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The Bride Battles: live music versus a DJ

Calling all musos and music-lovers! We're having our very own battle of the (wedding) bands.
In one corner, we have live music; in the other, DJs. Knowing whether to book a band or DJ is a decision that can stump couples, especially if they've got their heart set on a party atmosphere with an epic d-floor. How much will a live band cost? Will we get the same variety as with a DJ? What about guests who don't like dancing, which option is best for them? Phew. So. Many. Questions. And we're here to (attempt to) answer them for you in this chapter of the Bride Battles. As in other battles, we've pitted live bands against their DJ counterparts to find out which comes out on top. There are five rounds that cover everything from the ease of booking your act to the audition process. Before we kick off, just a side note: here, we've used 'band' as an umbrella term for all live music, be it a bluegrass band or classical string quartet.  

Round one: the booking

A band
It’s simple: the more members in the band you book, the more they might charge. Everyone needs their fair cut, right? A band may charge either a flat fee or per musician, per hour; there could be wiggle room, but if their price and your budget are miles apart, it’s often best to walk away. Popular wedding bands often get booked out months in advance, so if you have your eye on a certain group, it’s best to get in early. You’ll also need to look at the size of the band; some might insist on a minimum or maximum number of musicians, and you’ll need to check that your venue has room for all of the band’s bells and whistles – think amps, microphone stands and instrument cases. 

We’re going to be blunt: in the price war, a DJ will typically cost less than a live band – good news if you’re on a tight budget – but remember to ask if they charge an additional fee for overtime and travel. A bill with a bunch of unexpected extras tacked on probably isn’t the note you want to end your reception on. Having a DJ means you’ll only be dealing with one person, so they won’t take up as much space at your venue and it can make the booking process much easier.  

THIS ROUND GOES TO: There are pros and cons for both sides on this one. It’s a draw. 

Round two: the variety

A band
Jazz bands play jazz; cover bands play covers; swing groups play swing. That’s kind of the way it goes with bands. Yes, some musos totally have the talent to switch up their sets and play a different genre, but most tend to stick to the style they know and love. It’d be a bit like asking an elite athlete to switch from swimming to athletics – not impossible, but the results wouldn’t be the best they could be. You also need to think about having a band that not only accepts requests but also knows how to play what you and your guests will throw at them (because who doesn’t want to groove out to every Beyoncé track ever, right?).

The Beatles? No dramas. The soundtrack from Grease? Got you covered. A mash-up medley of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Whitney Houston? You betcha. A DJ can spin pretty much any tune you like, because they’re not limited to playing just one genre. Your DJ should have a fairly healthy music library, but it never hurts to let them know about any special requests – before they turn up on the big day. Part of your DJ’s role should be to also judge the mood and atmosphere of your event. That'll influence the soundtrack for the day, but if you have any faves or you’re asking your guests to nominate a song on their RSVPs, give your DJ a heads up so you’re not disappointed. 


Round three: the atmosphere

A band
It sounds strange, but not everyone is a fan of cutting a rug on the dance floor. Whether it’s because they have a wonky hip or just don’t like shaking their thing, it's just not everyone’s cup of tea. So it’s a good thing you don’t need to know your spirit fingers from your krumping to enjoy a live band. Not convinced? Think about the gigs you’ve been to where you’ve just watched – were you bored? Our guess is probably not. The same goes with having a live band at your wedding; your guests don’t need to be Beyoncé to have a good time, which is a bonus if you’re inviting elderly relatives. Put simply, it’s hard to match the energy of a band; live music is also more emotional than recorded tracks (feeling the feels is kind of what the day is about) and can be more infectious than recorded tracks. 

Sure, you might’ve seen your fave DJ spin at a music festival (and loved it), but that same atmosphere is pretty hard to replicate for the wedding. Exhibit A: unless you have a guest list longer than your train, you won’t have hundreds of people eagerly awaiting your DJ's performance #soz. Another truth bomb? Watching a DJ doesn’t have as high an entertainment factor, especially if you’ve tucked them away in a corner rather than having them front and centre on a stage. That shouldn’t put you off too much, though, because if a DJ has a killer personality and knows how to work a crowd, they shouldn’t have a problem getting your guests on the d-floor or tapping their toes if they’re more of a dance-in-their-seat type.


Round four: the audition

A band
Ever wanted to channel your inner X Factor or Idol judge? Well, hiring a band for wedding is your chance. Enter the auditions. The audition process is essential for making sure you book a band that can deliver the kind of sound and genre you want, but it's also really important for making sure you click with the band members - feeling comfortable asking the band to play special requests or even to lower their volume shouldn't be underestimated. An audition should also be where you ask questions such as 'How long have you been playing together?' and 'How often do you rehearse?'. These kinds of questions are important for gauging how professional a band is and the type of performance you can expect on your big day. When you've got that sorted, there's really only one thing you need to ask yourself: will you be more Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell?

Unless you make the super-organised effort to follow your would-be DJs around on their gigging circuit (way to go you, such dedication!) auditioning a DJ gets a bit tricky. Sure, you could have a chat with them and ask to hear one of their go-to sets, but part of a DJ's job is to suss out and react to the atmosphere of the room; does the energy need to be amped up or are people looking to wind down? That should then influence the tracks your DJ chooses to spin, but it's difficult to gauge these kinds of skills when it's just you, your partner and them in the room. That said, it's still uber important to get a sense of what their performance will be like, so ask to see a video of any past events; this will give you an idea of the kit they'll bring and how professional their set-up is - because chances are your DJ will pop up in at least one of your wedding snaps. 


Round five: the care factor

A band
Sure, some musicians have a bad rap for being tough to deal with (cough, cough, we’re looking at you, Mariah Carey) but the same doesn’t go for every muso. That said, booking a band does come with some conditions. Number one: breaks. Yes, your band will have to take a break at some point during your celebration, so make sure you build that into your running time. You might also want to have a playlist on standby, ready to go when they disappear for a few minutes. Likewise, if you’re planning on doing your suppliers a solid and providing staff meals on the day, a band with a handful of members means more meals, which will affect your hip pocket. 

It sounds like a no-brainer, but we're going to state the obvious anyway: it's a lot easier to look after one person than it is a group of people. That applies to your wedding entertainment, too. With a DJ, you only have one person to liaise with, one person to rely on and one person to monitor on the day. That said, charging one person with turning up on time, acting professional and delivering the agreed-upon service comes with its own drawbacks - what happens if your DJ comes down with [insert contagious disease here] the day before your wedding and has to cancel? Don't worry, that probably won't happen to you, but enquiring about a plan B is a must-ask before you make a final booking.

THIS ROUND GOES TO: DJ, but only by a nose.

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