Was yesterday’s post pointless and inconsequential enough for you? I do hope so, because you’re not getting anything meatier from me today. But at least I have a pre-determined topic, and that topic is… party mix CDs.
There’s a downside to being known amongst my friends as The One Who Knows Loads About Music, and it’s a downside which usually manifests itself a few days before any private social gathering at which there might conceivably be dancing.
The phone call usually comes on the Wednesday. Striving for light, casual airiness, the caller will ask me how I am, and tell me how much they are looking forward to seeing me on Saturday night. Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could I bring some music along?
“Er… well, a bit of everything really! Totally up to you! Just stuff that everyone can have a bit of a boogie to, basically! But don’t go to any trouble! Just two or three hours’ worth will do fine. Been meaning to ask you for ages!”
And with that, my heart sinks a little inside. No, I explain: I don’t have any home-made party mix CDs lying around. But don’t worry, I’ll knock something together. No, no problem at all.
People are always surprised that I don’t have these kinds of CDs lying around. That’s partly because I don’t get invited to many dancey parties any more; it’s an inevitable function of age. But even though we’re all getting older, the discs still date within a matter of months. You’ve always got to have a smattering of vaguely current stuff, or else it’s all a bit… depressing.
This is where friends can start to roll their eyes, as my habitual obsessive perfectionism looms into view. Trouble is, I can’t just pick up an old CD – and I can’t just burn an old iTunes playlist, either. Oh, I just can’t. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly – and besides, what if my music fails and nobody dances? After all, picking the right music for the right occasion is one of the few activities which I can actually do quite well.
And so it begins. K will see nothing of me for the rest of Wednesday evening, and indeed for the whole of Thursday evening, as I start selecting, ordering and editing. The first job is to try and work out what sort of people will be at the party. Ages, backgrounds, likely tastes. I’ll try and picture the room, and the people in it. Then I’ll start grabbing tracks and shoving them into a rough playing order. It’s the brainstorming part of the process, and I’ll work quickly, not wanting to break my concentration.
Having assembled the first draft, I’ll transfer the playlist to my iPod. There will already be far too many tracks, but I’ll worry about that later. During the following day – from the morning walk to work onwards – I’ll have the iPod clamped to my ear, working through the party music in sequence, making mental notes as to what works and what doesn’t. This is the point in the process where the optimistically experimental stuff (i.e. anything which isn’t a huge, obvious hit) gets eliminated.
That evening, I’ll refine the playlist and pull all the contents into my mixing software. What, did you really think I’d just burn the full length tracks, with all those potentially buzz-killing slow intros, long fades and inter-track silences? Nuh-uh. Those track-to-track transitions are the most important moments of any CD, and I’ll jiggle around with the sound wave graphs and volume levels until every element is split-second perfect. The trick is not to allow anyone the option of stopping, looking around the room, and deciding whether or not to carry on. Wherever possible, the successful compiler must deny them that option.
However, none of this can mask the awful, underlying knowledge that in reality… on the night… at least eight times out of ten… those CDs WILL FAIL.
Firstly, there’s the simple psychology of the situation. Without the physical, conductor-like presence of an actual DJ in the room, there’s no focus of attention, and no tangible invitation to dance.
Secondly, there’s no way that any pre-sequenced CD can anticipate the mood of the crowd on the night. Again, it’s psychological: the successful DJ will read the mood and choose accordingly, usually by surreptitiously focussing on a few select “taste makers” and playing to them directly. If you can get the taste makers moving, the rest will follow. It was twenty years ago, but I still remember this clearly.
Finally, there’s virtually no chance that each CD will be played in full, from start to finish, and in the correct sequence of discs. Some well-meaning but pissed-up, unrepresentative, domineering smart aleck will always mooch up to the sound system and change the disc – usually at the precise moment when the buzz has just showed signs of beginning to build. And of course, it’s always my job (“Could you look after the CDs for me, Mike?“) to get things back on track. Battle of wills. Once the spell has been broken, more party-goers with equal and opposite tastes will pitch in. And once anarchy has broken out, you’ll never quite pull back from it. Unless you have the sort of Natural Authority which I lack.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s because I’m just coming to the end of the assembly process for a little three-disc set that I am christening Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008. The do in question takes place in London this Friday – although to be fair, I did receive the call last week.
“Oh, sure! Because the CDs I burnt for your engagement party were such a success!”
“Yeah, but… well, OK, no-one danced to them then, but we’ve been loving them ever since! Don’t spend too long doing them, will you? Just a couple of hours will be fine! Or if you’ve already got something lying around…?”
I live in hope. I live in hope.
(But seriously: congratulations in advance for Friday, guys. Looking forward loads to seeing you, and sharing in your celebrations. The dancing is but a detail.)
Update: That playlist in full.