The D.J.-or-Band Debate

Illustration by Dan Park

Let’s get right down to it: Who delivers a better show—a band or a D.J.?
Sozzi: There’s nothing like seeing a live band; it’s like a concert. We literally go into the crowd—at the right moments, so it’s not overkill—and vibe with people, getting them on the dance floor, circling around, singing the biggest hits on the radio.
Fioto: When it’s done right, a D.J. can take a party to another level, but with more flexibility. We can play any song you want, and it will be the original version, which is done the way the producer and writer intended it. We can read a crowd and change the music at any moment, whereas a band is confined to its repertoire.
Winters: A D.J. may sound better by definition, but you don’t get the same human connection that you do with a band. We give it our all with emotion.
Regine: Yeah, but I watch people’s feet tapping under the table and can tell by the way they’re moving where I need to go. D.J.’s are psychoanalysts. When you’ve been spinning from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. at major clubs, where there are a thousand people on a dance floor and the bartenders and waiters are depending on you to pay their bills, you learn tricks.

To Jason’s point though, why hire a band to reinterpret a song when you can just play the original?
Sozzi: We copy the record exactly: the arrangements, the tempo, and the orchestrated medleys. My voice is very versatile!
Fioto: Studio productions create layers of vocals. Why not spend the night listening to songs that sound amazing from the most talented producers out there?
Winters: You can just hear that on the radio in your car!
Fioto: A D.J. is an artist; we’re mixing and blending. We create a soundtrack for the evening with flexibility that a band doesn’t have. A D.J. can play whatever he or she feels like in that moment.
Winters: There is artistry in picking the right songs, but it’s not the same as a keyboardist who has been practicing his craft for fifteen years. The best compliment a band can get is “Damn, you guys played that better than the record.”
Sozzi: I never hear that; I get “I thought it was a D.J. playing.”

Say a couple requests a rare song. Who delivers it better?
Winters: If someone wants Russian or indie music, D.J.’s have unlimited MP3s and CDs. But my philosophy is that if you’re playing the right songs, there aren’t going to be requests.
Sozzi: I’m always prepared, but yeah, if they want a Russian band, I’m not going to sell what we can’t do.
Fioto: If a song came out two days ago, we can play it.
Sozzi: So can we!
Fioto: But you have to get nine people together and make sure you can play it right.
Winters: Actually, a couple can e-mail us a YouTube video of the real band playing the requested song, and our group can learn it within an hour.
Sozzi: Yeah, I have only been stumped one time in ten years over a far-out request. Not to be conceited, but our repertoire is humongous. We had a request for a Grateful Dead song last night and whipped it right out. They say that D.J.’s stole the business, but that’s because some of the bands didn’t stay with the times.
Fioto: I personally love when a band plays a Motown song, because it was originally made for a band. But if I want to hear new music, I am going to hire a D.J.

Are there certain genres that both D.J.’s and bands struggle to play?
Regine: When it comes to hip-hop, bands fall short.
Sozzi: I agree.
Regine: Rappers are lyrical poets; it’s not like singing a Motown song. But bands have an advantage in that they can tone certain music down. I tell couples, “We can only play aggressive rock and rap during the hour after the cake, because at that point we’ve already played stuff for all the generations.”

Seriously, who’s cheesier?
Regine: There’s nothing worse than a band trying to reproduce the Cure. It never sounds right. It’s like, Please don’t do that, you’re killing me. Stop right now.
Fioto: If a couple of vocalists are off-key, you have four hours of awful music. If you don’t like the particular sound of a band, you’re stuck with it all night. Yes, there can be a bad D.J., but at least we can change records.

Emcees can be annoying, too.
Fioto: I only make announcements that need to be made—an introduction, the first dance, speeches, that’s it. I let the music speak for me by playing great song after great song.
Regine: I prefer to be as invisible as possible. The music is what I am pushing, not me. I don’t want a sign or dancers. I don’t like disco lighting. It’s the opposite of a bar mitzvah.

Bands almost always cost more than a D.J. How can a couple on a budget justify the extra expense?
Winters: To make a band more expensive, you add more pieces—horns, extra keyboards, percussion, etc.
Sozzi: I hate that. Agencies sell bigger bands to make more money. Yes, I could sell you 25 people, but the Beatles and the Rolling Stones only had four!

Don’t bands get tired and need breaks? Guests want to hear continuous music.
Fioto: It’s key for your client to constantly see you playing music. I wait to eat after.
Winters: We do the same thing. The full band plays until a course is being served. While you’re eating, you don’t want to hear the drummer bashing; you want to hear the sax, a keyboard player, and a singer doing a Norah Jones, Van Morrison, or Bruno Mars ballad. It should be smooth.
Fioto: So if you feature three people, everyone else takes breaks?
Sozzi: We do rotate, like when the cake comes out, and it feels like a whole new band. A trio performs unplugged songs by Coldplay and Amy Winehouse, but it’s still like being at a concert. People hold up lighters.

So maybe couples should just hire both a band and a D.J.?
Sozzi: That’s ideal. If you want to do a seven-hour party, feature a band during the reception and a D.J. for the after-party. You just need a big budget.
Regine: Not all bands are nice, though. They get the lead on what songs to play because they have a minimal set list. So I come out spinning with a leash around my neck. The D.J. is always working around the band; it’s never the other way around. I’d rather work with bands that have a specialty, like salsa.
Fioto: A really nice balance is having strings for the ceremony, a jazz band for the cocktail hour, and a D.J. for the party. That way, you get the best of every world.

The Details:
When: January 8, 2012
Where: Teqa (443 Third Ave., nr. 31st St.; 212-213-3223)
The Panel:
Dina Regine: The D.J. has held residencies at Webster Hall and Limelight; clients include Keith Richards, the Guggenheim, and Facebook. Prices upon request;
Jason Fioto:The D.J. has held residencies at 1Oak and Marquee; clients include Kelsey Grammer, Esquire, and Louis Vuitton. From $3,000;
Kim Sozzi:The bandleader of Creations has been playing weddings for ten years; clients include Canon, Microsoft, and the Whitney. Prices upon request;
Doug Winters:The bandleader of Doug Winters Music studied with legendary jazz pianist Bob James; clients include Warner Bros., NBC, and the Fresh Air Fund. From $8,000;

The D.J.-or-Band Debate