If there’s one task that’s actually kind of fun in the wedding-planning process, it’s deciding on the music to accompany your nuptials. This decision can make or break the reception no matter how good a deal you got for those centerpieces. With the right planning, you’ll have an amazing soundtrack that establishes the atmosphere of your ceremony, clues people in to what’s happening next, and even gets the wallflowers to dance.
Below is a comprehensive guide to wedding music with all the questions you have to ask yourself, when you should hire professionals, and, of course, how much they’ll cost.
Should I have a wedding band or DJ play at my wedding?
This is a pivotal question as DJs have firmly established themselves as a legitimate alternative to the traditional wedding band.
With both options viable (and you could have both), it all comes down to what you want to hear— all your favorite hits available at your fingertips or a live performance that is less familiar but potentially more dynamic.
Also ask yourself which would work best with your wedding’s theme; a black-tie event might be better served by a live quintet performing with actual instruments than a DJ spinning the newest pop hits.
How much does a DJ cost?
Budget is always a huge factor in deciding between a DJ and a band. Generally, a DJ is cheaper, though neither is considered to be cheap. Most credible acts have expanded beyond a laptop and speakers to include special effects equipment like a fog machine, strobe lights and confetti; all of which exacerbate their price. Rates also vary depending on your wedding’s location, your DJ’s experience, how long you expect them to perform, and the level of expertise, from ceremony to reception.
In Brooklyn, New York, most DJs range from $500 to $5,000, with some charging upwards of $7,000 depending on whether you expect a simple DJ or a full-on performance artist. But let’s say you live Astoria, Oregon, not Queens (you know, where they filmed the Goonies). Expect rates in the 97103 to stoop to around $100 to $600. A good DJ can read the room and foretell the appropriate atmosphere as the day plays out. Most DJs provide their own audio/visual equipment and some even have their own lighting, photo booths, and other special effects equipment. In short, it’s all about the package you purchase.
How much does a wedding band cost?
An average wedding band in the U.S is priced around $4,500, ranging from $2,850 to $6,488. If you’re sticking with a traditional wedding band, there are a number of factors to consider when estimating a cost: the size of the venue, whether it has a PA system available on site, how many members there are and how far they’ll have to travel, and which songs are already in their repertoire. Prices drop with a smaller band but do increase the longer you’d like them to play. Many charge overtime pay, which can range from $450 to $775 per hour. When booking a band, be very clear on how long you want them to be there so you don’t pay more than you’d like to.
When should I book a DJ?
We recommend hiring your music pro at least eight months before your wedding day. You will likely meet with them at least once before your wedding date, probably two to six weeks beforehand, to discuss your playlist, your timeline, what they wear, if they get to eat, and maybe some songs you want them to learn in time for the wedding (this is common).
How do I find a wedding band that fits my tastes?
First, have you been to a wedding recently? Was there a band playing? Were they good? Ask the couple or hosts: they can refer you. Also ask your wedding planner, as they often work with the same bands year after year and may know the perfect fit for your wedding theme. Ask friends and family if they could suggest a band. You can also work with an entertainment agency; just search for an agency near you and select from the litany of artists they provide.
As far as what musical genre you want to hear at a wedding, remember that the purpose of the music is to help your guests have a good time, not just to satisfy your own tastes in music. Maybe you’re the type that would love to have a Spacemen 3 cover band shell out several hours of minimal psychedelic rock before breaking their guitars over the buffet tables in an expression of anarchy. But your in-laws prefer Black Flag. Make sure you all agree on the music beforehand.
When looking at potential bands, find out what songs they know and how many of them appear on your “must play list.” The number will probably be pretty high: most working wedding bands maintain a large repertoire in multiple styles.
If a band doesn’t know a certain song you really want to be played, ask them to learn it—this is usually expected of wedding bands. And rule of thumb: if half or more of the band plays the ukulele, run in the opposite direction as fast as possible.
Couples can also find specialty groups that focus on a specific genre or era of music such as Motown or ‘80s new wave. But be wary of cover bands; a tribute band to The Cure can sound many different waves—make sure you’re celebrating a wedding day, not providing a space for a live art exhibition that might possibly pierce your ears.
Should I book the band early?
Experts agree that booking a wedding band is one of the first priorities in the planning process. Couples often decide to get married, lock in a wedding budget, pick the venue, and then choose the band. This means booking a group nine to 12 months in advance, sooner than you would a DJ due to the size and scale of the act. You’ll also need to decide if you want the same group for your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception, or if you’d rather hire different people for different portions of the day.
Once you make contact with them, ask if they have any upcoming shows. Go and see the kind of atmosphere they cater to and how they interact with the crowd so that you have a better idea of how they’d fit. If they don’t have an upcoming show, ask for a video—just confirm that the performers in that video are the same ones who will be performing at your wedding.
What are some questions I should ask the potential band I want to book?
Watch how they interact and observe any obvious habits they might have. You want to walk away from the interview confident that you picked a band that cares just as much as you do in making sure your big day runs smoothly. If you can’t think of what to ask, here are some questions to help you get started:
- What are the band’s favorite songs to perform?
- What’s your playlist? Will you work with us on the song list?
- How many band members are available?
- Do you have any videos or demos of previous weddings you’ve
- What type of wardrobe do you wear to perform?
- Do you provide ceremony and cocktail hour music?
- How many breaks will the band take and what will play when
they’re on a break?
- How many hours are included and what are your costs? Are there
- Do you have any specialty groups or songs the band can play?
- Do you perform at more than one event a day?
- Will someone in the band act as the emcee?
- Do you offer any additional entertainment services?
Review the contract. Make sure the dates, fees, and general expectations match what you have in mind. Ensure that the band’s name and members are listed and required to actually be present and agree to the instrumentation/personnel that will be included in the price. Make sure a payment schedule with a cancellation clause is present in the contract because that specifies how deposit and balance payments are going to work.
Can we book multiple bands?
The simple answer: if you have the budget, this is totally acceptable. Many couples book more than one band to play at different events, given that they want to set a different tone for each. Have designated times and stages laid out carefully for both the bands so that any confusion that can arise is mitigated. In fact, you can save money going this route: if you want to hire that high-energy, high-price tag band, don’t book them the whole time. We’re sure they will be great immediately after the ceremony, but after five hours we don’t need another round of ragtime. Hire a second band that may be more minimal and cheaper to see out your wedding night.
What are some ways we can save on the wedding music?
Here are some ways to curb the costs of the wedding music:
- Have a shorter set. You’ll lower costs if the DJ is only needed for certain parts of the day or if the venue already has a DJ system. You can also hire a DJ for a few hours to soundtrack the dance party part of the reception and create playlists for the cocktail hour and dinner, or have a talented friend do a live performance of a few favorite songs as a wedding gift.
- Be selective with your special effects. If a fog machine or certain lighting are important to you, go for it. If not, skip it and stick to the standard package.
- Hire a less experienced DJ or band, but note that this one can be a risk. Hiring a newer DJ or band can reduce your price, but may also mean they’re using your wedding as a trial run.
Where do I find a good DJ?
Start online by Googling listings for reputable DJs in your area, with filters to search for some that are near you and within your price range. Even Yelp has reviews of DJs, though tread carefully and judge with your own opinion.
If neither of those options work, ask around. DJs are a pretty common form of late-night entertainment nowadays, and their purview extends well past just weddings. DJs perform at birthday parties, festivals, nightclubs, and even the occasional Potbelly on Sunday mornings. Hell, you might have a close friend or longtime acquaintance who just recently began their DJ career and may need a jumpstart.
I’m fine with running the music myself. What’s some wedding-appropriate music to play?
We’re glad you asked: we have a whole section devoted to the subject, with song suggestions for every moment of the day, tools to help you organize your playlist, and lots of advice on what to avoid. We’re also on Spotify.
Running the music yourself is always an option, but we’d recommend you delegate this to one of your groomsmen. You’ll have other things to worry about on your wedding day and figuring out how to get everyone out on the dance floor shouldn’t be one of them.