Every single one of us can be a DJ . We each have the ability to be an influencer, a critic – a purveyor of fresh musical content for the masses.
From an accessibility standpoint, It’s becoming easier to queue up songs and create deep playlists based on the music we love. Between music blogs and social sites, we can preview tracks from established and brand-new artists. We can easily create playlists on the fly, spreading them far and wide to share our respective tastes and express our mood to the world.
Thanks to music blogs, we have the ability to hear upcoming singles at the same time (or even before) traditional musical tastemakers do. And we’re not restricted by FCC rules or political embargos.
The great news is that online music services are consistently getting better and the catalogues are becoming deeper. We can share tracks, solicit feedback, re-share what our friends have liked and even collaborate with them.
We are eager to share and eager to please.
With all of this newfound access, content will still prevail. There’s still an art to crafting the perfect mixtape – a perfect rhythm and balance that tells a story and will make your friends hunt you down for more.
For what it’s worth (and so I’ll stop babbling to strangers about this at parties), I’ve sketched out a few thoughts on what I think creates great playlist. As a DJ and musical programmer with several years of community + college radio experience, I feel that I may be able to speak semi-intelligently on the issue (ha). And if I really have no clue what I’m talking about, please feel free to call me out in any way you see fit (a playlist battle, perhaps? double ha).
Without any further ramblings, here within please find 7 general tips for giving your best set ever.
#1 Grab ‘em from the get go.
Traditionally, a DJ mix starts slowly then builds to peak at about 3/4’ths of the way through. While this may work on a dancefloor, a digital mixtape has different needs. You’ll want to grab the ear of the listener right away. This is ‘specially important in an online world where users don’t stick around for long.
With that said, this doesn’t mean you should put all of your bangers up front. It’s not a tempo thing. Instead, think about starting with something that’s simply really, really good. A banger can be the equivalent of shouting “WAKE UPPP!!” Not many people like that.
You can open your mix in a very subtle way (for example, a classical piece or a clever acoustic cover). Whatever you think is comfortable yet arresting.
The goal here is two-fold. #1 get their attention, and #2 set the mood.
Whichever way you choose to go, the opening track should set the tone for the rest of the mix.
#2 Pick a variety of songs – but stay consistent to your theme.
I have a friend who works in music supervision. He loves trendy indie bands on the folksy, whimsical tip. And while his mixtape selections are amazing – I always learn something new – in the end it sounds like one long record by the same band. Ultimately, unless he’s hitting fans within his niche directly he’s gonna lose people. The mix is too steady and listeners will easily get bored and go away.
Choose a variety of songs from different decades and genres. This opens up your work to a larger audience with a wider variety of taste. Mixing it up also keeps listeners on their toes. It keeps it interesting.
The way to tie it all together is through your theme – whether it’s by mood, subject, or purpose.
#3 Be relevant.
Don’t choose songs “just because”. Try to pick music that is culturally relevant and/or very specific to your theme. For example, you can include an artist who happens to be in town when you publish your mix, or you can feature a recently re-issued track from a brand-new soundtrack or collection.
#4 Know how to sequence tracks.
A good playlist is reminiscent and provokes emotion. It holds you. It grabs your attention with something familiar yet unique, comfortable yet exciting, and proceeds to take you on a journey. It slowly evolves and it’s purpose unfolds from song to song.
It has peaks and valleys, highs and lows. There are times in-between songs when you may find that it’s completely silent. There are other, more frenetic moments when you can’t tell when one tune ends and the next begins.
A good mixtape puts you in that place. It removes you from the world. It can drop you into a black hole or allow you to soar. You get lost in that hard-to-describe vibe, the one that removes you from where you physically are at that very time and place.
This is all in how you decide to order the songs. You’ll want to keep this “journey” in mind as you work.
#5 Build trust.
A good mixtape gains and keeps listeners by subtly earning their trust. Ultimately, the end-game is to enable them to appreciate and/or understand your taste and where you’re headed with your selections. When that happens, you’re upping the odds that the listener will be willing to sit through the more questionable tracks to get through to something really great that’s just around the corner.
#6 Be Yourself.
For me, sharing a mixtape is just spreading the word about stuff I love to my friends.
Putting together and sharing music is very personal. If you come across as if you’re trying to speak to everyone it can sound fake. It’s like the radio adage, “pretend that you’re speaking to one person.” Just be creative and express yourself.
Admittedly, I used to try waaay too hard on this front. I conformed to what I thought others expected me to play, and in radio, what they expected me to sound like on the mic. One DJ I trained under wanted more “bedroom voice”. I thought that was gross. It wasn’t natural, and inevitably didn’t work. The funnest shows and best feedback I’ve ever received was when I didn’t care about what I sounded like. Creating a sequence based on straight-up instinct over the trying-to-be- cool factor can, and will, prevail.
When you’re free from that fear of judgment and the self-imposed expectations that come along with it, you can post anything from obscure garage buzz bands to something deliciously Top 40. Because you’re being yourself and are a friend to your audience, your authenticity will shine through and they’ll get it.
With that said, if you know most of your friends are into a particular style, post it! You want to engage your network – it’ll be more worthwhile and relevant for them to check out. Hopefully they’ll be inclined to share as well. And, in your own interest, hopefully they’ll pay more attention the next time you post.
#7 Do it for the Love.
In the end, you want a mix that you’ll love. If you love it – add it. It’s that simple.
Pick openly, freely, and without abandon. The process is the best part.
It’s a tape for you.
It’s a reflection of yourself, your mood, your interests – a bookmark of where you exist at that particular place in time.
If others dig it – sweet! If not, you’ll always have your creation to love and revisit time and time again.