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Wedding band versus DJ: Tips for choosing

Monday - 7/21/2014, 6:06am  ET

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The author's wedding band gets the party started at a local wedding. (Courtesy Vlad Gurevich Photography)

Editor's note: WTOP reporter Tim Bracken plays in a wedding band.

WASHINGTON -- Most people can agree that music affects the atmosphere of any party.

But when it comes to wedding receptions, there is one debate that has the potential to get heated: wedding band versus disc jockey.

Does one option have more potential to make or break your big day?

"I had a DJ and they were the worst," says Kim Gandy-Frum from Silver Spring, Maryland.

"They didn't follow simple instructions. I will never hire a DJ again unless I know them personally."

Others have had great experiences, such as Harry Knabe from D.C.

"We thought our DJs were fantastic and created the exact mood that we wanted for our wedding and reception," Knabe says.

"They provided ceremony music, cocktail hour music, dinner music and then dancing music for our reception."

Jesus Villeda from Silver Spring considered having both a band and a DJ while doing research for his wedding.

"I have been to a wedding with a band and it was not good at all. That actually made me more nervous to choose a band," he says.

After going to see the third band on his list of contenders, Villeda found the perfect set of musicians.

"Hearing someone belt out [Etta James'] ĎAt Last' just made me want the band right then and there," he says.

Countless more tales of success and woe can be heard regarding both bands and DJs. So how does one avoid a musical disaster on his wedding day?

Live music options have expanded greatly in recent years.

"We are seeing a trend of more original bands coming through and less of your typical wedding cover band," says Tori Maltby, an events specialist at Candy+Co.

"Bands are taking well-known songs and making them their own. Guests get so into the performance. A great band really does add a huge element to the night," Maltby says.

If you prefer a more hands-off approach, maybe look into hiring a specialty band. The D.C. area is full of groups who play Latin, swing, Afrobeat and roots music.

The rigidness of the band's song selection can offer a way to keep guests from bothering the band with song requests.

Peter Davis from Baltimore hired a band that specializes in Zydeco music for his wedding.

"It eliminated any and all requests," he says. "All that was left to do was to enjoy them, and it worked!"

The choice between live music and a DJ ultimately comes down to personal preference. The whole point of a wedding reception is to celebrate. Go with whatever option appeals to you, trust your instincts, do the proper research and then throw the party of a lifetime.

Here are some research tips to keep in mind:

  • Check your budget for music. If music is the last thing on your checklist, you might not have an adequate amount allotted for a live band.

    "Bands are almost always more expensive than DJ's," Maltby says. "But you can sometimes find some great bands with a comparable price."

  • Check the layout of your reception room.

    "Bands take up more space," Maltby says. "If you already have a full guest list and a venue with limited space, you simply cannot accommodate for the footprint that a band requires."

  • Do you prefer a club atmosphere or a concert vibe?

    "DJs obviously have a wider repertoire. They have endless resources to get the genres and songs that you want to hear," Maltby explains.

    "If you are going with a band and you have specific songs that you must have, make sure to get this to them early so that they can either learn it, or make sure that they have the recording to play while on break."

  • Whether choosing a DJ or live band, always get references. Ask friends or event planners for recommendations, or check reviews at websites, such as The Knot or Wedding Wire.

    Go see the DJ or band perform in person. Bands, in particular, might offer a professionally produced studio demo, but could be uninspiring live.

  • If you need music for the ceremony, cocktail hour and the reception, remember that some bands can perform for all three with one set of musicians.

  • Book as far ahead in advance as possible. The best DJs and bands tend to stay busy. They are more likely to get booked up to a year in advance.

  • Plan ahead when it comes to your music selections. Whether it's a band or DJ providing the music, you should give as many examples of what you do (and don't) want to hear.

  • Book your DJ or band directly instead of through a talent agency. The difference in price can often mean thousands of dollars depending on your needs.

  • Read all contracts carefully. There may be language hidden in the terms of a contract that could force you to pay unexpected fees.

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