Band or DJ? How to Pick Your Wedding Music

Minnesota wedding band Dirty Rotten Scoundrels play during a couple's reception.
Which will get your guests boogieing all night long–a live band or DJ?
Written by
Megan McCarty


Fall/Winter 2019

It’s the ultimate modern wedding dilemma: band or DJ? Bands are a remember-this-for-a-lifetime experience, while DJs can keep the energy up with a party-goer personality and a wide range of song selections. The good news is there’s no wrong answer. “Each option gives a different experience, and if you really connect to a group, chances are, so will your guests,” says Eliesa Johnson, photographer at Photogen Inc. in Minneapolis. Just like any other vendor you select, your music choice is going to be a big part of the experience for your guests.

First, decide what kind of energy a band or a DJ will create for you and your guests, says Gretchen Gosnell, Bellagala director of operations. “If you want to dance to songs that remind you of college or your childhood, hiring a DJ is probably the best way to go, as those songs will be played exactly as you remember,” says Gosnell. “If you’re looking to create a more personal and visual atmosphere, a live band would be a great option.”

So how do you possibly decide? We can’t choose for you, but here are some questions to help determine the best fit for you, your guests and your venue.

What kind of vibe do you want?
“While a DJ can read a room and get the party going, a band definitely creates a more interactive environment,” says Sarah Johnson, sales manager of the popular wedding venue Machine Shop in Minneapolis. “The most important element is the interaction and the ability to read the crowd.”

There’s simply nothing like the experience of seeing a live band. The energy of a horn section or a brilliant soloist is guaranteed to rub off on your guests, encouraging everyone from your shy college roommate to your great-aunt Eloise to get down. Plus, a good bandleader can double as a master of ceremonies, interacting with guests and paying close attention to the vibe in the room.

A DJ can fill that MC role too. Hire one with a charismatic personality and a knack for working the crowd, and they can keep the party vibe happening from cocktail hour on. “DJs are skilled at all crowd participation events, whereas some bands don’t know how to orchestrate a bouquet toss, garter throw or an anniversary dance,” says Shawn Plante of Instant Request DJ Entertainment.

Perhaps the best part of hiring a DJ, though, is the vast variety of music he or she can play. A band may not have that little-known song in their repertoire, but chances are a DJ can get their hands on the track. “It’s all personal preference,” says Plante. “If the thought of the songs not sounding like what you hear on the radio bothers you, then a band isn’t a good choice.”

What’s going to get your guests dancing?
“Consider the genre and specialty of the band, versus a DJ that has more variety,” says photographer Melissa Hesse with Rivets and Roses in Minneapolis. “Either way, make sure they play old and new songs to reach all ages at the wedding.” Think Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder, new hits and classic throwbacks, high-energy tunes and slow jams.

As talented as a band may be, their catalogue will inevitably have a more limited track selection than a DJ. “For the couple who think their guests are going to want to dance to every new Top 40 hit, a DJ can have a wider playlist and is capable of last-minute requests during the reception,” says Johnson.

That said, bands bring a sophisticated energy to old (and new!) favorite songs. No matter which option you choose, though, carefully select a “must play” and—perhaps even more importantly—a “do not, under any circumstance, play” list, so that your thinks-he’s-so-funny cousin can’t request “The Macarena.”

How much space do you have?
Have your heart set on a 12-piece band? Your reception venue may put the kibosh on that idea, depending on the length of your guest list and size of their stage.

Discuss with your venue if it has restrictions on the number of musicians or pieces of equipment they may bring in. What’s the electrical power supply situation? Are there any noise or volume limitations? Keep in mind a full band could encroach on the dance floor, while a DJ generally takes up less dancing real estate, depending on how much equipment they bring along.

What’s your budget?
“It’s important to keep in mind that a live band is always more expensive than a DJ, so you’ll need to first figure out if a band would work within your budget,” says Gosnell.

“The cost of a DJ is a fraction of a band,” Plante seconds, adding that, with a band, you also have to take into account extraneous expenses like staging, power, additional venue time charge, food, green rooms and the band bar tab.

Prices can vary by time of year, the length you want them to play, the number of musicians, equipment necessities and day of the week, so consider all those elements when determining which type of entertainment is best for you.

What kind of lighting do they bring?
When shopping for a band or a DJ, another aspect to consider is the stage lighting. Are you more of the subtle-and-elegant type, or do you want a festive, party atmosphere?

“Live bands tend to create a really lively, vibrant dance floor—in part because of the lighting they bring along,” says Eliesa Johnson. “The same goes for DJs when they bring lights, and all of a sudden your dance floor is the greatest club in the city.”

Whoever you choose, be sure to see examples of their set-up to see how it’ll work in your venue.

How do you find a good fit for you?
Our experts generally agree that first-person referrals ensure the best match. “Ask your planner, venue or any other vendor for recommendations of who they have seen or who they have worked with and love,” says Sarah Johnson.

Ideally you can catch your choice, whether a band or a DJ, in action before you commit; that way you can experience for yourself how they interact with a crowd, improvise and dress for the occasion. If that’s not possible, ask to see a video of a public performance or maybe even sit in on a dress rehearsal. If you’re working with a band, be sure that the musicians you’ve seen perform are also the ones performing at your reception.

Newly wedded friends may also have words of wisdom, for better or worse, says Hesse. “Ask other couples who they used, or who they wish they had if they weren't happy with what they went with.”

Ultimately, whether you decide on a band or a DJ, don’t forget the most important part: that you and your new partner in life take advantage of all they have to offer. As Hesse says, “No matter which you choose, make sure you get on the floor and dance!” *

The Best of The Best
Whether you choose a DJ or a live band, there’s endless musical talent in and around the Twin Cities. Here are a few of our favorites:

Adagio Djay Entertainment
Longtime Twin Cities entertainment company that provides both DJs and band musicians. Their popular Jazz Trio/DJ Combo Package combines the best of both live music/DJ worlds.

What doesn’t Bellagala do? Their services include DJs as well as soloists, small groups and full bands.

Minnesota wedding band the Bluewater Kings play at a reception.
Photo by Ali Leigh Photo

BlueWater Kings
This upbeat band considers themselves “music experts, wedding enthusiasts, and party starters.” Yes, yes and yes, please.

Minnesota wedding DJ service Day One DJ performs at a wedding.
Photo by Ali Leigh Photo

Day One DJ
A team of professional (and decidedly not cheesy) DJs who will get the party started.

DJ Digie
Roosevelt Mansfield—AKA DJ Digie—is a self-taught DJ known for both bringing the house down and being a delight to work with.

Minnesota wedding band Northstar performs at a reception.
Photo by Ali Leigh Photo

Elan Artists
A cooperative of DJs and bands, including Northstar, a variety dance band bound to get hips shaking.

The Electric Party Authority
Cover band made up of some of the Twin Cities’ best musicians = guaranteed fun.

Instant Request DJ Entertainment
Experienced wedding professionals who hand-pick a DJ who best suits your style.

The R Factor
A six- to 16-piece band, with over 750 songs to pick from.

Wedding DJ service Rock With U plays at a reception.
Photo by Eliesa Johnson, Photogen Inc.

Rock With U
Innovative entertainment company that offers opportunities for mixing DJ and live music.

The Sevilles
Don’t be surprised if this beloved variety band leads a conga line on the dance floor or persuades guests to join in on Motown choreography.

Can perform a little something for everyone, from the latest hits to ’70s disco to your dad’s favorite swing song.