Archive for April 30th, 2008

For A GREAT Dance: Play The Hits!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

For decades, Local Living Legend Ron Chapman had the top-rated show on the top-rated radio station in my town. Years ago – in a fit of chutzpah (or hubris) – I asked him to please give my latest recording some much needed air play. I knew that a push from him might make it a hit. That’s when he – very gently – told me one secret of his ratings success: “David,” he said, “I don’t make they hits – I play them.” In a very competitive media market, a key ingredient to his astounding longevity was making sure that every song he played was already somebody’s favorite.

At about that same time, I worked for the alliteratively-named Mickey Bickers, a nightclub owner who had not just one or even two, but three successful venues operating simultaneously. Wanting to kiss up to the boss by playing his favorite song, I asked Mickey what he wanted to hear. His response? “Whatever makes the cash register ring.”

The combined one-two punch of receiving – essentially – the same advice from two very different, but very successful, sources finally permeated my thick cranium. Since that time, I have followed their lead (and I’m so glad I did). For your next party, you might consider doing the same. If you are hoping for a full dance floor all night long, tell your music provider that you want all the hits, all the time.

It seems to me that too many bands spend way too much time playing what they want to hear, rather than what is right for the crowd at any particular moment. Whether this fact stems from rampant narcissism (Look at me!), an inability to read their crowd, or an extremely limited set list – the result is the same. Dancers tend to sit down when they don’t know the tunes.

Conversely, some deejays and bands can’t seem to make it through a single night without hauling out hoary old chestnuts like YMCA, New York New York, and The Macarena. While granting that there will always be a market – somewhere – for such tunes, these particular songs (along with Stairway To Heaven, Freebird, and anything from Mamma Mia!) run a very high risk of turning off a big chunk of your dancers. For that reason alone, they should be played sparingly (every February 29th, for example.) Alternate tunes – with a much lower “cheese” factor – exist which inspire many fewer cases of violence against music providers.

Even big-name performers can occasionally benefit from this same advice. I once sat through an entire Carlos Santana set without hearing a single tune I recognized (and I know a bunch). Now, you can add me to the list of former Santana fans.

But last night, the lovely Gina Tanner and I attended a concert performance by Gladys Knight. In a 90-minute set, Gladys perfectly balanced new songs and borrowed tunes (made famous by others) with all of her greatest hits. No matter how many times she has sung them, she knows that they are what makes the cash register ring.

I wonder if she ever worked for Mickey Bickers?