By yourself, you listen to whatever you like.
When with another person, you listen to something that you know you both like.
And as more people are added into the mix, these choices become more difficult. That is, of course, if you actually care about the tastes of others.
The most challenging of times come in large gatherings full of people whom you can’t afford to offend. Large-scale parties, business-related functions, wedding receptions, and so on: whose taste rules? What can one choose that will drive away the least amount of people possible? If you’re the organizer, where should your preferences end and compromises begin?
Some judgment calls are easier to make than others. When you’re in a gathering with friends, generally there are bands and types of music which you all can agree upon. Likewise, you can occasionally play a song that one or two people don’t care for and they won’t raise too much of a fuss.
It’s a delicate balance, creating ambiance without allowing its presence to overshadow the event as a whole. Looking at a standard DJ’s wedding reception playlist for generic midwestern families, they have nailed down fundamental elements mixed with healthy variety. While it’s all watered down, there’s generally something for everyone. Dance, rock, country, and traditional songs combine to allow rotation on the dance floor; much like listening to the radio, one knows that they will not love every song, but it’s not so sour that they have to cover their ears and run.
Business settings can range from an attempt to create a refined, dignified atmosphere to providing a bit of a peek into the minds and philosophy behind a company. While one may expect Muzak or a pile of ’40s and ’50s crooners at an insurance or bank gathering, a politics-based meeting may consist of motivational and themed middle-of-the-road pop songs of varying age and style. One wouldn’t think twice to hear something much more edgy from a marketing or tech company, but that approach would be frowned upon at, oh, a gathering of morticians.
None of this is anything less than common sense, yet there are still gaffes from time to time, many of them not so easily predictable. That standard wedding blend fails terribly in a large family of country folk who clear the floor anytime something non-twangy is spun. While someone may recall the line “I believe in miracles” from the Hot Chocolate song and choose to use it as a motivational backdrop, cringing may ensue as the title “You Sexy Thing” blasts loud and clear at the audience. And how were you to know that a particular album reminded one of your acquaintances of their freshly-separated ex?
The other alternative is to completely ignore the tastes of anyone but your own and claim the event as representative of your personality. While this is expected at an ordinary party, gatherings where relatives are present almost implicity require compromise. It may be your wedding reception and your day, but can you blame your grandmother for leaving after an hour of Cradle of Filth? You might be the visionary of your company, but creating a corporate schtick of swing music simply because it inspires you might lead your fellow employees and underlings to avoid any and all future events. This isn’t to say that, in the interest of variety, one can’t simply bar one or two particular genres from rotation. That generic wedding reception DJ can throw out the country songs from his repertoire if requested, and likely most of your guests won’t really miss it.
Backtracking to discussions of smaller personal gatherings: to what extent should your own preferences override the tastes of the guests? Yes, at “your party,” you shouldn’t have to listen to anything you don’t like. But if none of the other guests like your extreme flavors, there will be plenty of complainers. It’s not unusual to have a jerk or two in the crowd who won’t be happy with anything but the five bands they like, but who is going to miss that person if they stomp off? Yes, the stoned chick who wants to listen to the same Depeche Mode song 18 times in a row can be rightfully overruled even if she starts issuing death threats towards the stereo operator. You can’t make everyone happy, after all.
This brings us to the dilemma of the previous weekend: an informal family-and-friends gathering with food and semi-celebration of marriage. The ages in attendance ranged from six months to somewhere in the 70s, with tastes ranging from Slipknot to Jim Reeves. With a stack of music focusing primarily on metal and dark pop, the best decision was to throw on some ’80s compilation albums. And while the crowd might not have all been into Biz Markie, Debbie Gibson, The Church, or Barnes and Barnes, it seemed as lukewarm as possible compared with the alternative of spinning Rammstein or numerous Swedish metal bands.
How did it fly? Well, nobody said a word. Better to have no compliments than any complaints, right? My mother likely would have preferred I go all-out individualist and blast something satanic, but she gets a kick out of shocking the relatives. She originally suggested that we have a black wedding with invitations adorned with pentagrams. Sorry Mother, but I prefer to keep the elders smiling as they think of me when penning their wills.
Still, I do wish I could have thought ahead and personalized the experience a bit more. Although I greatly enjoy spending an afternoon listening to Tears for Fears and Duran Duran, this wasn’t particularly noteworthy. It wasn’t me. Had I known there would be the availability to provide music, I likely would have spent hours crafting the perfect playlist for the occasion. While the surprise saved me a geeky evening of musical fixation and CD burning, it eats away at me. I know I offended no one, but I didn’t make a mark either. It felt like a business luncheon where something completely neutral was played as to not be noticed or take away from any of the surroundings. My relatives, however, were likely sighing in relief.
Working for the good of the masses: selling your soul to avoid needless conflict. In business, it’s essential. In personal gatherings, it’s the only way to create a pleasurable experience for everyone. That doesn’t make any of it feel any less manipulative, any less dirty.