There is a right tool for every job. While a DJ is definitely a viable option for certain events, a wedding reception is a project of a major scale that calls for entertainment solutions of the corresponding caliber. In most cases, a DJ alone will not be sufficient, as playing records always lacks the live energy and the stage presence of a live band, let alone the unmatched flexibility of the latter. In my practice, there have been dozens of situations where the band was asked to accompany an impromptu performance by one of the guests. Clearly, this is something no DJ is capable of doing. Besides, the very nature of his job limits a DJ's ability to communicate with the audience, as he is attached to his booth and therefore cannot actively interact with the crowd to ensure everyone's participation - a duty of outmost importance carried out by a live band's front man. On the other hand, a DJ often proves himself invaluable as a part of an entertainment group, where his main responsibilities are to play EDM-type music for the younger segment of the crowd and to fill in during the band's breaks to keep the party going and to avoid the "dead air" effect. Thus, including a DJ into an entertainment package along with a live band gives the couple and their guests the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Ideally, the band should be one of the first things to be booked immediately after setting the date. The reason is quite simple: of all the components involved in a wedding, music will have the biggest impact on setting the overall mood and emotion of the day. The sooner you start shopping for a band, the better your chances to book a great variety band that will literally make your party. If you have already booked a venue, the band leader will want to familiarize himself with the premises and figure out logistics. Under certain circumstances it can be quite a lengthy process, so the more time you allow the band leader to accomplish the task, the better. In any case, one month prior to your wedding day should be considered the absolute minimum required to guarantee a trouble-free performance.
Depending on the duration of the event, the band's line-up, and many other factors, the price can be anything from $300 (solo piano) to $10,000 and up. A full-scale production with premium sound equipment, lighting, dance show etc. can cost up to a few hundred thousand dollars. One thing to be aware of is a quote that looks too good to be true. Imagine a full-time professional musician playing every night (which is quite impossible) at the rate of $100 per engagement. This is $36,500 annually, without holidays and day-offs. Subtract what is spent on instruments, equipment, maintenance, gas etc. and you will agree that no one in their right mind would want this kind of job. Thus, if a band leader is quoting you something like $2,000 for a 5-piece band, it can only mean that music is not what these guys do for a living, and this should give you a clear idea of what kind of quality to expect. The main factors that will determine the overall cost of your band are as follows:
You're very likely to be asked for a security deposit. A widely recognized standard in the wedding industry is 25-50% of the total fee agreed upon. Most of the time, a professional band will require a non-refundable deposit. Some bands may agree to return your deposit if they were able to book another gig for the same date on similar terms, but this is rather atypical.
Much like riding a bus which only goes from point A to point B compared to a car which can go to any destination, there is a vast difference between a band which will not budge on a preset song list and one which will be able to perform the couple's favorite songs. It makes no sense to hire a band that won't accommodate your special requests. If they cannot play any song you want (within reasonable limits, of course), they have no business working weddings. The most common problem in the wedding music market is that the vast maiority of the bands, even the professional ones, often limit their repertoire to a certain style they like best, such as R&B, rock, alternative/punk etc. This approach doesn't take into account the simple fact that amongst the guests there will be people of different ages, backgrounds, and interests, and that the ultimate goal of a wedding band is to entertain the guests and to cater to their needs, not to those of the band members. This is why it's paramount to make sure that the band you choose is comfortable with playing a broad range of music. Having said that, it's always a good idea to discuss any special requests with the band leader in advance, so that the band has enough time to prepare. In most cases, a 2-4 week notice will suffice. In my practice, it is customary to meet the couple a month or so prior to the Big Day to discuss the fine details, such as processional/recessional music, cocktail hour repertoire, 1st dance, parents/children dance, any special requests and so on. It is also worthy of mentioning that special requests should be kept to the minimum, thus allowing the band leader to promptly react to any fluctuations in the audience's mood by playing the songs he sees fit at any given moment. It therefore makes little sense for the couple to micromanage the band's performance by compiling detailed song lists. In fact, in many cases it's a sure recipe for disaster. The band should reflect the musical tastes of the newlyweds, but it is equally important to accommodate the guests in order to ensure a successful event which nobody leaves early. As far as the size of the band is concerned, there's no simple answer. Often times, the size of a band is dictated by the venue. If the stage measures 8'x4', there's no way it will accommodate an 8-piece band. On the other hand, if you throw a party for 500 guests, this calls for a band much larger than a trio or quartet, unless you want the splendor of your reception to be irreversibly lost. This is one of the reasons it is advisable to first book your perfect band and then find a suitable facility. If the band size appears to be a critical factor, it is best to search by this criterion from the very beginning. Most bands have a permanent line-up where every musician has a well-defined role. Even if a band leader agrees to modify the line-up, this will likely compromise the overall performance quality. Some companies maintain several bands of different sizes. This is more expensive and, as a result, the price you pay for the smaller band will be comparable to that of a larger "independent" band. At the end of the day, you will find that the difference in price is rather insignificant compared to what is spent on the ballroom, food etc. If you really like a certain band, I suggest that you take it as is and enjoy the show.
It never hurts to hear a band before booking it. However, this is more of a luxury and not always possible. It is highly unlikely that a truly professional band will allow you to attend another couple's wedding. Most people frown upon having uninvited guests at their private event, and wedding industry professionals are expected to respect that and act accordingly. Ask your contact to inform you about the band's upcoming public performances. Inquire about the possibility of arranging a showcase. See if they have a video from their past performances. I personally suggest asking the band leader for recommendations from past clients. Many of them will gladly talk to you and share their experience.
Entertaining your guests is very hard, although often under-appreciated work. It seldom occurs to an outside observer how much effort has to be put into setting up and tuning the equipment before the reception starts, into performing during the event, and into breaking down the set after it's over. Often times, the band members will spend ten hours or more on the premises, making sure the smallest detail of your event is taken care of. One cannot expect a great performance from a group of exhausted and hungry people. Therefore, a band must take a 10-15 minute break after every hour of performance, and one 30-minute meal break - normally during the time when the main course is served. It's always a good idea to set up a separate table for the band away from the rest of the crowd, so that the musicians can catch their breath and grab a bite without interfering with the guests. The rule of thumb is, take good care of the band, and the band will take good care of you!
First and foremost, if you are serious about making your event a success that will be long remembered, you should only consider hiring a professional band. This means that hobbyists or a garage band must not be your first, second, or even third choice. You would not entrust your health to a person who merely "dabbles" in medicine. When you require medical attention you go to a healthcare professional. The same is true for your reception, especially because it is a one-shot deal. You've spent a small fortune on the venue, catering, floral arrangements, decor etc., but it won't keep your guests' attention for more than a few minutes. What is going to happen next depends entirely on the musicians and the MC. You won't be given a second chance with your wedding reception, so choose wisely!
Here are some things to consider when shopping for a wedding band:
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