Last night I finished putting together the playlist for Saturday's milonga at Gladesville. Putting together a playlist is rather like putting together a magazine, something I did for many years as a magazine editor, a memory that was refreshed this week by the ABC's program Paper Giants on the rise and rise of Ita Buttrose. Sitting around at an editorial meeting deciding the content for the next issue has an affinity with sitting with dancers at a milonga and listening to their comments about the music and their likes and dislikes. As with a magazine editor, so with a tango DJ - I am responsible for the success of the magazine/milonga - and for whether the buyers/dancers will return.
I have a list of the orchestras from the excellent guides on the Tejastango website of Stephen and Susan Brown. This is one of the most authoritative and thorough sites on tango music and a great resource for all tango DJs; among their many guides is their annotated List of Tandas..
I also keep a copy of my playlists printed out from each milonga with comments from the night taken from my clients. As I've been DJing for 4 years now this is a really valuable resource.
There are many favourites - choosing which ones to play this time is like choosing chocolates in a chocolate shop. As Stephen Brown writes not only does the DJ affect the energy and success of the milonga, she/he is also responsible for affecting how people dance and for encouraging people to dance - and dance all night long. Those of us who have not been brought up with tango music and dancing should probably dance for a few years before they become DJs, he writes. Surprisingly I have been to milongas where the DJ has little, or only a couple of years of dancing, and it shows, their playlists did not have people dancing all night long. Brown also makes the point that a DJ needs to be sensitive to the crowd's needs and to be ready to change the music if the mood dictates it. Something I have did not feel confident to do at the beginning - but with today's music programs it is so easy!
When I'm doing a playlist I start with the cortinas. Sometimes these have a theme - blue songs for our Blue Tango Night in November, moon songs when there is a full moon, love songs in February for Valentine's Day... and there is a pattern to them which most the dancers are unaware of, but which works every time. My tandas consist of three pieces - whether it is tango, milonga or vals and I always do my playlist as tango, tango, milonga, tango, tango, vals. I do this because the night is short (only four and a half hours) and if there are more women than men at the milonga the women have more opportunities to dance! Also if a couple is enjoying dancing, it is easier to stay on the floor for 6 numbers than it is for 8.
Stephen Brown talks about the top 40 favourites (I think it's more like 100) - and also emphasises the importance of not playing obscure music, selecting carefully any music from post Golden Age recordings and knowing your audience if you are going to play 'Neo-Tango' music.
Next I choose a few from the 'top-100' that I didn't play last milonga... and then I build my playlist around these. If I am going to play music I have not played before I will make it one piece sandwiched two known pieces.
My biggest regret is that I don't have the funds to buy the newly digitised recordings. Having heard just how good the old music is when it is 'cleaned up' and owning a few digitised CDs it is big on my list - I am waiting for the TangoVia project to come on line which I hope will be soon.
So, now I have my playlist for Saturday. However it is only Wednesday - and like any good project it will benefit from a little massage. I will play the milonga tandas to my partner, who adores milonga, and take his feedback on board. I will check the tempos to make sure I'm not starting with a fast tango and finishing with a slow one. I will check my eras and try to keep the lyrical tandas towards the end of the night and the more rhythmic for the middle of the evening. I will check to make sure I don't have the same piece by the same orchestra twice - I will sometimes play the same piece by a different orchestra if it is a different arrangement and comes from another era. And I will be prepared to massage my playlist on the night. Especially for those having a birthday dance if they request something that is not on the playlist!