Play-Listing for Profit

In this era of Spotify, SoundCloud, and iTunes, anyone with the memory of a Goldfish can arrange a twenty track music set for their gym workout, drive to work, or dinner party.


But don’t you see? That’s just the problem. Your preferences are yours, and yours alone, and the rest of us could really give a rat’s ass about that obscure B-side slow-jam that was playing at your school prom. Music is personal, intimate, and subjective, according to your response to it. To be a really successful programmer, it’s people you need to understand, and more specifically, the audience that will be grooving, dancing or posing to your beats.

As a lifelong audiophile, I’ve briefly summarized here a few ways to discover, understand, and profit from my audiences. This has led to an extremely lucrative, and long term career in the music biz.

For me, it all started with the mix-tape. The Maxell XLII-S 90 music cassette was the blank canvas for a thirty-five track aural opus-de-force! Genre jumping, spoken-word, sound effects, rare unpublished lost soul and funk tracks were carefully stitched together like a handmade quilt. After that came the 80 minute, ten cent digital CD-R, which when used with some free mixing software, turns me into a digital soundscape producer.

Now while it may appear exciting to expose your buddies to interesting mixes of whale song, mixed with rare 45’s, this really is a dead-end in terms of earning real money. So I encourage you go corporate! Stir in equal parts Top 40, classic funk, and cheesy eighties into the iTunes application, and you can instantly charge anybody willing, two hundred euros to soundtrack their wedding, corporate soiree, or school prom. This is no joke. People think that it’s about “The Mix” when in fact it’s actually about “The Tracks” that comprise your carefully presented set.

I can charge up to a thousand euros a night having built a steady and reputable reputation for not thinking I need to teach some room full of strangers what they need to hear to be cool. Give them what they want, what they expect, and you’ll be gigging like Glen Quagmire in no time. The same applies for Chi-Chi Cafe Del Mar, Buddha Bar fare. If you shuffle a play list of the last five volumes of Hotel Costes, or Claude Challe Presents, you can waltz into your local Four Seasons in a Zara suit and a Mac Book Air and charge 200 euros per set to watch rich idiots hanging out and drinking Appletini’s.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for groundbreaking, mind-altering sets of nuanced, innovative, never before felt DJ sets, but that just it. They don’t really happen in the real world. Most mediocre DJ’s profit from leeching off the success of other peoples art. They cant play any instruments, so they play other artists work. DJ Bullshit is just feeding you the pseudo sentimental bleeps of that season’s hot new, yet increasingly annoying, sound patches. He’s really selling you hype, dressed up as required listener populism. Unless it’s accepted by the teaming masses, it won’t really fly on a commercial dance floor, and that’s again what we’re after, what they, the audience wants, not what you think they want.

Beat matching is the art of synching the drumbeats to a following track prior to the actual fade in of that track. While this takes just ten minutes learn, it can actually be faked quite well with nearly free mixing software to stunningly, near perfect results. As a twenty-year veteran of play-listing commercial house music, it’s always about playing what’s popular THAT exact week your performing. Sentimentality is also a key component here.

Playing tracks or house remixes to classic tunes that reach into your soul, and bring liquid light onto your dance floor and add dimension and energy to a normally touristy blank venue. A three-hour commercial house set in most European capital cities pays about two hundred euros.

Audio consultants play list music libraries for restaurants, hotel lobbies, and bars. This is a time consuming, yet high paying job that requires one to two week cycles of music that you periodically refresh. Many online streaming services offer accounts, but a dedicated custom selected, in-house library is always a better solution. Let the bartender step in and drop his top tracks into the mix.

An extensive knowledge of an array of genres will also help you sell your musical concept to a potential client. An extra portion of ambiguous market research concerning sales testing, with proven empirical data will allow you to charge them even more. Just check lobbies or chill-out zones at The Mandarin, The Mark, or any Prague boutique hotel for an example of how to do this correctly. Licensing and usage issues are the law these days, so do your research concerning BMG/ASCAP regulations for those clients you advise, and the local laws that apply to them.

Finally, and most interestingly, is the independent Radio DJ. While these gigs are most rare to come by, they are the Holy Grail for the aficionado music enthusiast. While they often don’t pay more than ten to fifteen euros an hour, you and your ego can finally spread your wings, breaking never before musical territory and turning other like minded individuals onto your specific other wordily vibe.

This dodo bird of occupations actually flips the normal rules around, turning the programmer into the Jedi master of unattainable musical nuggets. No play lists, means pure musical freedom. Radio is generally a short-term activity, so genre jumping is encouraged, and nothing is really taboo these days if it’s audio only. Real money can be made if you’re serious about sociology and audience needs, especially as they’re generally unaware when it’s done really well.

The science of play listing is not about expensive mixing consoles, and thousand euro CD players; it IS about choosing tracks thoughtfully, with the end user being the finder of your golden musical egg.

Tim Otis

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Tim Otis