Live Music vs. Recorded Music: Which Is Right for Your Event?

Written by
Published on
April 13, 2020

Almost every event incorporates music in some way. Whether you hire music to fill a dance floor or merely play something in the background, the right music can turn a forgettable event into a powerful experience.

When it comes to choosing music for your event, you have two options: live music vs. recorded music. They each have advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we’re going to help you decide which is right for your event.

Event Type

The first thing you should consider is the type of event you’re hosting, and the role music will play. This will help you decide how much of your budget should be devoted to music, which will influence your decision of recorded music vs. live music.

For example, if you are hosting a networking event for IT professionals, you probably want some music in the background, but don’t expect your guests to engage with it much. In this case, it would be a waste of money to hire a live band. Instead, it makes more sense to play recorded music softly through the venue's sound system.

But if you’re hosting a block party, music may be the main attraction. You probably expect a lively dance floor. So it makes sense to hire a band that can bring a lot of energy to the event.

The type of music you play can also influence the ambiance of your event. A string quartet introducing the bride makes the event feel classy and upscale. A jazz or rock band dancing on stage creates energy and encourages other people to dance.

Reliability and Spontaneity

Recorded music is entirely reliable. You know exactly what you’ll get when you hit play. There won’t be any mistakes or problems unless your hardware fails. If it’s important that you know what you’ll hear, go with recorded music.

Live music, however, has room for error. A musician can play poorly, forget the lyrics, or choose to improvise, all of which could ruin the experience for your guests. But they can also blow your guests away with an unbelievable performance. It’s hard to predict.

But in some cases, you may want spontaneous music. If your audience likes improvisation, interaction with the band, or the occasional zany cover song, live music could be right for your event. In fact, many people say they prefer the occasional slip-up because it makes the music feel more authentic and engaged.

Equipment and Space

Live music vs recorded music

A live band requires a lot of equipment to create music. They’ll bring instruments, microphones, amplifiers, speakers, stands to hold their equipment, and dozens of heavy plastic cases. A drum kit has at least five pieces, but many drummers have up to 20. A guitarist may need three or four guitars.

All of that equipment means the band needs more space to set up and store whatever they aren’t using at a given moment. Oh, and don’t forget that a band is made of people who can’t stand on top of each other, so you’ll have to dedicate space for them to perform.

Recorded music requires almost nothing in terms of equipment and space. A DJ can cram himself into a corner. If you’re going super low budget, a smartphone with Spotify can stream from your pocket.

Before you hire a music provider, ask them how much space they need to perform their service. Have them meet you at the venue and show you where they will set up, or ask for a diagram with measurements.


Hiring a live music provider takes a bit of work. You have to find a few bands who meet your needs and see them perform (if they perform on your schedule) or have them perform just for you (which is time-consuming). Watching one of their YouTube videos isn't sufficient. You have to be in the room while they perform to feel it.

Once you choose a live music provider, you have to work with them on the setlist. Since their library is limited to what they know or what they could learn before your event, you will probably have to make some compromises. This isn't a big deal if you are looking for something simple like background jazz, but it can be a significant problem if you want the band to play modern, popular music.

Recorded music providers are easier to hire because they don’t need to perform as much (unless you want the DJ to really work the crowd) and their libraries are unlimited. In fact, unlike live music providers, you can often hire the same DJ for different kinds of events.


Live music vs recorded music

When you hire a band, you're limited to the music they know how to play. They may know how to play a lot of songs, but their library is nowhere near as extensive as a DJ or a streaming platform. Even if the band knows a lot of music, those songs usually revolve around the same category. If any of your guests have seen that band before, there’s a good chance they’ll hear the same act.

If you play recorded music at your event, you can access nearly any song that's ever been recorded. Your library is virtually unlimited.

That said, a band is usually quite familiar with the songs they know how to play. This means they can insert unique elements, interact with the crowd in the middle of the song, or add their own spin on it. This can make the music feel more authentic, like it was made just for the crowd.


As an event planner, you know how important it is to build relationships with your vendors. A long, healthy relationship makes it easier to negotiate deals and work with the vendor on event day. Plus you can save a lot of money if you use the same vendor often.

Those same benefits apply to your music provider as well. If you use the same DJ ten times in a year, it probably makes sense to use him for your eleventh event too, even if you would otherwise hire a live band. You already know the vendor is reliable, puts on a good show, and charges a fair price. And you know the vendor will do a great job because they want to maintain the relationship too.


As usual, cost is the biggest and most impactful variable. It’s important that you don’t overspend. Stick to your budget so the event is a financial success.

Unless you’re hiring a big-name DJ, live music will almost always cost more than recorded music. There are more people to pay and more equipment to buy and maintain. The band will spend more time setting up and breaking down than a DJ would. You’ll probably also need to feed the whole band.

That doesn’t mean a DJ is necessarily cheap, however. There are many DJs these days who put on quite a show. They have popular brands and bring their own followers to your event (if it’s open to the public). But in most cases, a local DJ with basic emcee skills will be cheaper than live music.


With the popularity of music streaming platforms, some event organizers are opting to play music right from their phone or tablet. This has the potential to save a lot of money, but it means you or someone on your team we'll have to build a playlist and monitor the app during your event.

Choosing and organizing the right music is an art form, so we normally recommend leaving it to a professional unless you are intimately familiar with your audience and the music they like. Keep in mind that if your guests learn that you have full control of the music, you will be inundated with requests. Be prepared to fulfill the request or deny everybody.

Which Is Right for Your Event?

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of the differences between live and recorded music. Generally speaking, recorded music is cheaper but less engaging. Live music is engaging and interactive, but more expensive and harder to manage.

But ultimately, the decision is up to you. We can't make it for you. Don't feel pressured to choose one or the other. Go with the option that's right for your event, your guests, and your budget.

Learn how to run the perfect event with our free email course

Packed with great tips on how to organize events that engage your attendees. The course is short, actionable and super interesting to implement on your event!

By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Conditions.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.