DJ or Live Band? The Pros and Cons of Each

A saxophone player at a wedding reception.

Selecting the entertainment for your wedding reception is one of the more challenging parts of wedding planning. Your wedding is a gathering of many people with likely dissimilar interests, and you need to find one person or group to entertain them all. Most couples end up choosing between two performers: the DJ or the live band. Which is better? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The DJ: More Musical Variety and Cheaper Cost

A DJ playing music at a wedding reception.

A DJ, or disc jockey, brings a huge library of the greatest hits to your wedding reception. He or she will play tracks from your favorite artists around emceeing your event, introducing your bridal party, announcing when it’s time for dinner and dancing, and generally keeping the energy up all evening long.

Pros

The Selection: Most wedding DJs book countless ceremonies every year, and they know that every couple has different musical tastes. As a result, most DJs compile an extensive musical library, with everything from oldies to the Billboard hits of today. If you’re looking for someone who can keep your teenage cousins out on the dance floor and make your octogenarian grandmother happy, the DJ’s got your back.

The Cost: These days, wedding costs have swelled to insane numbers, and couples usually need to pinch every penny they can. Compared to other entertainers, DJs are relatively inexpensive; the average cost to book a DJ for a wedding in the U.S. is around $1,000. If you and your future spouse want a great performance at your reception for a slightly low cost, a DJ is your best bet.

Cons

The DJ’s Vibe: When you book a DJ for your wedding, your reception lives and dies with him. He is your music, your emcee, the person who excuses your guests to get cake—and if he’s not feeling it, no one else will, either. This is why it’s really important to see your DJ live before you sign any contracts. You need to make sure they’ve got the vibe you’re looking for.

No “Go-With-The-Flow”: Is your partner dragging behind the beat for your first dance? It’s too bad you don’t have a live band to slow down the tempo just a touch. When a DJ plays a track from their music library, it will play exactly as the artist recorded it. Most of the time this is no big deal, but there are certain occasions when it’s nice to have a little musical flexibility.

The Live Band: More Energy and Originality

A close-up of a guitar player in a band at a wedding reception.

Live bands have the same function as a DJ, with one major difference: they’re playing instruments instead of albums. Most bands will play covers of popular tracks, as well as acting as emcee throughout the night.

Pros

The Energy: Comparing a DJ to a live band is like comparing a nightclub to a concert: the energy is just different. Listening to your favorite artists live is always more exciting than listening to them on an album, and the excitement and electricity that comes with live performing will certainly show up with your wedding band. If you want to have a raucous reception, a live band will get everyone riled up.

The Originality: There are certain songs we’ve all come to expect from weddings: Etta James’ “At Last,” “All of Me” by John Legend, the “Cupid Shuffle” and “Cha-Cha Slide.” We know them, we love them, but we’ve heard them all a thousand times. A live band can breathe new life into the traditional wedding playlist by giving each one their own original spin—and your reception will be all the more memorable for it.

Cons

The Cost: There’s no doubt that live bands are more expensive than DJs. They usually involve more people, more equipment, and more time for set up and tear down, and it all factors into your bill. The average cost of a 5-piece wedding band is $2,085, which is more than double what an average DJ would charge. However, smaller groups may cost less (and larger groups may cost more).

The Repertoire: When people start a band, they usually have a specific sound in mind. Maybe they love old-school jazz, or maybe they’re all about hair metal from the ’80s. But whatever the band’s style, they’re unlikely to deviate from it. After all, it’s the sound they love, the sound they’ve dedicated time to mastering, and thy sound they do pretty darn well! However, this does mean that your standard wedding band won’t have a variety of genres in the repertoire. If you want to book a band, you’d better make sure their style suits your reception.

There are a lot of factors that will determine whether a live band or a DJ is right for your wedding reception. And the fact is, there is no right or wrong answer; whatever will get your guests up, dancing, and having a good time is a perfect choice.

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