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How To Choose Your Live Band or Party DJ for Your Wedding

How To Choose Your Live Band or Party DJ for Your Wedding

Music is a direct conduit to our emotions. For proof, just watch the climax of any movie without the sound on. With the music, the emotions come flooding in. Without it, major blahsville! It’s the music that helps us really feel what we see. It’s the delivery service that brings the visuals from the eye to the heart. Your wedding is your movie, your most important screenplay, and the music should take you places you can’t even imagine.

Personally, I like every person’s wedding soundtrack to sound a little different, to be able to project their individual personalities. So what I like to do with each client, since music choices are infinite, is to go through a detailed list of questions to drill down to the core of who they are and what they want. Then we look at ways that the music can serve to accomplish their goals.

You and I are not currently talking on the phone, but I can pick out some of the most essential music-related questions to help you choose between the live band or party DJ that’s right for your wedding.

Live Band, DJ, or both?

Whether to choose a live band or a party DJ, some engaged couples know which one they want one, some want both, while others are unsure. Here are the basic advantages and disadvantages of live band vs DJ:


If you’re considering a very small ensemble of musicians, that can sometimes be cheaper than a DJ, but generally, DJ’s alone will cost less than a full live band. (Sometimes we’ll do a combination of live and DJ together to fill a niche for people on a budget who want a bit of both.)


DJs feel more clubby; a live band feel more classy.


Usually, but not always, DJs will have more expansive list of what songs they can play at a moment’s notice, while a live band's performance will feel more home-grown organic.

Creative Tools

DJs’ creative tools are song selection and mash-ups that layer two or more songs on top of each other. Live bands’ creative tools include

  • song selection
  • instrument choice
  • Note choice
  • "live mashups"
  • improvisation
  • verbal and non-verbal interaction with the audience
  • visible and audible emotion the artists bring to live performances

Energy Tools

DJ music comes from previously made recordings, so their main “energy tool” is  volume (that’s why DJs tend to be loud and pump the bass, so people will react to the feel of the airwaves hitting their chest).  Bands create music for you live, right on the spot, so the energy comes from the umph you see them put into it and the musical combination of sounds they create. Like the physical sensation of volume, live music itself is exciting, which is why people go to see concerts (no one goes to watch pre-recorded music playing). Many live bands also use volume to try to boost the energy level. (Spotlight Music, though, has a few other “energy tricks” up our sleeves, based on 30+ years of orchestrating music, so we don’t need to blast the volume.)  

Other Tools

Lighting effects can also add energy. DJs often use lighting effects because otherwise, there’s not much action to see. Lighting for bands is usually optional and variable, depending on the live band and how much of a concert or club vibe you want to create for your event.


On the one hand, we react with recognition to things that are familiar to us. On the other hand, we react with interest to things that are new. DJs can play music exactly the way we’ve heard it before, or get creative mashing up pre-recorded sounds, while bands play songs we are familiar with but give them a new breath of life in their own way. Some clients want the music to sound exactly like they know it so it’s as familiar as possible, while others want more of a combination of the familiar and the fresh. To split the difference, we will sometimes have live instruments play along with a DJ or have a live band start and a DJ take over for the latter part of the evening.

With those things in mind, if you could have anything you want, would you prefer a DJ? a live band? or a combination of the two?

IN Deciding What type of music you want: Who Do You Want To Keep on the Dance Floor?

Your music professional is going to ask you what kind of music you want at your wedding. Whether you’ve decided that answer yet or not, there’s one thing you might want to ask yourself in the process of choosing your music (which, by the way, in turn helps you decide which vendor you want). Ask yourself this: Who do you want to keep on the dance floor?

If the answer is “everybody,” the variety of music styles might need to be a lot wider than if you answer “mostly just my friends.” Even if you’ve got a crazy dancing crowd that’s going to be on the floor no matter what music is played, there’s a different emotional reaction created when dancers hear their favorite song, artist or style. Who are you gunning for? That will help you determine who’s best to do that gunning!

It’s a matter of what decade, what style within that decade, how the music is delivered and at what volume. These subtle elements all play into who will be drawn to the dance floor as to a siren’s song.

When choosing your music pro, make sure you feel confident they get your crowd and that they are musically knowledgable enough to create a fitting dance atmosphere for your target audience.

Want a little more inspiration on how to keep your audience on the dance floor? Check out Who Do You Want To Keep on the Dance Floor? for more details. 

How much setlist flexibility do you need?

Look at the kinds of music you listed in response to the last question. Is it mainly one or two styles, or is the list all over the place? That can help you decide if you want a vendor that specializes in one style of music or one that sounds good playing all sorts of styles. (A speakeasy-themed wedding in a bar might be best served by a live band that does exclusively 30’s jazz; however, that band would make little sense for a client who wants more eclectic music.)

Some bands and DJs are ready and willing to take all sorts of requests from you and your guests. Others come with a specific list of things they’re comfortable doing. If you’re sure there’s only a few select styles you want, handing over setlist control to someone who who specializes in specific types of music  can set the tone of your wedding beforehand. On the other hand, having flexibility lets you insert more of your own personality into the mix and gives you mood options that you can switch up during the party. Which one sounds more like you?

What’s your wedding music budget?  

There is no sense considering options that are way out of your price range, but it’s also a bad sign if you find a live band or party DJ that’s so cheap that you wonder what you might be missing.

Knowing even a range of what you can spend is enormously helpful to a potential music vendor. When clients have no clue, I ask them for a range category: 0 to 5 thousand, 5 to 10 thousand, 10 to 20 thousand, 25 to 100, or “unlimited.” That’s a quick way to narrow the field to what’s going to realistically work. While we play events in every range, many bands and DJs only do events within one or two of those ranges.  Knowing the live band or DJ's usual range can really help you narrow down your vendor choices quickly.

Costs for music can include the ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, sound system at the ceremony (for the officiant), and at the reception (including microphones for speeches), preparing special musical performances, etc. Music can be provided by any combination of rhythm instruments (drums, guitars, keyboards), horn sections (trumpets, saxophones, trombones), string instruments (violins, violas, cellos) singers (female or male specializing in any number of styles) and DJs that either replace or interface with the live band. Ultimately, the number of individuals in the ensemble, who they are and what they’re doing for you determine the final costs. Make sure to ask if there are any “extra” charges or fees, or if everything is included in one out-the-door price.

Where do you want the focus?

Lastly, performances always have a focus. Where do want your performers to focus the energy of the room? There are basically two choices: on themselves or on you. That’s a question few people ask, but if you think about it, a concert and a wedding are two very different things. A concert is all about the music (and what musician doesn’t love showing off their hard-earned chops?). But many people would argue that the music at a wedding is in service of a higher calling: it’s what’s going on between the people on the dance floor. Some people want a wedding that’s more of a "band show" and others want it to be more about friends and family. Which attitude do you prefer, and is your live band/party DJ hip to the difference?

Ready, set, ROCK!

There you have the top six out of about 15 questions I like to delve into with clients to help them down the path to the wedding music they’ve been dreaming about. I hope the explanation has been helpful, and if you want to flesh out any of that over the phone, feel free to give a call! I’d been delighted to speak with you.

Congrats, and try to enjoy the process!

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