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Sound of (Wedding) Music

The right band or DJ can help your reception hit all the right notes.

From the start of the cocktail hour to the rousing last-call finale, music has the power to set the tone of your reception. Mellow jazz during the dinner hour allows your guests to chat and mingle; blast an ’80s dance hit at the midnight hour and watch a crowd flock to the dance floor. Conversely, play the wrong mix and guests could stay glued to their seats. “Music makes or breaks the night,” says recent bride Jennifer Landy of Maple Grove. “It determines whether people stay and dance or go home early.”

There’s more to creating the perfect sound than simply plugging in your iPod for the evening. “When people come to your reception they’re looking for entertainment,” says Amy Jo Williams, client services manager of Bellagala in Saint Paul. A band or disc jockey not only adds an element of entertainment and interactivity, it ensures that someone else—an experienced professional—will honor your musical tastes and tailor the tunes to your crowd’s mood. “Good DJs and band leaders have learned the art of reading the room,” says Mike Macken, president and founder of Macken Music & Entertainment Agency in Minneapolis.

In fact, a small but growing number of area brides are hiring both a band and a DJ for their event. At Bellagala, for example, about 20 percent of clients who hire a DJ also choose live entertainment. At Sally Wood and Patrick Hoover’s October 2007 wedding, a five-piece jazz band played during the cocktail hour and dinner, and a DJ handled the rest. They found that the combination satisfied the couple’s music-loving families while also offering a measure of familiarity. “We were able to create a play list of the music we wanted to hear,” says Wood.

Even Mike Edberg, owner of DJ company Sounds Great in Mendota Heights, had both a band and a DJ at his February 2006 wedding. Having a band “was different,” he says. “People didn’t expect it. It added a fun touch.”

Sound money
Splurging on both a band and a DJ might be ideal, but it may not be a realistic budget option for many couples. It’s no secret that DJs are the more affordable option. According to Mike Macken, booking a DJ usually costs around $600 and up, while a band’s rate starts at $1,500 and goes up from there, depending on how many members are in the band and other factors. Also remember that DJs and band members should be included in your catering head count (after three-plus hours of singing or spinning tunes, they’ll be hungry too!), which adds to the expense.

Still, live music is a must for many couples. Landy says that the first planning request her fiancé made was to hire the Sevilles, a popular and versatile dance band. The couple cut costs in other areas—forgoing a fancy cake and decorative chair covers, and making their own invitations—so the group could play at their wedding.

Where + when
Your reception date will also factor into your musical decision. In-demand bands may be booked as much as a year in advance, and if you think you’ll want the band to learn a lengthy list of songs, they’ll need several months, says Williams of Bellagala.

Your venue may play a role as well. When Kristin Holt of Saint Paul was researching reception spaces for her June 2006 wedding, she found that some area restaurants weren’t equipped to handle bands. And though most venues that cater to special events can comfortably accommodate both bands and DJs, make sure there’s ample space for large performance groups and instruments such as drums and keyboards. “We’ve had to modify our live music to fit certain venues,” Williams says, adding with a chuckle, “You’d better have the James J. Hill (Reference) Library booked for the Bellagala Big Band!” The band has 13 to 16 members at any given time.

Don’t automatically rule out live entertainment if your event space is on the intimate side, though. Smaller bands may not take up any more space than a DJ’s equipment.

Customization is the current wedding craze, and there’s no reason your band or DJ shouldn’t say something about you and your relationship. “It’s important that everything you plan for your wedding day somehow reflects who you are and what you believe in,” says James Borden, president of Musicians Unlimited Inc. in Saint Paul. When Holt and her fiancé were dating, they loved going to hear cover band Orange Whip, so hiring them for their reception was a natural choice.

For recent bride Heather Paciotti of Minneapolis, a DJ was a better fit. “I don’t like covers; sometimes people ruin them,” she says. “I prefer to hear the music by the original artists.”

One compromise (aside from hiring both) is to play recorded music—specific songs or genres the band doesn’t cover—during band breaks. That way your techno-loving guests won’t miss their favorite tunes just because a big band was swinging most of the night.

You can also choose the level of interactivity, with both bands and DJs. Many DJ services allow couples to specify “do not play” lists, as well as rate how vocal (or not) they’d like their DJ to be with between-song patter. Such details eliminate the “cheesy DJ” fear that haunts many brides, says Bellagala’s Williams. Bandleaders can also tone their acts down or ramp them up. “It isn’t unusual to say, ‘For the first hour we want the band to be low-key on volume and stage presence,’” Macken says. “The bandleader won’t be offended. Whether you’re a DJ or a band, you’re driven by what the couple wants.”

What couples want, not surprisingly, is a great party. Both bands and DJs can deliver, and ensure that your guests have a great time, which is music to your ears.

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