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You know you’ve done your job as a DJ at a holiday party when everyone goes home stoked and feeling as if they had experienced something special with their co-workers.

That can be done in numerous ways. We asked Johnee Wong-Smedley at Pez Productions in Calgary for some programming ideas to insure that happens. 

He gave us plenty — and added valuable advice about reading a crowd to inform your playlist.

1. Cocktails: I like playing extended and 12″ versions of tracks people know but do not hear often. 12″ are usually 80s and 90s, some are remixes, most are EP. The ones I chose are based on what client lays out as genre preferences. If given free rein I work the energy of the room over all. I.E. I’ll mix genres and blend Motown, Funk, Disco, Nu Disco, Deep House, and a few Jazzy house tracks thrown in.

“I like playing extended and 12″ versions of tracks people know but do not hear often.”

Examples: Ella Fitzgerald – Damn Your Eyes (Sunday Soulman & Chris Child Remix) followed by Jamiroquai – Little L (Soulful House Remix) then go into a couple Jazz tracks and do a custom re-drum over top, using the same re-drum transition into something newer to keep the vibe positive and music familiar.

2. Dinner: Acoustic covers are really popular here, many guests ask me where I find the covers I play and often refer them to the artists website or social media profiles.

I have some local performers that have also provided recordings of their cover songs that I use sparingly.

Check this holiday party Mobile Mix Top 20

Examples: Shirley Bassey’s cover of The Doors – Light My Fire; Birds and the Bees cover of Bee Gees – How Deep Is Your Love; Boyce Avenue (there is a ton), string and/or piano duos/trio/quartet such as Liano Guys, 2Cellos, VSQ.

3. After dinner: Depends on event and crowd. Usually a mix of golden era Hip Hop, Funk, Motown, Top 40, Retro 80s, a few 70s – 00s rock, 90s dance, grunge, a bit of country, and Electronic.

I blend genres with instrumentals and a capellas, quick transitions, a bit of scratch if the crowd is receptive to it.

I play usually 110 – 124 build up, 125 – 134 for peak, 68 – 78 peak down, 80 – 110 build up again. I might try dropping an occasional 140-150 but most of the events I do don’t typically ask for or want music that fast.

More important to me is paying attention to everyone in the room, not just on the dancefloor. An awareness of crowd psychology, filtering requests, interacting on the mic, engaging and involving the crowd are much more effective than dropping club party bangers all night start to end.

Be aware of crowd psychology

1. Determine genres by observing the split of age groups: I.E. 50% 21-35, 40% 35-45, 10% 50+ and then program accordingly. You can do this by filtering requests.

2. Alcohol as you know affects people’s common sense, especially if they are partying hard. Keeping them in positive vibes while controlling their energy in a positive way through music and mic interaction.

“Determine genres by observing the split of age groups.”

3. Once you know the room — who are the dancers and who are the sitters — you can rotate different groups on and off the dancefloor, building and manipulating the energy, knowing what tracks work and when to play them to either hype the crowd or calm them down if they’re getting out of hand.

4. Singalongs help bring people closer together.

There are so many singalongs I can create a list for days, but here are the popular ones this season:

“Singalongs help bring people closer together.”

  1. Steeler’s Wheel — Stuck in the Middle 
  2. BSB – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
  3. Zedd – Meet Me in the Middle
  4. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. Oasis – Wonderwall
  6. Spirit of the West – Home for a Rest
  7. Bon Jovi – Livin on a Prayer
  8. GnR – Sweet Child O’Mine
  9. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk or Finesse or 24K Magic
  10. No Doubt – Just a Girl
  11. Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
  12. Flo Rida – Low
  13. Fountains of Wayne – Stacey’s Mom
  14. Rick Springfield – Jesse’s Girl
  15. Otis Day and the Knights – Shout 
  16. Train – Drops of Jupiter
  17. Skee-Lo – I Wish
  18. House of Pain – Jump Around
  19. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – Fresh Prince of Bel Air
  20. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
  21. Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back
  22. Ce Ce Peniston – Finally 
  23. Redbone – Come and Get Your Love
  24. Jackson Five — ABC or I Want You Back

25. Caveat: Older tracks like Build Me Up Buttercup and Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline don’t hold the same enjoyment for crowds as they used to as they’re overplayed. 

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