Party planning is one of those endeavors that can be as simple or as complex as we make it, from hanging a few Galentine’s Day streamers to planning a full-fledged wedding reception. But there’s one event-planning ingredient that’s more important as any other (except maybe food) and that’s music. Gillian Driscoll knows a thing or two about creating a killer mix. As the founder of Sound Dessert, she’s been throwing parties professionally from New York to Austin since 2012, exposing up-and-coming artists to new audiences along the way. Since the rest of us can’t always snag a live band every time we host a gathering, she’s sharing her tips for creating the perfect party playlist.


1. Keep it relevant (with an element of surprise). “A great playlist starts at the source: the theme of the party,” Gillian says. “An intimate dinner gathering will have a different tone and atmosphere than a big birthday bash. Your playlist should follow suit accordingly.” But whether it’s a formal or casual affair, she stresses the importance of avoiding a long lineup of songs that all sound alike. “Any playlist should always include variety; mix up the tempos and genres to keep your guests interested and engaged, and to avoid listening fatigue — that feeling you get after hearing a Nickelback song.” (Sorry, Nickelback.)

“Of course, the number one rule is to have fun with it,” she continues. “Include some of your all-time favorite songs (guilty pleasures, classics, throwbacks, etc.) on the playlist and see if you surprise anyone with your picks, or spark any passionate conversations about the evolution of the music industry.”


2. Have fun discovering rare gems. Especially if you’re known for your taste in music, Gillian encourages party hosts to experiment a little and expose their guests to new sounds.

“My go-to’s for music discovery are Shazam for tagging new discoveries on the go, and for remembering songs I’d forgotten I loved, and Soundcloud for the ability to follow my favorite musicians, labels and friends and see what new music they’re posting and sharing. I’m also starting to get into YouTube’s new music app, YT Music,” she says.

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3. Don’t leave “Pony” in the ’90s. Oh, so you want people to shake a tail feather? No problem. “If your goal is for everyone to ‘get low,’ then you need to play the hits,” Gillian says. “There’s no holding back when everyone in the room knows the same song. If there’s an easy hook or dance moves to go with? Game over. Just watch me whip, now watch me — see what I mean?”

“’80s classics will forever be in my playlists,” she continues. “There’s no such thing as too much Prince, Talking Heads or David Bowie. I also like to slip in tracks from some of my present-day favorites, like Blood Orange, Solange and Robyn. And Ginuwine’s ‘Pony.’ Always Ginuwine’s ‘Pony.'”

See? Turns out Leslie Knope and her fellow civil servants aren’t the only genuine (sorry, had to) Ginuwine fans out there. For even more recs from a bona fide party pro, check out Gillian’s 100 favorite songs of 2015.

Have an ultimate party playlist of your own to share? Tweet us the link at @BritandCo!

(Photos via Sound Dessert)