Originally published on December 9, 2011.
’Tis the month for making merry, and because nothing takes a holiday gathering from dud to dynamite quite like a killer soundtrack, we offer some tips on putting together your perfect party playlist.
Embrace the season
Unless you’re gathering around a piano with your church group, it’s probably best to avoid carols of the Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night variety. Instead, sprinkle in seasonal tunes that fit with the rest of your playlist, whether it’s rock (The Ramones’ Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)), hip hop (Run-D.M.C.’s Christmas in Hollis) or eighties (Wham!’s Last Christmas). Above all, don’t apologize for getting festive. “The holiday spirit is contagious,” says rapper, songwriter and frequent DJ, k-os. “Even people who don’t celebrate the holidays can get caught up in the music and the time of year.”
Shuffle just won’t cut it
If you’re hosting a dinner party or any sort of drawn-out event, make sure you have music to match the various stages of the night. “The beauty of playlists is that you can have music to suit any situation, whether it’s a jogging mix or a ‘come-home-angry-from-work mix,’” says k-os. In terms of a party, you’ll probably want to start safe and upbeat during arrivals. At dinner, choose a playlist that won’t intrude on the conversation – jazz or a good movie score tend to work, although if you’re a group of metal heads some soft Metallica might be a better choice. After the meal (and a few rounds of punch), feel free to let loose; k-os follows the 1 a.m. rule, which he learned from the late DJ AM. “He told me that after 1, the crowd is loose so that’s the time to play something crazy like The Facts of Life theme song – stuff that wouldn’t fly earlier in the evening.” Post-1 a.m. might also be a good time to throw on the new Justin Bieber/Mariah Carey duet, though there might not be enough punch in the world to take the creepy out of that one.
Save the music snobbery for a Sonic Youth concert
Though it’s counterintuitive, sometimes the biggest audiophiles make the worst party DJs. “Music-elitists are the worst,” says Brian Smiley, programmer at Toronto’s hip Drake Hotel. “People aren’t coming to a party to be educated about music,” he explains, advising mix-makers to forgo the overly obscure in favour of can’t-miss classics like Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Arcade Fire or even Frank Sinatra, depending on the age and taste of the revellers. Most crowds want to hear tracks that bring back great memories, k-os confirms, especially at this time of year. “Of course it depends who’s going to be at the party, but almost everyone will get into Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Salt-N-Pepa.”
Avoid musical schizophrenia
Variety is great, but it’s important to have songs that flow into each other so guests don’t feel like they’re being yanked from one genre to the next. “You want to keep your music together in terms of style and tempo,” k-os advises, warning that disturbing a groove is a great way to kill a party. So if you’re playing Motown (note: every good host should have a Motown playlist) and the crowd is loving it, don’t switch to indie rock simply for the sake of switching things up. “If they’re dancing, keep ’em dancing,” says k-os.
If you’re going to take requests, make sure you’re well stocked
There’s nothing worse than asking people what they want to hear and then coming up short. (Okay, fine, maybe there are some things worse, but it’s a great way to quash enthusiasm). To avoid that end, try to anticipate what your group might want to hear in the wee hours, and stock it even if it isn’t your thing. Got a younger crowd? “Better have an ample supply of Lady Gaga,” says Mr. Smiley.
Don’t do this: Keep your MP3 player where everyone can access it unless you want to see guests throw down over the next track.