Choosing school dance songs requires lots of research. While the kids are still familiar with the top 40 / top 100 chart stuff, they pull a lot of new stuff online that never makes the airwaves. Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, and now Tik Tok, are places kids are going first to hear new music. You also need to rely on your record pools.
And sometimes you’ll get a detailed playlist from the students. After a high school had booked me to play an event recently, I reached out to the school (on a Monday) and let them know to have their dance planning committee send me a (school approved) list of songs.
They sent this list on a Friday, end of January 2020, around 2 pm and I worked on it prepping songs Friday night and Saturday afternoon, going through line by line, finding clean versions when needed, and checking my record pools and library for remixes. It’s a huge list, but I probably had 80% of the songs already. I’m not sure if this list came from one student, or many, but I’d take a list like this over the top 20-25 songs I would probably be planning to play anyway. I’d hire the kids that made this list to DJ weddings under my umbrella.
I’ve worked with this school before, and their attitude has always been “as long as the curse words aren’t there, we don’t care what song plays” — regardless of its message or content. It’s an “it’s their dance, play their songs” kind of attitude, which isn’t always how every school views things.
I think kids think of DJs and immediately think of the big festival guys, so I tried to give them a “festival experience” with lots of remixes, big drops, and fast transitions between songs.
Outside of TV or the internet, how many DJs has the average 16 or 17 year old (who can’t go out to bars and clubs) seen in real life? Maybe 10? The only thing they have to compare it to is the mega touring DJs. Accordingly, a school dance should be quick mixed and remix / drop heavy, especially with all of the low-key hip hop that has come out recently.
The dance started at 8, and ended at 12. Most kids had arrived by 9:30, and most made their exit around 11:30. It’s an affluent school, and many kids were headed out to big after parties.
I was surprised by how many of the “older songs” they knew, older being the 1990s-2000s. I’m not sure every group of kids will have that much musical knowledge in the future.
School Dance Songs that work
- “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield was a HUGE hit.
- “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove was a great sing along I played start to finish.
- Fergalicious still bangs and the girls knew all the words to the rap verse!
I played about 1:30-2:00 of each song, trying to do 15-20 minute “sets” to keep things fresh. 15 minutes in the 70-80 bpm range, 15 minutes of 120-128 (Bodak Yellow mixes well with 128 bpm dance songs. It starts with the the hook, so I would play the hook, verse, and mix out during hook #2). 15 minutes in 90-105. Rinse and repeat.
I’ve never played a festival stage in my life, but thinking like a festival DJ for a school event means a few things to me:
- You have to beat match and (we call it) power mix (quick mix — basically verse, chorus, next song).
- The kids don’t always know the second verse, and things fall flat without the next song coming in, or a drop that they can jump up and down to.
- Remixes are a must, especially with the down-tempo fad of current hip hop.
A lot of things outside of my control made this particular dance really pop off too. The room was probably a little too small for the 350 kids we had, and without space to fill out, they packed the dance floor — but not for slow dances. I played “Young Dumb and Broke,” and they didn’t really couple up. “Speechless” by Dan and Shay was the only other “slow” song I played.
2 QSC 12.2s
1 Yorkville dual 10” sub
2 Technic 1200s (“I do subtle, baby scratches when I release songs, clicks and flairs as songs fade out. Never do I lay down a beat and freestyle overtop for an extended amount of time.)
Mark Moore runs DJ Mark Moore out of Cincinnati.
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