The musical backdrop to an event sets the mood, whether at a casual barbecue, alfresco dinner or blowout patio party. For birthday celebrations, stag-and-doe mixers and even family reunions, creating the perfect MP3 playlist is a big part of successful summer entertaining.
Downloading and arranging a playlist of great MP3s is easy using your home computer. But how do you choose songs that make a party great? Scott Barratt, owner of Creative DJ Services, a Victoria-based company specializing in private and corporate functions, has some advice for creating crowd-pleasing playlists. Here are some of Barratt’s top DJing tips and tricks, drawn from his 25-plus years of experience in music mixology.
TIP 1: Cater to your crowd
"The first step is to identify the demographic make-up of your crowd," advises Barratt. "You'll probably have a range of ages from six to 60; in which case, you have to identify the age and taste of the core (the age group that makes up the largest portion of attendees). You should plan for a program that targets this group primarily, and then spice it up with selections for the other age groups and scatter them in every six or nine songs," says Barratt.
That means that, yes, your tween can help compose playlists; particularly if some of the guests will be her buddies. But, no, she can't take care of the whole project for you. (Unless you think all your guests are into Justin Bieber.)
TIP 2: Pick popular songs
This isn't the time to impress guests with that obscure, B-side track from your favourite underground band’s first single. Party playlists should appeal to the widest range of people, not just the music snobs on your guest list.
"The most important factor in music selection is familiarity," says Barratt. "If guests don't recognize a song, they won’t want to dance to it."
Feel free to draw from different popular music types, but opt for better-known examples of each genre. You want songs guests can't get out of their heads -- not songs that leave them scratching their heads.
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TIP 3: Don’t push people’s boundaries
When mixing musical genres, look for artists with mainstream appeal. "Avoid niche formats such as heavy metal, house, Latin or country – unless, for example, you know for a fact most of your guests like country," says Barratt.
Wondering if a semi-niche musical genre (e.g., jazz, blues or world beat pop) has enough crossover appeal for everyone? Consider: Could you hear it while in line at Starbucks? If yes, slot it in at an appropriate point in the evening.
TIP 4: Think in terms of sets
When creating a playlist, avoid jarring transitions from song to song. As you may recall from making mix tapes for friends back in the day, the best compilations segue nicely from track to track.
"Group the songs in two or three ‘song sets’ of the same genre. This way, if your guests decide to dance, they'll usually have three songs in a row they like," says Barratt.
TIP 5: Make flexible playlists
A series of cohesive 90-minute playlists may be easier to curate than one long, four-hour playlist. This also gives you the flexibility of selecting between "Party/Cocktail Jazz" versus "Party/Dance Floor Hits," provided you’re willing to babysit the playlists and select them as required.
TIP 6: Add crowd-pleasing summer MP3s to your playlists
Some artists or songs have perennial appeal while others have that of-the-moment buzz. Consider both to be playlist must-haves.
"You may want to set a fun yet elegant mood to start things off by spinning select hits from Frank Sinatra or Michael Buble for an hour or so, before sliding into mass-appeal classics," says Barratt. "Choose medium- to fast-paced songs from artists such as Michael Jackson, Van Morrison, Madonna and so on."
Remember to layer in some oldies but goodies from summer all-stars The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley.
"Classic songs that appeal to all ages will always be the aces in your deck," says Barratt. "If you're expecting some dancing, hold these until the later portion of the evening when people are more likely to get up and shake some booty."
Choosing the right music for your event can be the most fun aspect of party planning. Remember your audience, stick to well-known tunes, omit obscure songs, create three-song groupings according to genre, make a few 90-minute playlists and get the crowd-pleasing songs in there. You'll be well on your way to securing the perfect music for what's sure to be the party of the season!
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