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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dropping the Beats at the Democratic Convention


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As the first notes of Fleetwood Mac's “Don't Stop” rang through the Time Warner Cable Arena here on Wednesday night, the packed crowd whipped into a frenzy, nearly drowning out the song as they cheered for minutes for former President Bill Clinton.

At political conventions, entrances and entrance songs can be nearly as important as the speeches themselves. And rather than have a veteran band or arena group choreograph the music, the Democratic National Convention put its faith in one man: DJ Cassidy.

“My idea is to get people revved up the second they walk in the door, which to be perfectly honest, is a very easy job,” he said. “You could feel the electricity in there. ”

But his performances for the D.N.C. are unlike normal gigs. Conventions are tightly scripted events, and no beat plays unplanned.

“I start by creating a master pool of music, feel-good, high-energy, emotionally inspiring songs,” he said. “I then refine the list with convention producers and create customized portions of the music to intro and outro each speaker. Between speakers, I am simply there to do what I do: rock the crowd. I am the one-man house band, so to speak.”

As part D.J., part musical director, DJ Cassidy's goal is to energize the audience before the first word of each speech is uttered. And while he has a vast catalog of original music, as well as an album in the works for 2013, he recognizes what moves a crowd.

“When you play songs that people know and recognize, that makes that spark even stronger,” he said.

G.E. Smith, the guitarist who led the music at the Republican National Convention, didn't have much to add on his methodology for selecting songs, offering only that he plays “where the need is greatest.”

DJ Cassidy's history with the Obama team goes back to the inauguration in 2009. He programmed the music for all 10 of the inaugural balls and performed live at the Mid-Atlantic Ball. He has since performed at various events for both Mr. Obama's campaign and the White House.

But for Thursday, the final night of the convention, he had to hand over musical duties to the Foo Fighters and James Taylor, as he had already booked shows in New York City for Fashion Week.