Digital music files – faceless 1s and 0s in a computer. Every since digital DJing exploded back in the mid 2000s, getting to grips with digital music has been an obsession among DJs.
Great though programs like iTunes are, everything can get messy, quickly. Plus, DJs have special music programming needs that it’s hopeless to rely on consumer software to address. Enter specialist music programs like beaTunes. Here we review beaTunes 3, the latest version of this specialised software.
What kind of journey do you want to go on?
Imagine you’ve got a high-mileage old sports car, needing some attention, and you need to go on a long journey in it. You take it to your local garage and say “just make it work”, then you buy a GPS to tell you your route. The car comes back, working, and the GPS lets you drive there safely. The question is this: Did you really get the best from the car or your journey?
What you’ve just done is the equivalent of running your valuable but hopelessly messed up iTunes collection through an automatic library cleaning service like TuneUp, then hitting Genius in iTunes to get a playlist for your next party. It all works, but wouldn’t you like a bit more control to get that gorgeous old car singing, and to enjoy your trip to the max?
It all works, but wouldn’t you like a bit more control to get that gorgeous old car singing, and to enjoy your trip to the max?
OK, now imagine the same journey in the same car, but instead of giving it to the garage, you take it to a specialist restorer and engine tuner. They get it working better than new, and explain to you all of its features, foibles and little tricks of the trade. Suitably armed, you get online and research the route for your trip, sharing recommendations and getting “insider secrets” for every step of your route, fine-tuning it to suit exactly what you imagine your trip should be like. How much do you think you’ll enjoy this trip?
What you’ve just done is the equivalent of using beaTunes 3 on your music collection. Want to get your digital library properly shipshape? Add important information like musical feel and key? Need help in making intelligent, eye-opening playlists for your DJ sets that are “just right” for any occasion? Then you may be interested in what beaTunes 3 has to offer.
beaTunes 2.1 review
We reviewed beaTunes 2.1 a while back, and if you want you can read our full review of Beatunes 2.1 as much is the same, but we’ll recap in brief here anyway.
beaTunes does three things for you: It inspects your music for issues, it analyses it to add extra, useful information, and it then lets you create playlists from that information. Let’s look at each stage of the process:
The software will do all kinds of checks for you within your music collection – silly stuff it would take you ages to sort out otherwise. It can identify duplicates, find compilations where there’s only one artist (ie they’re not really compilations), find similar songs with different ratings, identify albums whose tracks have different years, highlight rarely used genres so you can retag those tracks with broader ones, pick up on spelling and capitalisation issues, and several other things.
It works well except for a bug in the rarely-used languages field, where it told me I had a tune in another language other than English but wouldn’t let me change the tag.
(As I didn’t even know there was a language tag in MP3s, I won’t be losing any sleep over this.)
It has a built-in ID3 tag editor too for manual tweaks – but I would prefer to have seen this a bit more fully featured, as it could then replace my ID3 tag editor entirely (I’m taking about version 1/version 2 ID3 tag inspection and mass operations like transferring a value from one field to another, plus there’s no album art handling).
Overall, this area has improved a lot since the last version.
Here the software will add extra info – BPM, musical key (new in this version is an equivalent of the Camelot system, like Mixed in Key uses), and so on. It can query a database of song titles and artists, and calculate BPM and also add “colour” (a measure of “mood” – songs in similar “colours” sound good together).
It now has “replay gain” (similar to MP3Gain) which corrects overall volume of your MP3s without degrading their sound quality, and much of this information can be embedded right in the MP3s themselves.
This brings me on to the absolute killer change in beaTunes 3 that will open the software up to a whole group of new potential users – unlike before, it doesn’t need iTunes to work. In fact, you can point the software at any directory of music and it’ll work just fine. So if you hate iTunes, but want all of these features, you’re solidly in luck.
The makers are proud of the accuracy of their key mixing software, and while all key detection algorithms get things wrong sometimes, this one is definitely a good performer. Without doing our own exhaustive tests, we ain’t going to say one is better than any of the others though!
So once your songs are all analysed and cleaned up, it’s time to plan your journey, so to speak. beaTunes is really good here, as this is its main purpose in life – to help you to construct great playlists. Once you’ve got them, you can use them as the basis for DJ sets, new mixtapes, or just to listen to for ideas.
You can pick one or more “seed tracks” and then hit “new matchlist”. The software then gives you several options, the main ones being overall match quality (high = less chance of a mix, low means more chance) and number of tunes (you can limit it to size, time or even MBs).
It lets you set dozens of further parameters, too. For instance, you can specify how important BPMs are to you – maybe very important for dance mix, but not so for a bar set. You can add all types of filters – specifying year, genre, whatever. Be aware though that you’ll need a big collection to get really specific and expect it to sort you out an intelligent playlist.
You may be wondering how the colour system works. Basically it analyses the sonic characteristics of tunes to find those that should just work well together. It’s not an exact science but it’s a good starting point for further manual tuning.
You can use different rulesets too (matching BPM and colour, just BPM, just colour, similar year and genre, or the default mix of everything), and you can even filter by the same or related keys – great for planning harmonic mixes.
I’d like to have seen the ability to restrict the number of times an individual artist could appear in a mix, but apart from that I think they’ve covered all bases.
It’s true to say that this element of beaTunes 3 works best with a large collection, but many of its functions will be useful to you even if your collection is only a few hundred tunes.
If you’re looking for one single program to accompany your music collection and help you sort out inconsistencies, get everything sounding great, help you plan your playlists, and keep your MP3 tags all updated, beaTunes isn’t fully that program quite yet.
beaTunes is now getting pretty close to being the tool for the DJ with a large music collection…
Even with beaTunes doing what it does, you’ll still want some way of updating and editing cover art, the ability to mess with your tunes sonically, and even maybe a Traktor companion to help you with that software’s somewhat primitive file-handling system: step forward TuneUp (or iTunes itself), Platinum Notes and Trainspotter respectively.
But with the ability to work away from iTunes for the first time, the addition of “replay gain” to balance your volumes, and clearer/better key detection, beaTunes is now getting pretty close to being the tool for the DJ with a large music collection who wants to get the best from it. It’s worthy of your serious consideration, and you can try a demo from the site to see if it’s for you.
- Essential, intelligent library maintenance
- Ability to work away from iTunes
- Unlocks the depths of your collection
- Far superior to iTunes Genius for set suggestions
We don’t like:
- Need a large collection to really make the most of it
- No album artwork feature (not even ID3 editing)
- Can take time to do its initial analysis
Ease of use:
Price: US$31.95 (new) / US$24.95 (upgrade 1 to 3) / US$11.95 (upgrade 2 to 3).
Buy from: beaTunes website
What do you think?
Do you use anything special to help you to plan your DJ sets? Are you a beaTunes user who finds it indispensable? Or do you use something else to plan your sets? Please let us know in the comments.
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