The Battle to Win the Dancefloor Never Ends. Here Are Some Winning Methods.
During parties he DJed throughout 2015, Scott Goldoor of Signature Sounds in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., said he actually found himself playing a lot of songs from 2014 and 2013—and even back a few years earlier.
According to Goldoor, at least in his Northeastern market, he watched one of the year’s top tunes— Silentó’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”—simply come and go.
Meanwhile, over on the opposite coast, Mark Haggerty of the Bay Area’s Denon & Doyle Entertainment says last year he observed more of what DJs can typically expect from receptions and private-events crowds every year… though he does admit they quickly did become tired of listening to the whipping boy.
“‘Watch Me’ is quickly burning out and heading for the do-not-play list on our side of the country,” says Haggerty. “Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ was a crowd favorite that delivered both old-school and new-school vibes in one song, while ‘Timber’ by Katy Perry still brought the dancers out, along with ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna/Calvin Harris.
“Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ also still works for most crowds, especially as a rebuild-the-dancefloor tune. The disappointment of the year would have to have been ‘Sugar’ [by Maroon 5]. It’s a great tune and got requested a lot, but doesn’t always rock the dancefloor as hard as you may think—though it is a good re-build song when a DJ is coming out of a slow dance.
“Meanwhile, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ [by The Weeknd] is hitting still pretty good and mixes well with the 120-BPM songs.”
Besides playing the latest Top-40 tunes, Haggerty says he’d even jump out on the floor himself and dance with guests in order to rejuvenate a dead or dying dance floor.
“Teach them a line dance, which seems especially needed with corporate gigs,” he suggests. “With a wedding, I just know how to read a crowd well, so I’ll always join them to party with the music.”
For this story, we not only explored what were the “happening” songs of 2015, but further asked mobile DJs about what they did last year when their dancefloor would suddenly go cold.
Which happens to all of us.
Overall, which were the top-performing songs for starting a party or building energy in a room last year, and how exactly did we pull things off? And when a dancefloor does go dead, which songs or tactics do we employ to build the energy back up again?
For Seattle’s Adam Tiegs of Adam’s DJ Service, it’s easy to point to the songs that packed his dancefloors in 2015
“‘Watch Me,’ ‘Cheerleader’ [by OMI] and ‘Shut Up and Dance’ [by Walk the Moon],” says Tiegs, “while ‘Uptown Funk’ did just quickly come and go.
“Otherwise, it was just the same-old, same-old. Of course, we were also blessed with Fetty Wap, Justin Bieber, Diplo and DJ Snake, too.”
Back over on the East Coast, Artem Lomas of Ninety-Three Entertainment in Morris County, N.J., says most of us will agree that “Uptown Funk” was the crowd favorite of 2015.
“Aside from being widely popular, it’s also very versatile so DJs could use it to go into Top-40 sets, or funk sets, or even to transition into it from line dances, while Walk the Moon’s ‘Shut Up and Dance’ proved to be a new sing-along favorite.
“Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ was a great floor opener, too, especially during wedding receptions, to get couples out onto the dancefloor—and was also popular for first dances last year.”
When it comes to reactivating the dancefloor in 2015, other than simply playing a hot tune, Lomas says his approach was to simply observe his crowds to look for clues of responsiveness that he could use later, and throughout any celebration.
“Certain elements—such as line dances and/or games—could encourage participation,” he says, “but the key was to keep participants engaged with music selection once those ‘tactics’ are no longer being applied.”
It should come as no surprise what the top-performing songs of 2015 ended up being, according to Mike Mahoney of M&M Entertainment up in South Portland, Maine.
“These songs were obviously ‘Shut Up and Dance’ and ‘Uptown Funk,’” says Mahoney. “Yet the breakout star from the archives was still a bit of a surprise—‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone [from 1974].
“I got a request for it from a couple who had it as their wedding song,” he explains. “I thought nothing of it and played it with the usual, ‘This song is going out to…’”
And although anniversary songs typically don’t get a huge response without specific direction, Mahoney says that at his particular outdoor wedding (with maybe 80 guests), as it became more and more clear what the song actually was, more and more people joined them.
“And by the time the song was over,” he recalls, “I actually had a dozen couples on the dancefloor dancing to the song.
“I then played that same song toward the end of dinner for another wedding, and people got right up and immediately danced to it. Later in the season, and more than once, I played it as a regular slow song, and it was a hit each and every time.
“Later I found out the song had a prominent role in the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy. It seems like it’s always the movies that bring back the oldies-but-goodies.”
As far as other tactics to use to get people back to the dancefloor, Mahoney says he doesn’t know that there’s anything new under the sun, yet he still has some methods he uses that do the trick nearly every time.
“One thing I do—which I believe is unique—is to ask the couple beforehand for a favorite slow song,” he says, “or even for the second choice for their first-dance song.
“I’ll most often start the dancing toward the end of dinner with a slow build, allowing me to use their first song later,” he explains. “This comes in handy, especially at outdoor weddings or inside a barn on a beautiful day. I’ll introduce the song by saying, ‘Today we’re celebrating two people who are very much in love. If you’ve come here today with someone with whom you’re very much in love as well, then please join our newlyweds on the dancefloor.’”
Another method Mahoney tends to use to pack the floor is to coordinate with the photographer ahead of time to find all the groups that will be in attendance—such as family members, co-workers, classmates, knitting-club pals, poker buddies, etc.
“Then, when needed, I’ll call those folks out for a group photo on the dancefloor,” he explains. “This is sometimes helpful to break up the night anyway, as fewer and fewer couples these days are choosing to do all of the usual traditions.
“Half the battle is getting people to the dancefloor. But once they’re there on the floor, it’s much easier to keep them there.”
If nothing else, Mahoney says that during a cocktail hour he’s careful to locate the “spitfires” (i.e., “the unsinkable Molly Browns who sing at their tables.”)
“I’ll tell them that I need them to get as many people up when I play a specific song, and that it would mean a lot to the bride and groom,” he says. “By telling more than one person, I ensure myself against the occasional party animal who has peaked a little too early, or people just forgetting what I had told them.
“As soon as they see one table heading up to the dancefloor, their memory kicks in and it’s suddenly game-on.”
Sometimes, Mahoney says, when he’s got a shy bride and groom who just want to get the party moving, he’ll use the tried-and-true group participation dance songs—much like Mark Haggerty out on the West Coast will do.
“Sometimes, moreover, I learn that their parents—or one of their parents—is more outgoing, the mother of the groom, for instance,” he continues. “Then I may have them kick things off with ‘Pretty Woman,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight,’ ‘Footloose,’ ‘Rock Around the Clock’ or other oldies that have come back big-time up here in Maine.
“And when those parents do come out, I let everyone know, ‘Hey, that’s the mother of the groom, so come on out and show her some love!’… or something to that effect.
“Like I said, probably not anything earth-shattering, but those are the things that have worked for me.”
Gregg Hollmann of Ambient DJ Service in East Windsor, N.J., was a 2016 The Knot Best of Weddings Winner who agrees with most DJs that his top party-starting song of 2015 was “Uptown Funk.”
“At 114 BPM and heavily influenced by the Minneapolis funk sounds of the 1980s, the song managed to enjoy high appeal among guests of all ages,” says Hollmann.
“After warming up a dancefloor and approaching a peak, my favorite go-to record was ‘Shut Up and Dance,’ which, with its infectious hook, was a great launchpad to peak-hour ’80s jams like Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ and Eddie Money’s ‘Take Me Home Tonight.’”
One lesser-known track Hollmann utilized to great effect at weddings, Sweet 16s and bar/bat mitzvahs was the 2014 EDM track “Tremor” by Dimitri Vegas & Martin Garrix & Like Mike.
“With its big-room sound, ‘Tremor’ sucked in dancers and raised energy levels through the roof,” says Hollmann. “On the hip-hop and R&B side of the spectrum, ‘Trap Queen’ [by Fetty Wap] and ‘Hotline Bling’ [by Drake] ruled the roost. While the tempos of these songs were dreary, at just 70 BPM or so, teen guests in particular enjoyed singing along.”
Hollmann says his favorite break-through artist of 2015 was Jamaican singer OMI, with his hit “Cheerleader” (Felix Jaehn Remix).
“That happy and tropical house remix was a great party starter and paired well with ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5,” he explains.
“For our company, the top ballads of 2015 were ‘Thinking Out Loud’ [by Ed Sheeran], plus two Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack selections: ‘Earned It’ [by The Weeknd] and ‘Love Me Like You Do’ [by Ellie Goulding].
“To maintain energy levels, I utilize a faster-paced, quick-mix style that allows me to mix out of tracks that aren’t working so well. At weddings, I tend to play longer sections of songs, but maintain the flexibility to mix out as needed.
“Running a tight mixing board and executing meaningful transitions definitely helps to keep a dancefloor hot at any type of party. Mobile DJs who don’t mix are highly advised to learn this important skill.”
Mike Wieder is a nationally recognized presenter and the owner of East Windsor, N.J.-based Ultimate Sounds Entertainment. Wieder recently gave a presentation headlined “Be the Difference Maker” in Lagrangeville, N.Y., which included a wedding performance presentation with a special introduction by the well-respected Sean “Big Daddy” McKee.
Some of the things Wieder shared during his session was playing the first dance as the family led into the bride and groom’s first dance, or doing the anniversary dance with a twist—opening the dancefloor with what he calls “H2K” (hugs, hi-5s & kisses) and therefore bringing energy to the floor.
“As wedding DJs and MCs, we are unique,” he says, “and through the years we’ve honed our skills and have developed the ability to read a crowd and manipulate the dancefloor to capitalize on the energy in the room.
“There are three types of people at every event: Those who will dance, those who won’t dance, and those who might dance—if they have the right entertainment.”
The way Wieder explains it, mobile DJs are the difference-makers in how any event turns out.
“You listen to clients’ needs and then incorporate your abilities to create the atmosphere they’ve always dreamt of,” he says. “You take their ideas and dreams, mix it with your experience, and then create the menu to success.”