For me, music is an important part of the overall atmosphere of a party and I believe it has a huge impact on mood. If possible, I like my dinner party music to reflect the stages of my party, from lively pre-dinner cocktails to something more quiet and in the background during dinner. If I want the party to continue I may bring back the lively stuff for dessert but if the opposite effect is desired, I might slow it down even further to encourage people to wrap it up.
Of course, adding the task of creating a playlist onto an already packed pre-dinner party schedule can border on ridiculous but there are solutions. In my household, the playlist is often given to the non-cook who can spend as much time crafting the perfect musical experience as I can crafting the perfect meal. Or if I have a music lover coming to the party, I see if they would like to provide the music. Some people just love to create the perfect playlist and would jump at the opportunity.
Another popular choice is to check out sites like 8-Track where people who geek-out on such things post their custom playlists. A flew minutes poking around should reward you with a handful of excellent, true-to-you compilations. Spotify is another popular place to find pre-made playlists or to quickly create your own. And of course a few minutes creating a Pandora station is an easy way to bring a certain mood to your gatherings.
You can also create a few 'for dinner parties' playlists from your own archives on a quiet evening when you have some time to spare. Like your better dishes and not-too-stained cloth napkins, you can pull it up when ever you have a party planned and just hit shuffle. Most music players come with a small, discreet remote which you can keep tucked next to your plate for quick fast-forwarding action should something inappropriate come on.
How do you feel about music at your dinner parties? Is it essential or the last thing you would bother with? What are your solutions to creating the perfect playlist for your gatherings?