Musical Entertainment | Live Music or Recorded? Band or DJ?

I had no idea there were so many decisions to make when planning a wedding.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that sentence, I’d sure have a whole lot of nickels… probably enough to fuel my coffee drinking habit for the whole year! I get it; most people have never planned a wedding. Your own wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so you are often left to rely entirely on the advice of others. It can be helpful to ask for facts from other people (especially event industry pros), but in the end you should always trust your own gut feeling and make your own decisions.   

When we start working with a new couple, the very first step in our process is to build an itemized budget. This budget document helps guide the decision-making process to make sure that there are no unpleasant financial surprises when all is said and done. We always recommend that couples begin planning their wedding with a clear answer to the question, “how much do you want to spend?” Each and every decision that is made plays into that total budget number.  If you don’t know what that total should be at the onset, it is way too easy to overspend without even knowing it. Couples should ask themselves, "what is most important to us?” and prioritize spending in ways that are realistic and make sense for their individual wedding. 

One personal decision that can have varying cost implications is the infamous question, “Should we have a band or a DJ?”  My answer remains the same as the beginning, you can listen to the facts from others, but in the end you should trust your gut and make the decision that’s right for you and your budget.  So here are some facts…

Weddings typically need music for different times of the day but there is no easy formula because no two weddings are alike (nor should they be).  The simplest way to think about the day is to mentally separate the ceremony and the reception. If the ceremony is held in a church, there may be an organ or piano that can be utilized.  Often you pay a fee to the church or choir director.  Fees for utilizing the organ or piano at the church will be specific to each organization, but it’s not unusual to spend $300-$600 and this amount can easily vary based on time, specialty of equipment, inclusion of musician or any other factors. Another traditional option for ceremony music is a string musician group (duo, trio, or quartet), which can work well either in a church or if the ceremony is hosted at the same place as the reception.  The price for a string group varies by region, level of talent, travel required, amount of time contracted and number of musicians in the group.  An average price for a string trio for 2 hours may range from $700- $1500.  

If the wedding ceremony is more intimate, the couple may opt for a solo guitar player or a bagpiper.  Whatever the scenario, we always recommend that whomever is playing the wedding ceremony have experience in playing ceremonies, as it is not the same as playing concerts or symphonies.  It may seem appealing to ask a friend of family member who is a musician to help out, but musicians who play wedding ceremonies must be able to take cues, repeat bars of music as needed (in case the processional takes longer than needed) and ended a piece elegantly when cued.  If someone has never played a wedding ceremony before, it can easily turn your ceremony music into something far less than what you expected and can put a lot of pressure on that friend or family member.

Depending on the couple’s timeline and flow of the party, when it comes to cocktail hour, it may make sense to either extend the contract time for the ceremony musicians, utilize the musicians for the reception, or forgo music for cocktail hour all together.  All three of these options likely have cost implications based on timing and location of the cocktail hour. It’s helpful to map out the timeline for the day before contracting any vendors, including the musicians so you know how many hours you need them to play.  Now onto the reception… 

Bands and DJs are typically contracted for 4 hours (including breaks). Couples should think about their food service style, if dancing will happen in the same room as dinner and when first dances, announcements and toasts will happen. All of these factors can play into how to best utilize and plan for a band or DJ contract. The cost of a band may range from $4,900- $25,000+ and depends on a whole range of factors such as size of the band (5 piece band verses 15 piece band or larger), amount of travel required, and level of talent (a celebrity recording artist/band is going to be much more expensive than $25,000)… you get the picture.  And the same could be said for a DJ, the cost may range anywhere from $750- $2,500+, depending on the skill of the DJ, type of equipment and amount of travel required.  As with most things in life, it is often the case that you get what you pay for. Good bands and good DJs should both be able to play a variety of music including sophisticated and enjoyable background music during dinner and a variety of songs to get people on the dance floor.  Ask to see song lists, demos and videos to get a feel for the artists.  Bands and DJs should also have a list of references that you can call to ask for feedback, and I encourage you to do so if you have any hesitations.  

So how do you decide what’s best for you?  I am sorry there is no easy formula to provide all the answers.  Planning a wedding requires you to make a lot of decisions.  Our approach has, and always will be, to first get to know our clients to understand what’s most important to them first. We believe the best celebrations should be a shining reflection of the couple as they begin their lives together. Whatever you choose, you should feel confident in your choice knowing it’s right for you!