I’ve been playing in live bands for years now and have seen their popularity swell and recede at various times over the years. I remember when I was going to High School in the 80’s that we rarely had a big dance without a live band. Live band’s were the best and it was always a special occasion when we had one. I ask my kids if they ever have live bands play dances at their school and they don’t.
When I started playing in clubs there were dozens of them for our band to play at. Over the years and especially recently I’ve seen a lot of clubs switching over to using DJ’s. It seems like a lot of gigs that bands used to get are now going to DJ’s. I personally haven’t played a High School Prom in years because all the schools are using DJ’s in my area.
I’ve talked to a lot of my musician friends and we’ve narrowed the loss of gigs to DJ’s down to two main reasons. The first and most obvious reason is the fact that DJ’s cost a lot less than a band to hire. You can get a DJ for a couple hundred dollars for a 4 hour show. A band just can’t make it playing for that small amount of money. I think the financial motivation to hire DJ’s instead of bands is really the biggest reason they are getting hired more than bands.
The second reason that clubs and events are moving to DJ’s are simply because the quality of a lot of live bands has slipped. The musicianship is at a good level but the small things that make live bands fun to watch and dance to are being forgotten. I’ve seen great bands with extremely poor song selection. To fill up a club you need to be playing what the people want to hear. That’s why the music that bands play is so important for being successful.
I’ve also seen great playing and sounding bands with horrible showmanship. The biggest edge a band has over a DJ is a band’s ability to interact more directly with the audience. It’s little things like making eye contact with the crowd while you perform. Even things as simple as smiling and looking like you’re having fun playing seem to have been forgotten by a lot of bands. Talking to the audience and interacting with them are key things to making it a memorable show. Some DJ’s are excellent at interacting with their crowd but I think a band has the personnel to do it better.
I don’t think there’s any problem with bands playing original music either if they can bring a large audience to their shows. I do believe though, that to take back the clubs from the DJ’s good bands are going to have to start learning some great cover sets that people want to dance to. I think it would be great for any excellent original band to learn a couple hours of covers and get out there and throw a big dance party. It would go a long way in reminding people why it’s more fun to party with a band than a DJ.
The thing that original bands get caught up in is the whole artistic integrity thing associated with playing original music vs. covers. But in this battle against DJ’s bands are losing because they’re losing the crowds that like to dance to music that they already know. It’s in any band’s best interest to play for as many people possible and if that means playing some cover songs, then so be it. Having those big clubs for live bands to play at will increase the chances of your original songs getting heard as well.
Live bands can bring a much bigger and more interactive show to an audience than a DJ can. It’s much better for an audience if a live band can give them the songs they want to hear along with a great interactive experience. That’s why I believe that live bands are better than DJ’s.