Mastermix Label Manager Richard Lee takes a look at Christmas Parties past and present!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Unless you are The Grinch there can’t be many who don’t look forward to Christmas. As a father of 2 young sons, who are at that age where the magic of Christmas is at the highest level, the festive season delivers an abundance of happiness and a life-time of memories but as a DJ it can be a different story! For many DJs it is the Christmas Party season that ensures a full diary and a healthy bank account…but at what price?
For many DJs it will be a residency that will be their place of home for the festive period which often means working most weekends, mid-week nights and some afternoons too…not to mention New Years Eve! Christmas Party Nights can start as early as mid-November and have been know to carry on into the New Year to meet the high-demand of customers. It’s one thing playing festive songs throughout December and another on a cold, wet night in January!
In the late 90s I remember being the resident DJ for all the Christmas Party Nights at one of the large hotels in the city. I performed there for several years including all their Christmas Party Nights which usually amounted to 20 dates. The most events I ever did in one month was December 1999 when I performed 32 events at that hotel. This included the usual Friday & Saturday nights plus mid-week events and those afternoon parties that, if truth be told, never quite got going!
One of the challenges I faced then is a challenge I still face to this day and I’m sure so do many other DJs…how do you retain your sanity whilst having to play the same songs over & over again!
As with most events a Christmas Party can be split into sections which allows a DJ to programme music for each one. From early evening music as guests arrive to music for dinner, party intro set, main party set & end of night songs. Technology has advanced with many DJs using digital content for their events. Play-out software allows DJs to create playlists with ease and it is this has helped to alleviate the tedium that can come from playing & hearing the same songs throughout a busy December.
I have always advocated the importance of music programming over anything else. Of course sound, light & decorations in the room are essential but ultimately it is the music that gets people on the dancefloor and what you play as a DJ will be remembered long after all the balloons have been popped & the last piece of tinsel has been ripped from the ceiling.
Creating playlists for each section of an event is part of the fun and when done right can often ensure that you stand out from the competition. Guests don’t always need to be dancing to react to the music played. I have had many guests compliment me on the music selections during dinner which helps create a bond and to build the atmosphere ahead of the main party. There is no set rule as to what to play & when to play it. It is down to our skills as a DJ to observe each audience and cater the music accordingly.
As guests arrive I often use a selection of festive tracks to ensure the Christmas mood is evident as they arrive in the room. Grandmaster Warm Up: Christmas features a selection of Easy Listening & Swing classics from artists including Dean Martin, Brenda Lee, Frank Sinatra & Michael Buble with the latter allowing a transition from classic to modern Swing if I choose to continue with that style of music. Whilst some DJs like to play mixes like Grandmasters there are others who prefer to play or mix the tracks themselves and products like Classic Cuts 137 – Smooth Christmas feature individual tracks from artists like Lady Antebellum, Pussycat Dolls & Christina Perri that offer alternate festive tracks to add to your set. Classic Cuts 138 – Modern Christmas features artists like Justin Beiber, Cee-Lo Green, McFly, Girls Aloud, Kylie & Destiny’s Child all of whom are perfect to create a festive vibe but with modern twist! You can choose to stick to the same playlist each night or move things around to suit different audiences & age-groups. There is nothing in the rules that states you have to play festive music all night and I have on occasion being asked to play something other than Christmas music as guests arrive and also throughout dinner. The Good Groovin’ Grandmaster range never fails to hit the spot with other favourites including Grandmaster Swing Party & the Grandmaster Warm Up mixes all of which offer an excellent option as alternate music choices. Whatever you choose to play as guests arrive it shouldn’t be under-estimated how important this music is. It sets the scene for the rest of the night allowing each section of the night to compliment the one before.
I apply the same principal to the music played during dinner. Again there is no set rule as what to play but careful music programming can make the difference. Once again Mastermix has plenty of options. Grandmaster Christmas features all the big hits and builds in pace throughout the mix. Individual tracks can be found on products like Classic Cuts 153 – Christmas Cuts and for a more gentle pace I often favour Music For Food: Christmas all of which compliment the other tracks that I program as part of this section. I like to create playlists for dinner that remain as background music but aren’t boring. The days of sticking on any old Christmas compilation are long behind me and I like to create innovative playlists that my guests enjoy whilst they tuck in to their Prawn Cocktail or Soup followed by the standard Turkey dinner with all the trimmings and finished off with a festive pudding – leaving many with full stomachs and no intention of moving anywhere for the foreseeable future…until the main party kicks off!
I watch the room carefully as dinner service comes to an end. Taking the music up in tempo and adding a few more of the bigger festive hits to build the atmosphere in the room. I have played at some venues in the past where some tables have finished eating whilst others are still on their starters. I’m sure things have moved on since but it may still happen somewhere and if it does it can make for an interesting situation for a DJ. Selecting music that appeases all guests isn’t easy. I personally like to stick with the festive tracks and add a few crowd pleasers like ‘Last Christmas‘, ‘Mary’s Boy Child‘ & ‘Christmas Wrapping‘ all of which pick up the pace and often attract early revellers to the dance floor.
When it’s finally time to move in to the main party set I like to play an opening track that signals the night is changing from background music and that it’s time for guests to get their dancing shoes on! I favour the Dean Martin classic ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!‘. It’s an iconic song that sets the scene perfectly and allows me to make a general welcome along with any additional announcements before heading in to the main party set.
The main party often throws up music selections of all kinds and no two nights are ever the same for this section of the party. There will be many songs that will be played on each night of course but I’m always amazed at the variety of music that is requested. As a DJ we have the unenviable task of not only trying to play them all but in an order that keeps everyone happy. I usual start my set with some current hits before mixing up the big floorfillers from every decade making sure to include a few more Christmas anthems like ‘Merry Xmas Everybody‘ by Slade & my personal festive favourite ‘Merry Christmas Everyone‘ by Shakin’ Stevens. I find the DJ Beats range to be invaluable for creating innovative sets. The collection has all the big hits and with the bonus of added intro & outro beats it allows me to mix seamlessly from track to track, decade to decade and cut in & out of tracks with ease to ensure all, or at the very least most, of the requests are played…the guy requesting Iron Maiden is probably going to be disappointed!
Of course, the whole evening won’t be filled with non-stop Christmas tracks… even the most ardent of festive fans might get a little green at that idea, so as well as playing the current big chart hits, I like to dip into the collection of failsafe mixes from the Christmas Collection and Christmas Party ranges. These albums are the perfect resource for Christmas parties, containing a variety of mixes to suit all times of the evening and featuring both festive and non-Christmas themed tracks!
Another good resource if you’re looking for mixes are the Deleted Classics Christmas and New Year albums! From the Mastermix archives, these are mixes that have really stood the test of time and can guarantee a full dancefloor if played at the right time!
The end of the night usually concludes with Mariah Carey – ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You‘ and as the song fades, and the house lights come up, it would be rude not to leave the guests with the greatest Christmas song ever – ‘Fairytale Of New York‘ by the Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl…pure magic! Both of these tracks could easily be played at any other time during the night and that is the great thing about music and our skills as DJs to know when the best time to play a song is.
The Christmas Party is a strange animal and one that some DJs struggle to tame but with a little preparation, some careful music programming, and a fair bit of tolerance you’ll find that its bark is worse than its bite – Happy Christmas everyone!