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.


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).

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.


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.


Ehtisham Malik

Date 12/25/2012

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