When should I use 'band' and when 'act', particularly in the musical context?

Checking the Google Ngram service, I see that rock bands is more common than rock acts. Instead hip-hop acts is more common of hip-hop bands.


I add some more context from Wikipedia

Chicago house music acts from the early to mid-1980s found success on the US dance charts on various Chicago independent record labels that were more open to sign local house music artists. These same acts also experienced some success in the United Kingdom, garnering hits in that country. Due to this success, by the late 1980s, Chicago house music acts suddenly found themselves being offered major label deals. [...] UK acts such as The Beatmasters, Krush, [...] opened the doors to house music success on the UK charts.

Is there a reason why they do not say artists or bands for acts? Are they just synonymous? It does not seem to me here that "act" here is used to mean a specific performance, like @Hot Licks suggest.

I am interested to everyday English or formal English as it might be used by Wikipedia and not some technical jargon used by music specialists (to answer @jsw29)

  • 1
    Perhaps I’m showing my age, but a “rock act” sounds like a reference to a performance while a “rock band” sounds like a group of people.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 7, 2018 at 11:54
  • It might be expressing an [unconscious] opinion on the music: rock is music played by a band; hip-hop is not.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 7, 2018 at 11:56
  • Partly, at least, it has to do with whether the group is purely playing music, or, in addition, providing some sort of visual display (beyond their mere presence).
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 7, 2018 at 12:14
  • 3
    An act could be one person; a group is not. Oct 7, 2018 at 12:26
  • 1
    @HotLicks (and @Lawrence), indeed, which makes it unclear what the question really is. The OP seems to assume that they are terms for things of the same general kind, and this is not how they are normally used in everyday English. Perhaps the question is about the use of act in some technical terminology used by the performers of such music, but if so, that needs to be explained, before anyone can even attempt to answer the question.
    – jsw29
    Oct 7, 2018 at 19:41

1 Answer 1


In this context:

A band is a musical group.

An act is a person or group which gives a performance, not necessarily musical, often as one part of a longer public show. It can refer more to a specific performance, for example:

After the ventriloquist, a talking animal act came on stage.

Or it can refer primarily to the performers:

The Beatles were perhaps the greatest pop music act of all time.

  • The talking animal performance was not musical: an act, but not a band.
  • The Alan Parsons Project was studio only: a band, but not an act.
  • The Beatles were both an act and a band.



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