When Jennifer Raznick and Brad Morganstern of Melville got engaged while on vacation in Vermont, the first calls they made were to family and close friends to share the good news. The next was to Faze 4 Orchestras.
The couple had heard the Original Faze 4 play at several friends' weddings, loved the band's approach and knew it would be an essential part of their big day. "We called them the night we got engaged -- it was important enough to us," Jennifer says. "The bandleader answered the phone -- we said, 'We're getting married next fall. When are you free?' "
The stars aligned, and the Original Faze 4 provided the soundtrack for the pair's October 2011 wedding at Fresh Meadows Country Club in Lake Success, with the full 12-piece ensemble playing a mix of Motown and top-40 hits. What most impressed Jennifer was that the band updated its repertoire as quickly as the changing iTunes chart.
"There were songs I asked them about and they said, 'Oh that was so three months ago,' " she recently recalled. "They were learning songs that were big the week of . . . . They were awesome."
First comes the location, then the dress, the menu and the flowers. But music shouldn't be an afterthought. Arguably, the most important parts of a wedding revolve around catchy tunes. "It's what drives so much of the buzz, energy and memories," says Rob Principe, chief executive of Scratch Weddings, a New York-based company that boasts a large roster of marquee DJs available for private events around the country.
Whether it's a band or DJ is less important than choosing the best fit for your fete. Though budget may be a major factor -- plan on about $8,000 to $11,000 for band, $1,700 to $2,100 for a DJ -- personal preference is what matters. A bride and groom planning a black-tie bash for 300 may feel that a band better fills the formal ballroom, while a club-hopping couple may prefer a DJ's master mix at their intimate rooftop reception. Either choice can work in nearly every situation.
When booking a DJ, Principe says, try to determine his skill level: Can he mix music effectively? Read the crowd? Build energy throughout the night? And use the right equipment? Also, look for someone who sharpened his skills at nightclubs, corporate events, festivals and tours that may have more discerning audiences than your cousins.
It's also important to make sure the DJ understands your musical tastes: Talk about the first concert you went to, what tunes are in heavy rotation on your iPod and what decades you love, whether it's '90s grunge or '70s disco. One benefit of a mix master is the ability to create a seamless, high-energy set -- a true expert on the turntables is a performance in itself. "A DJ has a set list of 10,000 songs, where bands might not have that range," Principe says. "It's the ability to read a crowd and get in and out of a song strategically -- a band can't cut out of a song after the first verse."
Bands have their own strengths. A good bandleader also can act as master of ceremonies who knows when to dim the lights, serve the next course, or play slower songs so people can catch their breath. And the right band can make a Billy Joel or Frank Sinatra song sound just as good as the real thing. "Brides are a little suspect of a band's ability to sound like the artist -- it's our goal to make the song sound as real as possible," says Bob Forman, president of Faze 4 Orchestras, based in Great Neck. "It's just engaging the guests without being over the top, so when they leave they say they had a great time."
Beware of a few music no-no's, including playing songs your guests just won't get. If you love swing music but most of your celebrants are barely out of college, mix in a few swing numbers, but don't make a whole night of it. Similarly, Forman says, non-dance music like Phish or Metallica doesn't work for a wedding. "If people aren't dancing, the wedding is not going to be a success. I have to talk couples out of crazy things they have on their iPod. Maybe we can play them as listening music when people are eating dinner." If you do have special song requests, mention it at the time of booking -- not the week before the wedding.
And if you can't decide, consider a combo of live and canned. "Some bands offer DJs that will play during dinner, or an in-house DJ within the band who will spin while the band is taking a break, so you get the best of both worlds," says event planner Michael Russo, who coordinates weddings from Long Island to California.
Today, many parties mix DJ music with a live accompanist, like an acoustic guitar or electric violin player. Principe said he's also had couples come in for DJ lessons, so they can surprise everyone with a bit of their own spinning.
At Jennifer and Brad's party, the band got the crowd going with a bongo player who let everyone, including the bride and groom, take a turn on the drum. Jennifer was thrilled at how much her 220 celebrants enjoyed it, "Whether it's a band or DJ," she says, "if you have a fun crowd and the people are happy, it's always a blast."
The wedding hit parade
To get your guests to show they can move like Jagger, play one of the top 10 dance-worthy wedding songs of the summer, selected by the top DJs at Scratch Weddings:
1. Starships, Nicki Minaj
3. Turn Up the Music, Chris Brown
4. We Are Young, Fun
5. We Found Love, Rihanna
6. Feel So Close, Calvin Harris
7. Somebody That I Used to Know (remix), Goyte
8. Glad You Came, The Wanted
9. How Will I Know We Found Love (DJ Joshu Ra mashup), Rihanna / Whitney Houston
10. Animal, R.I.O.