How to use music to spice up your event
Whether you throw corporate events, do activist work, or want to throw a holiday party people will be sure to remember, you might find it challenging to manage the musical end of things. How much is too much? What style should you play? How do you make an impact with your audio tracks?
If you've ever been to major conferences, you can see how music is not only involved with the conference, it can control the conference! When used well, music can literally dictate when people stop talking, where they go, how engaged they are, and when they leave.
Many people hire a professional DJ to do their music, but if you want to give it a go on your own I have some tips for you to make sure your music has the maximum impact on your guests!
WHY MUSIC MATTERS
Throwing an event is a lot of work! Between the room setup, activity lineup, and participant invites, even throwing a bomb house party can feel like a full time job. If there's one thing NOT to skimp on, however, it's the music.
The music you play (or don't!) at your event means everything to the experience of the attendees. If you have silence, the wallflowers in the crowd might be tempted to sit in a corner and not socialize. People might speak in hushed voices, and speak less. If people are feeling tired, they may be tempted to doze off. They will also likely leave earlier (this can also be used to your advantage at the end of the night...)
Music can help with all of these problems and more! But it only works if you are intentional about how you use it. Here are some suggestions.
HAVE AN OVERARCHING THEME
Think about the mood you want to set for your event. Are you going for a rocking good time? A low key soiree? What do you want the participants to get out of it: rah-rah or reflection?
Once you've become clear on what the purpose behind the gathering is, find a handful of songs that exemplify it (this is really important). Ideally, these songs mean something to you, they touch you in some way you want to share with your guests.
Depending on how long your event is, you might have as many as 5 themes (for a day- or even multi-day event) or as few as 1. I do NOT recommend going beyond 5 as it can start to feel disjointed to attendees. Examples of themes include "rah-rah," grounding/reflective, pure fun, focus work, somber/tear-jerker, inspiration, etc.
Tie these to the purpose of your event. Is this a fundraiser where your goal is donations? Are you inspiring sales people? Is this a healing retreat? A holiday mixer? Continuing education or sharpening skills? Driving sales of a particular product or program?
Each of these would use completely different types of music, so be intentional with the mood you're going for.
ASSIGN SONGS TO CERTAIN ACTIVITIES OR PEOPLE
We form strong associations with songs, and it happens more quickly than you expect. Creating an association with an activity or person can be a powerful way for your guests to more deeply connect to what's going on.
At a recent conference, there were activities throughout the day relating to the subject matter. We had celebrations, reflections, and more...and the music that played during each activity took on a special meaning for all of us there. It also guided the way in which we interacted with the activities... were we contemplative? Reflective? Celebratory? Collaborative?
For example, now every time I hear Can't Hold Us by Macklemore, I remember a particular person who had a major breakthrough and celebration! People may tie a song to a memory of a particular speaker or feeling they had during the segment.
Doing this is a really powerful way to make sure your activities carry on into the guests' lives after the event is over. After all, you're looking to make a lasting impact! If your event spans multiple days, use the same songs to reinforce the overarching goal, rather than individual events.
DON'T KEEP YOUR AMBIENT MUSIC ON AUTOPLAY!
Autoplay is awesome for certain times during your event: while people are gathering, during breaks, and as they are leaving. HOWEVER, if you really want to make an impact, make sure the songs you've played throughout your event are INCLUDED in your autoplay.
This is relatively easy if you've chosen your entire soundtrack and are playing from a select list. However, a lot of us use a radio station like Pandora to keep things lively.
If you are using a technology like Pandora, try to keep it fairly small to make sure the same songs play over and over, especially towards the end of the day.
Why would you do this? Well, think of ambient music as you might public speaking. Have you ever heard the axiom "Tell them that you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them?"
It's the same thing with ambient music! Your initial list primes your guests' brains for the message you intend to deliver. Hearing those same songs during presentations, activities, or breaks creates strong associations with your event.
Then, hearing the SAME music as they leave ties up the event in a very visceral way. They will remember the events that just occurred and take it with them into their lives outside the event.
BOOST THE VOLUME, BOOST THE ENERGY
If your guests get into a post-meal slump, have traveled and are tired, or you simply feel like the energy has gone down in the room, music is the easiest way to get the energy in the room back up!
Forget coffee: a dance party is far more effective to re-engage an audience! People get tired when they get in their heads, so particularly if they've been thinking for a while...turn the music UP!
Any exercise that gets people out of their chairs and moving, especially if the music is loud, is effective in getting them out of their heads and flush out any distracting thoughts.
Just be careful not to go loud enough to cause pain! There's always a happy medium.
Social = soft
Most events include social hours: maybe a welcome mixer, a vendor expo, or simply coffee breaks between bigger events.
The one rule here is to keep the music volume low!
I've been to events where they brought in a live band for the welcome reception and vendor expo both. While it was great in theory, it didn't fit the purpose of the event. Vendors and attendees wanted to have conversations with each other. The music was loud. Live bands do not want to be turned down!
For anything social where you want to encourage people to connect with each other, make sure the ambient music (and make sure there is some!) is kept at a low enough level that people can easily hear. For a reference, picture the most introverted person you intend to have at your event. If they were talking to someone, would they be heard? Could they have a meaningful conversation with a new acquaintance? Or would they feel forced into being a wallflower because they felt like they were shouting every time they wanted to talk?
SO much goes into running an event! As you go forth into your holiday party, work conference, or celebration dinner, just remember... the soundtrack is everything.
Your turn! What songs do you associate with a particular event? Do you have stories of how music influenced an event? Comment to share!