DJ vs. Live Band - Which Should You Choose? / by Stanislav Nikolov

Are you currently planning a special occasion?  Is it the kind of event that may require the services of music professionals for dancing?  Then you have a decision to make.  You need to decide whether you want to hire a Disc Jockey (DJ) or a live band for your event.  This article will help you to decide which choice is better for you and your event.

There are many events that employ the services of music professionals.  Music and dancing are featured during wedding receptions, birthday parties, anniversary parties, barbeques, family reunions, high school reunions, and rites of passage like bar mitzvahs and quinceaneras.  In order for you to decide whether a DJ or a live band is best for you, there are many considerations to take into account.  A few factors are price, space, and styles of music.  Let’s examine positives and negatives for both DJ’s and live bands.  

A DJ is usually one guy or girl who sets up a sound system and some speakers in your event space.  In the old days they would bring an amplifier, cd or record player, about a zillion cd’s or records or both, and two to four PA speakers, usually up on stands at or above ear level.  Nowadays, all a DJ needs to bring is a power amp, speakers, and a laptop computer.  Modern day laptops can store a mind-bending amount of music on them.  Music programs like iTunes allow a DJ access to virtually every song in the world instantly.  This gives DJ’s an advantage over live bands.  At wedding receptions, for example, the couple usually requests several songs ahead of time for their entrance, first dance, money dance, etc.  A DJ merely has to download the songs they want and have them ready for the occasion.  

DJ’s are also able to play any styles of music the customer wants.  If they like country, rock, and rap music, the DJ can supply it all.  Most live bands play one certain style of music.  As far as space goes, all a DJ needs is usually a small table they can sit at with their laptop.  If karaoke is your thing, many DJ’s now have karaoke machines available to use as well, again with unlimited song access.  

A good DJ has a sense of timing with songs during an event to keep the energy level up or down when necessary.  You want a DJ that becomes part of the celebration, not an observer.  Many people own the equipment to be a DJ, but experience is very important.  When selecting a DJ, it is always helpful if you see them in action.  My wife and I found the DJ for our wedding while attending a high school fundraiser.  We were so impressed with his skill and the enjoyment he showed playing music that I got his business card on the spot.  He did a great job at our wedding as well.  

The main negative about DJ’s is that there are many bad ones out there.  Ask around and see who people recommend before you make your decision.  Bad DJ’s let their own musical preferences override music that everyone likes, or that the customer wants.

Having a live band at your event is a totally different animal.  Live bands always drive the energy level in a venue way up.  Listening to a recording of certain types of music can be terrible.  For example, Mariachi bands and string quartets are far better when performing live.  A local Mexican restaurant has a mariachi band play during dinner hours every Friday night.  Their happy live music transforms the restaurant into a party which everyone seems to enjoy.  

Live band performances have a factor of the unknown.  You never know what’s going to happen.  You could end up with an impromptu jam session featuring guest musicians and vocalists from the group of guests.  Or, you could hire a self-absorbed guitar player who launches into a 30-minute guitar solo to feed his gigantic ego.  

Good bands will be eager to please their customers and learn songs that they want for an event.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to a live band’s song list.  They can only learn so many songs.  Usually, a band will play only one style of music, like punk, rock, funk, jazz, or ska.  Customers looking for a variety of styles of music may want to choose a DJ instead.  

One other drawback to a live band is that they require a bigger space than a DJ.  Most bands have about four musicians with amplifiers, instruments, and a PA system.  Consider the space you are going to have your event in.  Dead spaces in between songs can also create a lull in the energy level of your party.  Hiring a live band is usually more expensive than having a DJ as well.  Choose a band with a lot of experience in playing events.  Experience over time lets them adapt their set to songs that have the desired reaction from the crowd.  They know which songs work, and the ones that don’t.

So which is better, a DJ or a live band?  That depends on what you want.  If you want a high energy party with one style of music, a live band is the way to go.  If you need many styles of music and have space restrictions, then a DJ is the best bet.  Consider your needs and always hire an experienced music professional.