Structuring The Music At An Event
The Definition of Structuring an Event
Structure makes the difference between an amateur and a professional DJ. In short, it basically means grouping the genres or sub-genres of music you play in order to maintain control of the dance floor. You cannot to move from the 70s to top 40 in one song to the next, and then back to an 80s song and then throw in a House song followed by a Hip Hop track, all in a short period of time because you will confuse the crowd and make it a lot harder for yourself to control the direction of the event. A good structure gets the best out of the dance floor and maximizes the entertainment like squeezing water out of a sponge, you should get the best of each genre before you move onto the next. To have structure you must be familiar with all the different styles and genres of music, this will allow you to slowly mix and blend the selection and preferably so that the audience doesn’t notice your subtle changes.
4 Reasons to Have Structure
Reason 1 : Structure allows you to cater for a wider audience and age group
Most private (and some club/bar) events have mixed age groups and therefore different tastes in music. If for example you were DJing at a 21st with ages 18 up to 60 on the dance floor and you were playing the 70s & 80s classics, you would have the dance floor as full as possible as both young and older will enjoy the music from this era. Now if you were to throw in a modern house track in the middle of that set you can be sure that the elders will instantly leave the dance floor. Now that you’ve lost them you cannot easily just switch back to the 70s & 80s and expect them to come walking back because by now they have already sat down have possibly lost their excitement and motivation to dance. People don’t like to dance for one song, sit down for the next, get up for the next and so forth, they like to get into the groove and if the DJ has a good structure then this will keep them on the dance floor. This is a perfect example of why you should group your genres in order to keep certain demographics of people happy at a time, otherwise known as having structure. When it comes to events with all ages crowds, it is usually best to cater to the oldies first so they can have a dance and then sit down for the second part of the event, or if you are doing a really good job they will continue dancing right til the end, even through the house hits and club bangers. If you play the new music first, the elders will not dance so easily and by later in the evening have lost their interest in dancing and possibly gone home by the time you hit the 70s & 80s music. This concept of structuring the music for a wider audience does not only apply to younger and older audiences, but to peoples difference music preferences. I call this rotating the crowd.
A common example for this is “Top 40-RnB/Hip Hop” & “House” music, which have become the two main modern styles of music that younger audiences enjoy. Usually these age brackets will lean towards one of these styles or the other that they like most, so as I described above, switching song for song between RnB & then House music, and then RnB is going to really frustrate the crowd and scatter your dance floor. It is best that you group the genres (having structure) and you do at least twenty to thirty minutes of each style before going back to the other.
A DJ that plays a variety of music genres whilst still keeping the dance floor busy throughout a whole event demonstrates a strong understanding and knowledge of his or her profession. If DJing a private event, you especially want to have the dance floor busy in the last few hours so leading up to this period you want to build your selection of music up. For example: from 70s Disco to 70s Funk, then move into some 80s classics, then a bit of classic rock, followed some 90s hits, then break into the new music, and then slow it down to RnB and finishing with a mixture of RnB and Top 40 and maybe end the night with a set of house music. Notice how when moving from one group of music to the next there is often a common attribute that allows it to blend a little smoother even going to the detail of blending sub genres. So basically, structure allows you blend your styles smoothly and keep a larger audience happy. It also ensures you get as much dancing out of a particular group or crowd music preference before moving onto the next style.
Reason 2 : Structure allows you to take the most effective use of your time
Structure will allow you to make the most effective use of your material leaving you with a steady flow of great songs to play until the end of the event. When you first begin your DJ career, you might be intimidated by the amount of time ahead that you must fill (usually private parties go for 5 hours). At most parties it’s not until the second or third hour that people really start dancing and until then you are playing background music which is relatively easy. Sometimes however people might start dancing only 30 minutes into the event and you begin to wonder how you are going to entertain this group for another four hours or more. Now there are some songs that you know are going to get the dance floor gong but you don’t have four hours worth constant hits, what are you going to do now? Structure is the key.
We have already discussed why you shouldn’t switch back and forth between genres from one song to the next, another handy hint is make sure you get the best out of your current genre before moving on. If you move too quickly over the course of an event you will have already burned through many genres and still have a couple of hours til the end which leaves you stranded (unless you want to start back tracking). Be sure to pace yourself and plan your music ahead of time, I am always looking at my watch, not because I really want to go home, but to pace myself. A Professional DJ can manage to play music for two, three or even four extra unplanned overtime hours on top of the original 5 hour event, rarely doubling tracks. Think about it, these days in your music library you probably have over 20,000 songs and that is about 50 days of music, and all you only need 5 hours. So to prevent having to play songs twice or moving back to genres you have already explored it is important to ration your music selection, get the best out of that genre and then move on.
Reason 3 : Structure gives you a flexible plan to work with
By having structure, you can rotate through the styles of music you wish to explore and still play everyone’s requests. I like to pride myself on playing almost all of the music requested by people (Click here to read ‘The Art Of Taking DJ Song Requests’) because I love to make people happy, but this could come at a cost, ruining your structure. If you are playing 70s music and someone asks for a Top 40 song, playing that song immediately is going to go against all that we have already taught so far about structure so you must use your own judgement and hold that request off until it will fit perfectly into your plan. If you break your plan and change the style of music, you might have already triggered a chain reaction where the oldies sit down (or other demographic), and a new crowd gets up and now you gotta keep them happy. If you then try to continue with your structure as you had planned, switching back to the style you were playing before, the crowd will not be so forgiving. Requests should be slotted into your plan based on their genre, and in the previous example where you are playing 70s and someone asks for that latest top 40 track, the top 40 song can wait til later because right now you have a structure to stick to.
Reason 4 : Structure will give you the confidence you need to handle any situation
Now that you understand a little more about structure and how it benefits you it can be used to your advantage and give you confidence handle any event or style of music that comes your way. Even if a client asks you to play some cultural music such as Italian or Greek, it might only be a 15 minute dance bracket but understanding structure will allow you to please the small part of the audience that wants to hear this music and then hopefully move into a similar style that will keep them on the floor and attract a new crowd. With structure you should be able to confidently choose the ‘perfect’ song for every moment and always feel good about the direction you are heading. It allows you to feel confident that you know how to handle any event and will always be able to make the most of your music selection. You will be in total control of the direction of the music, and yet still be able to fit in most of your requests in, if you choose.
Two Ways To Approach the Dance Bracket with Your Music Selection At A Private Party
There are two simple ways of approaching most all ages events which covers anything from birthdays, weddings and corporate functions. This simple method involves looking at the demographics of the room. Let’s use a 21st as an example. Most 21st birthday cocktail functions will have a similar structure as shown below.
|7:00PM (Start)||Dinner / Background||1st|
|8:00PM||Background / Warm Up||2nd|
|10:00PM||Dancing (1st Hour)||4th|
|11:00PM||Dancing (2nd Hour)||5th|
|12:00AM (Finish)||Music Concludes|
Suppose you are DJing a 21st birthday and there are 150 people present. You must evaluate how many people are over 30 and under 30 or in other words, is there a lot of family or a lot of friends? Or a mix of both?
Younger Audience (More Friends) If there are more friends than family, then after the speeches in the first hour of dancing, you will play new music and the second hour you will play 70s & 80s classics.
Older Audience (More Family) If there are more family than friends, then in the first hour of dancing you will play 70s & 80s classics, and in the second hour you will play new music.
This is a general guide, if perhaps there are more younger people, you might have more than 1 hour of new music, depending on how many young people and how much they want to dance. The same applies if there more family and friends, you might play more than 1 hour of 70s & 80 classics.
Different Party Structures
There are two main party structures that a private party/event will be, they are:
1. Cocktail/Stand Up Event
2. Dinner/Sit down Event
Then there are 2 less Common Party Structures:
3. Kids Parties/Primary School Discos
4. 18th Birthdays/After Parties
Let’s go through all four of them:
1) Cocktail Events
A cocktail event is usually where there will be no main meal, only finger foods served while people chat among each other leading up to the speeches and then after the speeches is dancing. The music will usually start really slow in the first 60 minutes, gradually build up over the second hour at which point there is usually a speech, which then kick starts the dancing part of the celebration.
Example for Cocktail Event
|1||People Chatting / Background Music||7:00PM|
|2||People Chatting / Warm Up-More Upbeat Music||8:00PM|
|4||Dancing / 70s & 80s Classics||10:00PM|
|5||Dancing / Top 40 / Current Music / Aussie Classics||11:00PM|
2) Dinner/Sit down Events
Dinner events are usually corporate Christmas parties or Weddings where there will be a 3 course meal and typically more formalities. Dinner events will again start off slow however usually meals and formalities might take up to 3 hours of the event (not continuously), and so therefore you must play a more broad selection of Dinner music to keep people amused while they chat and eat their meals. Dancing will again usually kick off after a speech of some sort, but could start before the speech.
Example for Dinner/Sitdown Event
|1||People Chatting / Pre-Dinner Drinks / Upbeat Jazzy Music||7:00PM|
|Entrée / Low Key Background Music||7:30PM|
|2||Main Meal / Low Key Background Music||8:30PM|
|3||Speeches / Awards||9:00PM|
|Dancing / 70s & 80s Music||9:30PM|
|4 & 5||Dancing / Top 40||10:30PM|
3) Kids Parties/Primary School Discos
If you ever went to a school disco you would know how a kids party might be different to a mature age cocktail or dinner party. Rather than guests slowly arriving over the first hour of the event, all the kids are parents will be there up to 30 minutes PRIOR to start time, so you must get in early and be ready right on the word GO! Kids will usually demand a lot more attention from the DJ to entertain, but don’t worry about them for now, I will teach you how to DJ kids events in another blog.
4) 16th/18th Birthdays/After Parties
These type of events will probably be the most difficult to entertain out of all. Again like kids parties, teens at ages 16 – 18 are very excited to be partying, so they usually arrive right on time and expect the music to be upbeat from the first song. There will be no dinner music, finger foods, family or mingling, it will be all attention on you to perform when you arrive. This age group is also very critical, they know their Top 40/House/RnB very well, and if you don’t, they’ll notice that you are inexperienced very easily. These events require some experience to handle the abundance of requests and demands. Music will alternate between Hip Hop / RnB, Dance-House-Techno and Top 40.
Example for 16th/18th Birthday/After Party Event
|1||Music Upbeat / Hip Hop-RnB-Top 40||7:00PM|
|3||Speeches (only sometimes)||9:30PM|
5) Weddings (Sitdown Event)
Although weddings are another form of a Dinner / Sit Down event, I would like to cover them separately as they are a large part of what professional DJs do and are a little more specific than an average dinner / sit down event. Once you have built up your experience Weddings are quite easy, however being someone’s special day, it is more important for you to do a VERY good job. Again there will usually be about 2 – 3 hours of background music and formalities. What you must keep in mind when doing a wedding is that the couple have spent thousands of dollars on their wedding, including a videographer which will be there on the day. So if you stuff up, you won’t be forgiven AND it will be on candid camera!
Example for a Wedding Celebration
|Music Starts – Pre Dinner Drinks – Upbeat Background Music||7:00PM|
|Introduction of the Bridal Party||7:35PM|
|Cutting Of The Cake||After Speeches|
|Bridal Waltz||After Cake|
|Dancing||After Bridal Waltz|
|Throwing of the Boquet / Garter||11:35PM|
Weddings and other types of sit down events such as annual dinners and award nights involve a lot more formalities and background music. Mostly these events are all ages, or only ages over 30. This will mean that you will generally have to play some 70s & 80s classics at these types of events, and usually in the first part of the dancing bracket, so the elders may sit down and relax for the second part, when you play new music.
So there you have it, structuring the music at an event. It’s probably a topic you’ve never really heard from DJs before because it’s almost a hidden layer of understanding music and DJing. It’s a lot of information to soak in and honestly takes years to really master but I hope this blog will help you grasp the concept a little quicker. Anyway thanks for reading this blog and if you found the information useful then please SHARE this on on social media and leave your comments below (all comments will be moderated, no spam please) and I will be glad to hear from you and even answer your questions.
Paul Anthony is the Managing Director of Event Master Pro and Discosource DJ’s based in Phuket, Thailand. With over 20 years experience as a Professional DJ he built a nation wide DJ service across every major city in Australia teaching over 50 DJs his craft and now developing the EMP online application for DJs.