Things to Consider When Selecting Your Wedding Musicians
Music can make or break any type of party, but it is particularly true in the case of weddings. As an outsider looking in – and someone who attends at least 20 weddings a year – I have a unique perspective on the issues you should consider when selecting your wedding entertainment. In today’s blog post I’ll give you a list of pros and cons in the band vs. DJ debate to help your event planning process not end on a sour note.
I honestly don’t have a dog in the band vs. DJ fight. I’ve seen weddings with fantastic bands and DJs. On the other hand, I’ve also seen weddings where the poor choice of music simply killed the mood in the room. With that in mind, here are some pros and cons for both sides of the debate:
Band: Pros and Cons
- Classic choice for wedding music. A love of all things retro is definitely on the upswing, so the choice of a traditional band could actually be construed as ‘hip.’
- The energy of a band is great for uniting all age groups and getting people on the dance floor
- High-end, ‘classy’ statement to guests
- Most weddings choose to use a DJ, so going in the other direction and choosing to use a band makes a non-mainstream statement to guests
- Bands can bring with them instrumentalists to use for your ceremony
- Not the perfect choice for modern songs, especially more danceable hits
- More expensive; the larger the band in terms of the number of musicians, the higher the price
- Some bands have a limited repertoire for songs
- Bands can take up a huge amount of space
DJ: Pros and Cons
- In general, a DJ gets everyone on the dance floor
- Perfect choice for modern songs, especially rap, electronica, etc.
- Can play a wider variety of music
- Generally cheaper in price
- Overwhelming presence with flashing lights, blaring music, and general lack of subtlety
- The worst emcee skills I have witnessed have been DJs (not all DJs of course, but I find band leaders tend to be more practiced behind the microphone)
Band vs. DJ: What to Discuss Before You Choose
We’ve all attended weddings where the band or DJ dictated the pace of the party. I’ve seen weddings with bands that were simply lame and other weddings where the energy of the band’s performance lit up the room and got everyone on the dance floor. Likewise, I’ve seen more than one wedding with an obnoxious DJ who thought it was his duty to turn the wedding reception into a nightclub, much to the dismay of the older generation of guests. Similarly, I’ve seen weddings where the DJ played a fantastic mix of Sinatra and modern songs and everyone was tapping their feet. The choice of musicians for your party is your call, but here are a few things to discuss before you finalize your booking:
Think about the age group of your guests. Most weddings will have a 50/50 split between the old and new generations. You should have music that accommodates the interests of both groups, with a playlist that probably skews a bit more classic in the beginning before letting loose after dinner. That said, if you know that your grandmother will be in attendance until the bitter end of the party, then try to tame the music to make sure she can boogie with you until last call. I’ve seen many a wedding where the music simply got too loud and obnoxious and chased the older guests out of the party.
Start with a band, and end with a DJ? This brings me to the perfect solution: if costs or music choice is an issue, consider breaking up the event so that your ceremony and cocktail hour are entertained with a band while a DJ takes over for the rest of the reception. This is becoming much more of a trend in weddings.
Check that the DJ set up doesn’t overload the dance floor with lights. A reminder to all couples: I can’t easily remove colored disco lighting from your photos. So if your DJ has special spotlights or colored strobe lights set up, then just know it makes things a bit more tricky to photograph.
Always check on your band/DJ’s emcee skills. Most couples concentrate on their playlists without ever considering the band or DJ’s emcee skills. The reality is that your band leader or DJ will be playing emcee for much longer than you think. From introductions to the toasts, the emcee sets the mood with voice, projection, and most importantly, getting people’s names right. You don’t want a shy violet behind the microphone and you also don’t want a stage hog who will overwhelm your guests. Make sure that you see video of your band leader or DJ in action so you can see how s/he operates with and without a soundtrack.
Know the band/DJ’s set up infrastructure as well as the playlist. Picture it if you will: you have a fantastic playlist lined up for your event. You walk into your reception space all ready to dance the night away and you see either a DJ with a full strobe set up and huge speakers taking up the entire dance floor, or a band with 20 extra tubas. Space is limited in reception venues, so make sure you know what the final product will look like when you hire your band or DJ. DJs in particular can come with a lot of extra equipment that will overwhelm a dance floor the size of a postcard stamp. Make sure that you know the exact dimensions of the space in which you will house your musicians at your venue. When you talk with your band or DJ, tell her/him the size of the space available and make sure this isn’t an issue. And finally, make sure that the band or DJ setup is not littered with logos. You want the evening to be about you as a couple, not advertising for the DJ’s next gig.
It’s electric. Along the lines of letting your band/DJ know the size of the space they will be working in, your musicians also need to know any technical requirements of the venue including electricity issues and available speaker systems. Make sure the band/DJ has the proper wires, speakers, etc. and that they can handle any technical challenges thrown at them by your venue.
Professionalism matters. I’ve seen bands and DJs show up in jeans so make sure to ask what the musicians will be wearing during your events. As a reminder, this is a wedding, not a rock concert. Also, if you have any specific religious requests – such as not wearing black – then make sure your band or DJ knows.
Nothing beats a live test drive. Anyone can put together a playlist, but fantastic performances can either make or break an event – especially in the case of a band. Bands and DJs will often have free performances or open houses during wedding fairs. Check with the band or DJ’s website to see if they will be playing live near you. Your second best option is to see a video of the band or DJ performing. Take special note, not just of how the musicians perform, but also how the guests are reacting.
Check reviews and speak to past clients to find out how the band/DJ does business. This is a vendor that you need to check out as thoroughly as you do your photographer. Get a list of references from couples that have booked the musicians and ask lots of questions: Did the musicians show up on time? How did the musicians interact with guests? Were the musicians open to guest requests for songs?
Have a full list of what you want – and DON’T want – played. To make sure you jive with your band or DJ, it’s imperative to give her/him a list of your favorite, and not so favorite, songs. I ask all of my clients to send me a Pinterest board of their favorite photos so that we are visually on the same page. It is no different with bands/DJs. ‘Classic rock’ can mean one thing to you and a completely different thing to your band or DJ, so make sure you nail down the specifics of your playlist. There is nothing worse than to be rocking out on the dance floor and have the mood killed instantly with the insertion of a Jethro Tull song that you absolutely hate.
If you have specific cultural songs you want played – Indian, Jamaican, etc. – then make sure your DJ/band is familiar with the music. If not, then get a specialist.
Check if the band or DJ is insured. Anyone working as a professional vendor in the wedding industry should be insured both for general liability (a $2 million liability policy is normally required by most venues) and for their equipment. If the band or DJ is not insured, then ask yourself why.
Band vs. DJ: Recommended Vendors
- DJ Ben Carlin (DJ) – www.BeyonderMusic.com
- DJ Center (DJ) – www.PushTheFader.com
- Elite Sound Entertainment – www.EliteSoundEntertainment.com
- Jay & Lee Spanish Guitar – www.RumbaFlamenca.com
- Michael Cumella’s Crank-Up Phonograph D.J. Experience – www.MichaelCumella.com
- Silver Arrow Band (live band) – www.SilverArrowBand.com
Miriam & Chaim: A Falkirk Estate and Country Club Wedding
Accompanying today’s blog post are photos from Miriam and Chaim’s Falkirk Estate and Country Club wedding. If you will remember Miriam and Chaim from their engagement shoot in Greenwich Village, these two lovebirds grew up together but didn’t find that spark until later in life when they both found themselves in NYC. Their engagement portrait was a reenactment of their first date and the photos give you an idea of how much they both love tradition. As such, they chose to have a classic quartet play at both their ceremony and reception. Miriam’s cousin played emcee for the evening and he was the perfect choice to introduce the toasts. The band played throughout the evening, and when they needed a break, the couple’s iPod stepped up to the plate. In Miriam and Chaim’s case, neither the couple nor their guests were fans of dancing, so a string quartet offered the perfect solution of beautiful music without the nightclub atmosphere. The quartet even pulled off a great hora performance!
- Ceremony/Reception Venue: Falkirk Estate and Country Club
- Quartet: Agnon Quartet
- Wedding Dress: David’s Bridal
- Bridal Party Attire: Azazie
- Cake: Palermo Bakery
Let’s keep the conversation going: do you prefer a band or a DJ? I’m sure all of you have weddings you remember – one way or another – thanks to the music being played. What’s on your playlist? What’s the song that will send you fleeing from the dance floor in a heartbeat? Let me know in the comments.
If you would like to see more images from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com