7 Tips for Planning a Music Playlist for a Party or Special Event

by sockii

Keep these suggestions in mind when planning the soundtrack for your next big party or social event.

With today's music technology such as iPods, iTunes, and quality lightweight stereo equipment, increasing numbers of people are foregoing hiring a DJ for their parties and special events to just "do it yourself". It seems easy to plan your own playlist and let a computer or mp3 player do all the work for you instead.

That said, it's also easy to have great intentions yet have your party's musical soundtrack end up being a clunker. If you want to keep your guests dancing, happy, and entertained, here are some tips to keep in mind while channeling your inner DJ and planning out that great party playlist.

Image above courtesy Corey Balazowich on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

1. Know your audience, and their age group.

A high school reunion grop of 1980s graduates is going to respond to different music than a group of young twenty-somethings, and both will be quite different than a gathering of your parents' friends and fellow retirees.

Your musical selections should include songs that you know your guests will be familiar with and respond to favorably - Lady Gaga or the Kanye West might not go over very well with an older, more conservative crowd, for instance.

If your crowd is diverse - say at a wedding reception or graduation party - make sure your playlist reflects that diversity and has music that can be appreciated by all attendees, not just the tastes of one generation. You won't be able to constantly please everybody, but try to have music that is not targeted to too narrow an age group.

2. Throw in some party favorites - even if you'd never listen to them otherwise.

There are some songs that will almost always get people out on the dance floor, no matter how many times they've been played through the years. "It's Raining Men", "Last Dance", "Y.M.C.A." ... there are reasons why these are beloved dance floor classics.

Certain ballads, too, will always strike the right note, such as "Lady in Red" or a power ballad like Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye."

That in mind, don't overdo it with the "oldies but goldies." Throw in a few of these songs here and there throughout your mix, or have them ready to go in your mp3 library in case the party atmosphere starts lagging and needs an energy boost from a familiar favorite. Also have at least a few current hit tracks on hand to show that you are up to date in your music selections and not just living in the past.

3. Variety is the spice of life - and music.

Even if you have a theme for your party or special event, or a particular favorite genre of music, make sure to mix things up a bit. Just because you love swing music or polka dancing doesn't mean all of your guests do as well, nor that they won't grow bored if that's all you play at your party.

A 70s Disco Theme party can still do well to have some current dance music thrown in the mix, for instance, and a Christmas Party can stir it up with some non-seasonal music for those tired, by December, of those old, stale holiday songs.

Mix up the pace of your music selections as well, for after a couple fast, dance numbers, something mellow or easy-going can prove a welcome respite.

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4. Don't use your party to try to impress friends with your obscure tastes.

At a party, especially when it comes to dancing, people respond to music that's familiar to them. Don't try to be a music snob and think you're going to educate your guests about "better" music that they've never heard before.

If you want to throw in some obscure Britpop or alternative rock, go ahead, but make sure it's bracketed by familiar tunes and not making up the majority of your soundtrack. 

5. Try a little international spice.

Despite the previous tip, do try throwing in a few unusual selections to provide aural interest and perhaps stir up conversation. A little modern bellydance music, Asian pop, or Italian balladry could provide a neat surprise in between familiar songs and sounds. Again, just don't overdo it.

International music can also be a great choice for a themed dinner party, such as an Italian Pasta and Pizza Night, a Caribbean Tropical BBQ, or Hawaiian Luau.

6. Be gracious about accepting requests.

If some of your guests start requesting songs, it's not an insult to your tastes and selections. If you happen to have their requests handy - or they offer to loan you their mp3 player to put them on - acquiesce graciously, within reason. You can also use the requests you're receiving to gauge what your audience may be more in the mood to hear. If you're getting a lot of requests for classic rock, cool it on the disco and hip-hop and try to change gears if you have those selections handy.

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7. Set the volume properly for the occasion.

A dance party is going to necessitate a different decibel level than a formal dinner party. Keep the volume at a comfortable, unobtrusive level for quiet affairs so that guests can talk without having to shout over the music. If you're holding a party in your own home, try to set up a "quiet room" as well as a "loud area," so that those who may wish to get away from the music for a while can talk and relax in comfort.

Updated: 01/31/2017, sockii
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