When many people think about how a DJ enlivens the vibe of an event, they think of beat and rhythm – whether that means these are mixed together in a way that is great for dancing, or, at an event that involves primarily mingling, they are mixed together to create an atmosphere that subtly makes itself welcome with the crowd. However, a DJ’s command of melody and mood – especially with the spectrum wildly different melodies and moods found in the immense variety of music New York City clients often request – can be just as or more important to elevating the level of an event.
When we meet with clients to help them plan the musical flow of an event, many know what they would like the overall mood, or at least part of it, to be. Song meaning and lyrics are often not as important. (For more on lyrics and meaning, go here for our first post in this series). These clients don’t mind if a song has an ambivalent meaning or may have some lyrics that conflict with the mood of their particular event, just that this doesn’t pierce the mood. For example, if a client wants a vibe that features roots reggae tunes to introduce a sunny, mellow vibe, they might not mind if a song here or there has downbeat lyrics, as long as the song fits the overall atmosphere of the event
Mood is important in different ways at different kinds of events. For events that primarily involve mingling – like guest arrivals at fashion shows, or corporate party and wedding cocktail hours and dinners, or in-store promotional events – a mood can be sustained longer and often explored deeper. For events involving dancing, the mood tends to need to be changed more quickly, as crowd feedback to the songs is more direct. If the crowd really likes a change in mood, DJs will likely go with this for a bit, and then after a bit, move on to another mood to keep the anticipation and the energy up. But even here, the mood can be one that can be lingered in. For example, if there is a theme to your event, such as playing 80s music, the DJ can explore the many different sub-moods of this genre, from sexy R & B, to dark synthpop, to edgy punk.
If an event organizer is a bit unsure as to what mood will work best, or if the mood they want to create will work for their guests, we often help by asking what kind of songs the event organizer thinks their guests will like. We can quickly see from the songs or genres given what the most successful moods could likely be, and from there we can work together to fine-tune or introduce new ideas for moods to create based on the organizer’s suggestions.
Where mood is an overall element, melody usually comes into play at events as being the “icing on the cake” of the mood. For example, at events where the primary goal is mingling and conversation, the melody makes the mood more specific – offering a festive, or ethereal, or whimsical (and so on) take on the chosen atmosphere. The beat of a song is what people grab onto, but melody is primarily what keeps people’s attention at these events. Because subtleties of lyrics are often lost in the noise of conversations, and because a repeated beat can get familiar after a while, a satisfying melody is what rises above to be noticed and latched onto from song to song while not interfering with the mingling. (If you’ve ever been in a hip restaurant/bar after around 11 p.m. in Manhattan, you will often hear house-ish music that seemingly only has a beat and nothing else over it – it’s okay to hear for atmosphere, but kind of boring after a couple hours.) In other words, it’s both a good melody and a good beat that makes guests tap their toe or bob their head while waiting for a drink at the bar.
At events that involve dancing, melody is of course more integrated with lyrics and most of all a seductive beat to create mood, but even here, in certain moments, the melody can take the lead. An example of this is when a DJ slyly throws on a cool but obscure cover version of song that he or she thinks the crowd will love. The melody of the original song needs to be somewhat intact for the song to work, especially if the DJ is spinning to crowd that isn’t as adventurous or open to quirkiness as club or bar crowds in, say, the East Village or Williamsburg. Another example is when the DJs spins remixes and mash-ups. Whether at a club or at a corporate party, altering songs too much can be frustrating if it ruins the core instrumental or vocal melodies (like riffs and choruses) a crowd craves when partying. Sometimes the mood of an event is one that will call for mostly non-remixed original versions of songs, and sometimes the mood will demand more severe remixes and stylized effects such as loops or wobble bass drops to keep people’s attention. A great DJ, no matter where they are playing or at what kind of event they are performing, will tune into the crowd quick and find the level of altering melody that will add to the vibe and not take away from it.
Since each song – and sometimes genres – have their own melodies, and what is a satisfying to one group is sometimes not to another is another reason we consult with the event organizer to see what kinds of songs and genres that their guests might like, and from here we can build a playlist that will use melodies in the ways described in the previous paragraphs to their fullest effect, and to ensure a better chance of creating a great event.
Coming next, Part 3: Beat & Rhythm
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