Music In The Corporate Mix

February 26, 2008 by Steve Sharp

With limited song choices, more creative energy is needed to propel company partiesThe focus of my writings for Mobile Beat is the very foundation upon which most events are built, as I see it: the MUSIC. My angle has been specifically: new music. More than ever, music permeates everything around us. Because music truly is everywhere now, the ability to program it well and somehow make the music WE play more engaging than something automated is more important than ever before. It’s my belief that too many DJs rely too heavily on the tried and true, making their events bland and probably forgettable, at best.

It’s with this as the backdrop that my editor suggested that for this issue, I examine corporate parties…but, with a focus on new music. This might have been the shortest article ever to appear in Mobile Beat! Instead I chose to expand the focus to music programming overall, in the context of corporate functions.

Presentation Points to Ponder

My company does only a few corporate events per year, with most of our business being weddings, and the ocassional school dance or Sweet 16, so I decided to interview some DJs who do more corporate work than I do.

Steve Lynch, owner of Extreme Entertainment in Buford, Geogia has lots of experience in this area. Being in a suburb of Atlanta, Steve counts CNN among his corporate clients. He agreed that newer songs at corporate events should be few and far between, based on 1) the familiarity factor, 2) possible lyrical content issues, and 3) (possibly most importantly) the energy level!

Much like programming for a wedding reception (and maybe even more so), the right music to play at a corporate function should be familiar to the vast majority of your audience: songs that are “old friends” to those in attendance. Steve likes to start with ‘60s soul and Motown music, because it has this kind of appeal, and is also great to dance to. He then uses the reaction to it as a barometer to indicate which direction(s) to take the event musically from there. Steve reminded us to “play to their age range.” If the average age of the attendee is mid- to late-20s, the latest Avril Lavigne song is likely totally unfamiliar to them, even if it’s a huge current hit.

Steve suggests we “stick to classic, family-oriented stuff,” which sadly is another good reason to avoid much current music…unless you want the finger-wagging and/or earful of criticism you could be asking for by playing even the radio edits of many current songs. It only takes one complaint of this type to ruin your reputation, ruin any chance for repeat business with a company, and even prevent you from being considered by other corporates. Unlike wedding receptions, this should not be looked at as a “one shot” deal. (This is not to say that weddings don’t involve potential referrals; I’m just pointing out the bigger differences.) You can potentially get annual contracts for all the events within a company or group of companies, possibly touring to do it, too. And if the person in charge at the company leaves, you want her or him to take your information with them to their next position. Corporations spend lots of time and energy to project and protect their “image.” It’s your job to reflect that in the most positive manner possible, and make them look wonderful.

However, simply avoiding new music isn’t always enough to insure you won’t upset the sensibilities of someone at the event. Steve recalled the story of realizing the “hard way” how dirty the “Grease Megamix” is, when someone complained and couldn’t believe the DJ was playing “such filth.” I concurred, telling him a similar experience I’d had with “Hot In Herre,” and then suggested where and how to edit the Grease Megamix.

Most importantly, keep the energy level of the music up. Energy is not to be confused with the volume. Beyond the familiarity factor, frequently older music works better simply because it has a more positive and fun “vibe” and often a faster pace than much of today’s music. An exception to this rule is the 2007 hit “Cupid Shuffle” (by emerging hip-hop artist, Cupid), which is not only squeaky clean but fun, with a brisk, 142-BPM tempo, and yes, it has it’s own dance, too! I expect to see this in the MB Top 200 next year.

Companies also love theme parties. These themes often have musical ideas already “built-in.” Sometimes you can futher demonstrate your value by suggesting themes and how to implent them, if asked. But don’t push your ideas on them, especially with new clients-build a rapport first.

Finally, be flexible and responsive. For example, Steve told a story of a corporate client whose committee filled out a pretty extensive DJ Intelligence request list consisting of lots of R&B music, only to find that at the event…country music turned out to be the surprise big hit, based on the volume of countryrequests at the event.

Amalgamate Your Entertainment Quotient
I also spoke with Paul Welsh, of Welsh Entertainment in Orlando, Florida, which is home to a multitude of big companies looking to be entertained. While Paul does many of the things we all do, he has also collaborated in creating a “show” aimed at corporate clients called the Big Dawg and Paul Show, which includes contests and lots of games, and which is marketed towards openings and team-building events, among other occassions. Paul points out the contrast that at a wedding reception, “people pretty much are there to be supportive” to the bride and groom, while at a corporate event “they don’t want to be there,” so really entertaining an audience is even more crucial. Paul’s music programming philosophy is also spiced up with drop-ins from television and movies. He agrees that “any slow song at a corporate is just not gonna cut it” unless it’s a holiday party, so keep it upbeat!

While admitting that building momentum for a custom show has been challenging, the results are rewarding, and demand is building as word spreads. If you can offer something specific that no one else offers (I couldn’t be Big Dawg and/or Paul, could you?), you’re no longer pressured to compete with other DJs because what you do is so removed from the stereotyped definition of DJ.

Creative Limitations

Rather than needing to be on the cutting edge of the popular music world, the challenge presented to mobile entertainers by corporate clients, from the standpoint of programming music, is taking material that is very familiar and presenting it in a way that’s still exciting and fresh. You have to be creative within parameters provided by the event planners, based on the purpose(s) of the event. I’m confident that if you use some of the ideas here as guidelines, you’ll be off to a great start!

Steve Sharp is a DJ in Southern California who has been spinning since 1981. In addition to running his own Signature Entertainment, he also creates a weekly radio remix show for Bo’s Saturday Night Party on B95.1 FM. Steve not only plays the hits, but brings his encyclopedic knowledge of the stories behind them to each of his music columns. Steve can be reached at

Steve Sharp Steve Sharp (15 Posts)

Steve Sharp is a veteran of mobile, clubs, and radio in Southern California. He’s driven to deliver for his clients, both his private clients, and business clients, which also include representative stints for D.J. manufacturers, such as Hercules, Denon, and Virtual D.J.

Filed Under: 2008, Playlists, Songs & Music Charts