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How Do You Decide What Songs to Play?

One question a lot of potential clients ask us is how we decide what songs to play. It's a very valid question, as music selection is one of the most important roles a DJ plays--especially when it comes time for dancing. We don't have any hard or fast rules on when or how we'll play specific songs, but we have developed some degree of strategy.

Wedding Song Selection Strategy
  • During cocktail hour and dinner we focus on playing upbeat, classy background music. We want people to be tapping their toes--not falling asleep as they are bored to death by "Elevator Music Hits Vol 3" or a Kenny G album on repeat. We give our clients the opportunity to provide some input into what they want, but in general we do a lot of big band and crooners (such as Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra) as well as more modern artists with an upbeat but laid-back style (Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Harry Connick, Jr.)
  • When the dance starts we normally start with older music at the beginning and work toward newer. Often older guests won't stay for the entire reception so they appreciate hearing a few songs from their era earlier--whereas the younger generation often want another drink or two before they start dancing anyway.
  • Guest demographics--and what people are dancing to--play a large role in determining what we play at a wedding. If the majority of guests are 20-25, we're probably not going to play a bunch of Patsy Cline--and will likely get into newer music fairly early in the evening. Likewise, if almost everyone is 40+, we aren't going to play Lil Wayne or T.I. unless it's specifically requested.
  • When a song gets people on the floor, we try to play a few more of a similar style. If something isn't working, the next song will likely be a different musical genre.
  • Slow songs are inserted every few songs to give guests a chance to catch their breath, and to break up sets of dance music. With picky crowds (which is to say not many people are dancing, or guests will come out for one song then immediately leave the floor) we often play shorter dance music sets with more slow songs.
Prom/Homecoming/School Dance/College Party Song Selection Strategy
  • Typically for these types of events we work off a more limited playlist--which is to say songs that are popular now, songs that were recently popular AND are good dance tunes, and what we refer to as "Party Classics". Party classics refers to older songs that pretty much everyone who listens to music will recognize--songs like You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, Love Shack by B-52s, Cotton Eye Joe, Hey Ya by Outkast, etc.
  • For schools we focus much more on song transitions and building energy through each set, using beatmixing whenever possible to seamlessly blend from one song into another.
  • Much like our dinner music strategy for weddings, we try to keep things upbeat. As much as possible, we play uptempo pop and dance music. We try to find dance remixes of popular rap songs. After all, it's called a dance--not a "grind".
  • Again, we use periodic slow songs to break up our sets of dance music--typically for most school dances the dance sets will be longer and there will be fewer slow songs than at a wedding, but it all depends on the flow of the night and what people are dancing to.
A Word Regarding Requests...
  • In almost all cases we accept--and encourage--student/guest requests during the event.
  • The order we receive requests is not the order we play them. We treat requests as suggestions and try to integrate them into our sets where it makes sense--but we're not going to kill a packed dance floor with an obscure '70s pop song just because one person wants to hear it NOW.
  • We do not have a song book or list for people to look at--we think song ideas that come from memory are more likely to be playable. The common scenario is that someone looking at a song book sees a song and says "I haven't heard that in FOREVER--let's request that." In many cases there's a reason they haven't heard it in forever--because it's not well known, or isn't a very good dance song.
  • If someone wants to make a request but doesn't know exactly what they want, we will work with them to find something from their desired artist, era, or style by suggesting something that we think will go over well based on past experience.
The Trump Card
  • In all cases, the wishes of the client--whether that be the bride and groom or a school--take precedence over anything else. It is ultimately your event, and you have the final say in what is and isn't to be played.
  • If something is on the Do Not Play list, we won't play it unless it's cleared with you first--even if it's requested.
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The Fallacy of Unlimited Photo Booth Prints

Most photo booth companies claim to offer unlimited prints for the time frame you have their booth. Make sure you ask exactly what that means!

Nearly all photo booths are set up to use 4x6 photo media--which if you are doing a traditional photo strip gets cut in half (either by the printer or manually with a cutter) to yield two 2x6" strips.

In many cases, our competitors advertise "unlimited prints", but what they really mean is unlimited sessions. You can go through the booth as many times as you want (as time allows) but you only get two photo strips per session.

What happens if a group of more than two people go through the booth? Only two of them get photo strips to keep--and the rest are left with nothing and have to go back through the line.

Or even worse, what happens if you're also putting together a photo booth scrapbook? Guests are forced to choose between keeping a strip for themselves and putting one in the book for the guest(s) of honor.

When we say our photo booth packages include unlimited prints, we mean it. We print extra copies so if a group goes through the booth each person gets one--no matter how large. And if we're doing a photo booth scrapbook, we print an extra for that, as well.

We want everyone who uses our photo booth (guests and clients) to be as happy as possible, and artificially limiting the number of prints by only allowing two per session just isn't good customer service. Yes, perhaps we're not sapping out quite as much profit as some of our competitors, but we think our way is a whole lot better.
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Welcome to the Steve's Mobile Music Blog!

Hello World!

After over 10 years of providing DJ entertainment for celebrations, dances, and parties of all types--and more recent forays into things like balloon drops, decor lighting, and photo booths--we're joining the 21st century and setting a up a blog to make it easier to share some of what we've learned. Hopefully we can share some of "the rest of the story" and help you understand the nitty gritty details of the services we offer. Informed customers make informed decisions--and we think that goes a long way to being a happy customer. Check back soon for updates!

P.S. - If you're not a programmer "Hello World" is a bit of a throwback to my second life as an electrical engineer. Get in on the joke here.
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Toll-Free 877-DJ-STEVE
P.O. Box 1544
Ames, IA 50014
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