There are pros and cons to both.
four person wedding band The Strikes
Credit: Laura Gordon

Choosing between a live band or a DJ for your reception is a big decision; after all, music sets the tone for the evening, brings guests together on the dance floor, and keeps the party going. But how does having pre-recorded versus live music impact the ceremony? Does hiring live musicians make for a more intimate event, or will a playlist of music you love be able to provide the same experience? To help you decide which is right for your ceremony, we went straight to the experts. Here, two wedding planners share their opinions on both live and pre-recorded ceremony music to help you decide which way to go.

Consider the Ambience You Want to Create

If you want a traditional, elevated ceremony, live music might be what you're looking for, says Sarah Kazemburg, owner of Sarah Kazemburg Events & Styling. "Live music generally creates a more elegant ambience," she says. And when it comes to choosing the live music that feels most representative of who you and your soon-to-be spouse are as a couple, you have a lot of options. In fact, there's a wide range of instruments-some of the more common ones being a harpist, violinist, keyboard, guitarist, and flautist-to choose from. If you want a super traditional feel, hire a string trio; if you're looking for something a little more relaxed, an acoustic guitarist is a nice option. Whichever instrument you choose, advises Vanna Van Oss, founder of Blue Sparrow Events, make sure that the musician you hire is experienced in playing at wedding ceremonies.

Remember That Budget Is a Factor

A string quartet, which consists of four musicians, can range from $500 to $2,000, and often has a minimum time requirement of a couple hours. If budget is tight, and having a live musician isn't at the top of your priority list, Kazemburg says that working with a DJ for the ceremony music might help you save. "I don't think it takes away from the experience," she adds, but it's important to remember that if your venue doesn't have a pre-existing sound system, any vendor will have to bring in speakers and mics, which will cost money, too.

With that being said, if you're hiring a DJ for the reception, you'll find that most include a ceremony option in their packages, or you can pay a couple hundred dollars extra for him to set up a table and speakers around the room at the ceremony to ensure your music is high-quality and timed correctly for transitions, which can at times go over more smoothly than song transitions with live music, says Van Oss. But if you really want to have a live music element at the wedding and can't afford a full band for the reception, hiring a solo musician for the ceremony is a good compromise and a more affordable option, says Van Oss.

Consider the Layout of Your Venue

If space is limited and you're squeezing in chairs for guests, you're better off having pre-recorded music, as a trio or string quartet will most likely need space for chairs and instruments, says Kazemburg. Just make sure your DJ has a high-quality sound system and is setting up speakers around the venue, particularly if it's outdoors, so all guests can adequately hear the music over any unavoidable noises. It's also important to note that some live musicians have restrictions on what weather conditions or temperatures they'll play in if the ceremony is outside. Check their policy on charging extra fees for weather changes.

If Budget Allows, Have Both

If you can swing it, a mix of pre-recorded and live music can really wow your guests. During one of Van Oss's weddings, the DJ played pre-recorded music for the processional, while the wedding party walked down the aisle, and a bluegrass band surprised everyone with "What a Wonderful World" for the bride. "It was really unique and special," she says.


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