The decision to book a wedding band or DJ is one of the most important choices you can make for your wedding. I’ve worked with countless bands and DJs over the years and I’ve developed great relationships with the best in the business. For this post, I consulted with two of my favorites, The Mighty Untouchables and DJ Matt Phipps!
NOTE: The goal of this post is not to tell you which I think is better and why. Rather, my aim is to lean on nearly 20 years of experience as a wedding photographer in order to provide you with unbiased information so YOU can make your own decision!
The award-winning Mighty Untouchables are one of my favorite San Diego wedding bands. Over the last 11 years they’ve played over 1000 shows for weddings and events of all sizes. With a wide-ranging collection of material, from Top 40 to Classic Rock and more, it’s no wonder why they’re one of the most sought-after San Diego wedding bands.
DJ Matt Phipps, owner of Choice Entertainment, is a longtime San Diego wedding DJ! Since 2006, Matt has DJ’d events of all sizes throughout Southern California. Matt’s customer-centric approach and his background in music theory make him a valuable MC.
With their help, I’m hoping to help you answer the age-old question: Which is better, a wedding band or DJ?
Why Hire a Wedding Band?
If you’re looking for a full-on musical experience for your wedding guests, then a wedding band is the way to go. While it’s a significant investment, a band provides a unique atmosphere for your wedding reception.
Delivering a True Musical Experience
The mere presence of a band commands the attention of your wedding guests.
“A band delivers a listening, visual and interactive experience,” says Danielle Tucker, lead vocalist of The Mighty Untouchables.
The right wedding band can feel more like a great concert. Under the glow of lights perched up on the stage, a band playing hit songs instantly becomes the focal point of a wedding reception. In fact, I’ve seen great wedding bands command an audience so much, the audience forgets about dancing and pays more attention to the band itself!
“Bands have the advantage of raw energy,” says DJ Matt Phipps. “It gives the guests something to look at, as well as something to dance to. There is an energy to live music that is unique. It’s a moment in time that you can’t get back just by playing a record, or a recording. Live drums, live instrumentation, and quality vocals with great harmonies are really something special if you are on the receiving end and it’s a ‘vibe’ that we as DJ’s cannot compete with.”
A Band is More Expensive, But Worth It
While it’s true that hiring a band is a significantly higher investment versus a DJ, it’s all about the experience.
“Bands are often many members, who are all making a decent wage,” says DJ Matt Phipps. “That means it’s extremely expensive… often five to ten times, and even more, than hiring a very high-quality DJ.”
However, a band “provides a greater production value. It’s a wow-factor like none other that takes a party to another level. You’re getting a concert and dance party in one,” Tucker says.
In addition, most bands can augment their performance with DJ services, so there’s no interruption in the music. This is super helpful for pre- and post-performance, and when the band takes a break. And, bands also provide MC services to help introduce certain parts of the reception, like the first dance, cake cutting and bouquet toss.
Another, perhaps less obvious, reason to book a wedding band is that they can play acoustically! This comes in handy in the rare event of a power outage!
“We played a very high-end event one time where the power to the entire facility went out mid-song,” Tucker says. “It was so early in the evening that we had barely just begun entertaining. Without missing a beat, we rolled in a piano from an adjacent room and struck up an acoustic sing-a-long. Everyone had a blast and has talked about it for years. We run in to people who attended that event regularly and they always talk about it.”
Things to Consider Before Booking a Wedding Band
A wedding band is a significant investment that can really transform the vibe of your wedding and reception. Tucker thinks there are a few things to consider when contemplating a potential wedding band.
Make Sure What You See is What You Get!
During your process of searching for a wedding band, you’ve probably seen lots of amazing photos and videos of the band members in action. According to The Mighty Untouchable’s Danielle Tucker, one thing to ask your prospective wedding band is: Will the same players on your site play at our wedding?
“One of the most important things to ask a band about is, are the people in their pictures and promo and preview the same musicians they should expect to show up on their day,” says Tucker. The last thing you want is a “bait and switch”, where instead of top-level players you get the B-Team.
Make Sure the Band Can Play Special Song Requests
A band may have an extensive library of songs they can play, but what about special songs for the first dance or father-daughter dance?
“Is the band capable of learning and playing those songs?” says Tucker. “What do they charge to do this? If not, do they have the technology to play an mp3?”
Along those lines, another consideration is song selection. “Most bands arrange the sets because they play what they do best and what works best,” says Tucker. “Some bands allow for requests.”
Songs aside, a band requires unique logistical considerations. For example, a band needs more space and has greater power needs than a DJ.
“Find out how much power they’ll require and find out from the venue if they can supply that,” says Tucker. “Also make sure the distance to the power supply is covered.”
Also, see if your wedding band needs a green room, and find out what their meal requirements are.
As a final checklist of things, Tucker continues: “Things like the amount of time they’ll play, when and if they need breaks, do they MC, do they provide mics for toasts, can they supply ceremony or cocktail hour musicians.”
My Favorite Wedding Bands
Why Book a Wedding DJ?
Choosing the right wedding DJ is an integral part of the wedding planning process. Let’s check in with DJ Matt Phipps to get his take on why you should book a wedding DJ!
Wedding DJs are Versatile
The versatility of a wedding DJ is a very attractive quality to any bride and groom. That versatility is two-fold. First, a DJ acts as an MC for the reception, leading guests and introducing various event throughout the night. But, as Phipps points out, that versatility carries over to the actual setlist as well!
“As a DJ, I often will be playing a set of music, and someone will come up and ask for a song within the same genre,” says Phipps. “I will mix in their request within in a song or two, sometimes even within seconds. The guests feel that this is an interactive process, and they love it.”
Furthermore, DJs can often do what’s called a “speed mix”, which is basically a medley but live and on the spot.
Phipps adds: “Instead of playing a 4-5 minute song, where the guests flee to the dance floor at the beginning, and then by the end of the song are bored and moving over to the bar or to a conversation nearby, we will often play about half that song, before mixing in a NEW song. This keeps things fresh and entertaining for the guests on the dance floor.”
This is the real art of DJ’ing. “You would be hard pressed to find a band that can keep the dance floor moving as much as a DJ,” says Phipps.
A DJ Can Curate a Song List Just for You
Music plays an important role in everyone’s life, even if they aren’t really aware of it.That popular song from high school; those great hits your parents played when you were younger. Everyone has a soundtrack of their life.
A great DJ can really take the time and craft a setlist that captures the essence of you and your partner.
“I often look at what songs were popular during the bride and groom’s high school and college years,” says Phipps. “I’ll throw on a great throwback set to bring in the nostalgia, and then finish strong with some current Top 40, Pop, Rap or EDM, depending on the client’s taste and the audience reaction.”
A Great DJ Can Read a Room
Wedding crowds can be fickle sometimes. And, even though great DJs like Matt Phipps consult their couples for song choices are very prepared, many times song choices falls flat.
“Sometimes, the bride and groom will think that their request list is ideal for their crowd when, in reality, the guests are responding to different selections,” says Phipps.
But, unlike a wedding band, a DJ can read a room and quickly pivot to a different song or musical genre in order to get the crowd going again!
“As a DJ, I can make a really quick change AWAY from an idea that isn’t working as expected,” says Phipps. “With a band, you are bound to your ‘setlist’. Some bands have such a huge repertoire that they are able to [pivot] on some level, but in reality there is not a band in existence that can compete with the massive library that DJs have access to.”
Things to Consider Before Booking a Wedding DJ
There countless articles on the big wedding planning sites that give you a canned list of questions to ask your prospective wedding DJ. Questions like, “Have you ever done a wedding at my venue,” or “Can you help me choose the music for my processional, recessional, father-daughter dance, etc.?”
I find most of the questions superficial, so I asked DJ Matt Phipps for some help in defining some crucial things a couple should look for in a wedding DJ.
Ask to See a Full Video of Your DJ at an Event
According to Matt, one of the most important things a couple should ask for from their prospective DJ is a full video of them performing. After all, it’s easier to sound really great in a few clips, but truly telling if a DJ can sound great over the entire event.
“People would never hire a photographer without seeing their portfolio of work,” says Phipps. “Yet DJs get hired every day just on their word. That’s why I have full recorded weddings from the toast to the last dance on my website.”
Hone in on Their Emceeing Skills
In addition to providing music for your entire wedding, your DJ also acts as the emcee for the evening. From the beginning of the evening when your DJ invites everyone to take their seats, to the “last dance” sign-off, the DJ’s emceeing skills are paramount to your wedding running smoothly.
Do you prefer a DJ who’s on the mic constantly, engaging with the audience? Or, do you prefer someone with a “less is more” approach, only speaking when introducing a toast or a dance?
“There are the traditional DJ’s who do not mix very much, often just slam songs together or fade them but rely more on their personality,” says Phipps. “The jokes they tell, the ‘charisma’ behind the mic…. These DJ’s tend to speak more, and almost have a “game show host” mentality to “hosting” the event.”
Phipps continues: “The more modern wedding DJ’s tend to only say what needs to be said on the microphone. [They] do not make jokes, ad-lib commentary, or give off the impression that [they] are hosting the event. We also tend to… put more focus into the music programming and mixing side of things, rather than the MC’ing side of things. [They] make announcements to keep the guests informed, but do not give off the impression that [they are] “hosting” the event. I feel that when the MC can stay out of the way, the guests can relax more, and have more fun.”