How to select
Social Dance Music
Back in 2011, there were 623 Million known songs on earth.
If you would listen to music your entire life with an average song length of four minutes, you could listen to 10 Million songs until you die.
Coming back to reality, if you would listen to all Bachata songs only once per song, it would take a lil' bit of time... It raises the need to know our ways to choose and find music for social dancing on the dancefloor.
However, what are good criterias for songs to choose?
(not only applicable to a Bachata party but to all social couple dances)
(I) How DJs choose their music
As a good DJ, you do have several needs to fulfill when it comes to arranging your songs (live) for a party on different levels, be it
technically, emotionally, concerning speed, arc of suspense, subgenre, audience, ...
As a beginner, probably some friends know about your passion for a certain genre of music - you know your genre by heart and collected lots of songs.
So why not share it for money and fame?
When you start performing as a DJ, you most probably play songs of your favourite style. In a (seemingly) fortunate case, your style matches the style of the audience and everybody is happy - you get booked to feed this audience.
As a more advanced DJ, you realize that serving an audience means more than filling a dance floor for money. It is connected with you representing a genre as a whole. This means attracting or repelling certain groups of people of this genre. If you only know your favourite subgenre, you are still a beginner. If you only play your own beloved style as a DJ, you will only attract people with the same wavelength.
At first thought, you could think this is highly beneficial: attract "your own kind". At second thought, you will not only narrow your view and simplify your perception of music and feelings but also induce splitting of a genre to simpler subgenres. In the end, these subgenres cannot maintain themselves because they will get sucked dry quickly due to the lack of new ideas and due to the lack of attraction of creative minds that can drive the scene.
For instance, if you are an somewhat aged DJ who has had his best time a century ago, your audience will also be the same old people that cherish only the classics (e.g. this is the case for the German Salsa scene in lots of towns).
If you are an arrogant technocrat snob that knows his ways with women more than with dancing or music - or -
if you are a failed entity and search shelter within your introvert depressive music, you will for sure attract completely different audiences within the same genre of music.
Clearly, your own mood and perception of music heavily influences the choices you make. But then, what is the best way to choose music?
(II) Subgenres in and in between B-a-c-h-a-t-a:
if you want to attract only a subgenre of a music genre like "real Dominican" Bachata, Bachata Sensual or Popchata, you simply play everything that has a certain sound and composition framework with specific fingerprints. Some of these fingerprints are for
Dominican Bachata: few/no effects, in average music produced in primitive manner with low audio quality, all five classic instruments with main instrument guitar+singer, background vocals, classic Bachata rhythms Caminando/Majao/ Mambo, guitar solos, jazz guitar tone, a range from simple beginner compositions to thoughtful masterpieces.
Sensual Bachata: Some effects, some chorus, main instrument is singer (and often guitar acts more as background instrument), some of the classic Bachata rhythms (Caminando&Majao), few solos but more breaks, slower, pop-like singer complaining about problems and benefits of relationships, sex and affairs. Predominantly more solid composition and production but rarely extraordinary pieces.
Popchata: Many effects, a lot of chorus reduced composition quality but optimized production quality, main instrument is the overall effect arrangment and to some extent the singer with heavily modified voice, few to no Bachata rhythms, no guitar, no solos, singer (as a puppet of background composers) trying to sell a product instead of making music by heart. The range of quality is extremely broad and inconsistent in this subgenre down to a level of insult for the ears.
I will not discuss Urban Bachata (in the sense of HipHop/RnB Bachata) and Bachatango because they are not well known at all.
You already experienced that I did not write these subgenres in a neutral tone which I will explain in the next step:
What kind of people do we attract when we only consider a single subgenre?
In the first case of Dominican Bachata, we mainly attract Dominican people and -to a lesser extend- Latin people (and the very few non-Latin ones that are interested in Dominican/Caribbean culture). No local party in whole Europe (except for the Netherlands) could provide an audience big enough for this Dominican subgenre. In most cases, it heavily relies on a broader Latin audience. For instance, imagine 80 Million people living in Germany where roughly 5000 are Dominicans. Most of them do not even dance. You are lucky if you find one in your town ;) Thus, if you want to "protect" "your Dominican culture" in music and dance abroad, have fun trying to isolate yourself and strengthen borders between cultures and races. Even if you try to narrow music to a Latin audience in the rest of Europe, you will do this at the cost of integration in the country that you are actually live in.
In the second case of Sensual Bachata, we mainly attract Latin people across Europe with the style originating in New York (music) and Spain (dance). For other Europeans (also amongst Germans), Spain is an all-time high ranked holiday spot. Spain (but also Latin America) is predominantly connected with positive holiday memories. Clearly, Bachata Sensual reaches a lot of (younger) people across Europe with the export of Bachata festivals as a dance and also as a subgenre. In terms of composition, this genre is a mix of traditional Bachata and modern Pop elements. It somehow dilutes the cultural character (mainly composed by descendants of Dominicans in the U.S.) and some fingerprints of Dominican Bachata and on the other hand provides modern western production standards of music. The music subgenre cannot fully provide the best of both worlds but reaches a solid compromise. With songs getting slower and dance expression concentrating on corporal elements, we attract this younger (wealthy) holiday- and travel-oriented audience.
The third case of Popchata based on a mixture of Pop with Bachata (rather than Bachata with Pop as in the case of Bachata Sensual) heavily dilutes Bachata which is not a problem -per se-. However, in most cases, the original idea of broadening the Bachata spectrum gets lost through the lack in understanding the concept. Producers do not recognize that a Popsong cannot simply be synthetically "disguised" as a Bachata by extreme usage of Bachata principles on existing Pop songs. Each pop song belongs to its own style with its own energy flow where a Bachata adaption first has to respect the rules of this specific Pop song (and those of Bachata only in second order). On top of that, producers of Popchata do not at all (or not well) play any instruments or compose any music. With no musicians but producers making music, the overall compositoral quality can drop down heavily to the lowest lows of music. Even if they know principles of instrumentation, it does not guarantee any success in remixing abilities because the level of the original song has to be matched by the remixer. If DJs remix simple songs (e.g. romantic slow acoustic versions), the level of inexperienced producers with basic percussion knowledge can suffice. However, in most cases human nature and hybris drives DJs far beyond their skills in remixing by choosing songs that are way above their capabilities. Now, the audience is mainly the broad mass of consumers that listen to any kind of pop music which is sold by radio stations across the world and transmuted in a "Bachata Remix". Most of the consumers do not even hear the difference between programmed instruments that has no connection to Bachata rhythms nor are the programmed instruments able to be played with real instruments. Some DJs even rely on their production experiments as main mix (probably out of pure self glorification and marketing reasons). DJs that ignore these responsibilities are also responsible for the incorrect use of so called "Bachata" music as an act of self-portrayal instead as an interpretation of the music. With this type of subgenre, many people simply cannot follow the basics of dancing anymore which is a huge problem up to date. However, in the end, the lack of quality will become present and the subgenre has to deal with it. Also, for this kind of "subgenre", in the end, everybody is the audience but at the same time, nobody is the audience anymore.
The two "extremes" of pure Dominican Bachata and pure Popchata in Europe aim at the extremes of complete separation and a complete merge of genres which is why they will not survive as a self-sustaining concept and will only attract very specific groups in the long run.
As a first guideline (concerning subgenres), we also conclude that all styles should play their role on a Bachata party to bridge this variations of Bachata and Popchata has to be revised carefully as content for a mix. At the same time, Bachata parties do need to define a connection base and an audience - other than culture or the sole joy of dancing.
The only very good exceptional reason for a (well composed) Popchata to play is to target the national spirit (for example, a French Bachata Remix in France) or target a theme, e.g. of an event.
(III) "Oldschool" vs "Newschool"
In Bachata, the "old school" and the "new school" is mainly related to their historic development: Dominican Bachata, Sensual Bachata and Popchata (see section II).
However, now we talk about songs that people know and songs that people do not know yet- here we will deal with it as the "personal" new and old school.
For Dominican people, Dominican (pop)music is Oldschool. For German people, American (pop)music is Oldschool. On the contrary, Newschool is everything that we haven't listened to before. For the classic German, this means Bachata is Newschool as probably is European English-speaking Pop for the classic Dominican.
Listening to specific songs in a repeating manner connects us to this music and this style in an emotional way - which is good and bad. It lets us feel familiar not only to the song but also to the surrounding: be it the party, the people or even the things we buy at the grocery store. If we dance with a person as a leader with whom we have never danced before but both leader and follower know the song, they can feel "at home" and a unity without even knowing each other a single bit. For me, this is astonishing - why dancing itself can (in short time) very closely connect people while in long term, it does not mean anything.
The troublesome aspect of "oldschool music" is that it can hinder us from experiencing new forms and expressions of music to inspire us with alternative directions and let us grow as a person and as a social being.
Being DJs, normally we prefer to take the easy path and rely on "oldschool" songs because they will always trigger joy in people no matter when they are played. It will become more difficult to choose from songs if you have a mixed audience. As I already pointed out, for different people different songs are oldschool - so which songs to choose from?
Again, in ideal case, you choose a mix to provide both: the "at home" feeling and at the same time broaden the horizon of the audience by including music in your set that is "newschool" for the others and vice versa.
As a DJ, you are the boss. You decide which song is played. You decide if the audience will be fed with their standard fast food (with their tastes getting more and more picky and demanding more and more specific songs from you) - or for the better, if you keep the balance between feeding and exploring. Keep the balance between different groups of people, different moods and different technical levels to attract a homogeneous mixture of people and to preserve a fresh and vivid scene.
Consequently, every DJ has to learn, practice and apply his/her personal newschool - be it the oldies for young DJs or the new stuff for old DJs.
(IV) Quality of Songs
When people talk about songs with terms such as "good" or "bad", they typically argue with their taste (for the fun of agreeing with kindred or disagreeing by verbally bashing each other)
without -ever- really thinking about it in a serious way. This last -very important- big block will deal with an aspect that DJs do not think through
because they probably have never realized it.
Hopefully the following section will change this.
Here, we will define the quality of a song for social dancing based on three features:
A good song is a song that I like listening to.
Of course, this is very subjective and depends on a lot of factors like
people's mood, taste and perception history.
A good dance song is a song that I like listening to AND
can potentially be used for expression with my (and my follower's) body.
Here, it does not matter how "big and complete=how visual" the expression is.
Musical interpretation by dancing is based on the mood, speed and versatility of a composition and how well it matches
my mood, my speed/fitness and my versatility of perceiving and understanding music.
Thus, in a first rough approximation, we can assume that
-very slow and
-very monotonous songs are not good for musical interpretation in social dancing.
(Please keep in mind that in an advanced mix for musical interpretation, we actually need fast and slow songs to keep variability and creativity)
In a Gedankenexperiment, when you would play a song consisting of only one instrument: a kick sound in one simple rhythm: a 4/4 beat pattern,
your musical interpretation will most likely be restricted to this monotonous staccato step (or other monotonous staccato movement of your body) with little emotion:
kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick ...
Some even call this "music" and "dancing" in the EDM sector....
(I would call it "open door with air draft" and "my hobby: action tremor" :P)
When you play a song that has elaborated lyrics in combination with emotionally adapted melody embedded in a technically and emotionally perfected framework with varying intensity, your musical interpretation on the dancefloor
can be incredibly versatile and intense.
Thus, the song quality and the quality of a dance that comes out of a song is heavily dependent on the song itself and the dancer's connection to it.
Let us now discuss the different features in a bit more detail.
a) The first order quality of a song is the compositon quality. The grade of a composition is defined by the musician's quality of composing and performance of a song and has the strongest impact on dance quality. Generally, in each genre there is a broad spectrum of quality based on the education and capabilities of composers. A lot of compositoral quality is based on experience, skills and uniqueness of the characters that write and perform their artistic product to transfer (in most cases emotional) information.
b) The second order quality of a song is the production quality which defines the presentation of a work. For instance: used instruments, tone color / effects, the mix between intensity of instruments and the overall appearance of the "polished" song after mastering. Production quality itself does not need to have a strong impact on dance quality but flawed productions can diminish the dance quality- either through displeasing sounds or through too quiet instruments that are potentially missed by dancer's ears in the final mix. Nowadays, another problem rises. People are used to cutting edge production of Pop songs which makes it more unlikely for valuable composed music (e.g. live performances, not well known artists, ...) to be played the dance floor. Often, non-mainstream songs do offer a high quality for interpretation on the dance floor but are ignored by DJs that focus on well-known oldschool songs.
Please not that a "composition" can be protected by right but "sounds" and "effects" cannot be protected by right and normally, producers do not own any rights at songs. This shows the big difference between a) and b) on a legal level.
Technically, an analogy between compositoral and production quality would be
the engine and framework of a car and
the costume and shiny decorative lights on the outside.
You definitely need an engine and framework to get from spot A to B but
the costume is a choice of personal taste and wallet ;)
Another analogy would be the ideal woman/man of your dreams.
How should she/he be? Pretty, smart, emotional, ...?. Surely, the whole gamut.
A single mortal will not be able to fulfill all of these conditions (maybe a god would)
but a song can sustain the illusion to fulfill all of these dreams:
because it is artificially made. Clearly, this depends on the quality.
A song can combine all these traits and let you feel this heavenly perfection in life.
Dragging heaven down on earth.
Only one of the reasons why "music" was called "the language of angels"
by Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle.
Interpreting songs is a great opportunity for dancers to fully enjoy music but
at the same time is a great temptation not to get addicted by these emotions and completely lose yourself.
One reason why there are so many dance festival hoppers that cherish this exceptional state of living that lets you forget all sorrows of your life.
a)+b)+c) The highest quality in songs (e.g. several songs of Romeo Santos/Prince Royce - please note that a big part of the quality comes from composers and musicians behind these superstars -) is not only obtained by composition and production
but also combines the very complex with the very simple:
connecting the song with anybody - no matter his or her background in music.
Only very few songs bridge this gap and they know exactly what they do to achieve this: Attracting the attention of musical ears as well as basic instincts like loving hearts.
For me, this is actually how I would define art:
combine the complex with the simple for a big audience to enjoy.
For me, real art is not only for experts on a field
(though it might not be understood by non-experts).
(V) Conclusion for the DJs
We have to ask ourselves: how can an average DJ without musical or emotional education decide which song has a high quality for dancing and which does not?
The first problem is that each person and each DJ (technically) listens to music differently, based on his or her experience with music. !Experience does NOT mean the time spent listening to music! Many DJs do not change their capabilities of perception of music over years by passively listening to music similar to the audience and stay on the same level with which they began with. The same is true for dancers that cannot evolve if they do not improve their capability of hearing.
With only perceiving a little part of what music is, DJs have to rely on people that can perceive more information than themselves. To find these people is quite difficult other than musicians because you cannot immediately judge who perceives how much of music.
However, when people make music visible (like in social dancing), you can start to judge who perceives more information of the music and maybe learn easier through them to actively listen to music.
I contribute to the solution of this problem with my first top 100 list of some of the most frequently played songs of my song pool. This does only supplement but not replace training of hearing but can help to improve the audience's possibilities for musical interpretation.
They all contain a combination of
- high compositoral level,
- sufficient production level
(except for more historic Dominican Bachatas from the 60s&70s) and especially
- emotional depth for interpretation
The second problem is that each person feels music differently, again based on his or her experiences in life. I want to emphasize that emotions can also be trained like any other skill, believe it or don't.
Thus, the best option is to play songs with different moods and speeds and watch the dancers react to it. Are there more sensual dreamers or more borrachos y locos on the dance floor? Then you can react to it but in any case, one has to balance songs on a party to also serve the minorities on the dance floor.
In the end, I dare to ask:
Don't you want to work on a "heaven on earth"?
Then you need know where to find the key to open the gate.
Think about it.
"my mix is the best mix"
For a targeted audience,
For a targeted audience and sophisticated allround social dancers (the dancers who attracts other dancers),
In the end, the best mix is the "mix!":
A broad set of different emotions, speeds, styles with a good overview over the people.
The seemingly endless Choice
DJ vs Audience
Your own Kind
Non-Dominican Non-Latin Folks
Oldschool / Newschool
Oldschool / Newschool
The boss on the party
privilege and responsibility
The extraordinary violin solo that nobody cares about
The "good" dance song
Internal vs external
Heaven on earth
Ambassadors of heaven or
devil's advocates? Probably both
Examples of songs
The intense dance
The average DJ
Viva la Republica Dominicana