DJ vs. Live Band: 13 tips to figure out what will best suit your event
For many people planning a special event, what to do in regards to music may end up being somewhat more difficult than the other variables like location, catering, or what kind of flowers should be on the table. The biggest crossroads in this arena is the choice between having your music needs delivered by a live band or by a DJ. Success can absolutely be achieved with either choice, but the specific needs of the event, the guests, and your particular musical tastes will help to clarify which of these two options would best suit your wedding, party, or gathering of any sort. We’ll dig a bit into what are the perks and special attributes of both options, in hopes of helping you make the best choice!
These days there is a fair swath of what falls under the moniker of “DJ”, but for our purposes we are specifically talking about an individual who handles selections of previously recorded music, projected via a sound system. They almost certainly book for and manage themselves, or at most might be associated with 1 or 2 other DJ’s. This person generally acts as the universal music professional for an entire event, unless it takes place in multi-room facility.
- Requests- One of the biggest benefits to working with a DJ is that, thanks to the internet, most DJs can play virtually any requested music you could ever ask for. There is certainly a degree of curation that a DJ will work within to maintain a professional standard rather than coming off as just an iPod handler, but the fact remains that if you, other members planning the event, or guests have a request that simply must get played it is completely within reason to expect a DJ to be able to make it happen. Most DJs supply a song request sheet when taking on a job, and make selections for the night to include those requests and other tracks that will go well with the theme, thus giving clients a great degree of input on what the event’s music will sound like.
- Versatility- Many live bands tend to specialize in certain arenas, such as 70s music, modern pop, R&B/soul, etc., and are only mildly comfortable playing outside of those styles. This is due to the high amount of work put into making their specialty selections as high quality as possible, but if variation and versatility are what you need then maybe a DJ would suit your event better than a live band. Say you’re having a wedding that needs modern pop and hip hop for the dance floor, but the bride has Polish family members that would love to have the father/daughter dance set to a traditional polka or mazurka. This is a need that might possibly be handled by a strictly covers wedding band with advance notice, but a DJ could handle it with ease.
- Language Specialty- A very frequent request received at GigRoster.com is for a bilingual DJ. This is often for spanish-speaking events, but can apply to any other language. Music in someone’s native language can make it immensely more meaningful to them, and for certain communities the majority of the preferred music may be in a language that is scarcely represented in popular music that a cover band would play. Announcements and audience interaction may also be done in both languages so everyone feels involved. Plenty of bands exist that work in non-english settings, but again the ability to work in both realms will be both harder to find in a live band and could come with a price tag prohibitive to most buyers. A DJ can easily move from specialized non-English selections to mainstream current dance hits and back again, all without incurring a higher cost.
- Minimal Personnel- One of the perks in working with a DJ is that, unlike a band, there is generally only one individual that makes up the entertainment unit. This manifests positively in a number of ways, such as ease of booking (a DJ knows their schedule and doesn’t need to check in with four other people), parking needs, and general personnel management for larger events. Even though any properly organized band will have a single contact person or manager, there will still remain the multiple players themselves that will be showing up to provide entertainment. More entertainers is one of the big perks of a live band, but if you’re at your organizing wits end and wish to avoid any potential complications by bringing 3-10+ extra people into the fray, then maybe it’s best to save yourself the worry and go with a one-person music force!
- Space Flexibility- Most DJs will have a far less imposing physical footprint than a band would. If you have rented out a large event hall or your celebration is outdoors this is less of an issue, but if real estate could end up as a limited resource then a DJ would be much more able to tuck into a corner or along a wall of the dance floor while still leaving plenty of interactive space for the event-goers. Many DJs can have varying degrees of setup, from a small 2-speaker outfit to a full stage array complete with lights and more, so you can always take advantage of this flexibility.
- Cost- For many buyers, this is the point that most directs them towards a DJ. Though they come in a wide variety of price spectrum, most DJs will be able to supply up to four hours of music at a dramatically lower price than a live band. This is not always the case, but in terms of being able to assure a high-quality music setting while staying under $1000 a DJ is likely to be your best bet.
With all of those great reasons it may seem patently obvious that a DJ is the only good choice for your event, but hold that judgement! Just as there are numerous great qualifications for a DJ, there are equally legitimate and different ones for opting instead for a live performance.
Keep in mind when considering hiring a band is that one of the best perks of having a live performance is that within the breadth of hiring a live band, there is an immense degree of human variability. From intimate acoustic duo to stage-raging variety band, traditional German troupe to Louisiana Zydeco, there is a good chance that no matter what exactly your event calls for, there is a perfect group of people available to meet that demand. And yes, there are even great “Variety Bands”, sometimes called “Function Bands” who cover an amazingly wide spectrum of styles if that is what is called for. Whereas any DJ can play the same recorded music, every single performing group will have their own personal, human flair on what they do, even with covers. With this as a unifying theme, let’s look at a few other benefits to working with live musicians.
- Exciting for attendees- Probably the biggest selling point of a live performance is the degree of excitement and interactivity that live musicians offer. That may manifest itself as more people getting loose on the dance floor, the band pulling some interactive activity with the attendees, or a room silently captivated by a beautiful string quartet. No matter how technology changes, the human fascination with witnessing other humans perform something special right before their eyes, literally creating art, will always have a degree of meaningful connection with the experience, especially when done by true professionals. If making lasting memories is a goal of your function, it will be hard to top what a quality live band can accomplish.
- Audience Specialization- Just as there are countless varieties of people, certain events will call more strongly towards a live band than a DJ. A company party at a tech business may not care much if the music is delivered by four players or a single DJ, but a holiday dance at an assisted living home would be very different if the classics of the preferred time period were being delivered by a proper band from the era rather than just a DJ playing tracks. Every event will be different, and some will virtually demand that a live band is supplied rather than an electronic reproduction.
- Customization- Though most bands like to stay within certain prescribed brackets of material, there still remains a large amount of performance customization. One of GigRoster’s steel pan jazz groups, Lord Shambleton, plays music spanning Caribbean classics to modern jazz fusion, working with clients to organize their 4+ hours of possible tunes into a selection perfectly fitted to each event. Though a DJ can play almost any song, bands often have a higher degree of specialty and knowledge of a given style, and be able to more intimately customize their performance for each client more deeply than just playing a number of recorded songs requested by the client.
- Song Personalization- Following on the previous theme, live performers can personalize and vary music in ways that a DJ simply has no way to do since they are working with pre-recorded music. This can be as minor as replacing a few words of a song to match an event or audience, to as drastic as The Disco Cowboys, a band whose entire theme is playing disco hits of the 70s in well-executed country twang. If you’re looking to make your event something truly memorable from the music side, this can be a huge selling point for hiring live musicians.
- Multi-Use Staging- Something not often considered when mulling over whether to hire a band or DJ is the physical additions to your event that may come with a band. It’s not an unusual thing at GigRoster to see, built into a booking agreement between a client and a band, that the band’s stage setup will also be used for announcements, awards, and other functions of the event not necessarily involving people playing music. A band’s setup brings with it an air of “Important things are happening at this location,” which for many events like weddings, corporate shows, etc. can be a huge benefit to the overall feel and flow of the proceedings.
- Live Karaoke- Many people think that having karaoke at an event exclusively means hiring a DJ, but that’s far from the truth! Many bands now offer the ability to host live band karaoke, which is exactly what it sounds like. If the ability to have a karaoke session at your event is a determining factor in whether to go with a DJ or a live band, remember that many bands are happy to host a live karaoke session with their performance! If singing favorite songs with the full backing force of a live band sounds like something you or your event’s attendees would enjoy, don’t hesitate to reach out to any bands you’re looking into to see if they offer this unique experience.
- Band Attire- One aspect of hiring a professional live band that often goes unconsidered is the impact of a thematically dressed performance group to go with an event’s theme. This is the exact reason why many organizations putting on an island-themed event opt to hire a Hawaiian dance troupe, realizing that alongside decorations and other details a group of individuals meaningfully dressed and performing towards a theme can add tremendous amounts of reality and pertinence to an occasion. Whether it is vibrant carnival colors, german lederhosen, or high-end suit-and-tie, a group of performers thematically matched to a specialty event can sometimes be the tipping point towards making an event go from just unique to truly memorable.
As you can see, the choice between hiring a DJ or live performers isn’t just as simple as what method you prefer your music being delivered by. And if you just can’t decide, something that is becoming more and more common is events where they may actually have a DJ and live act. Many bands realize this appeal and actively market this idea, partnering with a DJ or in some cases a band member can double to deliver this without an exorbitantly higher cost.
Music and the social settings that come with it are among the details that event attendees and participants find most memorable, so before making a decision as to which to go with it’s worth taking the time to mull over these variables and decide which will have the most impact at your special event. The GigRoster staff works personally with scores of clients and events hiring DJs and bands of all sorts, and are more than happy to share their expertise and help you make the best and most informed decision as to your special day’s entertainment! With hundreds of bookings on both coasts and everywhere in between, we’ve seen just what makes an event great and look forward to sharing that knowledge and helping to make your event not just great, but perfect whether you opt for live or DJ.
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