Hiring Wedding Bands vs. Hiring a DJ
So you’ve found the right dress, you’ve picked out bridesmaids dresses, the wedding menu and your flowers. Everything is color coordinated, designed with unique flair and meant to reflect the combined interests, desires and personalities of both you and your intended. You definitely want your reception music to match your personality as well, don’t you?
Some couples are old-fashioned, some are swing-dancers, and some couples are fun. (Think about the couple that plays the YMCA compared to the couple that plays Frank Sinatra.) But if you think setting the right background music is all that matters for a reception, you’re wrong. You have another important decision to make before you can choose your music, a band or a DJ?
Take a look at these tips and hopefully they will help you to make a more educated decision.
What Kind of Music Should I Choose?
The music you choose for your DJ is often whatever you have on your favorite iTunes playlist. So if you’re the dreaming bride that has been collecting music for your wedding since you got an iTunes account when you were 14, you’re good to go. If you’re the moderately dreaming bride, you still have time to download every sweet, gooey song you want played at your wedding.
However, if you’re the busy, under-prepared bride, you might want to ask your DJ if he or she already has a wedding playlist. Often they have one for just such an occasion.
TIP: Be selective if you’re creating your own playlist. If you add all of your favorite romantic songs of all distinctions, you’re going to have a playlist that exceeds how much time you actually have at your reception, unless, of course, you plan on keeping everyone hostage for the next 20 hours. It’s much better to plan for a 2-4 hour reception with songs that fit in the same theme.
If you are doing a vintage-themed wedding, pick 40s music with a few contemporary songs to spice it up. If you’re doing an indie-casual wedding, you might want to pick fun songs that match your personality with a few classic romantic songs. And if you’re thinking of throwing a spring wedding, you’ll want to choose light, upbeat songs. Stick to a theme and you won’t have to worry about the DJ making transitions with seemingly opposite songs.
Wedding music and wedding bands have a bad reputation. But gone are the days of cheesy wedding bands and cheesy wedding band leaders. Today, you can choose any sort of wedding music you want for your wedding reception.
See what repertoire each band has for weddings. Bands almost always have a list of songs prepared just for weddings. Check it out and see if each list is even a list of songs you would want at your wedding. This might be where you select which band to book: if they have a list of songs that you don’t know or don’t like, they may not be the best band for you.
Also keep in mind that while bands have a select list of songs they’re comfortable with, you’re booking them six months or longer ahead in advance, which means that they have time to learn your favorite songs.
Don’t just tell them that they need to learn a song, of course: consider finding the sheet music and presenting it to them as a suggestion. If the sheet music matches their instruments, they may be able to learn your favorite song in more than enough time for the wedding. You can also request to hear it before they play it at the wedding, just to make sure they’re on the right path.
TIP: If you’re asking the band to learn too much extra music, it may cost you extra. One or two songs may be free, but when you hand the band director a handful of sheet music, you’re going to have to pay for it. Here’s a great way to look at it: if you could ask them to only learn one song, what would it be?
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What is the Cost?
Typically a good DJ costs anywhere from $700-$1200 for a wedding. This may depend on how long your reception is or how much the DJ is paid hourly, too. Some DJs will charge $100 for set up and take down, and then charge an hourly rate in between. A reasonable hourly rate is about $150. Also, ask your DJ if there are any discounts. Sometimes DJs discount the bottom line if your wedding is on a weekday, and, yes, a Friday is considered a weekday.
If you thought the DJ sounded expensive, prepare yourself for the price of a band!
Bands charge in different ways. Some charge a one-time price, some hourly, and some per band member. The average cost for a 4-hour performance by a 5-member live band, which is the most typical size, is $2,085. A smaller band of 4 performers averages $1,150, while a bigger band consisting of anywhere from 6 to 10 members, averages $2,200.
Local bands at their cheapest typically charge about $500 for an event. Depending on the quality of the band and what their booking schedule is however, you should expect to pay as much as $2,000. National popular touring bands could charge as much as $50,000.
I know this sounds like a lot of money (because, well, it is), but there’s a silver lining. Larger, metropolitan areas will typically offer more bands and thus, a wider variety of prices.
How Far Should I Book in Advance?
Since DJs are now mostly the guys that make your iTunes playlist sound good (with some banter in between), you can always book another DJ if your first choice has a booked schedule. While you want to book as early as possible to guarantee coverage, 1-3 months in advance is the average booking date for a DJ.
You should start by checking their availability. Good bands get booked quite far in advance. You should start looking roughly 6 to 8 months before your event if you want the best bands. The typical time frame for booking is band is 2-4 months in advance.
You might find that your top pick gets booked before you have the chance to sign a contract with them, but no problem, just make sure you have a backup plan. When you find one you like, ask them to secure the date and send you a contract right away. Remember to make sure that any and all details discussed are laid out thoroughly in writing in the contract. Leave nothing to chance.
What Kind of Equipment is Required?
DJs typically bring their own equipment. This involves speakers, a PA system, a computer, and a microphone. You can always ask for extras like colored lights or a disco ball. I know this doesn’t sound like a DJ kind of thing, but DJs like to create ambience. The best part is that most if not all of these things are included in your DJ price.
Just know that you may be asked to provide a DJ table, a simple black tablecloth, and access to a power source. Running all of that equipment tends to take a lot of electricity.
Each band member is only required to bring his or her own instruments. From there, you need to ask what kind of speakers, PA system, or microphones they have, and if they cost extra. If the band is working with the hotel, the hotel often has these free for your use.
Keep in mind, also, that instruments don’t need microphones. They’re designed to make their own loud music. Okay, most band instruments are designed to make loud music; you might need to consider a microphone for a singer or a band leader, and for a violin if it’s being played with band instruments that might drown it out.
Be sure to provide them access to a sufficient power source. They will likely tell you what wattage they will need for their instruments/speakers, and you can talk to your wedding venue or rental company to provide this.
What Should I Discuss with My Music Vendor?
You will want to meet with your DJ to discuss arrival and departure times, breaks and whether or not you’re providing a meal for them, and who will actually be working on your wedding day. You should talk to them overtime. What happens if your event runs a little bit long? Will they provide emcee services to announce the important moments to your guests throughout the evening? And what happens if your DJ gets sick, in a wreck, or doesn’t show up for one reason or another? You’ll want to make sure they have a backup plan.
There are so many great questions to ask your DJ when you meet with him or her. Make sure to reference several lists online of possible interview questions before venturing into your first meeting and you’ll be sure to be covered.
I also always suggest providing a schedule of music. If you are creating a schedule of the wedding day for your vendors (always advisable so everyone’s on the same page), simply add your music right in at the appropriate times for each moment in your ceremony, more music than necessary during your cocktail hour, and throughout your reception. Always make sure to provide more music than necessary for dinner and dancing as well, just in case.
It’s better to have more than you need than not enough. Make sure to also include a Do Not Play list if you have any music, like YMCA or the Chicken Dance, that you absolutely don’t want played.
Any music vendor you hire will need to be asked the same type of questions. Arrival and departure times, breaks, meals, overtime, back up plans, emcee services, etc. However, with a band, you’ll want to be sure you know exactly who will be playing at your event, whether or not they have played together before, and especially what instruments will be included. Being that they play live music, they may even be willing to play particular songs you have chosen, as long as they can get plenty of notice to be able to rehearse ahead of time.
While the band typically has a repertoire that they’re comfortable with, discuss the order of the music. What song is going to be played for the couple’s first dance? What song is going to be played for the father-daughter dance? What song is going to be played for cake cutting, bouquet-tossing, or garter-tossing? This is a great time to ask the band what they have played in the past for these select milestones. If it works for you, go with it. If it doesn’t, discuss a change.
How Do I Test Out My Music Vendor?
Meeting with your DJ isn’t enough. See if the DJ is working a wedding before yours and ask if you can stop by to check on his or her performance. This is a great idea so that you can test his or her banter. The last thing everyone wants is awkward, unfunny, or humor in questionable taste. Yikes. Make sure that your contract with this DJ is contingent on this test.
While bands don’t run the risk of weird banter, they do run the risk of doing their own thing regardless of how the crowd feels. Just as with a DJ, see if the band is working another wedding so that you can pop by and test their crowd-leading skills.
It’s also critical that you ask for a list of references and call them ahead of time to find out how previous couples liked and didn’t like the wedding band or DJ. The internet should have a great deal of valuable reviews, positive and negative, for you to judge them.
I know there is a lot of information to process here, but let’s face it, it’s your wedding and planning isn’t easy. So how do you evaluate whether to go with the DJ or with the band?
Here’s the bottom line for the DJ. A DJ is the more economical choice, but you also have to assess how much money you’re paying to someone who is virtually playing your iTunes playlist and adding banter.
Here’s the bottom line for the band. They might be more expensive and their music choice might be limited, but they’re adding a classier, more upbeat style to the wedding. Your wedding guests won’t likely remember the DJ, unless they really impress, but they’ll remember the band. Then again, do you want them to remember the band if the risk of remembering them is not working the crowd?
Choose a musical style that works for you and your fiancé, but pick a style that matches your tastes. Of all the people that need to have fun at the wedding, it’s you and your fiancé.