Cord Theory: 5 Ways to Spit Fire When You Take the Aux

BY SAM GILLON                                                       

MUSIC EDITOR

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Kate Moss DJing. Image via InStyle. 

We’ve all been there. The party is slowing down a little, or maybe you just need some new vibes in the car. Someone asks you to get things going again with the power of your phone. They hand you the aux and expect you to rally the troops around the music you have stored on that little black mirror in your pocket. You plug it in, put on that new track you’ve been vibing with all week, and wait for everyone around you to get hyped. The only problem is, they don’t get hyped. Some even start asking “What song is this?” and “Who is this by?” in a vain effort to recognize some portion of the song. Eventually, everyone who was listening to your selection only moments ago are now clamouring to get their hands on the aux. 

This is a nightmare for a music junkie like me. Getting demoted from the in-car DJ to the back seat is like not making the basketball team at the last tryout. Sadly, this was my experience with “taking the aux” throughout most of high school and into first year. But as time has gone on, I have learned several tips that will get your friends up and ready to go. 

 

1. Know your audience 

You probably know what kind of music your friends want to listen to. Personally, I know which of my friends to play hip hop around and who to play rock around. Everyone has personal tastes regarding music and no opinion is more valid than another. To get the support of whoever will be listening to your tracks, you have to give them something to listen to that they are most likely to engage with, whether you will or not. 

2. Play the bangers 

This one is the most obvious and also the most important. Don’t play the obscure track on an album, no matter how good it is. For example, when I play Kaleo for my friends, I play “Broken Bones”, “No Good” or “Way Down We Go”. Don’t get me wrong, I love the nordic harmonies of “Vor í Vaglaskógi”. But when you start playing a fingerpicked guitar piece set to Icelandic folk singing, people are going wonder what you’re doing up there. You might wind up ruining a beautiful song for someone because they heard it at the wrong time. A big part of whats fun about taking the aux is singing along to the songs with your friends. Songs like “Mr. Brightside”, “Bad and Boujee”, “Sail” or “Without Me” are classics that we all generally know the words too. And even if we don’t, those are the kinds of songs that people will sing gibberish in the right key just so everyone around them thinks they know the song. The best way to get people hyped about your music is to have them sing along or dance to it. You know what songs will do that… play them.

3. Make an “up next”, not a playlist 

Sometimes the mood changes! One minute the time will be ripe to rock out to “King Kunta”, the next the vibe could change to a more subdued gathering then a real party. Maybe all the singing and dancing tired everyone out. Either way, you need to be able to adapt what you’re playing immediately. By making a large “up next”, you can add and take away songs at will without ruining a playlist. You can throw in some slightly more up tempo stuff to try and ramp the party back up, or you can gently fade into music more suitable for conversation and subdued hangouts.

4. Think about how two songs will sound together 

This is a big one that takes a little bit of practise, but it’s a really good way to keep your music playing. Think about how a song ends before you add another song after it, and try to pick songs that flow naturally. Record producers do this when they’re trying to compile an album in a cohesive way, and artists do it to make live shows engaging and smooth to observe. Use the same tactic when planning what songs to play. A good way to know that you’ve done this right is to try playing your playlist while you’re doing something mildly distracting, like browsing Facebook or talking to a friend. If you don’t notice the end of one song before the next one starts, you’ve done well.

5. Have a diverse music library

This one kind of goes along with that first point about knowing your audience. You can’t rely on the same genre of music to please a room or vehicle of different people. Make sure you have a broad canon of music available to you, so you can cater to the specific tastes of the various people who surround you. A diverse library also allows you to carry out many of the other steps outlined in this article. A more diverse library means you can change the mood or genre on the fly in your “up next”. It means you can cater to specific people and audiences, and still play the hit songs they’ll really get into. Spotify Premium or Apple Music are good ways to diversify your library, since they give you virtually every song ever recorded. These options come at a cost, so however you download your music (no judgement) I encourage a variety of different musical stylings. 

Playing music has the same objective, whether you’re sitting at a piano or making a playlist. You want your listeners to enjoy, understand, and get excited about your music. Good musicians know the theory behind scales and chords that make their playing as refined as possible. Consider these suggestions a guidebook to “cord theory” for all the front-seat DJ’s and the aux-jockey’s out there. Keep ‘em dancing, Gaels.