Competition Music

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Platypus
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Competition Music

#1 Post by Platypus » Mon Oct 27, 2003 6:49 am

During our exchange a few weeks ago, we hosted the regionals for ALHC. First time for me to work with the music portion of the competition. The guidelines I was given before the competition were to "go classic, make the songs similar in style, with simliar-lenth intros, similar instrumentation, and within three set BPM ranges (which became four the night of the contest)." The regional committee was given some amount of freedom in how to set up the local competition. They worked closely with me, and I was also happy that both Greg Avakaian and Matt Jones provided some wonderful guidance and input as the final slate was confirmed (thanks guys!). Definately challenging, but fun. The process sparked some interesting conversations between Greg and I about music choice at competions. Since neither of us remembered a thread about this topic, I figured it was about time to ask y'all about it!

Off the top of my head, here are some of the questions that I remember from that conversation:
How much direction have you been given by the organizers?
Do they provide written guidelines or is it verbal?
Are music slates usually approved before the contest?
How much control do YOU, as the DJ, have over the final music choices?
Does the music style differ for different contests? All classic or is it mixed?
What are the usual range of BPMs seen at contests?
What are the criteria for good contest music?
Should songs be known or obscure?
Anything you would avoid?
How do you ensure that the slate of songs is "fair" to contestants?
Yesterday, a local who competes at the national level stated, "I hear song X at many of the competitions I have been at." How do y'all keep the song list fresh for contests?
If the music seems to be similar across the country for contests, is that a good thing? Or does it mean that the range of music (or of the DJ) is too limited?

I had better stop here with the questions for now........looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

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#2 Post by KevinSchaper » Mon Oct 27, 2003 12:38 pm

I've done music for a couple of contests, and by the last one I finally realized that the songs probably should be on the familiar side.. you want people to dance their best to it, so it helps to play something you know lotsa people like..

my beef with contests is the length - I hate fading a swing era tune with a minute left, cuz that's always where they build into the big crescendo and really go nuts.. fading before that just stinks.

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#3 Post by JesseMiner » Wed Oct 29, 2003 7:21 pm

Since I've been regularly DJing competitions with Rayned over the past several years, most recently at ALHC this past weekend, I figured I should chime in here and answer your questions:
How much direction have you been given by the organizers?
It varies from event to event. Some organizers give extensive direction while others give no direction whatsoever, relying on my skills to put together appropriate music for their competition.
Do they provide written guidelines or is it verbal?
I've gotten both before. Usually the more organized the event, the more likely there will be written guidelines, but that of course is not always the case. It personally doesn't matter to me as even verbal guidelines will become written once they are given to me. As long as the organizer and I are clear on what is expected, then everything should be cool. I make sure to ask lots of questions for clarification if anything seems unclear.
Are music slates usually approved before the contest?
No, I don't usually run the song selections by the organizers before the contest, except for the Hellzapoppin' competition at the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival where I was making sure I was overly prepared due to the complex requirements and tight schedule.
How much control do YOU, as the DJ, have over the final music choices?
I have total control of the final music choices, but of course that is because the organizer has complete trust in me following their guidelines and picking the appropriate music.
Does the music style differ for different contests? All classic or is it mixed?
Sure. It really depends on the focus of the contest and what the dancers are currently dancing to. Some contests focus on "classic" Lindy Hop and thus require more "classic" swing-era material, while other competitions, often Jack and Jill's, want to cover a variety of styles of music that Lindy Hoppers currently enjoy dancing to (classic swing-era music, jump blues, modern swinging jazz and blues, etc...).
What are the usual range of BPMs seen at contests?
BPM ranges are fluid from event to event. They depend on a lot of factors, so no, there is no usual range. I've seen the ranges change a lot over the past 4 years. Tempo ranges were much lower a few years ago, but then over the past few years, they have been increasing again. We'll see where they go in the future. So I try to be flexible event to event, with no ranges set in stone.
What are the criteria for good contest music?
Firstly, songs need to fit the criteria for the contest. Secondly, the songs must be great songs, which inspire the competitors and give them a platform to shine from. Pick songs that start off strong, have a lot of fun qualities (melodies, dynamics, hits, etc...) for the dancers to work off of and are in general great songs to dance to. Competition songs should be a limited subset of quality social dance music (this might be different for choreographed pieces, but then we as DJs aren't picking the music for those types of competitions).

I don't believe that songs in competition music should challenge the dancers with a strange or overly difficult rhythm/song structure or unexpected breaks and such. You know this has happened when the competitors look up with a quizzical "what-the-f***?" look on their face when they hear the music. Let the competitors challenge themselves by dancing to the best of their ability, being motivated by amazing inspirational music.
Should songs be known or obscure?
Songs should be of the highest quality, letting the dancers shine. Sometimes that comes from the familiar, sometimes from the obscure. I'd say I lean towards playing more of the known, but the occasional obscure gem is great as well (hmmmm....sounds kind of like my approach to DJing in general).
Anything you would avoid?
You want to avoid songs that are unfair to one couple/heat over another. More specifically, avoid songs with long intros, lengthy solo sections lacking excitement or a general lack or energy.
How do you ensure that the slate of songs is "fair" to contestants?
Just make sure that across a group of couples/heats you pick songs that you think are equal or at least similar enough (tempo, feel, energy level, interesting melody/hits to play with and launch off from, etc...). Try to pick consistently for one couple/heat to the next. It's important to give everyone a fair and comparable opportunity to shine. This is tough to do when you start out but gets easier with time. If you're new to picking competition music, pick your music out well ahead of time and listen to it a lot to make sure you're being "fair" to all the contestants. That'll give you more time to refine your selections if you have any issues with them.
Yesterday, a local who competes at the national level stated, "I hear song X at many of the competitions I have been at." How do y'all keep the song list fresh for contests?
Sometimes that's not really a bad thing. Kick-ass songs are kick-ass songs, and when you narrow down all the great songs out there into the rigid confines of competition requirements, you're not always left with all that many choices. Thus you're bound to hear repeats. Maybe not at every event, but it can happen fairly often. It's great when you can discover and introduce new awesome songs, but I know most competitors would prefer familiar kick-ass songs to new obscure not-so-great songs. Of course I am actively working to always expand my knowledge and collection to provide greater variety in competitions. I don't want every competition to be all the exact same songs, but I do have a high level of quality that I will not sacrifice when the added variety is elusive.
If the music seems to be similar across the country for contests, is that a good thing? Or does it mean that the range of music (or of the DJ) is too limited?
When you are doing a competition where you've got 20 couples and each will be dancing solo to a different song that is in the 200-210 BPM range, then you tell me how different the song selections are going to be around the country? And if they are completely different in each town, is the best music really being played at each? Maybe people's collections are too limited or maybe competition guidelines are too strict. I don't know. We'll see how things turn out in the future.

And regarding Kevin's comment about length:
KevinSchaper wrote:my beef with contests is the length - I hate fading a swing era tune with a minute left, cuz that's always where they build into the big crescendo and really go nuts.. fading before that just stinks
In most competitions, songs are run for 1 - 2 minutes, most commonly to 1:30. I've found with many swing-era songs that right at that point you are hitting a great crescendo point before a solo kicks in, so it's usually all right to fade there. Otherwise in later recordings, you might be mid-solo by then. Either way I haven't had too many problems with length. I will say that I never view the length restriction to be completely rigid. If the song is about to hit a really interesting or climactic point or come to the end of the phrase, I'll let it run a few seconds longer instead of fading out immediately when hitting the "end" time. I want the dancers to shine and have the opportunity to complete a movement they might be in the middle of (if they are truly dancing to the music). It's never more than a few seconds, so it has never been a problem.

Yes it would be awesome to be able to give the dancers a beginning, middle and end, but unless the length requirements change or people start getting creative with edited "remixes" for competitions, then we're going to have to live with this.

Let me know if you have any further questions. I'm always willing to answer them.

Jesse

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Bob the Builder
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#4 Post by Bob the Builder » Wed Oct 29, 2003 11:46 pm

Hi Jesse,

You did a great selection at the Hellzapoppin comp. I really enjoyed them.
One thing about the Hellzappin comp was that some of the shines were set in a jam form to the phrasing. All songs are going to have energy and feeling changes in phrasing. As a dancer a high energy phrase is going to inspire you "in general" a lot more than a low energy phrase. Thus giving the dancer in the high energy phrase an advantage.
Is there anything a DJ can do about this, or is it just some thing that DJ's and unfortuintly compeditors in this form of comp. just have to live with? Is there a bit of luck in regard to what part of the song the dancer gets?

Brian :)
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#5 Post by JesseMiner » Thu Oct 30, 2003 2:04 am

Bob the Builder wrote:Hi Jesse,

You did a great selection at the Hellzapoppin comp. I really enjoyed them.
One thing about the Hellzappin comp was that some of the shines were set in a jam form to the phrasing. All songs are going to have energy and feeling changes in phrasing. As a dancer a high energy phrase is going to inspire you "in general" a lot more than a low energy phrase. Thus giving the dancer in the high energy phrase an advantage.
Is there anything a DJ can do about this, or is it just some thing that DJ's and unfortuintly compeditors in this form of comp. just have to live with? Is there a bit of luck in regard to what part of the song the dancer gets?

Brian :)
Thanks for the compliments. I had a lot of fun putting the music together for that competition.

I'm glad you brought up the topic of the jam format. I was thinking about touching on it in my last post, but since Kristina didn't bring it up in any of her questions, I didn't get around to commenting on it.

Yes, all of the shines/solos/spotlights (whatever you want to call them) in the Hellzapoppin' competition were done in a jam format, with couples trading phrases. An inherent part of this format is that couples are going to get different sections of the song, each section possibly having varying degrees of energy. This isn't a bad thing at all and is most likely one of the things that makes this format appealing, besides the obvious energy each couple is getting from each other as they compete head to head.

The key is to pick kick-ass songs, which are strong throughout. To quote myself above: "avoid songs with long intros, lengthy solo sections lacking excitement or a general lack or energy". Adding to that for this particular situation, I would say that you also want to avoid songs with confusing structures or with many "irregular" turn-around sections. Dancers often seem to have trouble knowing when exactly to cut in, so make it as clear as possible. Select songs with straightforward AABA or 12-bar blues structures. Sure some songs will have turn-around sections, but choose the ones that are clear and easy for the dancers to understand. When putting together the music for Hellzapoppin', I found that Basie, Webb and Lunceford had many songs that were perfect for this format, while I ended up staying away from a lot of Ellington material due to his complex arrangements.

If you follow these rough guidelines, you'll probably end up with songs that are great no matter what phrases each couple dances. Take "Every Tub" by Count Basie for example. That is just an awesome song with driving energy throughout, each phrase offering the couple dancing something different to play with. With each couple taking 2 phrases, you might get an AA or a BA (the only luck involved is where each couple ends up in the dance order, after that it's all mathematical as far as what phrases they get). Either way, you'll have something fun to work with, and of course you'll be riffing of the other couples' energy.

So what can you as a DJ do to help make the competition the best it can possible be? Pick great music of course! :)

Jesse

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#6 Post by Platypus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 7:21 am

Thanks for the detailed answers! Something to think about !!!!!
K

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#7 Post by russell » Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:23 pm

I thought I would resurrect this thread since relevant to me at present and also contains some great advice. I am presently preparing for a comp on Friday night (and Trev for Sat night :) ) and also had a night giving advice to a new to competition DJing friend.
I try to follow all of Jesse's precepts. I also tend to aim towards instrumentals for Lindy Hop and Balboa to be consistent across the different songs and generally use classic swing material. For spotlights where the contestants dance to different songs I also try to be consistent by making them all jazz structure rather than blues structure. For all skates I don't worry about this.
For when there are bpm ranges then I go towards the top end of the range to give the contestants more energy. Also to think about the fact that the competition is spectacle for those watching so try to keep that also in mind. For all skates after spotlights then I raise the tempo again to give a climax to that particular event.
For phrased events (which I don't have this Friday) I will also carefully check the phrases for the whole song by mapping them out. If there are obvious bridges then that is OK else I scrap that song. Preparing for these type of events properly can be time consuming.
The event this Friday will also include WCS as a JnJ and Strictly. This will be something new to me as a DJ. I dance, teach and have competed in WCS so have some background. It is interesting from a DJ perspective how to structure the spotlights. There are the two poles of WCS music being "modern" and "bliues". Some comps will have a section of two songs for each couple. Others give the couple the option of choosing the style. We are going to try the second option for this Friday. I am going to apply the same principles I use for Lindy/Bal music to the WCS comps (where appropriate). Part of my research is watching the footage from Liberty Swing (where I competed) to check the song selections for the comps there. On that note I always check the major Lindy comps to see what music is being used for inspiration.

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#8 Post by turin » Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:00 pm

I have just a couple things to ask with everything I've read.

First, how much do you as the competition Dj owe the crowd of a competition? For example, I read in a previous thread that Jesse stated he wouldn't pick Jumpin at the Woodside as a competition song. The crowd usually goes nuts though when the song comes on. I agree the song isn't terribly dynamic or fair to all competitors, but it seems to be popular none the less. Same for Lafayette. I think it's a bad choice for a strictly or Jam style comp, but it does get the crowd going, which helps the competitors.

Second, if there are heats, should you avoid picking out a song that's super-bad ass in comparison to your other music? At ILHC this year, one of the Pro Strictly heats got Redskin Rumba by Charlie Barnet, which is a super kick ass song, and it seemed like the other heat didn't get as "compelling" of music. (I do want to say that the competition music this year was pretty amazing though)

Lastly, I was at a competition recently with 10 couples in the finals dancing jam format, which didn't really match up with the song as far as the math and phrasing goes. So if the comp you're DJing for has a strange number of competitors, like 10 or 11 couples, should you just pick a much longer song and give everyone a long all-skate if you can't find a song that will fit the comp music guidelines, or what?

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#9 Post by Travis » Wed Sep 30, 2009 8:39 pm

turin wrote:I have just a couple things to ask with everything I've read.

First, how much do you as the competition Dj owe the crowd of a competition? For example, I read in a previous thread that Jesse stated he wouldn't pick Jumpin at the Woodside as a competition song. The crowd usually goes nuts though when the song comes on. I agree the song isn't terribly dynamic or fair to all competitors, but it seems to be popular none the less. Same for Lafayette. I think it's a bad choice for a strictly or Jam style comp, but it does get the crowd going, which helps the competitors.
I think that any song that is going to get the audience excited will probably get the competitors excited as well so as long as the song fits other 'standard' criteria then I don't see why you wouldn't play JATW. I'll only add that because JATW is so well-known that I would only use it for jam format comps. And I don't see why you think Lafayette would be a bad jam style choice...I think it fits the bill in every way.
turin wrote:Second, if there are heats, should you avoid picking out a song that's super-bad ass in comparison to your other music? At ILHC this year, one of the Pro Strictly heats got Redskin Rumba by Charlie Barnet, which is a super kick ass song, and it seemed like the other heat didn't get as "compelling" of music. (I do want to say that the competition music this year was pretty amazing though)
Jesse addressed this in one of his posts above but I do think it is a good idea to try and keep the song choices within a heat fairly even (tempo, feel, etc).
turin wrote:Lastly, I was at a competition recently with 10 couples in the finals dancing jam format, which didn't really match up with the song as far as the math and phrasing goes. So if the comp you're DJing for has a strange number of competitors, like 10 or 11 couples, should you just pick a much longer song and give everyone a long all-skate if you can't find a song that will fit the comp music guidelines, or what?
First I'll say that I love a jam format for the finals of a competition...with great dancers, great music, and a responsive audience you can really have something awesome happen. The problems I've experienced with this format is you may never know how many couples you are going to have till right before the contest starts. So if you pick a few songs but are planning on 5 couples and the judges and organizers allow 7 then you are going to run into trouble if your songs aren't long enough. Plus, since you are likely going to use the entire song, you have to try and avoid songs that have a low-energy guitar solo or piano or bass solo. And even if you know exactly how many couples there are going to be and have every phrase counted out ahead of time...a couple may go in early or late and then all the other couples are off. I've gone through this many times searching for jam format songs that are long enough for however many couples could possibly be in the finals, have great sound quality, great energy, a good tempo, no low points in the song and that have clear phrasing...that narrows down the amount of choices you have. I guess you could pick two songs if you don't have a long enough song but I wouldn't do that because it would break up the flow of the comp. Also if you think you can't find songs that will best fit the 'guidelines' then talk to the organizers and work something else out. If the organizers want the finals to have 10 couples and each couple goes out twice for a whole chorus I would tell them to hire a band :).

The golden rule is be ready for anything and be flexible...that means having your shit together ahead of time and having way more songs that you will actually need. I was at an event recently where the judges asked the DJ to play one extra song in a heat and the DJ threw a fit...wtf??
Jazz will endure as long as people hear it with their feet instead of their brains. --John Philip Sousa

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#10 Post by trev » Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:02 pm

Travis wrote: I guess you could pick two songs if you don't have a long enough song but I wouldn't do that because it would break up the flow of the comp.
I find it easier just to repeat the song if you need an extra minute or so. It's fast to do, doesn't ruin the flow of the heat too much, keeps things relatively fair, and doesn't limit my choice of songs as much (because not many songs before 1950 go for longer than 3:30)
Travis wrote: The golden rule is be ready for anything and be flexible...that means having your shit together ahead of time and having way more songs that you will actually need.
Absolutely!! How many times has the MC called out "Who wants another song?!!" at the last minute! Be ready! I make sure I have warm-up songs, enough songs for an extra heat or 2, and music ready to go if there is an interruption or delay (like a concussed follow ;) ).

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#11 Post by turin » Thu Oct 01, 2009 1:45 am

Travis wrote:
turin wrote:I have just a couple things to ask with everything I've read.

First, how much do you as the competition Dj owe the crowd of a competition? For example, I read in a previous thread that Jesse stated he wouldn't pick Jumpin at the Woodside as a competition song. The crowd usually goes nuts though when the song comes on. I agree the song isn't terribly dynamic or fair to all competitors, but it seems to be popular none the less. Same for Lafayette. I think it's a bad choice for a strictly or Jam style comp, but it does get the crowd going, which helps the competitors.
I think that any song that is going to get the audience excited will probably get the competitors excited as well so as long as the song fits other 'standard' criteria then I don't see why you wouldn't play JATW. I'll only add that because JATW is so well-known that I would only use it for jam format comps. And I don't see why you think Lafayette would be a bad jam style choice...I think it fits the bill in every way.
My comment about JATW was more of an inferred question as to why jesse made that comment. I think they were talking about Showdown 06 where Rueben put it on for the endurance contest and I remember reading a post by Jesse saying he wouldn't ever use JATW as a comp song. I'll go look it up later, though I halfway agree.
As for Lafayette, at least the Kansas city soundtrack version, I just feel that it's really messy, super fast, and would be tough to improvise to (I think). It'd be great for a Jam during a dance, but I don't know if it'd let the dancers shine and show off during a competition. I remember watching the CJ JnJ finals for 06' and thinking "what a mess" as the dancers seemed to struggle just going out on beat. It just all feels like it runs together. Mostly.

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#12 Post by turin » Thu Oct 01, 2009 1:49 am

I do appreciate your comments and advice though!
I forgot to mention that. :)

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#13 Post by russell » Mon Oct 05, 2009 8:21 pm

The competition I was referring to was last Friday and went off without a hitch. I think all the music worked probably well given the constaints you work within. The hardest was coming up with 12 different songs for the spotlights for Strictly Lindy with similar tempos, feel and energy. Obviously some of the songs were more familar eg Flying Home but I think all had something for the dancers to work with. There were the usual things thrown at me - like having 3 songs for the Apprentice Lindy (less 1 year dancing) rather than 1 so the judges could make up their mind. Also having a final as well as heat for the WCS JnJ when told during week that there would just be a straight out final. So you have to be flexible. One thing I try to do is also have a CD player as backup for the case where Showcases and Teams give me their music on CD (just in case the burnt discs prove difficult to read).
Another thing I try to do is to judge when the fade the music for spotlights - rather than a strict precise time. I always try to fade down after the end of a phrase around the approximate time.
It was a long night however with setup at 6:30pm and then going through to 12pm without any break - my dinner went virtually untouched. You earn your money DJing for competitions. :)

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#14 Post by dogpossum » Mon Oct 05, 2009 10:45 pm

I've heard nothing but very good things about your work at the comp, Russ. I'm sorry I missed it :(

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#15 Post by gunther » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:21 am

kudos for russell for playing such awesome music for friday nights comp.

i thought the selection & energy of all the lindy tracks was to such a high standard, it easily showed(via listening)his studious nature. so many unrecognised songs that i havent heard before, yet the structure of all remained consistant & it should be noted as such a compliment rather then play the usual suspects.very happy to have been there.

my only complaint, was the track i got for strictly. the intro killed me with totally surprise, i never recovered. i really need to know the song title & wish it never to be considered again. damm the organisers who took away my redeeming all-skate' argh'

cheers, gunther

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