One of the main ingredients for a packed dance floor is being able to predict and adapt to how the crowd is going to react to the music you play. By anticipating a shift in energy, you will not only select the best next song to play, but you will also determine where the rest of the event will go musically. The goal is to not only anticipate the shift, but also to cause it.
You should set specific musical goals for each part of an event. I generally set two goals for myself when dinner is ending and dancing is beginning. The first goal is get as many people on the dance floor in the shortest amount of time possible. The longer the crowd sits after dinner, the more their bodies are going to digest their food and give them the “sleepies.” Anticipating that the crowd’s energy will decline before it rises allows you to set the precedent for when and how it will rise.
How I attain my goal is to begin to build the energy in the music as the last plate of dinner has been served. At that point I slowly begin to pick up the tempo of the music as well as the volume. The goal is to “feed” the crowd with a few “appetizer” songs to get them in the mood to dance. I start with a 110 BPM track and slowly get into the 120 BPM range, hitting songs like “Give it Up” by Marvin Gaye, and “Get Lifted” by KC & the Sunshine Band to build the energy. It is nearly impossible to play all slow music during dinner, and then play a fast dance song, and expect everyone to run on the dance floor. By transitioning from dinner into dancing using cross-generational songs like Motown, or 70’s funk, your crowd (whether old or young) will want to get up and dance right as dinner is ending.
The second goal is to figure out what type of crowd you have. So the first set of dancing should include songs from each genre to see what the reaction is. Be prepared to take chances at a few events to figure out which songs will work. The guests will tell you in their facial expressions and how they interact with one another if they like the song. Most females will show expression faster than a males will, so look for the ladies to be your “tell.”
Say you want to mix in an old-school hip-hop song, just to see what reaction you will get. If you get a great reaction you’ll know later in the night you’ll be able go deeper into the old school hip-hop genre. If the guests begin to sway to the left and right, are not interacting with one another, nor singing the music, you’ll know that this particular genre isn’t for them and you should probably steer clear of it later in the evening. This will help you understand what will raise and lower the crowd’s energy later, as the dance floor begins to transition from “growth” to “sustainability.”
Each portion of the dancing should start with a certain BPM and slowly build up until a peak has been hit. Once you feel that peak has attained you would want to play a slow song and restart. You would not want to play a 130 BPM song, and follow it up with a 105 BPM song. The energy in the crowd will naturally lower as they are forced to dance to a slower (while still fast) song.
Each song also has its peak of energy. It’s your job to understand when that peak comes in and, typically, begin to mix out directly after that, before the crowd begins to feel the energy slowly drift away. You also need to know how to deal with songs that take a minute or so to gain their energy. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston is a prime example. While it’s a great song to play, it starts with no energy and takes roughly 40 seconds for it to build. After the first verse and bridge, Whitney hits her epic note of the chorus and that’s when the energy really comes out. In order to successful play that song and manipulate the crowd’s energy you have to mix the song just before the chorus in order for the crowd to raise their level of energy.
Gaining a real understanding of the energy levels your crowd is feeling will help you adjust your song selection, and ultimately spin a successful event. Your clients will not know the intangible reason why the dance floor was packed, but YOU will, because you were the one who knew when to pump the break or press the gas.
Filed Under: Events, Issue #143, Performing, Sound
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