Ask the Expert: Making a Party Playlist

25 Jan

DJ Jojo contemplates music and dessert.

Ask the Expert is a series where I interview friends and others who are experts in a particular party concept.

For this edition, I interviewed friend and music aficionado, DJ Jojo (who moonlights as the editor of a popular social-good-meets-social-networking website). In this entry, DJ Jojo shares her secrets for creating the perfect blend of songs for a party or event. Read on for tips to consider, pitfalls to avoid, and solutions to pressing moral dilemmas.

Everybody’s Invited!: Grammar nerd alert.  I must know, do you say “mix tape” or “mixed tape”?

DJ Jojo: I tend to use “mix tape” for the kind I made on my stereo in high school, and “mixtape” for compilations that are produced or remixed by a DJ. I hope that doesn’t ruin my reputation as an editor, since “mixed tape” makes more grammatical sense. But it probably helps my reputation as a fake DJ, so it’s all good.

EI!: You are obviously not afraid to take editorial risks! Does that apply to playlists as well? How would you describe your basic approach to selecting songs for a party playlist?

Jojo: Yes, risk-taking is key. There are two basic principles to consider: balance and mood. I strive for a balance of types of songs: old and new; ones that everyone will know and ones that hardly anyone will know; songs to sing along to and songs to fade into the background. And to determine the appropriate mood, I ask myself: Will people be dancing? Eating? Playing games? Reminiscing about high school? Having philosophical conversations? Getting wasted?

EI!: The playlist influences the vibe of the party. What are your strategies for determining song order?

Jojo: I like to start with some mellow songs for the beginning of the party, when people are still being introduced and settling in, then go into more upbeat or danceable songs during the middle when people are likely to be having the most fun. Then towards the end of the party, I like to emphasize the old-school tunes so the tired and/or drunk guests can feel that warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Then I’ll switch back to mellow tunes at the very end of the night, so the stragglers feel so sleepy that they want to go home.

EI!: Any common pitfalls to avoid?

Jojo: One common pitfall is getting to the best part of the playlist too early, before most of the guests arrive. It can be a wasted opportunity to show the guests how cool you really are! To avoid this disappointment, you can prepare a less carefully-selected playlist to listen to as you set up for the party and as the first few guests arrive.

Another common error is including songs that are much quieter or louder than the rest of your playlist—you’ll find yourself fiddling with the volume knob for the rest of the night and never finding quite the right decibel level. The low-tech way to avoid this problem is to quickly run through your playlist before the party and listen to the beginning of each song (which I recommend doing anyway to make sure the song order feels right).

EI!: We’ve got a question from a reader who writes,

Recently I’ve had a couple friends ask me to make them a mix. Instead of spending hours curating the perfect playlist (like I used to back in the day), I’ve gotten a little lazy and have turned to Pandora or iTunes Genius to, um, speed up the process. My question is two-fold. First, am I a bad person? And second, who do you think would win in a contest to create the best playlist – a living, breathing human being, or the world’s greatest music algorithm?

Jojo: Quite the moral dilemma you pose here! First, you are not a bad person, but your laziness might come at a cost. Tools like Pandora don’t know you very well, and they definitely don’t know your friend, so the playlist may fall a little flat to the recipient’s ears (and heart!). Second, I believe a living, breathing human can make a better mix than any computer—but only if the human has an insanely encyclopedic knowledge of music, an extremely close relationship with the listener, and a lot of free time.

(Editor’s Note: Is that a challenge? Hmmm…)

EI!: Finally, if your life had a soundtrack, what would the theme song be?

Jojo: Hmm. I can’t choose just one—I’m a Gemini, so I think I’m entitled to two songs: “Not Like Me” by Jean Grae, and J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major for piano (from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I).


4 Responses to “Ask the Expert: Making a Party Playlist”

  1. juliacsmith January 27, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    ummm, joanna? I think you forgot the cardinal rule. It rhymes with “Schmenny Schmoggins.”

  2. Abbi February 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    Haha..i just laughed out loud. Thanks, Julia!


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    […] I actually love creating custom playlists (check out my Ask the Expert post on creating a party playlist featuring DJ Jojo), but if I don’t have time (or the right music in my library), I can always […]

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