Should I book a Band or a DJ for my Wedding Reception?
I’ll start with the conclusion. Great Bands and DJs should both be able to fill your dancefloor with ease and ensure your guests have a great night, it ultimately depends on you and your partner’s taste and your budget. You could always book a band/singer and a DJ!
I’m a DJ, Sound Engineer, Musician (keyboard/piano player) with experience both playing in bands and working alongside bands (DJ/Sound).
Listed below are some of the pros/cons of each:
A band is a lot more ‘naturally’ interactive than a DJ can ever be
Singers are constantly ‘on a mic’ whereas a DJ would have to ‘get on the mic’ each time he/she wants to speak. This makes it easier for a band to interact directly with the crowd. Overly-interactive DJs can sometimes come across as cheesy.
Good bands with great chemistry create an atmosphere that cannot be replicated with recorded music. In my own experience, there are songs people will dance to when a band plays them that they won’t dance to if the actual record is played (weird? i know!!)
If you’re into rock, indie, anything guitar heavy then this is where a band excels.
Good bands can mix songs up with medleys that again, most DJs couldn’t replicate regardless of how good they are at mixing records.
I’ve heard songs mashed together such as ‘La bamba’ and ‘Twist and Shout’. It would be pretty much impossible for a DJ to mash these 2 together without access to acappella (voice only) tracks and instrumentals of each.
Good Bands can put a great twist on things
As an example, The Brightside Party Band do a great ‘GBX’ and 90s dance set with covers of ‘You’re a superstar’, ‘Bits n Pieces’, ‘Ooh Ahh (Just a little bit)’, ‘Set you free’, ‘Show me Love’, ‘Freed from Desire’ etc all thrown in. They don’t sound exactly like the original but they’re not meant to, they’re meant to sound like a live band!
DJs will be limited to playing the actual record or remixes.
A band can do other things that would be impossible for a DJ
For example, changing the lyrics to the first dance so they are personal to you and your partner. With a DJ, whatever’s recorded is recorded.
DJs can change it up/You and your guests can request songs on the night
If you hire a DJ and really love r&b music but find that it doesn’t actually work for your guests on the night, the DJ can simply switch what they’re playing on a whim, we can even seamlessly mix out half way through a song if we find it doesn’t work. Most of us have expansive libraries spanning every decade meaning we can play pretty much any popular song, artist or genre you like without any prior notice. Most bands will have set lists they’re limited to, you can only rehearse a limited number of songs to a good enough standard. Good bands will have hundreds of songs available in their set.
A Good DJ can also be as interactive or as non-reciprocal as you want.
If you just want someone to announce the first dance and buffet then let the music do the talking, that’s fine, but if you want them to be building an atmosphere over the mic or even joining guests out on the dancefloor then we can do that too.
Good DJs can creatively mix records
With a good DJ who can mix records, there will be literally no silent breaks between tracks, the music will seamlessly blend from one track to another.
Most bands will play 1 song then stop, then do another then stop etc. Good bands will do 2-3 together then stop to retune guitars etc. (A really good band will have everything scripted down to their dialogue in-between songs so you won’t even notice that they’ve stopped).
Sometimes people just want to hear the original recording of something as opposed to a cover.
A Good DJ with a great setup can transform your venue into what is essentially a nightclub:
If you’re into dance, house, rave (GBX) or r&b (anything synthesiser or bass-heavy), this is where a DJ with the right setup really excels. This is an atmosphere a good DJ can bring that a bad DJ and even a band cannot regardless of how well they sample things.
Personally speaking, most guitarists will spend a lot of time and money just choosing their guitar(s) and amplifier (never mind the years spent practising), singers will spend the same amount of time getting the right microphone, I think DJs should adhere to the same mantra when it comes to their sound & lighting equipment as that’s one of the main things that separates us from each other. My setup is there to compete with bands in terms of how impressive it is.
The lighting is very versatile meaning it can go from a soft wash for the first dance to a solid beam for a club set, it’s all manually controlled meaning I can slow it down or speed it up depending on what’s going on. Even most good bands won’t have the capacity to do any sort of lighting control as they’ll all be busy playing. The best bands will have their own dedicated lighting engineer.
My sound system is made by a company called d&b audiotechnik, these speakers can be found at festivals and in large nightclubs all over the world. I only know of 2 other DJs and 1 band in Scotland who use speakers of this calibre. They will give that 'thump' in your chest similar to being at a live concert, nightclub or festival but are extremely high quality (literally the best on the market) meaning they don't need to be stupidly loud to do so and won't fatigue your ears by the end of the night.
d&b audiotechnik is used by:
Eminem, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Muse, Coldplay, Take That, Madonna, Pacha Ibiza Nightclubs, The Royal Albert Hall, The Garage Nightclub, The Art School Nightclub, Nice N Sleazy (downstairs), Broadcast Venue, Kokomo Nightclub, ButeFest, The BBC Stages at T in the Park, Trnsmt Main Stage Glastonbury Festival & more.
Whilst this setup is impressive with what it is capable of, it is also elegant and unobtrusive. It won’t take away from the overall look of the venue you’ve likely spent tens of thousands of pounds hiring. It can also be scaled up or down depending on venue size, amount of guests etc.
If you’ve already booked a DJ or have someone else in mind, I’m more than happy to hire out this set-up for them to use. I’m also happy for club DJs to run through my equipment.
You could do both:
I’m a Sound Engineer as well as a DJ so you could book both a band and myself.
I will happily supply all the PA, Monitors, Mics and Lighting. The band turn up with their instruments and back-line. The band and I will liaise together with what’s on their setlist (so I don’t step on their toes by playing a song from their set).
I will run their sound on the evening (most bands don’t have a dedicated sound engineer so this will be an improvement) or their sound engineer can use my sound desk/plug in their own. I will host the evening doing all the introductions etc. I will DJ before the band come on, during their interval and after the band have finished. That way you get the best of both worlds.
In the video below, I supplied everything from stage monitors to microphones, the main speakers to the lighting. This was a 6 Piece band with 2x Guitars, 3x Keyboards, Trumpet, Trombone, 4x Vocalists, Bass, Auxiliary percussion and Drums.
I do this regularly with The SoulKings.
I also work alongside Instrumentalists such as Marshali Scott - Saxophonist
I hate to be negative but a few of things to be careful of is
Bands offering a DJ set:
This typically means them plugging in an iPad or iPod connected to Spotify and playing from a predetermined playlist while they break down their equipment at the end of the night. You’ll have all of the cons of a bad DJ and none of the Pros of a good one. There will be no interaction, silence between tracks, low quality tracks played from an unreliable and illegal source.
In my experience, most guests will leave early if this is the case meaning your night will gradually taper off instead of building up to a big finish as it should.
If you do choose a band and they offer a DJ set, make sure you hold them to the same standards as if you were booking a standalone DJ.
Have a proper dedicated DJ who won’t be breaking any equipment down during the duration of their set
Use high quality play-out decks (not an iPad’s headphone jack plugged into a mixer)
Play legally sourced high quality tracks stored locally (not online [spotify etc])
Be able to take requests, mix records together without silence in-between etc.
Band Promo Videos:
If you’re going to choose a band you haven’t seen live and for some reason cannot make their showcase, check that they either have real footage of them at an event or that their promo video is recorded live. ‘Autotune’ automation and quantisation can work wonders in a studio, it’s harder to get away with it in a live recording and impossible if it’s actual footage from a camera’s microphone.
Have footage of what they do
Bands have the luxury of Showcases where they can let you see and hear them in-person. DJs can only really show the results of what they do via pictures and videos. They should have plenty of footage of busy dancefloors and images of their setup too so you know what to expect. Be sure to ask them if everything is their own, a lot of DJs will turn up at Corporate events or even Nightclubs where the set-up is hired in elsewhere and they’ll pass it off as their own.
Some DJs footage may not be available to the public (copyright issues when playing recorded music) and you may need to contact them to get them to show it to you which brings me to my next point.
Be willing to meet up or speak on the phone
The DJ can look great on paper but you might meet them and end up getting some negative vibes. Be sure of who you’re booking. If you’ve got in touch with a DJ and they aren’t willing to at least speak on the phone, I’d class that as a red flag. You can’t tell what type of person someone is via email.
Have online reviews on Facebook or Google
The best form of advertisement is word of mouth, as someone who runs my own business, I do admit that getting reviews from past clients can sometimes be like pulling hen’s teeth (I understand that most get married, immediately fly off to their honeymoon destination for 2 weeks then return home and head straight to work where they have to catch up on a mountain of paperwork) but even have a look at comments on videos and pictures they post online to see if anyone talks about whether or not they had a great night.
In short, do your research, think carefully about what type of night you want to create, which type of atmosphere will work best with your own tastes and also with the people you're inviting. Follow that, and you'll be on your way to get the best possible fit for your event.