Things to Consider When Choosing Background Music or a DJ at Events

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At events, playing background music or using a DJ can both be good choices. Music can set the tone and atmosphere for an event and therefore plays a big role in how the guests feel and perceive the experience.

Different types of events can have different music requirements. If the music is meant to be in the background and not overpower an event, then preloaded or streaming background music is often ideal.

When there is dancing or the music is more in the forefront, a DJ can be a great option.

These two options can differ in cost, flexibility, and the available music libraries. Having the right kind of music for your event can help to keep it flowing and keep guests feeling positive and entertained.

Event Type

One of the first things to consider when determining what to choose for your music at an event is the type of function. If music is meant to stay in the background and not be the focus of the event, subtle background music is often optimal.

Background music works well for these types of events:

  • Conventions
  • Awards ceremony
  • Exhibition
  • Trade show
  • Gala dinner
  • Conference

Music for these events helps to make up the atmosphere. It can positively influence moods and help guests to stay focused and pay better attention.

If music is more of a focus at your event, the source of entertainment, or a major contributing factor to the function, a DJ can be a good choice. A DJ works well at events like these:

  • Weddings
  • Dances
  • Parties
  • Socials
  • Corporate or nonprofit events
  • Festivals
  • Shopping events


Another thing to think about is the flexibility you require for your event. One of the benefits to a live DJ is that the guests can often request songs, and the DJ can change the music on the fly based on the mood and atmosphere of the guests.

If there are points in the event when you would like the music to fade and be more in the background, a DJ can accommodate this and then amp it up when appropriate. Ultimately, a DJ can be more flexible than using preloaded background music.

Equipment & Space

The type of equipment needed and the space required can be factors in whether or not you use a DJ or background music for your event.

Often, background music can be preloaded and played through the sound system that most event spaces already have in place. This doesn’t require much in the way of space or extra equipment.

If there is not a sound system already, you will often only need speakers and a device to play the music through. There are many options that can be as small and convenient as a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

A DJ, on the other hand, will typically need some setup space and specialty equipment. Most of the time, the DJ will have their own equipment. You will just need to provide them with a big enough space to set up.

Hiring a DJ

If you choose to play background music at your event, this typically does not require a particularly skilled individual. Just about anyone can handle this. The music is usually preloaded, and all you have to do is press play.

If you opt for a DJ, you’ll need to hire a skilled professional. The DJ is there to entertain your guests and play music for the hours you set for them.

Here are some tips for hiring a DJ:

  • Choose one who is experienced in your type of event. DJs often specialize in particular events, and they should have experience with the type of function you are putting on.
  • Read reviews. Check out the DJ’s website, but review sites can be essential to gauging what others’ experiences were with the particular DJ.
  • Decide what type of “extras” you require, if any. DJs often include lighting and specialty effects as part of their packages.
  • Look at the DJ’s playlists and music options. DJs typically have a demo or two you can preview.
  • Inquire about cost. A DJ will usually cost a set amount for a certain number of hours and anything beyond that will cost extra. DJs can vary greatly in cost as well.

Music Library

When deciding on the music options for your event, the music library needs to be taken into consideration. A DJ often has an unlimited source of music and uses a source that allows them to download and/or stream music as requested.

If you are playing background music, this likely comes from a preset playlist that is loaded ahead of time. These services can offer access to a wide variety of music.

Confirm that you are legally able to stream the music you want to for the specific type of event you’re having. If you are uncertain, contact your streaming provider to confirm.

Cost of a DJ vs. Playing Background Music

A DJ can range in cost from about $700 to $1,500 or more, with the national average being between $1,000 and $1,200. More sought-after DJs with excellent reputations in large urban or metro areas can demand tens of thousands of dollars.

To play background music at your event, you will need either an ASCAP or BMI license and sometimes both. This usually requires an annual membership, and the fee for a particular event can be based on occupancy. This can cost a few hundred dollars on average.

You can also use a subscription-based music streaming service for businesses that already pays this licensing for you, depending on your event. These subscriptions can range in cost from as low as $10 per month up to $50 per month.

Legal Aspects to Consider for Both Options

When playing or streaming music at an event for an audience, you will need to be sure you have permission to use this music.

Commercial music is copyright protected. When you purchase a song for download, this is for personal use. To use it publicly, you will need a different form of permission, such as the licenses described above.

If you opt to subscribe to a business music streaming service, know that they already hold the necessary licensing. If you are going to charge admission for your event, the rules are slightly different, however. You may still need to obtain a special license in this case, so do your homework beforehand to avoid legally sticky situations.

A DJ generally already has the licensing to legally stream and play downloaded music in public and at events as part of their business plan. Again, be sure to check this ahead of time to avoid potential legal issues.


The Emotional Effect of Background Music on the Selective Attention of Adults. (October 2021). Frontiers in Psychology.

ASCAP Licensing. The ASCAP Foundation.

Music Lovers. (2022). Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI).

What Musicians Should Know About Copyright. U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright and Fair Use for DJs: the Laws of the Land. (December 2016). DJ Times.

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