When it comes to entertainment for your reception, you’ve got two options: a DJ or a live band. Each has its pros and cons, and there’s a winning option for every budget. But which is the right choice for you? It will depend on everything from your favorite style of music to your venue’s space restrictions.
We turned to pros Melanie Flannery and Lisa Ciampi to help us help you figure out who should provide the music on your big day.
Meet the Expert
- Melanie Flannery is the founder of MIXTAPE Cover Band in Brooklyn, NY.
- Lisa Ciampi is the production manager for Élan Artists.
How Flexible Is Your Budget?
A. We’ve set aside extra funds just for the entertainment.
B. Our budget is pretty set, so we want the most bang for our buck.
“Yes, bands cost money, but you get what you pay for,” says Flannery. “You can always find a garage band that will play all night for less than $2,000—but that’s exactly what it’ll sound like. Or you can pay a little more to get conservatory-trained musicians.” On the other hand, $2,000 can get you a killer DJ, but that’s just one person. “With a band, they’re splitting the fee between all the members, so when you compare the cost per person of a great band or a great DJ, it’s pretty comparable,” Flannery explains.
What’s Your Dream Concert?
A. A high-energy, open-air jam session.
B. A night of dancing to the perfect mix of our favorite songs.
"We work closely with our clients to build trust with the DJ throughout the planning process, giving them creative input based on the program the DJ has laid out,” says Ciampi. “Must-play and do-not-play lists are crucial!” Whether you’re hiring a DJ or a band, do your research! Read the reviews, ask to see live videos, and speak with recent clients for references.
What Are Your Priorities?
A. High energy and crowd interaction, even if it means breaks between sets.
B. Nonstop music and the ability to hear songs the way they were recorded.
Both Ciampi and Flannery agree that the energy you’ll get from a band can’t be replicated by a DJ. “There really is no comparison to live people playing instruments on stage,” says Flannery. But according to Ciampi, “for a client with a wide range of musical preferences, sometimes a DJ is the way to go. If a couple loves EDM, country, and authentic Israeli music—plus Top 40 hits—a DJ will enable them to have it all.”
Where Do You Need Music at Your Wedding?
A. Everywhere! Ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, and for dancing later.
B. Just at the reception—our ceremony venue covers the music.
“If you need music throughout the day in multiple locations, your DJ will either need to tie into the house sound system or provide multiple sound setups so he or she can physically transition between rooms,” says Ciampi.
For a band, multiple setups are much easier. “You can have the guitarist play acoustic during the ceremony, add three more instruments for a cocktail-hour jazz quartet, and then have the rest of the band on stage for an eight-piece performance during the reception,” says Flannery. “It’s budget-friendly, compared to hiring multiple different musicians or performers because they’re all part of the band!”
How Much Space Do You Have?
A. Our venue is spacious, with plenty of room for a stage.
B. We’re maxing out the venue’s capacity, and we need to use all the space we have for tables and a dance floor.
One big difference between a DJ and a band is, of course, how many people you’ll have performing during your reception. Even with a full set of turntables and speakers, a DJ will take up much less space than a drum kit, guitarists, and singers will.
How Do You Want to Vet Your Band or DJ?
A. We’d like to see live footage from actual events.
B. Reviews and references work great for us!
While it’s a great idea, it’s almost impossible to see your band or DJ perform live before you book them. “We have Juilliard graduates, Grammy winners, and people on world tours in our band,” says Flannery. “We aren’t able to play a free show once a month for potential clients, so instead we shoot videos with live audio to give couples a taste of what we do.”
She emphasizes that if you’re watching a video of your band, you want to make sure it’s all live—not lip-synched and dubbed over with recorded audio. And whether you’re hiring a band or a DJ, reading lots of reviews from multiple sources is key. “Seek sites with verified reviews from real people, and go back a few years,” Flannery suggests. “And don’t be afraid to ask for references from recent clients to get firsthand insight!”
Mostly A’s: Hire a Band
Yes, a great band will cost more, but remember that they’re splitting that fee between multiple people, and you’re getting live energy that just can’t be replicated. Make sure any videos you’re watching have live audio to get a better sense of what the band can do. And don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your band! Whether it’s specifying what they wear or asking them to learn a song for your first dance, a great band will be happy to work with you to make sure your wedding day is fantastic.
Mostly B’s: Hire a DJ
Not all DJs are cheesy MCs with too many jokes. A great DJ will be able to play whatever you want and will know how to read the crowd to really keep the energy going. Be specific upfront about the type of experience you’re looking for, as well as what you do and don’t want to hear to create a customized evening for you and your guests.