Mastering Youth Music by Arnoldo Offermann

July 15, 2012 by Arnoldo Offermann

Did you hear about the chef who asked all the other chefs for recipes and after some reading became a master chef who cooked the perfect meal for his clients? No? That’s because it didn’t happen, and thinking it would is almost ludicrous.

See where I am going with this?

As I make my rounds through Facebook, chatboards, and the general interwebz, I see more and more DJs asking for playlists for school events. Asking for ideas of good new slow songs, or maybe danceable country and rock, or “which 10 songs work best” is always a good idea, and I’m not knocking on that at all.

But, asking for a “copy of your playlist” because they “haven’t done a prom in eight years” is toolish! I hear many DJs talk about how much experience and preparation you need to do a wedding right. Yet these are the same DJs who think all it takes is a playlist to build a great prom!143-3725

If you want to read and share playlists to get creative ideas for your own personal set, go for it! If you’re reading a playlist because you are completely out of touch with today’s music then PLEASE leave school dances alone!

Many of you want to RESEARCH music before you even enter the school dance market. If so, GREAT idea! This article may be a real eye-opener for some of you, but it comes from raw experience. If you want to enter school dances, be ready to deal with music like never before. Below are some tips and tricks to help you with choosing your music!

The best research starts at home. I’ve seen DJs from another state flown into my area only to fail miserably. Thanks to the internet, many local groups are blowing up without the help of labels. This means that music is extremely regional nowadays. Listen to your local stations (not Clear Channel, they mostly play only nationwide hits) and see what songs are really blowing up. Then broaden that search with a national chart and even the iTunes charts. You will want to listen to EVERY SONG and filter out the nondanceable music. Just because it’s on the charts DOES not mean it will be a floor packer.

For example, take the song “She Will” by Lil Wayne and Drake. Not that I’d ever play that content (more on that later), but you can tell it’s not even danceable. You may get a reaction, but you’ll notice your dance floor come to screeching halt!

Music content is always an issue with schools. I’ve read many DJs post about “do not play” lists from teachers that block out some major hits while their request list have some dreadful songs. I urge you to talk about this from the get-go! This is something that SHOULD HAVE been approached and solved during sales.

In the middle of discussing what we offer, I jump on music and remind the committee that this is what we are here for. Before the MC skills, lights, video screens, etc., we are DJs and music is what we do best. I tell them something similar to the following:
“The biggest clash between students and teachers is music.

In reality, this shouldn’t happen…ever! Our DJs know the lyrics to songs and they know what’s hot and what’s garbage. Think about it! It’s not the students’ job to worry about ‘is this ok to play or not’ as they request music; and the administration shouldn’t have to research the lyrics of every song played. You don’t really want to do that, do you?” The admin always shakes their head no. Often I get a “hell no.”
“…I mean, if you do, then you’re going to freak out about every song, and the ones that are clean will look like they have a double entendre. God knows you’ve got enough on your plate as it is!”

Again they will agree. Who wouldn’t?

“If you cannot trust your DJ to play properly edited music, then why hire him at all? We don’t use radio edits, because the radio lets everything fly by nowadays. We also hype things up during certain songs as a distraction to keep people from shouting out curse words.”

Then, I mention the song “Shots” by Lil’ Jon. Even if I edit it, it’s still blatantly about alcohol and there’s NO way I can play it. At this point I play the basketball version that Lil Jon released way back. At this point, the students realize that I know my music and I won’t let their favorite stuff slip by me. I will even mention one or two local artists who are well known to give more proof.

More importantly, the admin understand that I know where they are coming from and frankly, that I’m right. If their potential DJ doesn’t know today’s music well enough, they need to keep looking.

With all this in place, I don’t get schools giving me a “do not play” list. This technique has also worked with Sweet 16s, Quinces, Mitzvahs, and even weddings.

I do get the schools that want to submit a list of songs they like, but often they choose to go with the online request system. I’ve yet to run into a committee that wants to handle the burden of being responsible for the entire student body’s taste in music.

This one five minute conversation during sales will alleviate most of your problems, and you can bet on it!

So when the dance comes, use common sense. You should know what you can and cannot play. If you worry about someone shouting out bad lyrics, even on an alternative edit, just distract them. Shout “SENIORS! WHERE YOU AT?!” Problem solved.

Slow songs are a bit tricky, as you’d think that most people would want to slow dance. The more and more high-energy dances that I do the less requests I get for slow songs. Four seems to be my magic number, as more than that have yielded complaints from the student body. Your results may vary, but read your crowd REALLY hard on this one. Make sure you do a good slow song, throwbacks work great, to make the moment count. Today’s slow songs are often about cheating or sex, so taking the page from the late 1999 to 2004 charts can lend a big helping hand!

Lastly, don’t worry when you get told by the committee “no old music, we only want new stuff!” I tell them I understand their concern as no one wants a whack dance. However, I remind them about songs such as “Get Low” and “Yeah!” By their definition, I shouldn’t play them AT ALL because those songs are now 10 years old! (Man, how time flies!)

In all reality, throwbacks will always get a better reaction because they’re unexpected. “Barbie Girl,” “All Star,” and “It’s Tricky” always get an insane response.

That’s it. That’s really all it takes to master a good music selection at a school dance. The good news is, most of the advice online is wrong since you’ll need to find your own results and what works best for YOU. The bad news is that it means you MUST love today’s music, or at least pretend to love it. Make sure you understand what is danceable by teen standards.

Take notes if you need to, as to what works and what doesn’t, and soon this will be second nature to you. You’ll be able to listen to songs as they’re released and pick out which ones will make it big—that’s the fun part!

Arnoldo Offermann Arnoldo Offermann (40 Posts)

Arnoldo Offermann is the president of 4SchoolsOnly, a national phenomenon in school dances. In a market where DJs cry about $500 school DJs, 4SO sees 10-20x that price tag per event. Arnoldo is also the creator of Master School Dances, the leading educational tools for DJs wanting to get into this great market. He is a sought-after speaker, reviewer, and DJ tech-writer. You can learn more at

Filed Under: 2012, DJing School Dances, Exclusive Online News and Content, Playlists, Songs & Music Charts