It is now very commonplace to ask the question, "Am I okay with just a playlist for my event"? Well, let's get into it and find out!
1. Time, Money, Effort
I like to equate everything to the time, money, effort rule because they are in direct relation to one another. In this particular example the more you spend (i.e. hiring a DJ) the less time and effort is required by you to create the entertainment of the night. While on the other hand, the playlist will save you money, it will cost you more in time and effort.
WINNER = SUBJECTIVE - Hard to determine because it all comes down to, just how valuable is your time?
Now who is responsible for the music? Let's say you ask a friend or family member to create you a playlist. Seems like an easy thing to do on the surface but in reality you place a very large responsibility on them. What if they base the playlist completely on the music they like, or believe others might like? What if they guess incorrectly and it bombs? I couldn't imagine a worse feeling to place on someone.
What if you take on the responsibility yourself? Just how much music, in how many genres, do you really know? How well do you know your guests and their dates? Maybe you start looking at online playlists and get ideas from there. Where is the responsibility now if it bombs?
Say you rent an IPod from a DJ company and it bombs. Who's responsibility is it then? You think the DJ company is going to take responsibility because a generic dance playlist didn't suit the needs of your guests? Nope. You asked, they supplied, done deal.
I've got a great idea! Let's get everyone to suggest one song on their RSVP and put that huge mishmash into a playlist so that way if it bombs it's everyone's fault!
Whoever is responsible for the playlist: Be it you, a friend, a family member, suggestions from online, a streaming service, or even a professional DJ company you have to know that a playlist is generic. It is simply a group of popular music, that's all. No one can predict the future so no one can create a playlist based on the evening. Where your group is at 10pm may not be where another group is at 10pm. Since it is a playlist of popular songs that means it would span multiple genres, multiple tempos and speeds, including slow songs. One moment everyone up and dancing to Funkytown and next up comes Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton. Great song, just not the best song to play next.
WINNER = DJ - Hiring a DJ removes the responsibility and stress from yourself, friends and family members, while placing it on an entity that can at least be held accountable. Going with a playlist is a roll of the dice. It might work, it might not. Is that a risk you are willing to take with your event?
Speaking of playlists spanning multiple genres, let's talk about how important continuity is. DJ's thrive on being able to choose the best next song to keep that dance floor popping! It's like a game to us! How many songs can we play before people are just too tired and have no choice but to take a break? Or until we go bust!
Playlists; while set, or shuffled are not intuitive and never will be. Too many songs make it too random and too few songs leaves you with not enough selection. Oh, and just wait for that first repeat to hit!
WINNER = DJ - When it comes to keeping the energy flowing, the music consistent, and people on the dance floor, a live DJ tuned into your guests will always win over a playlist. Without human guidance playlists have no life or thought of their own.
4. Let's Play DJ
This bring us to the next point, human guidance. When you hire a DJ your guests understand that they are being paid, they are a professional, and that they are in control. When a friend or a family member decides to take it upon themselves to play DJ, there is now no professional courtesy, no holding back in letting him/her know just what they think about what they are playing, or what they should play next.
In many cases you will have groups of people who are enjoying the song being played and those who don't, who are now looking to take control of what is being played, or what is to be played next. This again breaks the continuity and can create stress and negative feelings between your guests. The DJ is a 3rd party mediator for you to prevent occurrences such as this.
Let's also not forget about dead air and speaker pops when people finally decide to start plugging and unplugging their phones to bring their own playlists and music into the mix. Count on it because it will happen and once it happens the first time, game over. Time and alcohol only fuels this behavior too. That and there is always that one person we all know who used to be a DJ. The keywords here being "used to be".
WINNER = DJ - Hiring a DJ basically prevents the Lord of the Flies scenario to play out at your event.
5. Cosmic Timing
When it comes to a playlist, your dance floor is at the mercy of what comes next. For example, there is a HUGE difference in listening to Journey's Don't Stop Believing at 10pm and listening to it at midnight and you know what I am talking about too. The limitation of a playlist to know where your guests are at, at what time, and what to play next is a serious drawback.
What about the gap of dead air between songs, or the really long fade ins and outs of some songs. I mean who doesn't love those during a dance? (insert eyeroll here)
WINNER = DJ - A DJ can play the right song, at the right time, in just the right way, that's right, that's right for your guests. A playlist cannot.
6. Setup, Tear Down, and Troubleshooting
Playlists still require gear. Professional gear, because the bluetooth speaker you use in your living room isn't going to cut it here. Do you rent, learn, and put it all together yourself? Do you get a friend/family member to do it and place the stress on them? Do you pay for the company to come and do it? What if it doesn't work properly when you set it all up? Remember time, money and effort. Let's also add stress now because the day of your event, is a horrible time to deal with troubleshooting issues.
WINNER = SUBJECTIVE - I am leaning more towards the DJ side of things because they own their gear, know it, and can troubleshoot it should anything go wrong. That said, if you know someone, or are good with these types of things yourself there is nothing wrong with renting gear.
Renting gear it is! Now you are responsible for it. That means if it falls on someone, that's on you. If it damages something in the venue, that's on you. If it breaks (even if it wasn't your fault) that's on you. The rental company tests it before they give it to you and that's it. If it comes back not working, doesn't matter that it went out 3,000 times over the last year, it was working when they sent it out so that again, that is all on you.
Let's not forget that you need a CONNECT license to legally play music that isn't off of the original CD, tape, or record. That's right if you want to play that paid for music you bought off ITunes, or stream that Apple Music or Spotify playlist at an event, you must have a license to do so. (Not that anyone ever enforces it, still you're not a criminal...are you?)
WINNER = DJ - A professional DJ company will be licensed and insured for your protection. It's their gear so, it's their responsibility. Sounds like a win to me!
8. What You are Telling Your Guests
Finally, what is it that you are telling your guests when you get a sound system with no one to run it? Just the over all perspective of it isn't great.
While your event is mostly for you, there are certain aspects of the event that are more specifically for your guests. There is a reason that it is an accepted fact that guests remember the food and the entertainment more than anything else about an event. That is because those are the two major things that people do for their guests and not just for themselves. When choosing a playlist over a DJ you send your guests 3 messages;
1. Wait for the playlist to hit something you like.
2. Go and change the music yourself.
3. Go somewhere else.
Think about this for a moment, if the IPod isn't going to do it, they have to, if they don't want to, they have to either accept it, or leave.
WINNER - Not your guests. Honestly the only winner here is the people you rented the gear from.
A DJ will win over a playlist any day. It is for this very reason that when you want to go out for a night of dancing, the place you go to will have a DJ. Why? Because the owners know that if the music is erratic, if the DJ doesn't take requests, or isn't friendly and not playing good tunes, people will leave and go somewhere else! They will not stay and spend money, and tell their friends how great of a time they had and to join them the next time they go out. You know what no one ever says? "This place has the greatest playlist ever!" or "The wedding I went to over the weekend had the best playlist!".
Keep playlists for background music and leave the dance floors to the people who make it their business to keep them packed and coming back for more!