The Power of Lists – By Michael Edwards

January 28, 2012 by Dan Walsh

For most DJs, the relatively slower winter months provide an excellent opportunity to work on improving your DJ equipment, stage setup, lighting and even fine-tuning the way you run your office. With so many important things to work on, we often neglect to allot sufficient time to improve the way we organize and access our music. When you stop to think about it, as a DJ, your music should actually be your top priority, because without it, everything else is useless.

Most of you now use hard drives to store your music collections and software that allows you to create playlists. This provides a unique opportunity to create—in advance—hundreds of new playlists, music sets and sub-sets that will really come in handy in the “heat of battle” when you have a packed dance floor in front of you.

Traditionally, the most basic way to separate different types of music has been by genre, similar to the organization of the music we purchase from subscription services. It’s convenient to simply follow their lead and set up comfortable, familiar categories for Rock, Top 40/CHR, Country, Hip Hop/Urban, Dance/Remix, Adult Contemporary, Reggae etc. Back when we used records or CDs, most of us would organize them by Genre and then by Artist, within that Genre. You’d know right where to look for Alan Jackson in the “Country” genre, or Donna Summer in the “Disco/Dance” genre.

MAKING THE LISTS

If the only way you still organize your music is by Genre, Artist and Title, there’s a whole new world of micro-organization just begging to elevate your game to a whole new level. The old, familiar format will still be there for you, but the “go to” songs and “can’t miss” dance floor packers should also be separated out into well-thought out subsets without any weaker non-hits or filler songs that can always still be found in the main collection.

If you do weddings, you should have massive sub-sets of all the most popular songs needed for ceremony music (sets for prelude, processional, recessional etc), cocktail hour music (sets of smooth jazz, rat pack, contemporary etc), introduction music (a list of pre-made intro loops and instrumental versions of the most requested, popular intro songs), dinner music (younger crowd, older crowd and mixed audience sub-sets), cake cutting favorites, centerpiece giveaway set, garter/bouquets favorites, a ton of dance sets and a set of good-bye/exit music. You can subtract or add to each set as new material comes out and use them not just “on the fly” at the event, but to draw from, in advance, when creating a unique new playlist based on your future clients’ preferences.

Ever research the music for a class reunion? If you are booked for the class of ’92, you’d better know that “Jump” by Kris Kross held number one on the charts for eight weeks in a row, right smack dab in the middle of their prom and graduation time from 4/25/92 to 6/20/92…probably a big hit when played at their senior prom. You wouldn’t have to think about it if you pre-organize all major hits in advance by the month and year they came out. That class would also love hearing music from all four of the years they were in high school, not just the year they graduated.

A “#1 Hits Only” list sorted by year and month is also very handy when playing for an anniversary. Imagine the response you’ll get by saying, “This song was #1 on the charts the day you were married in 1977.” Billboard currently publishes a useful book of all #1s from 1955 to 2009.

What about top hits organized by both Type AND by Decade? I found that merely dumping all the ‘70s or ‘80s hits into their own huge list wasn’t specific enough. Fine-tuning larger Decade lists into smaller sub-sets from that decade will make finding the right song in a hurry a lot easier. Instead of just ‘80s, how about ‘80s Dance Music, ‘80s Slow R&B, ‘80s Hair Band hits and ‘80s Hip-Hop hits. Same holds true for ‘80s-’90s Boy Bands, ‘80s Female Artists, ‘80s Movie Themes, ‘80s Line Dances/Novelty, etc.

Once you have an organized music collection, smaller sub-sets can easily be combined so that you can instantly glance at over 60 years worth of a specific type of music. For example: All Line Dances or just “#1 Country hits by female artists.”

How about cross-genre dance sets based on similar BPM? We all use certain songs that mix very well together, but sometimes browsing a longer list of dance songs that are all close to 120 BPM or close to 128 BPM will spark an idea for a brand new mix or set that is perfect for that evening’s audience. This type of dance tempo list is not necessarily limited to any particular decade or genre, thus providing an ideal source for transition songs that will keep the dancers on the floor as you smoothly switch genres or decades as needed.

Needless to say, a good DJ is always watching the crowd and selecting which songs to play next to satisfy the entire audience… including those who might get up and dance if you’d just play their type of dance music too. Having a great list of similar tempo songs at your fingertips is a valuable tool, especially if you’ve already been playing for four or five hours and may be starting to get a bit fatigued.

I even store pre-formatted five-hour playlists for “types of functions,” organized and saved in advance, so that if a call comes in for a last-minute retirement, Sweet 16 or holiday party, I already have a basic music template handy to provide the typical music for that type of event. Such “template” lists do not limit spontaneous musical decisions, since you still have the needed flexibility to replace any number of songs that may not fit the specific needs or requests of that crowd.

I’ll sometimes save the songlist from a particularly successful “specialized” event and rename it as “Country 50th B’Day,” or “Latin/Reggaeton Wedding” so that a similar future event doesn’t take quite as long to format in advance.

I invite you to comment and share ideas on how you organize your music collections. Working together, we can learn from each other and all become better at what we do.

Here’s looking forward to another great year of staying “Ahead of the Curve”!

 

Michael Edwards is the owner of AllStar Entertainment & UpLighting, located in Andover, MA. He can be contacted at 978-470-4700 or emailed at info@getadj.com. A Member of the American Disc Jockey Assoc. and the Mobile Beat Advisory Board. His company websites include: www.GetaDJ.com and www.GetUplights.com.

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