10 tips for a great BBQ playlist

2 Comments 02 September 2013

playlist for a BBQ

Well of course it’s slightly blurry, the photographer had been there a while at this point…

The top five elements to any good party: music, decoration, food, drink, and people.

The right mix of people, plenty of drink both soft and alcoholic, enough food to balance the drink, and the decoration can be as simple as flowers on a table and low lighting but there needs to be something to set the room apart from it’s everydayness so when people walk in they know they can expect a ‘special occasion’ of whatever form (dinner party, cocktail party, birthday bash, summer BBQ, etc.).

And the music. Music is part of the decoration. Call it ‘air decoration’; music is of the essential layers of the party atmosphere.

Top tips for making a playlist for an afternoon BBQ:

1. Some familiarity is good.

Choose music that people are familiar with but not bored with. If there’s a tune that’s sweeping the nation be careful: it may have already swept over your guests and they will groan when it comes on–or, it may be just the thing to perk everyone up.

Music no one has heard of is okay so long as it’s got a nice upbeat, or mellow chill in the rhythms.

2. Choosing the latest tracks won’t work.

This isn’t the place to showcase your hipness, because people won’t be able to hear unfamiliar tunes properly over conversations.

3. Throw in some old classics.

They’re classic tracks for a reason and people will hear them in the background and feel happy.

4. Think about how you feel before you go to a summer BBQ.

It’s usually the middle of, or later in the afternoon, you probably usually Do Things at that time so it’s interrupting your usual day, you aren’t sure who all is going or you know some people who will be there and you don’t really like them, or you don’t know if they like you or you like most people there, but you don’t know about those friends that so-and-so always brings to these things… Whatever. There’s some uncertainty, some discomfort. You walk through the door or the garden gate and you are met with either:

a) people standing around in small groups drinking bottles of beer waiting for someone to start the BBQ. Your heart sinks. Yes, this is going to be a trail as you suspected.


b) music reaches you as you open the door and on opening you see bunting through the trees or along the eaves of the house, you walk through the entrance and see people smiling, milling about nibbling on snacks from a table while waiting for sausages and burgers, they turn and smile at you in greeting, someone comes over to you, hands you a drink. You relax. This won’t be so bad after all. In fact, you think as you feel the music, this could be fun.

Now, add the tunes to the playlist that will help people feel b.

5. Music makes people move.

It moves them inside and out. The decorations just make the place look more fun. Listen to the songs you’ve chosen, don’t just put them on the playlist because you think they’re the type that will fit. Some will be to quiet, or too screechy or just not as right as you thought when they first came into your head.

6. Have about three hours worth of music.

These can cycle through if the party lasts longer and won’t sound boring.

7. Use the music as a cue to leave.

If you have a specific time you’d like people to leave by you can go to the length of planning the last 30 minutes of the playlist to be slower, but it’s easier to just turn the music down so you can hardly hear it (or turn it off) when you’re ready for people to drink up.

8. Think outside the box.

Look through your old CD’s and playlist before you start buying tunes. You might discover some perfect tracks for the party that you forgot you had.

Ask to look at friends’ CDs and playlists.

Pop a favourite track in iTunes, and then see that bit at the bottom where it says ‘what others bought’.

Do a Genius mix on iTunes to see what similar tunes are suggested. Not that your whole playlist has to look like a list of similar music. Not at all.

9. Volume and placement.

The music should be loud enough to hear it and feel the groove, not so loud that people feel like they have to shout over it. This is easiest if you can put the speakers in the window rather than right outside in the middle of everyone.

10. Type of speakers.

If you can, add an auxiliary cable to your laptop and play the music through proper speakers (or a radio). They don’t have to be expensive. Please don’t use your laptop speakers–they are neither powerful enough for an outdoor party nor good enough quality for plessant listening. It will sound like music played through a row of tin cans.

What songs do I put on a BBQ playlist?

Here’s some from my most recent playlist:

  1. Good Times Roll, The Cars
  2. I Got You Babe, Sonny & Cher
  3. Satellite, Lena
  4. Jungle Drum, Emiliana Torrini
  5. Why, Carly Simon
  6. I’m a Cuckoo, Belle & Sebastian
  7. Tennis Court, Lorde
  8. Whatever You Like, Anya Marina
  9. Q.U.E.E.N (feat. Erykah Badu), Janelle Monáe
  10. All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crow
  11. People Get Real, Saint Etienne
  12. Girlfriend Is Better, Talking Heads
  13. Good Tradition, Tanita Tikaram
  14. New Soul, Yael Naïm
  15. Rolling In the Deep, ADELE
  16. Jackson Station, The Band of Heathens
  17. Dance With Me All Night Long, Chris Rea
  18. Two Step, Dave Matthews Band
  19. The Chain, Fleetwood Mac
  20. Good Times, Chic
  21. New Year’s Day, U2
  22. Blankets, Raurri Joseph
  23. Tattva, Kula Shaker
  24. Play Dead, Björk
  25. Porcelain, Moby
  26. El Divino 5, Cafe Lounge
  27. A New Dawn A New Day, Afternoons in Stereo
  28. Soul Sugar, Afternoons in Stereo
  29. Driving to Montenegro, Afternoons in Stereo
  30. Blow, Afternoons in Stereo
  31. Road to Benares, Thunderball
  32. Things You Don’t Have to Do, Peter Malick


PS: you can use these tips for creating all kinds of playlists–gym work, writing, road trips and so on. Have fun!

Oh, and if you’d like some great ideas for BBQ food, here’s a Pinterest board a friend of mine set up: Guys and Girls Behind the Grill.


Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Emma says:

    So many great suggestions there! When are you holding your next one? :)

  2. Tammy Chrzan says:

    This was great! I like the “Use music to cue guests to leave”, I mean no one wants to be rude right? But all parties must come to an end!
    The music list is great too!
    Tammy x

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