One of the most under-rated part of roller skating is the music. Music is why we skate. It inspires us to move. And it needs to be respected and correctly programmed for maximum success. Many times I hear unnecessary announcements, songs cut off to start a race or activity, the wrong type of music, or other issues. Radio stations have music selection, day-parting, and rotation down to a science so as not to piss off their listeners. Nightclub jocks don’t announce that someone’s food is ready. We can learn a lot from them. Here is a list of what to keep in mind when handling music in your roller-skating rink.
Don’t cut off songs for no good reason.
Someone out there on the skate floor is enjoying the music and singing and dancing along. Then their favorite song is cut off right in the middle to start a kid’s race, celebrate a birthday star, or remind guests of their fabulous parties. These announcements can wait till the song is over and before the next one starts. However, there are exceptions or good reasons if you absolutely must cut off song. These are:
1. Playing games, where stopping the music is required, like Red Light, Green Light, Andy’s Coming, Wipe Out/Surf’s up, or the Dice Game. The skaters involved in the games expect the music to stop so they can react accordingly. And these games on skates should be played, because they build skills.
2. Safety Announcements that can’t wait. Example: “for safety reasons, please don’t carry a child while on skates.” Lower the music, and talk over the song and be done. Get the floor guards involved.
3. Emergencies. If you need clear the floor because of an injury, pending ambulance visit, or tornado headed your way, that’s the time to cut off the music. People understand that.
4. The wrong version was played where the song is full of f-bombs or sexual innuendos inappropriate for younger ears.
Use Different Birthday Songs
Birthday celebrations call for some birthday music, and they can get boring and over played when only using one version, for years and years. And birthday music for a 5-year old should be different than someone who is turning 40. So edit some clips from Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday song, or the Beatles or Katy Perry, and rotate them. There’s a list on uDiscoverMusic.com (https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/best-birthday-songs/) to sample songs about having a birthday. And a reminder, that the Happy Birthday song is no longer considered a copyrighted song and can be sang and performed without license.
A lot of rinks were built with square corners which can cause sound issues if not addressed. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City made this mistake when it first opened 50+ years ago. The sound was so bad that engineers had to go back in and add curved walls to improve the sound. Some rinks use carpeting on their walls to help absorb sound. Especially in metal buildings. Keep in mind the local fire marshal may require it to be fire-rated. However, that law may change in the future due to the number of PFAS chemicals used that have been in the news lately regarding forever chemicals.
If you choose to forego carpeting, consider sound dampening acoustical tiles on walls and ceilings. Never cover these tiles with large vinyl banners or billboards. The sound will bounce off, instead of being absorbed. And then the rink will have the acoustics of a bus station.
Speaker Placement / Sound settings
Hire a sound engineer to help with speaker placement. Then play around with treble and bass to determine the best sound possible for the majority of the music library. Once the perfect sound has been achieved, tape down the pots, and don’t let any employee mess with the settings.
Whether guests are in a skating rink or a night club, the volume matters. If customers have to yell to have a conversation in the snack bar, the music is too loud. On the flip side, if the music is too low, people won’t be inspired and the vibe will suffer. If the volume needs to be muted to hear the phone ring, install a flashing light, or close the door to the back office.
Distortion and overmodulation occurs when the pots on the DJ board are up too high or the song was recorded and downloaded at too high a volume. In other words, the signal is going “off the scale.” For announcements, people who yell into the microphone or hold it too close to their mouth can cause overmodulation and distortion.
There are tens of thousands of really good songs that are skateable, so we should not be hearing the same-old, same-old music every single session. Instead of YMCA by the Village People, try In the Navy. Or a different song by ABBA, other than Dancing Queen. Sure these are old faves, but some of the forgotten tomes of the past decades would also be a welcome change. Americans hate repetition and boredom. That’s why McDonald’s and Starbucks are always coming up with new menu items, and putting away others for a later date.
Plan your Sessions
If you don’t have an experienced DJ, plan the session. That means a list in order with what songs to play, what activities to officiate, and when they happen. Most people are surprised to learn that radio DJs do not choose the music. That was the program and music director’s job. They head into the studio with a music log to follow throughout the entire day. If they played everyone’s song requests on the spot, they’d lose a lot of listeners. The formula is heavily researched to please the most amount of people in their audience. Not every one will love every song, but they should at least hear something they like.
I get it. People want to hear their favorite songs when they go to the rink. But not all requests are appropriate for whatever reason, or can be fit in without screwing up the flow. The music has to flow. When they ask, write it down and tell them you’ll try to fit it in but can’t guarantee it. Then look through the playlist. If it’s a crowd favorite, slip it in where it matches beats or with a bit of time between the last time it was played. Don’t announce it’s by request. Just include it. And never play it immediately. Most of the time, it’s a trainwreck of a segue. Further, if guests ask for an unfamiliar song, go to search engine and look up the lyrics. Preview it in “cue” first.
Synch the lighting
In most rinks and nightclubs, dancers can easily find the downbeat because the flashes of light are synched to the music. It makes skating easier and more fun. But if the lights don’t match the music, or there’s a wave cloud flowing back and forth willy nilly, skaters will feel like they’re in a fun house, or novelty rink. And the employees will get annoyed as well. Make sure the lights flash or change on the downbeat.
Prepare for Dead Air
In radio, dead air is the bane of all air personalities, and one that literally causes nightmares. Dead Air is when the music stops and another song isn’t cued up, and the booth is unmanned. That usually isn’t a problem in roller rinks. However, computer systems crash, and it’s awkward when there’s a building full of 400 skaters. A two-minute reboot can seem much longer. Therefore, it’s important to have a backup disk, thumbdrive, laptop or hard drive with some tried and true skate songs to keep the music playing until the problem is resolved.
Follow the Rules
The music industry is extremely strict when it comes to playing music without paying for it. The facility must be licensed by 4 different entities, because of the various subscribers, playlists, and roles in the production of the music. Songwriters, musicians, and labels all want their share, and if you don’t pay it, they will shut you down. They have bigger lawyers, so make sure to pay for music licensing.
Fun Fact: Skating rinks pay more for music licensing than bowling alleys. That’s because bowling alleys use music in the background, and people can still bowl without it. However, roller rinks rely on music in order to entertain the crowd, which is how the higher rate is justified. So, make sure music licensing is budgeted, pay it annually, and on time.
Don’t rely on YouTube to play a song or two during a session, ever. It’s unprofessional, and can get business in trouble. If you prefer to supply your own music, rather than use a company like FEC Music check into a Promo Only subscription where you get monthly access to the latest music for a low subscription fee.
Keep a list of skateable tunes to elevate the vibe. Also, keep a DO NOT PLAY list, so you don’t accidentally play a request with X-rated lyrics during family night.
Music can entertain and elevate. It can also annoy. That’s why it’s important to program the music to the audience, don’t over play the same songs over and over, keep the volume and settings in the sweet spot, and add acoustics where needed.
Skaters will feel energized and want to come back for more.