Weigh the Options
Should it be a band or a DJ? DJs cost less, and you'll know exactly what you're getting. Most live bands sound unique, even if they're playing covers. And when they're especially good, their range can equal a DJ's—no matter their specialty, chances are they can play both "Hot Hot Hot," say, and "Hava Nagila." Also, think about your guest list if you decide to go with a band. In general, a six-piece band works best for 100 or so guests; a 10-piece orchestra is good for a 300-guest event. Choose a trio or a quartet only if you're having a more intimate party.
Hear the Music
The best way to find a band or DJ is through referrals from friends who have similar tastes in music. Your reception site will be able to offer recommendations, too. Music agencies can send you demo tapes of bands that might be good for your wedding. You'll be able to tell if you hate a band after just a few minutes; choosing one you like is usually tougher. When you've narrowed your list, find out if any of the acts you like are performing in your area, and spend an evening seeing how they work a crowd.
Meet and Greet
Before making a final decision, be sure to meet the DJ or bandleader. Does he seem receptive to your ideas and requests? Do you like him? After all, you'll be listening to his voice for hours on your wedding day. How many breaks will he take, and how long will each be? If you choose a band, ask for recorded music during the breaks so the flow of your reception is not disturbed. Also find out what your musicians will be wearing (it should be spiffy), and make sure that your site provides enough space for them.
Make a List
A mix of old and new songs is the best way to get everyone dancing—and if you give your band or DJ a good sense of your musical tastes, they can gauge what to play at what time. In addition, come up with a list of songs you definitely don't want to hear.
Get It All on Paper
Your contract should detail fees, including overtime and the cancellation policy, as well as the DJ or bandleader's name, so that there are no last-minute switches. You should also make sure that your musicians have liability insurance that covers you and them. A week before the big day, specify exactly what time the band should arrive and with whom they should check in—at this point, it won't be you!