How to Create a Musical Mood

DJ Amrit shares her go-to tips for setting a sound vibe.

The first song is always really powerful because it comes from silence.

AFTER A YEAR OF SILENCE, dance clubs, concerts, and large-scale celebrations are giving us back a social life, and with it, the reawakening of something else: musical atmospheres. While it was fun blasting the “Hamilton” soundtrack on repeat alone in our bathrobes hunched over takeout, 2020’s freaky stasis is blessedly over. It’s time to think about collective energy again, along with that perfectly curated lineup that can either make or break a night (or day). So we turned to DJ Amrit. With a degree in jazz and a long list of sets played for the likes of Dior, Fendi, Jorja Smith, and Lauryn Hill, this bicoastal (LA/NYC) Australian DJ knows a thing or two about how to build, change, and keep a musical mood. Consider Amrit’s tips for your next backyard BBQ or summer soirée, and let the warm days and nights of revelry unfold.

Focus on context.

“Creating a musical atmosphere really depends on where I am and reading the room. The setting, the energy of the place. Am I in America? Am I in Europe? What time is it? Do people want to rage? Is it 5 p.m. and the sun's going down and they want to move into the night? As a DJ and musician, you're an architect of sound and you're not reinventing the wheel, you're just adding all the little pieces that enhance the ambiance and energy of wherever you are. So note the location, time, the people that are there, and the experience they're looking for. For example, if I'm at a fashion event and there isn't a dance floor and people are coming off of work for a drink, then I play more disco, French, house music, throwback stuff that’s a little bit more ‘easy listening.’ I hate using that word, but it’s basically yacht rock. Dad radio. The music playing in the car when your parents are picking you up from somewhere — ABBA, Bee Gees, the Eagles. People start smiling.”

Go for nostalgia.

“Nostalgia’s such a powerful emotion. I think because we connect with nostalgia, if I were playing an '80s or '90s track, people can all feel that sense of being in their own house, dancing alone in the shower. It evokes childhood memories. Even if you're playing a techno show, you put on a remix of an '80s song, like throwback house party songs, and it just works. Look at Olivia Rodrigo. Everyone was obsessed with Drivers License because it was like, ‘oh yeah, I remember that feeling.’ And the album itself sounds like Paramore or Garbage. Tapping into nostalgia is so key.”

Know the science behind the sound.

“The science behind the sound is that we release oxytocin when we hear music we love. So while science proves that music can release endorphins and oxytocin, and create this euphoric feeling for us, it’s a really personal thing. One song can mean so many different things to so many people. It’s amazing because different kinds of music can have this same effect.”


Always archive.

“I'm a big music dumper. So I started making these playlists on my Spotify and they're called ‘iconic and amazing songs I listen to.’ It's nice to look back because you can hear the headspace you were in. Often it's quite erratic. Like sometimes it'll be jazz, sometimes it'll be funk, sometimes hip hop. It started to grow and I started airing it, but I was really doing it for myself to remember things to go back to. So I'm big on archiving. And then I shazam a lot too. Even if it's a song that I know, I'll shazam it just so I have it logged in my Shazam. And I try to let people play music around me, ironically. Everyone's like, ‘you're a DJ, put a playlist on.’ But I like to hold off so I can hear what other people are listening to. That’s the only way you can really learn.”

Follow a through line.

“I like an overarching theme, but that doesn’t mean a ton of constraints around it. When you have something to build around, it makes things fit better and it's easier to tell a story, which is what the experience should do. So I'll lead into whatever that is, then I have the flesh of everything — usually a mix of things I'm listening to, and something that's a party starter, like a nostalgic song — then go back and forth between those things. Nestling familiar songs next to something completely new, where the likelihood of people knowing it is pretty slim to none. So it's like, ‘oh, that was cool.’ And then, ‘oh, wait, now I know this again.’ Because if you just go in a completely new direction, you lose people's attention.

And then whatever I'm closing out with is the energy I want to leave people on. So if it's midnight and the party’s really going, I weave it in that direction. But if it's four in the morning, I might put on a nineties R&B song or an outro to something just to get people in the headspace of ending. But even through the build, through different genres, there's something overarching. I'll play a rap song, and then I'll play the original song that the rap song sampled, then play another artist with a similar BPM [beats per minute] to that sample. So there’s something connecting each thing to the other.”

Make an impact with your first song.

“The first song is always really powerful because it comes from silence. When you're at a live show or you're watching a fashion show, the first song comes on and you think, I'm about to go on this journey. I'm so excited to start having that again, that moment of waiting for something and you don't know what it's going to be. The last fashion week I went to, January 2020 in Paris, I went to the Jacquemus show and we were in this giant stadium sitting there in silence for ages. And all of a sudden white stadium lights came on. And the first song began. And I was like, YES let’s GO, this is going to be big. Then the models started walking to the music and everyone was just like, ‘this is going to be so sick.’"

Get out there and listen to the live stuff.

“I hope that live music and things like jazz come back in a big way and people go see bands, because we haven't been able to experience that in so long. Of course I'm a DJ, so I love to see other DJs, but the thought of seeing a 10-piece band is so exciting to me. I want to see the chemistry of musicians on stage. A lot of artists waited to put out projects, so I think we're going to have a lot of really good music come out. There’s a wave coming.”

DJ Amrit’s Songs of Summer

A few Amrit-approved tracks for finding a groove this season.

Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.

Gigi Rose Gray Illustrator

Gigi Rose Gray is an illustrator and fine artist born and raised in New York City, now living in Los Angeles. She received a BFA in illustration at Parsons School of Design.


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