Wedding Band or DJ?

Photo by Marino Prieto

For just one moment, let’s forget all the nonsense about ceremonies, nuptials, and life-changing events. Clear your head. Focus. And remember that beneath all the pomp and circumstance, your wedding is a party. Just like any party, its success will hinge on three key variables:

1) The people
2) The alcohol
3) The music

Consider these three variables. When you factor in the pressure of family and social obligations, you only have limited influence on who you invite. As for the booze? Don’t skimp. Great alcohol makes a great wedding reception (though not always a great wedding night.)

So that leaves music. It’s one variable you can truly influence. It’s the one variable entrusted (mostly) to the groom. Yes, you might check out wedding bands and DJs as a couple, but traditionally this is your wheelhouse. Embrace this responsibility. Run with it.

See also: Picking The Venue: A Game of 20 Questions 

The music is more important than the invitations, the cake, and even those precious platters of chocolate mousse puffs. On a raw emotional level, it’s human nature to respond more to music than to window treatments. Good music can transform a parking lot; lame music can ruin a wedding at the Sistine Chapel.

You’ll have to choose between a band or a DJ. There’s a compelling case for each. The breakdown by category:


Advantage: DJ
Most DJs are cheaper. Think about the economics—they only need their mixing equipment and speakers, while a band needs to pay for multiple musicians, multiple instruments, and multiple drug habits.

The MC Factor

Advantage: Toss-up
An MC is critical. You need him to keep the event flowing properly. Experience and taste are the key factors here—you need someone who understands the elements, but who can also read the crowd and adapt to the situation. Someone to enforce the agenda, but not to mindlessly cue the toasts when the dance floor is whipped into a frenzy. You also need someone who understands the difference between MCing an event and trying to steal the spotlight. It’s likely that either the DJ or the band you choose will specialize (or at least minor in weddings)—so the experience should be a given. (Unless you’re getting a bar-band with street-cred…in which case they’ll probably have no clue how to MC. Think twice about this.) When you watch their sales tape—any professional will have one—make sure you witness their MC responsibilities and that the attitude, tone, and level of involvement jive with your own sense of style.

Energy Level

Advantage: Band
People are simply more likely to dance when they’re listening to live music. Maybe it’s psychological; subconsciously, we just feel bad for a band performing to an empty dance floor, so we fill it up out of charity.

See also: Your Role Planning The Reception – 10 Signs of Danger

The Utilitarianism Factor

Advantage: DJ
Utilitarianism—the greatest good for the greatest number. A DJ, with the ability to tap into a library of 50,000+ songs, is guaranteed to have a selection that works for both grandmas and teeny-boppers. They know classic wedding songs. They know the peppier dance songs. A band? If they’re an edgy alt-rock outfit, then they might wow your friends but they’ll alienate Aunt Tooty and possibly, even worse, parents who are footing the bill. A good DJ is like Will Smith—every demographic likes him.

Cool Factor

Advantage: Band
There’s no getting around it. If you can pull it off, a band brings something that’s stylish and sexy. There’s a certain hard-to-define “x factor” that no digital playlist can ever fully replicate. You’ll create a buzz. Old folks will get on the floor and bust out some moves. Kids will dance like lunatics and fall asleep on the way home. Everyone else will get lucky. It’s an all-around win.

Sound Caliber

Advantage: Band
When it comes to the clarity and purity of the sound, live music beats a set of speakers 100 times out of 100. Then again, that sound clarity doesn’t mean squat if they belt out a fiery rendition of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.”

Sound Volume

Advantage: DJ
Bands might have a clearer sound, but SOMETIMES IT’S TOO DAMN LOUD. DJs can nimbly modulate the wattage. (Mental note: seat the younger guests closer to the music, and the olds in the back).

Tempo Changers

Advantage: Toss-up
Both the band and DJ are savvy enough to change the tempo when needed. A good band will have fast songs and slow songs (ask to make sure); ditto for the DJ.


Advantage: DJ
It’s not complicated. A band gobbles up serious real-estate. A DJ only needs what amounts to an office cubicle. Hopefully your reception hall is large enough to accommodate either, but if not, take this into account.


Advantage: DJ
A band takes breaks. A DJ just pounds the Red Bull and keeps going and going. This is a minor issue and should be low on your list (since the band should also have some canned backup music—check to make sure), but keep it in mind.

So…in the final verdict… Band or DJ? PC or Mac?

There’s no emphatically right answer, but it boils down to this: a good band has more upside, a DJ is safer. And while we’re on the subject, make sure whoever you pick observes our Do Not Play list.

A few more quick rules:

1. Let the DJ (or band leader) do his job. They’re professionals. You’re not. It’s fine to slip him a few requests that have sentimental value, but go easy on “suggestions” for his set; you’re not doing him a favor by handing him a list of 17 Dave Matthews songs. Similarly, make it clear that you do not want him to entertain “requests” from the crowd. Should a single misguided reveler really be able to change the vibe by asking for the Electric Slide?

2. The best research is a good reference. Online queries will only get you so far—talk to people you trust. Think back to the weddings you’ve liked.

3. Think long and hard about trying to “do it yourself” with a pre-selected playlist. Your bride doesn’t have the heart to tell you this, so we will: you probably suck as a DJ. Even if you have an artful (and appropriate) agenda of songs, the odds are low that you’ll nail the timing, hit the fade-ins and fade-outs (that stuff matters), or react to the mood of the crowd. Plus, you’ll be a little busy. Oh, and your best man? Great guy, great friend, but as a DJ he blows chunks. Quit being cheap and hire a pro. This is not the place to cut corners.

4. Ask other professionals. The caterers, the bartenders, even the cake baker—they’ll know people. And it’s 100% guaranteed that whoever they know is a better DJ or band than you or your buddy Pothead Chucky.

Next groom duty: preparing your speech.

Join The Plunge (Don’t Worry: It’s Free)

Even More Reception