7 tips for choosing the right party playlist

Records stack over wooden table and vintage light leaks.
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Summer is almost upon us, which means it’s time to open up the patio and get ready to spend a lot more time outside. Backyard party season is here, so scrub the barbecue, cut the grass, weed the garden, and invite your friends and family over for an evening of starlit conversation. Just don’t forget the most important cog in the party machine: the music.

Sometimes it seems like choosing music is the hardest part of entertaining. Everyone has unique tastes when it comes to bands, genres, and even volume levels, so as the party host it’s up to you to create the perfect party playlist. Below are some tips to help you succeed.

Tip #1: Choose a theme

The first thing you want to ask yourself is, What kind of party am I having? Is this a family gathering, a birthday celebration, a work event, a dance party? Before you build your playlist, you need to decide on your theme.

For example, if this is a low-key event, you’ll want to choose quieter, subtler background music. If this is an exciting soiree, you’ll need fast tempo, rhythmic tunes that encourage foot tapping and dancing. Your theme will help set the mood of your party, so choose wisely.

Tip #2: Do your research

If your taste in music is basic, you only listen to one genre, or you’re just not sure what everybody else is listening to these days, go online and do some research. Start by checking out online music playlist sites or apps for ideas. Most of these sites (and apps) have the option to choose a theme or genre, which is a good place to start. Then you can take note of the types of music they play and even write down specific songs.

Another way to come up with new songs, or remember some old favourites, is to go on YouTube. There are endless playlists for all occasions, tastes, and genres, so just type in what you want to hear and take note. It’s an easy way to get inspiration for a party playlist, and also a great way to find out what you don’t want to hear.

Tip #3: Think about your audience

This playlist is not just for you; it’s for everyone you invite to your party. Think about who your guests are and what they like. For example, if your grandma is coming, find out what kind of music she grew up listening to and be sure to include some. Or if your friend’s teenaged daughter is attending, ask your friend what she likes and throw a few of her favourites into the mix. You might think their music is terrible, but if your guests are happy, your party is a success. Plus, it will show how thoughtful you are.

Tip #4: Mix it up

One of the worst mistakes you can make when creating a party playlist is to lack variety. The perfect playlist will have different genres, highs and lows, and old and new music. While it can seem like a brilliant idea to play only ‘80s music or today’s top 40, people often grow tired of listening to one style. Choose an array of genres from each generation to keep things feeling fresh.

It’s equally important that your playlist have ups and downs. For example, after an especially epic power rock-ballad, try following it up with some light catchy pop music. If you play too many energetic songs in a row, you could end up encouraging wild behaviour, but if you play only easy-listening elevator music, you could have a snorefest on your hands. Mix things up for optimum results.

Tip #5: Stray from the path

People often think that if they stick to a clear path of popular music, they can’t possibly go wrong. However, not all popular songs are, well, popular, and they are often overplayed. Unless you’re hosting a “We love country music” party, be sure to spice things up a little. Get creative by including music that doesn’t come from a best of or greatest hits album.

A good playlist should remind listeners of songs they haven’t heard in a while or expose them to something new. If you have any music snobs at your party (or aficionados, as they like to be called), there is no greater success than being able to inform them of an awesome new band. One-hit wonders from the past are also a good idea because having somebody yell out, “I love this song!” always feels great.

Tip#6: It’s all about the volume

This is another serious faux-pas when it comes to party playlists. If you have the music turned up too loud, you’ll drown out your guests and make conversation really difficult. If the music is turned down too low, it can make the party seem boring, and will definitely not encourage dancing. The trick is to find a happy medium: not too loud, not too quiet.

You also need to think about your surroundings. Do you have neighbours close by? Watch your bass! Let them know about your party ahead of time (you can even invite them if you’re feeling extra hospitable), and make sure the volume doesn’t get out of control. What’s worse than a bad playlist? Having the police show up with a noise complaint.

Tip #7: Do a dress rehearsal

The best way to know if your playlist is awesome is to listen to it! Plan a dress rehearsal for your playlist to work out any kinks, weed out any duds, and check for any awkward transitions. Make any tweaks (or major overhauls) where necessary until it’s party time. Then you can just sit back and relax, knowing that if all else fails (the food is terrible, your guests don’t like each other, etc.) at least the music is good!

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