Choosing Entertainment at the Reception

Photo: S. Strine Photography

Photo: S. Strine Photography

Choosing the right music for your reception is essential to creating the perfect atmosphere on your special day. Of course, you have to like the music, but you also want your guests to feel relaxed, included, and ready to celebrate. Would a band or a DJ best set the mood you want to create? And after you’ve made your choice, how do you make sure your guests are up and dancing until the very last song? Here are some points to consider:

Wedding Bands:
Hiring a band can be an amazing way to improve your reception. Live music energizes crowds and gets people moving. The sound quality provided by a band will likely be superior to that provided by a DJ. And if you are having a theme wedding, an appropriate band can complete the experience (think musicians playing ukuleles at a Hawaiian-themed or beach wedding). Live music can make a wedding day truly memorable and one-of-a kind.

A band, however, may not be the ideal choice for your special day. For the same reason a band is a great choice for a theme wedding—it plays a particular sound especially well—a band may not work well at other types of weddings. For instance, some bands can only play one sound; they find it challenging to change genres or they are simply unable to do so. If you are trying to accommodate the musical tastes of multiple generations of guests, this may be a problem. 

Even if your band is skilled and can change styles of music with ease, the band members will need to stop for breaks. When the band stops playing, the feeling of the event will shift, even if the band puts on recorded music while on break. Consider your comfort with this shift in energy and possibly even in style of music.

You will also need to consider your budget. Hiring a wedding band is often more expensive than hiring a DJ. With the typical cost of hiring a band anywhere from $2,000 to upwards of $20,000, you will need to decide if this expense is the best use of your wedding budget.

If your reception venue is relatively small and indoors, live music may overpower the reception and make it difficult for guests to visit with each other. In this case, a DJ may be your best choice.

For the frequently lower cost or hiring a DJ, you will have access to the DJ’s library of thousands of songs. Not only will you get to choose your favorites, you will also be able to hand-select music that your guest will enjoy. And given that DJs can play without breaks, the fun that the music brings can go on uninterrupted. If musical versatility and non-stop energy are important to you, hiring a DJ may be the best way to go.

DJs often play at weddings. Though experience can make a DJ amazing to work with, the opposite can also be true. A DJ may have a routine down so well that she comes across as bored and uninspired. In the worst case, a DJ may ignore your stated preferences entirely.

To minimize the risk of this happening to you, meet with any DJ that you are considering. Judge how open your potential DJ is to putting together a playlist just for you. Does she seem genuinely enthusiastic about pleasing you, or does she just want to stick to an established routine? If possible, try to see the DJ in action before making a final decision.

This is not advice to crash a wedding! Just ask where and when the DJ will be playing a wedding at a public place (such as a hotel ballroom), stop by, and peek in. It will only take a few minutes, but it could save you lots of regret.

Once you have made your decision either to go with a band or with a DJ, here are some tips to keep your guests moving and grooving throughout your celebration:

• Know your audience. Insist that your band or DJ play what would most entertain your guests, rather than what has been most popular with the guests of other weddings.

• Know that variety is important. It is impossible to please everyone with each song, so play enough variety that people are inspired to keep dancing, anyway. You want your guest to think that even though this song isn’t one of their favorites, there is a good chance that the next song will be, so why sit down?

• Play music from older generations, mixed with current music, earlier in the reception. This will give older guests, who tend to leave earlier than other guests do a chance to enjoy themselves. It will also give younger guests a chance to warm up for later in the party, when you will likely only be playing today’s music.

• Recruit your wedding party to get out on the dance floor early. Traditionally, dancing does not start until after the cutting of the cake, but trends are changing. At some weddings, dancing now starts right after the main course. This early start gives reluctant dancers time to ease into the spirit of the celebration and eventually get out of their seats.

• Ask for opinions. On your wedding invitation response cards, ask guest to list their favorite dance songs. Not only will guests be more likely to get up and dance when they hear that song played, but they will also feel included in your considerations.