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Deciding Which Elements of the Music Your DJ Spins Are Most Important for Your Event, Part 1: Lyrics & Meaning

May 31, 2012

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A common concern that clients have for us about their playlists are questions about a songs’ lyrics or overall meaning. Often these clients think that even though a song is loved by them and/or their guests, the lyrics spoil it somehow, in that they’re too dirty, too downbeat, or are appropriate and great, but they wonder if anyone will notice them if the song is rather unknown.

In having DJ-ed the variety of events we have over the years, we can say that sometimes these concerns are valid, sometimes they aren’t, and sometimes when planning an event’s playlist we run into concerns with lyrics and song meaning that clients haven’t even thought about and we need to at least make them aware that they think about. Here’s some basic – but often not obvious – guidelines to think about when considering the impact of lyrics and meaning of songs for your event.

As far as a song’s lyrics being too dirty, unless you as the event organizer know for sure that there will be all adults there and they will not be offended by coarse lyrics, there’s really no problem. Hearing the original version of, say, an explicit classic hip hop song when your party is in its heaviest groove is quite sexy and fun for crowds. The tough thing is, clients we talk to usually will have someone attending that they figure could object to dirty lyrics, so they’ll usually choose to have us spin the clean version. Don’t worry – guests will be able to use their imagination and fill in what the “real” lyrics are.

When it comes to songs that clients believe are too downbeat in their lyrics or meaning to include at their event, we’ve found that a few don’t “kill” the vibe. Unless the song is a “showcase” song and is meant to be listened to by a crowd to inspire liveliness – like first dances at a wedding, runway songs at fashion shows, or introductions of keynote speakers at corporate events – in public, songs go by quickly, and they’re not as noticed as it would if you were listening on headphones. (In this way, a few songs sprinkled throughout an event that are festive but in a foreign language can work, too – what the guests will notice is the mood, not the lyrics.)

So, unless you want to play say, three melancholy indie pop songs in a row, or a seven-minute bittersweet vintage samba number, putting a song on the playlist that is special to you but a bit downbeat during a cocktail hour or a dinner is not going to affect an overall upbeat vibe. Just keep these downbeat songs limited,and make sure they’re kept at a reasonable three- or four-minute length. Also, there are downbeat songs that are we’ve found work surprisingly well for dancing. Many know the song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by the post-punk legendary group Joy Division as a poetically-written tune about an impossible relationship, yet because the song is a classic, and because it happens to have a driving beat, it can get crowds moving – even at a wedding, when it’s the antithesis of the mood. (Just make sure it’s played later, when the crowd has has loosened up and had a few drinks.)

Other songs that clients often want to choose are favorites which have lyrics that they think will go with an upbeat vibe, but the clients aren’t sure if guests will notice or appreciate the songs since they are more obscure. We especially find this with clients in the New York City area, as they have such a varied group of cultural and musical backgrounds and therefore often come to us with all kinds of great but rather unknown gems of all genres on their playlists. If an obscure song is played as strictly background music, these clients are often right – again, people at mixer-type events are often mingling, drinking or eating, and not paying attention to the song as single-mindedly as they would in private. So, if a client really wants the song to be appreciated, we suggest making the songs a showcase – for example, if the event is an a art opening, use a special song as the background to an artists’ retrospective slideshow, or if it’s a wedding, use it as a processional for a wedding ceremony, or as a first dance song.

And lastly, regarding a song’s lyrics and meaning, we find it’s great to spin songs whose lyrics go with that portion of the event, or that have a message appropriate to the event in general. This is something that clients don’t often consider much, but done here and there it can boost the lively feel of an event, and make it feel more festive. The important thing here though is the songs should by subtle or sly references to the moment, not ones too out in the forefront, or things will feel too forced. At a corporate cocktail party, it’s great to play a vintage jazz tune about having a good time like Ray Charles “Mess Around” but it’s just lame to play BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business.” The same goes for a wedding, in that it’s great to throw in newer pop songs like “Say Hey (I Love You)” by Michael Franti & Spearhead that puts the vibe of festiveness and romance in the air, but it’s not advised to play Frank Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” as it’s so obvious that it will simply appear unimaginative and lazy.

Coming next, Part 2: Melody & Mood

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A Gentle Song with a Cinematic Feel for Indie Wedding Ceremonies: Memoryhouse, “Walk With Me”

April 9, 2012

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Over many years of DJ-ing non-traditional weddings in New York City and the surrounding area, we’ve seen that the increasingly popular phrase “indie wedding” - like the “indie music” aesthetic it’s largely derived from - is a wide-ranging idea that encompasses all kinds of different styles. But in general, it often eschews much of the feel of “grandness” of traditional ceremonies and receptions - from the fussy long dresses to the large catering hall to the cake cutting.

The more stripped-down and often eclectic indie wedding concept seems to partly a reaction to this traditional kind of fancier-looking wedding experience, and how it has seemingly throughout the last few generations become a one-size-fits-all package of assembly-line luxury that’s incessantly marketed and promoted from storefronts to television to the internet. Many of the couples we work for have told us that this style doesn’t appeal to them because of its generic feel, suspected insincerity on the part of its sellers, or often simply because its “blinging out” every aspect of the celebration doesn’t reflect a vibe that these couples want to portray to others, or be surrounded with.

Therefore, many couples who want an indie wedding will make things more personal (and often more inexpensive) - they’ll have a ceremony in the backyard of one of their parent’s homes instead of a chapel, or have the reception in a historical society museum instead of a “wedding factory”-style hall that schedules multiple weddings at once, or they’ll have cupcakes instead of a formal cake cutting moment. To some, this might sound reductive - and handled the wrong way it certainly could be. But to so many couples in the city we have worked with, these couples see a bit less as a lot more - more, in that their wedding will feel a lot more reflective of their spirit, as well as more fresh and less predictable to their guests.

Of course, these couples usually want music that reflects their mostly non-mainstream tastes. (Over the years we have put together a large amount of blog posts of recommendations of songs for all components of indie weddings and weddings of a more eclectic style; go here to read them.) While most couples going for the indie wedding vibe won’t go completely esoteric on their dance playlist as not to alienate guests, for the earlier parts of the wedding, they generally want to use music - especially at the ceremony - to establish their more simple and/or eclectic vibe.

But simply-constructed or obscure songs don't mean the music for an indie wedding ceremony has to feel small or unelegant - there are plenty of tunes out there that don't use orchestras, or even a ton of schmaltzy production effects, and yet still conjure a magical or expansive mood. A perfect example of this is the song “Walk With Me” by the Toronto duo Memoryhouse (from their recent debut album The Slideshow Effect, pictured above). "Walk With Me" begins with a soft, dreamy sound that chimes along for a few moments until airy but clear female vocals deliver a mix of visually concrete and emotionally reflective lyrics - skylines and heads resting on shoulders are mentioned alongside remembrances of youth and leaving behind old ways. Then, as the chorus kicks in and increases the energy and sweep of the song, the vocals center on the idea of walking together into a new, better life. The mingling of the tangible with the more abstract, as well as the ethereal atmosphere of the tune, give the song a distinct cinematic feel, as if it's meant to accompany a flashback scene from some art house film.

Have a listen, and if you enjoy the mood the song creates, I think you’ll find it quite easy to picture a wedding processional starting for the quiet but evocative verses that introduce the tune, and then the bride entering on the chorus, when the pace gets faster, the sound bigger, and the lyrics poignantly applicable to the moment just before marriage as the vocalist sings: This life could be / grace with symmetry / walk with me / do you walk with me?

Also, as a bonus, there’s a quiet break toward the end of the song, and then it picks up again and repeats the chorus to the end - a moment that could be played on a couple's kiss or an officiant’s pronouncement, so as to use the chorus' lyrics of walking together to capture the joy and festivity of a ceremony recessional.

Memoryhouse - Walk With Me

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With New York’s First Same-Sex Marriages Underway, Wedding Planning Excitement Begins for City Gay & Lesbian Couples – and for DJNYC

July 26, 2011

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Cute lesbian cake topperOn July 24th, New York State’s law allowing same-sex marriages went into effect. Throughout the state, and in New York City, a huge number of couples waited to take their vows in the early morning hours at various marriage bureaus. From the start of the day it seemed every news report on television, the internet, and in newspapers that you came across all remarked strongly on the intense feeling of thrill, giddy disbelief, and often the joyful release of emotions long-held inside.

We feel great that same-sex couples have finally won these new rights, but also, for a company like us that loves to plan and spin at all kinds of unique weddings – be  it same-sex marriages or those “other” kind – and has been doing it for years, this is also exciting for us professionally as well. Recently, Dan and I were interviewed for UK radio, on BBC Radio 1 (and featured in their on-line article), in which we talk about our enthusiasm for same sex weddings. The interview is below, and you can read the article here.

We anticipate there will be a huge increase in same-sex couples wanting to marry, and just like the other couples who tend to be attracted to our approach, gay and lesbian couples are going to want it to be a wedding personalized to them, and not some generic, cookie-cutter party with tired music and over-long or obnoxious MC announcements. We’re excited to what the future will bring, and to get to know what each of Cute gay cake topper these couples see as their vision or vibe for their special day. Whether a couple envisions a celebration that’s more traditional, or wants a large-scale bash at a huge space, or prefers an eccentric, low-key lounge vibe, or desires a cozy gathering at an old converted brownstone – whatever the case, this kind of customization is what has been our specialty for a long time. We’re looking forward to working with more same-sex couples in this way – while also looking forward to integrating new ceremony or reception moments for these couples that may emerge as being popular crowd-pleasers at same-sex weddings

As a DJ company that is already experienced in planning and spinning at same-sex weddings, it’s really going to be fun and special for us to take that experience and match it with the joy and enthusiasm that we know so many gay and lesbian couples will have for planning their wedding, now that they are, after a long wait, official.

BBC Radio 1 Interview with djnyc

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Where Should You Start When Deciding What Music To Include at Your Event? Start With Your “Dream List” of Songs

June 29, 2010

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When we meet to talk with clients about music for their event, often the first thing we notice is that they've already dejectedly decided the music they really like and want to hear won't be able to be played at their event.

It may be a designer in a fashion show thinking that the music she wants to use for her fashion line will be too ethereal a sound to keep the audience interested. Or a couple who loves moody acoustic indie pop but thinks it would be too much of a downer to play a little at their wedding Or an organizer of a corporate party who worries that the employees won’t dance because they tend to like raw Southern hip-hop and their bosses wouldn’t. Whatever the case, whatever the event, it seems this kind of unfortunate premature musical censorship is everywhere.

Dream listIt often comes from a good place of common sense or consideration, like an organizer at a art opening knowing that prospective buyers might not want to hear his beloved deep cuts of ‘70s classic rock all night long. But some of our clients’ decisions that their favorite songs or genres won’t work comes not from a good place at all, but instead from having met with conventional, unimaginative DJs that tend to work for bigger, more cookie-cutter DJ companies. We’ve heard from these clients that some of these DJs have told them straight up that the only way to get a party movin’ is to play disco all night.

Whatever the reason for clients' doubts in the music they love, one of the first things we tell them – no matter what their event –  is to open up their mind, revisit their CD collection or iPod, and make their “dream list” of songs they want to hear, with no censoring allowed. Put anything in you would love to hear. Not only does it make the process of selecting music easier, but also more fun. It will get you excited about the possibilities of hearing this music, as opposed to nixing songs right away and feeling frustrated that the soundtrack to the event is already not what you would like.

Now, will all these "dream songs" end up making the cut when the event arrives? Sometimes many of them do, sometimes they don't. But what always happens is that when we see these “dream lists” and talk a bit with the client to see what music is most important to them, we can then use our experience in knowing what of these songs will work given the mood that is wanted at the event, as well as what kind of guests will be there, and what kind of structure the event will have. Then we can suggest which songs to keep, which to think about not using. For example, a pair of melancholy indie songs at the more sedate moments in a wedding can feel absolutely right and even moving. So can a set of obscure hardcore punk during the more boisterous moments of a corporate party. And even a little experimental progressive rock can enhance the feeling of an art opening, if played at the right time.

By far, many more of the songs you really want at your event then you ever think you can play are actually able to be fit in, but not only that, they can be made to add to the atmosphere of the event. But to do it, you have to begin by letting the DJ know what you really want to hear. And if that DJ looks at your list, smirks, and says something about how you can't have a party without having "the Y" on your list, well, you know the time has come to find a different DJ.

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