7 Steps To Making Playlists For Events Where You’re Not DJing

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Home parties playlisting
Last updated 31 July, 2017

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Sometimes, it can be fun to spend an hour or so playlisting for an event that you’ll not be DJing at – things like smaller gatherings at home. Here’s how to do it right…

Sometimes DJing just isn’t appropriate: Children’s birthdays, small barbeque or pool parties, family or friends around for dinner or a get-together, and so on. But keen DJs should see this as an opportunity to show off their music collection, if not their DJing skills, by taking charge of the playlist.

Build it in iTunes, use a streaming service like Spotify, or even use your DJ software on autoplay – no matter. Personal playlisting is a smart way to improve on playlists curated by people you’ve never met, and certainly better that just slapping any old DJ mix on (or worse, single-artist albums, because you can’t simply think of anything better to play).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pick a theme – Seventies. Noughties. Five years since your daughter was born. Fifty years of guitar pop. You don’t have to play EDM or house or hip hop or any obvious genre-specific music when compiling a playlist to have in the background at an event with family and friends – so you get a bit of freedom. Picking a theme helps you focus as you’ll be more likely to get into a creative zone choosing tracks. And it’ll lead to a soundtrack your guests will be more likely to talk about
  2. Choose more tracks than you need – Friends coming for five hours? Quickly pick roughly ten hour of music. (If you follow my set planning training for DJs, you’ll know this tip already.) The difference here is that we’re going to filter those ten hours down to five before anyone arrives. In fact, we’re going to do it in just two items from now…
  3. Build your tracks into similar groups – Now is the fun part. Start arranging your tracks into mini “sets” (unmixed, of course – we are just making a playlist here) of three to six tunes that are similar, or that you think will work together. Keep going until you’ve divided all your tracks into “piles”. Throw away tracks you are having second thoughts about (the awesome little mini-sets you’re creating will show you what’s not fitting). Arrange each of those groups of tracks into a rough order within each mini-playlist
  4. Arrange your track groups in a good order – Put your mini-sets themselves into some kind of order. Try and tell a story, or take people on a journey. Make sure your first couple of groups don’t contain any of your key tracks (as people will still be arriving at your event), and save any “out there” or risky groupss till later on. Pack the middle of your playlist with your most popular music. Keep working till it is the length of your event
  5. Set everything up – The main setting to find or tick on your software or the app playing your music (if such a setting exists, of course) is the one that levels the volumes between individual tracks, so you don’t get a loud track followed by a quiet one due to the original recording levels being different. You may want to tick any settings that cut out gaps too – but be careful with these (maybe a second or two tops).
  6. Enjoy the music for what it is – No, it’s not a DJ set, and no, you’re not DJing. So don’t be the weirdo discussing every track with anyone who’ll listen – just kick back and have a good night, knowing your music is adding to the occasion. People will notice and appreciate it in their own good time, trust me
  7. Have your decks ready just in case – The number of times we’ve settled in for a civilised Sunday afternoon that’s ended up after dark with the music turned up, the disco lights on (yes, we have them in the house…) and a room full of people dancing is hilarious. Your playlist means you’ve just been your own warm-up DJ in these instances, and you’ve had the best of both worlds – time with your friends, and a chance to spin! Doesn’t get much better…

Finally…

Playlisting shows off your collection and your programming, and it lets you enjoy your music as everyone else does, with everyone else – something you probably don’t do very often. When people come to my house, they expect the music to be spot-on – but I don’t always want to DJ. Playlisting can be absorbing and fun in its own right.

Trust me – if you haven’t done this before, people really do appreciate it. It can even lead to gigs, as people compliment the tunes and start to ask questions. And it sure beats someone putting that Ed Sheeran CD on because you shied away from getting involved…

Do you take charge of playlists at your events where there isn’t going to be DJing? Got any tips you’d like to add? Feel free to do so in the comments…