The difference between background music and a DJ

Music plays a massive role at events and functions. It affects the behaviour of your guests and sets the entire atmosphere. You've probably got the option of having a DJ or background music playing at your event. Choosing which one to go with depends on what you have planned for the evening. Hiding your agenda from your technical team may result in a super awkward situation. You may expect the technical team’s sound engineer to act like Cinderella and magically transform into a DJ before the clock strikes 12.

Often, we get clients requesting background music and insisting they do not require a DJ. Being unaware of the different functions each one of these serves and the different skill sets required leads to this misunderstanding.  To manage expectations, we've dedicated an entire blog to explaining what it means to hire a DJ and what it means to opt for background music instead.

Opting for Background musicBackground music or DJ

By literal definition, background music is: “music intended as an unobtrusive accompaniment to an activity or to provide atmosphere in a film”. Music is therefore not the main focus of the event. Instead, it acts as a variable that sets the tone and atmosphere of an event (along with lighting, effects and decor). This is usually the sort of music that plays in the background while something else is going on – such as an award ceremony, gala dinner, exhibition, trade show, conference or even pre-drinks at a wedding. In this case, hiring a DJ for an event of this nature would be totally wasteful because the music is not the only contributing factor or source of entertainment.

Enter the Sound engineer

A sound engineer controls background music. Unlike a DJ, the sound engineer at the event has many duties for the night. They ensure that all audio equipment is working, there is zero interference with the speakers and microphones, all tech and equipment is set up correctly and that the correct background music plays. This implies that the background music has already been requested and decided upon prior to the event and will play for the duration of the event.

Getting it right

You may decide that background music is exactly what your event needs. You could have based your decision on the nature of the event, budget requirements or personal preference. This is totally fine and your event will still be successful as long as you do the following:

  1. Inform your technical suppliers about what sort of event you are having
  2. Decide when background music should be playing
  3. Settle on a genre of music
  4. Provide detailed information about the music
  5. Expect the music to stop when the event is over

While this seems a little overboard, it is essential that the background music filling awkward silences is creating the exact atmosphere you anticipate for your entire event. Let your technical suppliers know the demographics of your guests, mood and even artists you would prefer. Remember, because you have a sound engineer in in control of the music for the event, their own personal preferences may shine through without a detailed explanation of what sort of music you want.

When the technical team pack up, the music leaves with them. This is because the sound engineer’s sole purpose is not to play music for guests. They are there for a wide array of functions and duties. After completing their duties, they're done for the night and free to go home. These include dismantling and packing up equipment, collecting all microphones etc.

Hiring a DJbackground music or dj

Honing in on the final point from the paragraph above, a DJ’s sole purpose is to entertain and play requested music for as long as the event goes on and the last girl leaves the party with her shoes in her hand. Most times you stipulate how many hours you require a DJ for and if you need them outside of those hours, they will just bill you accordingly for overtime.

As we write this article, one tell-tale difference between playing background music and hiring a DJ is how each is described. One either plays background music or hires a DJ.  Background music is usually preloaded and anyone can play it. This differs to having a skilled, particular person playing the role of a disc jockey. A DJ is responsible for playing requested music and mixing songs together for entertainment purposes. They sometimes even have their own lighting and effects to add to the entire entertainment element of hiring a DJ.

We’ve experienced extremely disappointed clients who have opted for background music and once the formalities are over, still expect a party with entertainment along the lines of a DJ service. The sound engineer tries to keep the guests happy by playing whatever they can find on the pre-selected background music playlist but fall short with all the bells and whistles provided by a DJ. A DJ service requires an entirely different person, skill set and equipment to keep the party going long after the formalities have taken place. If you’re wanting to keep your guests happy by allowing them to request dancing queen at 1am then you’re going to need a DJ.

Can you have both?

The answer is yes! You certainly wouldn’t want strobe lights filling the room while guests are enjoying a 5-star 3 course meal. Instead, during formalities you’d want your background music. You could even get super fancy and ask the sound engineer (before the event) to subtly transition the background music throughout the event from calm and ambient to more upbeat and lively to create the right atmosphere for when your DJ takes over and the party really starts

Knowing your guests and the purpose of the event is key to choosing the right sort of entertainment, while transparent planning and preparation with your event technical supplier will translate into a successful event.

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