Thursday, June 28, 2007

"The kids still listen to Hammer, right?"

I finally got around to hooking up my PC to see what files have been gathering dust over the last couple of years. And to free up trunk space in the car. AND to retrieve the music files that have yet to make the transition to my iTunes.

The iTunes reason should really be at the top of the list. During the summer our clientele at the lanes is about 80% kids courtesy of Oberlin City Recreation and the sport and music conferences that visit Hotel Oberlin. Most of these groups do glow bowling which requires one thing: Music. This presents a challenge, surprisingly enough. We don't have a DJ setup where we can take requests or tailor the music selections to the group demographics -- we have mix CD's. Now I have been making mixes since I started working at the lanes, but I have more leeway in terms of obscurity and the occasional naughty language when I am making mixes for college students. Kids mixes are TOUGH.

I am not alone in this challenge. We have had a number of prolific mixers the last few years, each of whom has had their own aesthetic: Susie was alt-rock; Jeanne was hipster with Spanish and hip hop influence; Oneida was R&B with a focus on Soul; Kimi is modern dance/hip-hop with Phil Collins/John Mayer tendencies (I'm still on the fence about that second part); my style has been described by myself and others as reminiscent of middle school dances. I suppose my style can be described as oldies in a sense, since there will always be at least one song in a mix that is older than the youngest person in the group and sometimes the entire group.

After a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, I was determined to make a mix that would meet the following guidelines:

  1. No swearing
  2. Contemporary without being entirely disposable -- basically the songs will need to still be enjoyable/recognizable 6 months from now
  3. Even though the target demo is kids, the mix should be accessible to adults also
The first criterion is the easiest one, obviously. Number 3 is relatively easy -- if I have it in my iTunes it must be somewhat tolerable to adults. Basically I didn't want the Kidz Bop versions of songs creeping into the project. Number 2 I think is the major stumbling block. If you pick a song that has been around for six months, you run the risk of it being played out and annoying the listener. If the song is relatively new, you have to try to predict the future in terms of how popular it will be. Also, I might like it but it might drive everyone else crazy, or vice versa. Also, older songs (1-2 years old) shouldn't be off limits, but what still qualifies as "cool"?

The answer: American Idol, Now That's What I Call Music, and Kidz Bop. Those entities thrive on market research and are time capsules of the zeitgeist. AI also has the added benefit of expanding to older music (thanks retro theme weeks!) so I have a little more flexibility in breaking up the beats in a given mix. I finally made what I think is the quintessential birthday mix (for the time being).

HOWEVER, when I showed up to work yesterday and today, Tom had a few reports from the field. Specifically, requests for rap/hip-hop. Balls. I was also given specific song requests: "Party Like a Rockstar" -- a song that I heard once on the radio and instantly went, "why is this popular? There's nothing going on."; "Gimme That" -- which Kimi has included on a mix, so I may have to track it down; "I'm in Love with a Stripper" -- no. I know we will need at least one more kid friendly mix (because I will go crazy if I have to listen to the current one 25 more times) but rap/hip-hop -- particularly current songs with little to no swearing -- is going to be a tall order.

Though listening to Tom try to be conversant about current pop music is remarkably entertaining.

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