep a huge variety of music on hand. And if you want to hear a song the exact way the original artist performed it, you may not get what you want.

3. And so does a DJ.

Today’s DJs are artists in their own right, offering balanced and eclectic mixes of musical styles for all ages. The songs played will sound exactly as you want them to, encouraging sing-alongs and improvisation. And, depending on the amount of equipment a DJ brings, they could take up less dance floor real estate and can be relocated with relative ease.

  • Pros: If there are a dozen songs you’re dying to hear at your wedding, it likely won’t be a problem for your DJ to find each track. Also, DJs are generally less expensive than bands. A DJ with a charismatic stage presence and excellent emcee skills can really set the mood and keep the party going.
  • Cons: On the opposite end of the spectrum, a DJ with a less-than stellar personality can be a party killer. Also, improvisation is tough if, say, your dad is dragging behind tempo on the father-daughter dance or your nieces and nephews decide to request the “Chicken Dance.”

4. You should see them live at some point.

Ideally, you will want to see a DJ or band in action before you commit so you can gauge firsthand the way they dress, improvise and work the crowd. (Ask to see a taped public performance or attend a dress rehearsal, but never crash another couple’s reception.) If that’s not a possibility, ask for a playlist and look for songs you know and love. If a band sends you their songs or a link to a video, be sure the musicians you hear or see are the same musicians who will play at your reception. Also, ask for referrals from the last few weddings the band or DJ played. Consider your first dance song a test. If the band doesn’t know it and is unwilling to learn it, or the DJ doesn’t own it and is unwilling to get it, move on.

5. Tell them your likes and dislikes before you sign.

Know that all professionals should be open to your likes and dislikes. Give them your personal request list, songs they must play and, perhaps more importantly, a do-not-play list. Worried you’ll hear the “Macarena” at your once-in-a-lifetime event? Specifically prohibit the playing of a song you feel strongly about in your contract.

It’s just better when you know the songs

When you’re in your car alone you probably love to sing along to the songs you know and love. It’s the same when you go out dancing. Isn’t it fun when you remember the words to all your favorite songs from yesterday? No matter you taste in music it’s great when you hear those golden oldies from your favorite bands. It’s about the beat. It’s about the tune. It’s about the words. It’s all about the feeling.  

Is attending live music concerts the ticket to happiness? Researchers says yes!

If gig-going can help you live longer, then Darren Hogan may well live forever. The Toronto-based 48-year-old attends 25-30 live-music events a year, from major stadium concerts to intimate venues and multi-day festivals.

Now a study is backing what Hogan experiences firsthand—attending concerts is good for you.

And not just for your soul: Going to a live music gig once every two weeks could boost life expectancy by nine years due to its power to positively impact wellbeing, according to research commissioned by the world’s busiest live music arena, Britain’s O2. Yes, we see the possible conflict of interest here, but the venue partnered with Patrick Fagan, a leading expert in behavioral science and associate lecturer at Goldsmith’s University in London.

Researcher Patrick Fagan (left).

He specializes in applying psychological science to business insight. He has spearheaded a number of high-profile research projects that use innovative methods, including facial coding and implicit testing to help brands gain consumer insights.

When it comes to researching live music, he concludes: “There is an alternative cure for those struggling to find their Mr. Brightside, and it can be found at your local music venue – with just 20 minutes of gig-time resulting in a significant 21 per cent increase in feelings of well being.”

The findings come off the back of bespoke psychometric and heart-rate tests at a range of well being activities – including gig-going, yoga and dog walking. The gig experience increased participants’ feelings of wellbeing by 21 per cent, compared to 10 per cent for yoga and 7 per cent for dog walking.

In relation to concert attendance, key markers across the happiness spectrum showed increases, including feelings of self-worth (+25 per cent) and closeness to others (+25 per cent) whilst mental stimulation climbed by an impressive 75 per cent.

Accompanying research showed a positive correlation between regularity of gig attendance and wellbeing. Those who attend live concerts at least once every two weeks were the most likely to score their happiness, contentment, productivity and self-esteem at the highest level (10/10), suggesting that regularly experiencing live music contributes to improvement and wellbeing.

The key, according to the research, is in the communal experience—67 per cent of those surveyed say experiencing live music makes them feel happier than simply listening to music at home.

Another study out of Australia comes to a similar conclusion, “that engaging with music by dancing or attending musical events was associated with higher SWB (subjective well being) than for those who did not engage with music in these forms. The findings also emphasized the important role of engaging with music in the company of others with regard to SWB, highlighting an interpersonal feature of music.”

As Fagan, concludes: “Our research showcases the profound impact gigs have on feelings of health, happiness and well being – with fortnightly or regular attendance being the key. Combining all of our findings… We arrive at a prescription of a gig a fortnight which could pave the way for almost a decade more years of life.”

That’s good news for a population that’s redefining what it means to get older and that includes discretionary spending on concerts and music festivals.

A study conducted by Harris Poll found that 44 per cent of people aged 51 to 70 are attending more live shows in 2015 than they did a decade before With more disposable income and the kids all grown up, they have the time and money to pursue their passions.

For others, like Hogan, concert-going is a lifestyle that never waned through their 20s, 30s, 40s and shows not signs of stopping: That it’s good for overall well being is an added bonus.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

Dave Mack


Is Live Music better than sex?

While many music fans appreciate the value of the concert experience, a new study quantifies “The Power Of Live.” A partnership forged by Live Nation and research agency Culture Co-op documented trends and behaviors of 22,500 music fans between the ages of 13 and 65 in 11 different countries. Live music help makes fans feel alive as 71% of respondents to the study agree “the moments that give me the most life are live music experiences.”

Live Nation identified a number of key takeaways from the study. One of the more interesting results is that “respondents reported that they were 10% more likely to value live music over sex.” Live music was also found to create more intense emotions than streaming music and playing video games.

The study also found respondents feel music identifies them more as a person than hometown, politics, race or religion. Friends/family and pastimes were the only options selected more than music. Additionally, the study reveals 2/3rds of respondents aged 13 – 49 go to at least one concert of festival per year and it’s no surprise a majority of those attend multiple shows/festivals. The study also included a biometric experiment that found live music has immediate and long-lasting effects on concertgoers’ mood:

Proven through a biometric experiment that studied fans in their element at a live concert, nearly 70% of participants showed significant synchronization of body movements which served as a proxy for oxytocin, the hormone that facilitates bonding and human connection. And the feeling is lasting – even after the encore participants had a mood increase of 5X compared to how they felt before the show.

Furthermore, “The Power Of Live” found “the emotional intensity of live music opens the mind to new ideas” and “live music fans are cultural catalysts.” Other fun facts include 72% of Gen Z/Millennials have driven over 100 miles to attend a live music event and 85% of respondents have purchased new clothes to wear to a live music event. Head here for more from Live Nation and Culture Co-op’s study.

What are the advantages of using a live band?

Live music provides energy and excitement with a visual impact that simply cannot be duplicated with recorded music. We create a mood that gets your guests dancing and makes the party one to remember! Although many talented DJs exist and provide musical variety, all of the music is played from CDs or other formats. Even though some would argue that their favorite songs are played from “original” recordings, the music often comes across as “canned” and uneventful. In contrast, there is an energy, a vitality, a freshness, and a connection to your guests generated through a live musical group. The keys to a memorable event are the sights and sounds generated as the celebration unfolds. A live band is stimulating — it is visual, original, active, able to generate energy that the audience can feel, and composed of a group of “real” musicians that your guests can celebrate with.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

Dave Mack