Over To You: How Should I Approach An Oldies Party?

dj winka

Polish DJ Wika Szmyt is 73 years old and still loves to rock the 1s and 2s. Today, our reader wants to know how to DJ at a party whose age group goes up to 75...

Digital DJ Tips reader DA Willis writes: "I am DJing a benefit christmas party, where there will be at least 75 people ranging in ages from 35 to 75. I will be playing music from the 50s, 60s and 70s and some hits from today's music. How would you set up music for the night? It runs from 7pm to 12am on a Saturday. The ultimate goal is to get everybody on the dancefloor through out the night. What is the best set to put together to accomplish this?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

You can learn a lot from wedding DJs when you have gigs like this. Our Complete 21st Century Wedding DJ Guide is a bible for set planning and includes full playlists, so that may be worth a look. But the basic principle that most DJs approach gigs like this with is to play for the older crowd, getting progressively younger. So that means starting at 7pm playing for the 75 year olds, moving through the music becoming more modern as the night goes on. The older folk may leave early anyway, and the younger section of your crowd will have a drink or two and at that point will hopefully positively want to dance as the music moves more towards what they'd prefer.

By the way, you jumped from "70s" to "music of today" - don't forget the 80s and 90s too! That was once contemparary music for the 35-40 year olds in your crowd.

Over to you: Do you regularly play to older crowds? What's your "secret formula"? Are you in a mood for sharing? Please do so in the comments below.

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  1. I would leave the 50s and 60s stuff for the earlier part of the night... when everyone is eating and drinking. Then progress to 70s, 80s and current tunes. I dont think you will need to stick to it religiously, just play it by ear (no pun intended) look at who you have on the dancefloor. If you have a majority of younger folk, play more current tunes, but still infuse some of the 70s and 80s tracks, if you have more of an older crowd then do the reverse. Good luck.

  2. Danny Maher says:

    I've been deejaying for nearly 30 years, and this should be an easy, fun gig. You need to do your research, and get to know your music from the 50's, 60's, 70's and right up to today.

    Find a list of the charts from these decades and rate your music to make it easier to find the best tracks. Sorting by BPM, Genre and Theme will initially take a lot of time, but will make your job a lot easier in the long run.

    Early in the night throw a bit of everything at them and take note of whose toes are tapping along to particular tracks. Once they are primed and fed, crank up the volume and target the oldies first with some 50's/Swing/Rockabilly before going into some 60' & 70's and maybe even some Country. Break the night up into brackets of 20 minutes to half an hour to give everyone a chance to have fun.

    Break out the old dance staples like Nutbush, the Time Warp, YMCA, etc... and don't be afraid to make a goose of yourself by getting out on the dance floor to demonstrate and teach these dances - I even have a dress-up box and go through several costume changes (the Village People, Elvis, various hats, Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, etc...).

    Don't be afraid to try the latest music either - last year I had a group of 100 women in the 60-80 year age range shuffling to LMFAO. Check out remixes like Jive Bunny, N-Trance, Gramophonedzie that update Vintage and Retro hits to make them palatable to the younger crowd (even Pitbull rejigged an old Buddy Holly song with Back in Time from MIB 3).

    Look at this as an opportunity to expand into a different market, and don't forget to throw in a few Christmas tracks..... after all, it is a Christmas Party!

  3. Hello folks. I am a dj in Albania. If do you dont know where it is just google :p Anyway I gigged all around wedings to to clubs. And about ages I partly agree with the review above. But consider the oriental music.

  4. i usually play on "retro" parties and weddings too. for me is easy: there's a lot of music to pick from, so...why would you pick that unknown song? just choose the hits ones!

    as the ages are so distanced and the music is so different, there no problems making "blocks" of music: the rocks ones, the classics ones, the dances ones, etc...just 2 or 3 of them.

    leaving the most modern to the last is a good move.

    also: all over the world there are songs that are specifically for you town and also has been forgotten. search for them and use it in the right moment. this create an rare sensation between laughing and "i remember that".

  5. Pedro Pulido says:

    that's an easy one. Go for names such as Elvis, Beatles, Beegees, Beach Boys, Bangles, Katrina&the waves, michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Gloria Gaynor, maybe something a bit more upbeat as well like Donna Summer, Hermes&house Band, etc... basicly, hits that everyone knows. Older crowd will love it and younger crowd should be familiar with them as well so they feel welcome to join in. That's basicly the 1st part of a tipical wedding anyway.

  6. I start out older to younger too. Still, I sneak in the older all night, even when it's mostly young. Why? Some of the younger folk appreciates the "classics".

  7. DJ PitchBlack says:

    It's important to find tracks of older music. I'm listen very often to radio during the day. There i find the inspiration for "my" music and a lot of new and older tracks. So i use a tool (an app like shazaam) or the website of the radio channel, to find out the names of the tracks they play in the radio. Then I use the internet to find more about the artist and the song.
    When you do it like that, your music collection will grow up and you have music for each age.
    Then when you have the gig, don't play too much songs of the same age or genere consecutively (e.g. play 80's, then new ones, then change to 60 maybe).
    One important point is: look at the people and see what they like. So during the evening you will see what you have to play.

  8. These nights are fun. The old crowd know how to party! I have Dj'd for over 25 years, Sometimes a packed floor isn't always where the fun is... getting the whole crowd singing along can be an awesome experience too. (Eg 'king of the road' does this with for an 50y.o. an over crowd). For me that particular track is the ice breaker to get them dancing. Do not play unknown tracks. Also, don't be afraid to play a couple of slower and smoochy songs to give them a break.
    The best advice I can give you is this crowd is one that does NOT go out much and they are relying on your expertise and professionalism to give them a night that matches in their heads what it means to 'go out'.

  9. Definitely drop some modern hits that sample old school stuff and vice versa, feature old classics that have been sampled. Everyone loves the familiar bits !

  10. Jam-Master Jake says:

    NEVER underestimate the power of aptly-named powerhouse "oldies" like Twist and Shout (Beatles), Got To Give It Up (Marvin Gaye), Brick House (Commodores), Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry), Billie Jean (Michael Jackson), etc. It's amazing just how many younger folks will tear up the dance floor to those songs too...it's all how you structure it. And just remember, just because someone is young doesn't mean they want to listen to Pitbull, Flo Rida, David Guetta, and Benny Benassi all night long. Vary it up a bit! Start old, work newer, and sprinkle in the classics throughout the night!

    My $0.02.

  11. All great advice. I find that sometimes electro versions of older songs can work - not as a replacement, but a compliment. For example I've been playing a bit of electro swing at the moment and older punters love it. They also make for good transition tracks.

  12. david -dj xl- says:

    check the mobile beat most requested list. its a good all ages type playlist. don't forget to play a couple slow ones. older folks may not want to dance the night away (as a matter of fact they will leave first), but they will want to dance with the wifey/husband. you can make the change of pace songs "the twist" "shout" and maybe a jive bunny mix (mini mixes of 50's 60's classics available on I-tunes.

  13. I think alot of the advice given is pretty solid, especially Pedro Pulido's advice, I find that my most rewarding evenings are Old-School crowds, ... it also helps if you authentically enjoy, and believe in the music you play! .... like David Bowie said ... ."I am the DJ, I am what I play, .... I got believers, ... believing me"

  14. Yeah, I've had 60 somethings dancing harder and crazier than teenagers: knocking over tables, shamelessly grabbing their partner's asses, sloppy kisses, screaming, etc - and I've DJ'ed for both age groups!

    Like others have said, Classic Motown, Disco and Rock really work well across many generations.

    Also, Mid-tempo classics from these eras also make for great listening sets to get people in the mood and primed for dancing later.

  15. Great article! Looks like I will be playing at my first gig the last Saturday of this month in a bar. From 6pm to 10pm. Which are great hours!! The women that I will be playing music for, their ages ranges from mid 30's to 60's. I know a few of them have said that they don't mind the "old" stuff but if it is more of a remix dance-able type of mix. Which I have compiled, 70's, 80's and 90's music to play for the 1st 2 hours, then moving into more of the mainstream music. They love vocals dance music. So that is what I have. I am super stoked and nervous at the same time!! HA!! ~~ROCKY :)

  16. Some really great advice given here with equally good track suggestions, but please bear in mind that sometimes sticking to a playist will not work, also take into account that you may also get requests so these tracks have to be incorpereted within your set too (if apprproiate).

    Im a professional wedding DJ & i usually start the night with commercial house tracks with a few remixed older tracks at a lower volume as guests will want to chat....i find that this way the night has an uplifting feel to it already and at the same time keeping the older guests happy too, the rest of the night really has to be "read" by the DJ.

    Keeping the dancfloor full also depends on the follow up track (genre, tempo, year etc) and how you "mix" it in with the previous one, by mixing i dont mean to neccesary beat match like a club DJ but to eliminate those awful long gaps and NOT TO "fade in" a track which has an instant recognisable intro....for example (cheesy i know) YMCA, needs that first beat & note to be heard.....there are 1000's of classic tracks that this practice should be used on.

    Wishing you a successful party!

  17. Kevin Williams says:

    A good tip from weddings djing is, either ask the organiser for some requests or get cards printed with your dj name, number, website ect on one side and ask each guest to put one request on the reverse which the organiser can collect and give to you a couple of weeks before the event. It's a great way to advertise and take the guess work out of what the guests like. Keep to the classic party tunes that everyone will know. Include some great sing a long tracks too and leave these loose once everyone's had a few drinks. Also at the party get someone to take photo's and post them on your website. Makes a good excuse for people to check out your site, remind themselves of a great night and a great dj. May mean another booking?

  18. Kevin Williams says:

    Why does it always say failed to publish

  19. Great tips and ideas from everyone! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  20. I'm a (Virtual)dj in Mallorca and do weddings & birthdays as well as hotels, venues, bars and radio. As you can imagine ages range dramatically at the live events. With private parties (weddings, birthdays, etc.)a play list is often supplied - they often contain the same classics. I find that 50s are not often requested... A few 60s, but, mainly 70s, 80s and 90s as well as contemporary tracks. My best advice is People Watching you'll soon get a feel for what goes; and don't forget the older crowd don't just like old music. The last wedding I did it was the 50 plus brigade asking for Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO, etc.

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