Music is a key factor in setting the mood for cocktail parties, but the smart party host uses music for much more.  Specifically, a great party music playlist will:
  • Create an upbeat, happy mood
  • Keep the energy level high
  • Surprise & entertain each guest
  • Take guests on an emotional ride
  • Interject humor & smiles
  • Reinforce your party theme
We can accomplish all of these objectives by creating one playlist on three different levels:
  1. Songs:        Aesthetic of the individual song
  2. Segments:   Interplay of songs by grouping & contrast
  3. Playlist:       Effect of the segments in the overall playlist
The final result will be a list of diverse songs, grouped to create emotional surges, while increasing the energy level of the music over the length of the party.



Songs

The songs you select will establish the mood and energy level of the party, but are also a great tool to surprise and potentially connect with each guest on a personal level. 

Select songs from a wide variety of genres, styles, and artists to increase the probability of striking a chord with each guest at some point during the party.

Step 1:  For each hour of the party, create a picking list of 30 upbeat songs.  Consider making your list longer, in case your party runs over.  You may also want to include pre-party music, if you are inviting key friends over before the official party start time.

Here are some guidelines for selecting songs:
  • Start with your personal current and past favorites,
  • Add tunes that you think your guests will enjoy,
  • Limit selections to upbeat, happy, positive “feel good” songs,
  • Include a wide variety of genres, e.g. pop, rock, alternative, reggae, country, hip-hop, easy listening, dance, soundtracks, electronic, and R&B.
  • Incorporate a diverse selection of artists and vibes,
  • Opt for unique recordings of popular songs, e.g.  Shirley Bassey’s version of Pink’s “Let’s Get This Party Started”
  • Look for rerecorded and remixed old hits, e.g. Cake’s “Strangers In The Night”,
  • Use medium- to fast-paced songs,
  • Avoid songs over 4 minutes long and arrangements with lengthy intros and bridges.
  • Restrict choices to 1 song per artist (if possible, pick from a song list sorted by artist to avoid duplicates).
Separately, create a list of “surprises” including humorous and theme-related songs to sprinkle throughout your playlist:
  • Campy tunes and fun favorites, such as Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" or The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You",
  • Traditional and hit songs about or related to your theme in origin, sound, and/or content.
Step 2:  Edit your picking list to keep it fresh & interesting by:
  1. removing songs over 4 minutes long (exceptions allowed for indescribably remarkable tunes),
  2. removing slow songs,
  3. choosing a maximum of 1 song from each artist and deleting the rest (no exceptions).
Segments

Next, add another level of interest by grouping songs to highlight contrasting styles and maximize the impact of humorous and theme-related songs with tempo changes.

Step 3:  For each hour of your party, create 5 segments of 4 songs each, and then order them from the slowest to fastest.

Here are some guidelines for creating your segments:
  • You may find it easier to first separate your picking list into 3 groups of slower, medium, and faster songs.
  • Concentrate more of your retro and lounge music in slower segments to be used at the beginning of the party. Conversely, use faster pop hits and dance tunes for segments to be used toward the latter half of the party.
  • Select songs that complement each other, but contrast in style and tempo.
  • Use your humorous, campy and theme-related songs to start some of the segments and build the tempo up from there. The final playlist should have one “surprise” song about every 20 minutes.
Step 4:  Listen to each segment to ensure that the sound levels match from song to song.  Replace any song that is too soft or loud relative to the other songs in the segment.

Playlist

The juxtaposition of the peak of one segment and the starting point of the next will create dramatic musical highs and lows throughout the evening, as well as draw attention to humorous and theme songs at the beginning of segments.

Step 5:  Now, order the segments from the slowest to the fastest, using an average or the last song as a measure of speed. Adjust time to the length of your party, plus overage.

Move key songs between segments to coincide with the party’s peak, keeping them arranged in slow to fast order. “Surprise” tunes should be spaced an average of every 20 minutes throughout the final playlist.

Step 6:  Listen through the complete playlist, paying special attention to the dramatic transitions between segments.  Also, consider when each song will play during the party. Make adjustments, if needed.

Note:  If you are using an iPod, use the crossfade feature during the party to transition between songs and don’t forget to turn shuffle “off”.

Sample Picking List

As a source of inspiration to get you started, we put together a sample list of the 60 songs we would include in a picking list for a 2-hour cocktail party. Songs are sorted by artist and not the order they would be played.

[February 2011]
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
Name
You Know I'm No Good [Remix]
I Want It That Way
Broken Dreams
Womanizer
The Other Side
Strangers In the Night
Evacuate the Dancefloor
Dark Lady*
With Plenty of Money and You
Point Of View
Boss
Right Round
I've Got You Under My Skin
In Love With a Girl
She Thinks I Still Care
Clint Eastwood
Heavy Cross
Stare Into the Sun
The Bare Necessities*
Only a Fool Would Say That
You're Beautiful
I'm Yours
Ain't It Funny
Ring Of Fire
Amazing
Pumpkin Soup
Suddenly I See
Poker Face
The Fear
What I've Done
Climb Ev'ry Mountain
Hanky Panky
Disease
From Russia With Love
Life In The City
These Boots Are Made for Walkin*
Pocketful of Sunshine
Tomorrow Is My Turn
Stars Are Blind
Opportunities
Downtown [Remix]
When You're Good To Mama*
Hit The Road Jack
Make You Feel Better
Millennium
The Last Farewell
Suerte (Whenever, Wherever)
Get the Party Started*
It Feels So Good
Tempted
My Drag
This Could Be The Start Something Big*
Santeria
Stand By Your Man
Debbie
Andy, You're A Star
California Dreamin'
Push Me to the Floor
I Think I Love You*
Don't Leave Me This Way
Artist
Amy Winehouse
Backstreet Boys
Basement Jaxx
Britney Spears
Bruno Mars
Cake
Cascada
Cher
Count Basie
DB Boulevard
Diana Ross
Flo Rida
Frank Sinatra & Bono
Gavin DeGraw
George Jones
Gorillaz
Gossip
Graffiti6
Harry Connick, Jr.
Ivy
James Blunt
Jason Mraz
Jennifer Lopez
Johnny Cash
Kanye West
Kate Nash
KT Tunstall
Lady GaGa
Lily Allen
Linkin Park
Lora Munro
Madonna
Matchbox Twenty
Matt Monro
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Nancy Sinatra
Natasha Bedingfield
Nina Simone
Paris Hilton
Pet Shop Boys
Petula Clark
Queen Latifah
Ray Charles
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Robbie Williams
Roger Whittaker
Shakira
Shirley Bassey
Sonique
Squeeze
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé
Sublime
Tammy Wynette
The B-52's
The Killers
The Mamas & The Papas
The Parlotones
The Partridge Family
Thelma Houston
Min.Sec
3.22
3.33
3.07
3.44
3.47
2.51
3.27
3.26
1.33
3.20
3.49
3.22
3.32
3.26
2.34
3.44
4.02
3.56
3.06
3.03
3.32
4.04
4.06
2.38
3.58
2.59
3.21
3.57
3.27
3.25
4.21
3.59
3.38
2.34
3.54
2.45
3.22
2.48
3.56
3.38
3.26
3.19
1.59
3.51
4.04
3.42
3.16
3.59
3.59
4.00
3.27
2.29
3.03
2.41
3.34
3.14
2.43
4.09
2.53
3.36
Genre
R&B
Rock
Electronica/Dance
Pop
Pop
Alternative
Dance
Rock
Soundtrack
Electronica/Dance
Pop
Hip-Hop/Rap
Easy Listening
Rock
Soundtrack
Alternative
Alternative
Alternative
Children's Music
Soundtrack
Pop
Pop
Pop
Country
Hip-Hop/Rap
Pop
Pop
Pop
Pop
Alternative & Punk
Electronic
Pop
Rock
Soundtrack
Reggae
Pop
Pop
Jazz
Pop
Rock
Rock
Soundtrack
R&B
Alternative & Punk
Pop
Easy Listening
Latin
Vocal
Electronica/Dance
Rock
Jazz
Easy Listening
Rock
Country
Rock
Alternative & Punk
Pop
Rock
Rock
Soundtrack


*Surprise songs.