“Do You Have That Song? Um, I Forgot The Name…”

Coloured vinyl Technics

Coloured vinyl, picture discs, iconic sleeve designs, searching in record stores... all of these things may have contributed to people remembering the titles of songs better in the past than nowadays...

Having DJed for nearly 17 years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how the industry has evolved, and I must say this is an exciting time to be a DJ. One thing that I don’t find exciting, though, is the lack of knowledge people have about music nowadays. Indeed, to be honest I find it very disappointing. I don’t ever recall a time when people were so unsure about song titles and artists, and nowhere is it clearer than when people try to give DJs song requests. If you’re a working DJ and you’re reading this, then I’m sure you can relate to my point.

I'll bet you’ve had someone come to the booth and say something along these lines: “Um, do you have that song; it’s really popular right now?” or, “Do you have the song with that guy in it? I forget the name.”

I've often wondered to myself, why the heck is this happening? Has the general public always been this clueless about music and I’m just noticing this now?

In answering this question, the first clue for me is that this happens mostly with the current top 40 as opposed to with songs from the past. I’ve come to the conclusion that the uncertainty people have during song requests (apart from the alcohol factor, which is nothing new) is related squarely to how the general public tends to obtain and consume music nowadays.

The majority of people download their music (legally or illegally) and then it gets stored on their computer, iPod, or whatever media platform they choose. Then, they listen to it and forget about it. And really that’s it.

How things used to be

In the past we took a much different approach. Listening to music was a complex procedure and it started with music shopping.

Record shopping

Rummaging for that special song on vinyl, CD or even cartridge used to mean you had a bond with it even before you'd bought it.

You would have to leave your house, go to the local record store, and search for that album or single. After finding it you would buy it (if you could afford it), take it home, listen to it, share it and store it.

The music that you bought was on CD, vinyl, cassette and, if we go back far enough, eight-track cartridge. Each of these audio formats eventually dominated the previous one, but they all had one thing in common: A physical presence.

Let’s take vinyl for instance. You can hold it, touch it, physically play it; and while listening you have liner notes and pictures to absorb you visually. (This is for me the ultimate listening experience and I find it a bit of a shame that many people have yet to partake in this musical journey.)

MP3s are great, but they've got side effects...

This brings me to the point of this article. For me, as "things", MP3s don’t offer the same level of overall musical listening pleasure and engagement as their predecessors, and so don't allow people the become as invested in the music.

I DJ digitally myself and listen to music on an iPod as well, so I understand it’s much more practical to DJ this way, not to mention the endless amount of features available in today's DJ and music software.

I’m also no audiophile so I’m not trying to bash the MP3 for sound quality, either - that’s not what this article is about. But I do think the MP3 has contributed to the general public’s lack of knowledge of musical artists and titles. I hate to admit it but at times I fall in this category as well. I own a lot of music and sometimes I forget what I have or forget titles and artists - but I've realised this didn’t happen frequently in the past.

I began DJing when the shift from vinyl to CD occurred, and back then I was using both audio formats. Therefore, while flipping through my records and CDs searching for a song, I would see the title / artist name and usually notice some sort of picture on the cover of the album.

Furthermore, I would notice the record's information the whole time it was spinning on the turntable, so not only would I know the title and artist but I would know the record label the artist was on.

Perhaps this is the main reason why we wouldn’t forget the name and artist of a song when it came to asking a DJ to play it for us in the past - even with a drink in our hand!

• Chris Mihas aka DJ Kitcho is a DJ from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and is currently writing a book on DJ culture. Visit his website at cmentertainment.net.

Do you experience this more nowadays than previously? Do you forget the names of songs in your collection yourself? Can we blame digital culture or do we just all have less attention and worse memories nowadays? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments

  1. I agree with this article. However I never really thought about it until reading this article. I’m still fairly new to DJing, but even so, I get it all the time. I’m always like, there are billions of songs out there, so if you don’t know the song, I def dont know the song lol.

  2. Aidan Johnson says:

    I always add in a pic from discogs, or if not available there, some random pic. Then the visual identification is still there, which I find helps.

  3. From the DJ front… I have viewed it as the association of the track with the sleeve or CD cover. The visual aid that was used to link a track to a picture and then to the artist/song. When you are browsing your library digitally, the album art just doesn’t stand out as much giving you that visual association.

  4. It’s a cognitive, numerical issue. Vinyl based dj’ing, you physically bought the record/s maybe 5 at a time. Carried it/them home. All the whilst knowing the title and artist and cover. Then play it out all the while still using the cognitive part of your brain to remember it.
    Today you purchase maybe 10 MP3s add them to your collection of say 5000 tracks. Rate it then add it to your sub genre within your DJ software.
    Its impossible to remember all of your track names unless you use a memory technique.

    DJ software needs to have a better library system. Ive wanted for years a way to label tracks within Traktor with a color code of your personal choice. Say red to highlight for a high energy track to blue for a more laid back track.
    I believe with this system you would start to remember tracks names artists etc.

    • I used to know DJs who identified their vinyl by the colour of the sleeve, not the artist.

    • Mike Lawrence says:

      Hey Antony,

      This is possible with Traktor. I colour code all my tracks in traktor based on 8 different “feelings/mooods/emotion”. I made the below cateories up myself

      1. Chill Vibe Green
      2. Dark Black
      3. Explosive Red
      4. Giddy Blue
      5. Grey Soul (LOL)
      6. Mellowish Brown
      7. Orange Serenity
      8. Sunlight Yellow

      The above is how I organize my tracks in itunes then when I get into traktor I sort by colour and then select each colour and change the cover art for all the songs in that segment to the colour.

      Took me a while to do but now everytime I download a new track I do it by habit now. I got the idea from DJ Endo at Dubspot…he did a tutorial about it a while ago and thought it was genious….really helps to see visually what track to drop next or keeping a consistent theme up….hope this helps

      • Just a little confused as to how you add the colour’s?
        Is this a number tag you add to the track’s? Naming them a color from your list?
        Is this tag added within Itunes?

        Cheers.

      • thisisian says:

        presumably, the easiest way would be to create your own jpg’s of coloured squares. Then add them to the track as artwork.

      • Michael Lawrence says:

        yeah that is exactly what I do….I found some bright colours that I liked in google and saved them to a folder…so when I am changing the cover art to the specific colour I just import it from my folder.

        Name everything by colour in itunes first
        Refresh in Traktor
        Sort the Names of the colours in Traktor
        Highlight all of one colour then change cover art

        * I forgot to mention that for my colour playlist in Itunes I use smart playlists so every time I get a new song and “colour it” it automatically goes in the specific folder……Some songs I assign multiple colours cause they have different feeling….like it cause be sunlight yellow cause its a really happy song but at the same time explosive red cause theres so much energy too it…like example Wolfgang Gartner -There and Back ….when i go to assign the actaul colour in Traktor I just pick the dominant one

    • I adopted Phils method of using the star rating system in iTunes to represent the intensity of a track, 1 star = chill, 5 stars = going off. It’s a quick and easy technique and automatically gets transported to Traktor when the track in analysed.

      I think the sheer volume of music out there now with much cheaper cost compared to vinyl days has been the biggest factor. It’s almost like there’s too much much out there if there can be such a thing !

      • I use the star rating’s within Traktor. Fort the same purpose.
        Im also using a symbol next to tracks to quickly identify them.
        e.g $=percussive &=deep track. This is to enable me to quickly sort by comment’s whilst in a mix.

        The problem with the star ratings in Itunes is that its one way only. You can only import to Traktor and after that the star ratings dont sync to iTunes a-b b-a if you get my drift.

    • I did something about color coding when traktor pro came out:

      http://www.native-instruments.com/forum/showthread.php?t=79432

  5. I would disagree and say it comes down to modern popular radio. You would be hard pressed to find a Radio DJ that actually announces the name and artists of songs after they play them (at least in my town). Also it’s so ad driven that people are normally switching in and out of songs. Mp3’s at least are labelled. House and Dance music have always been notoriously hard to remember the name as the hook isn’t lyrical but in the actual beat. The worst is when a person comes up to request that “house song” that goes “dum da dum dada, dum da dum dada”.

    • DJ_GaryGiovonni says:

      i agree with you on this one.

    • DJ TEBBZ says:

      I agree with your comments, and not only do radio jockeys not tell you the name of the songs and artist as much but the radio does. Growing up I use to play a game with my dad where I had to tell him the artist and song which helped train me in learning all of the different artists. With the radio telling you all the details in txt I feel that the brain automatically becomes lazy and the joy of knowing the song and artist isn’t what it used to be.

  6. Whilst I’m very new to the dj’ing world (and therefore find it hard to compare to the scene many years ago)I have now done a few weddings, birthday parties & the odd corporate gig and I totally agree with the writer on this one. I find alot of people coming to me to request this ‘awesome new song’, only to find that they don’t know the name of the track or who the artist is. Could this not also be down to the fact that there are so many more artists on the charts nowadays (and constantly entering/disappearing off them too) as opposed to when the vinyl/cd era was booming? Also, with the advent of X-Factor/American Idol type shows we are finding so many more artists on the charts too – even alot of the finalists end up signing record deals, not only the winners. And then of course there many new acts that are discovered through Youtube & other social media. So unless you are constantly keeping an eye on the charts I imagine for the average listener it must be becoming quite difficult to keep up with who is who out there.

  7. DJ Forced Hand says:

    I think the main reason people don’t know the names of songs anymore is simply because they don’t have to.

    While the rest of the world is busy getting connected and making things easier for the user, “remembering” what a song is (via some sort of digital ear-marking) isn’t as commonplace as it should be. Streaming and FM radio stations make finding the song name and title an active process (meaning you can’t just get it from listening to the tunes like the old radio DJs did) and while apps like “Shazam” exist, it’s still not as elegant a solution as it should be and people don’t use the apps as much because most people don’t have that long of an attention span at a night club or in their car (when they should be driving and not taking notes about music).

    We (the DJs) are partially to blame. We “white label” a lot of our songs so that other DJs cannot find and play “our” finds and we typically don’t write the song on the back of our DJ business cards (a practice I’ve just started doing) to give to the fans. So really, it’s partially the music fan’s policy of laziness, partially the radio station’s policy of not announcing songs and partially club DJs policy of secrecy that are to blame.

    I know there are people out there working on projects that will be able to retrieve a song title and performer based off esoteric things, but I think if people are to learn things, they should be presented the information in a manner which they can easily digest it.

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      I think it’s also important to note that remixes and mash-ups require specific knowledge of those songs (because there are events in these songs that don’t occur in other places) and it’s not as though we have a lot of places to even reference these mixes and mash-ups. The best place to find info on this right now is Google(!)… is this a sad state of affairs or is Google just generally that good?

  8. I dunno. I’ve seen plenty of this even before the DVS. If we would want the crowd to be more “invested” in the names of tunes, then we would not only have to abolish the means to get music illegally, but even abolish mixtapes. We would have to put the crowd into the viewpoint of a DJ where he/she is buying every piece of music they get…so they end up having a deeper connection and the information on who and what things are.

    The problem then goes back to how much normal people do not explore music compared to enthusiasts and DJs. So expect only radio hits to be in their iPods.

    I also think that yet again requests are the problem, and DJs now are pushed more and more to please the crowd more than anything. If someone asks me if I have a song and they don’t know what it is, I simply and politely tell them I can’t help them. If they want to dig through my laptop because they want to make requests for the sake of “feeling special”, I say no. If a promoter or manger wants to fire me for that, I’ll walk…but tell them they should simply get rid of the DJ booth and invest in a sophisticated jukebox system.

    I don’t bring the means to hook up any iDevices to play music. When you book me I’ll work to make the crowd happy and build the right vibe, but I won’t become a multimedia center for the whims of everyone. DJs have to get more like this and stand their ground, and any promoter/manager with a real sense of long term will set a limit on how far things can go with requests…even if it means a high roller leaving or a pack of hot girls leaving.

    I also think if we want music to be more “timeless” and “remembered”, then we have to stop the instant gratification ideology on buying stuff because it’s “new”. I’ll never forget some music snobs belittling me when I played something older than six months…but they never understood why most of the music they liked never lasted long in people’s memories. Nothing became “timeless”.

    I dunno what else to say on this. I just think if DJs were given more power to dictate requests, then we’ll have a better musical spectrum.

  9. Its the electronic music, it has no words!

    ‘Can you play that song that goes du du dudum di di?”

  10. DJ Joe - New York says:

    I gotta say, as a DJ for over 15 years, i get this quite a lot. When someone asks me for a song, it usually is a Top 40 song from the past 3-4 years, otherwise how can you mess up a request from the 70’s or 80’s. People are not connected with new music as they were 20-30 years ago, and it really is the MP3 problem. Music that is stored on a hard drive just isnt the same as looking on a cassette deck or cd cover, people wont recognize the song with the name, just the way it sounds or the lyrics, so i agree that mp3’s contribute to this problem. As for me, if the person requesting the song does not know at least the Name of the Artist or Song Title, i tell them i cant help you b/c i have over a million songs on my 2 Terrabite Hard Drive, lol and they go away, im not going to figure out what song they want to hear while im DJ’ing a Gig and need to concentrate on my audience, by the way i use Virtual DJ 7.0.5B and been using VDJ from the day it came out in 2001, never went back to CD’s after that, which is why im still DJing today.

  11. you can always use the “SoundHound” app on iphone or ipad to identify songs by just humming or playing a part of the beat, and the app will give you all the titles associated with it.

    So yeah! going Digital rocks :)

  12. Steve Minton says:

    I disagree with some of your points.

    This is just my opinion, but I think more music is considered “throwaway” nowadays in every genre and we definitely don’t see the timeless classics surviving – it’s rare for a classic in today’s age to mean five years.

    In addition, the transition to MP3/Digital has lead to more investment from me in music – I love being able to use the same music on my phone, on my laptop, on my PC, on my ipod and in my car. It’s just so simple – in the day’s of CD-dominant music it was a chore. It took what, 5-10 minutes to copy a CD so I could take it in the car. In 5-10 minutes nowadays I can have the same music file on all the devices I listed AND be on my drive out.

    • Groschi says:

      For typical top 40 stuff this might be true, and even in the more “underground” genres there’s more crap reaching the surface thanks to music blogging etc. simply because there’s no real filtering involved nowadays. In the past, if you wanted to get your five lines of text in NME or Rolling Stone, you actually had to reach and convince some music journalist. Today you can easily get some reasonable attention with mediocre and unoriginal crap as long as you have a good hand in marketing yourself.

      That said, from an Indie Rock DJ’s standpoint (and i think this is also true for most of the more underground styles of club music), timeless classics are still happening. The crazy thing with those is that you need to let some years pass before you can really tell if something still holds up today or can even be considered a “classic”.
      Also, i definitely have to dig much deeper to find something great in times when most indie artists are more concerned with looking as hip and trendy as possible and not walking up the neighbours, instead of working on a sound of their own.

  13. I agree absolutely with what this man has to say. I also find myself forgetting song names and such and I know its because its digital, the way I listen to it means i dont really have to know the song names, even with cds I wouldnt learn the song names, Id just remember which track it was. Vinyl is definitely a more involved experience, having to flip over the vinyl and everything makes listening to it an activity as opposed a passive thing.

  14. Somebody went cake-cake-cake. I thought they were asking for a Cake song. After playing a Cake song, I finally figured out the what song was. “Birthday Cake” by Chris Brown and Rihanna.

  15. Or you are playing a song of that Guetta dude, because it was requested and someone else comes to the booth with a great idea. Could you play something from David Guetta, eeuuhhm sorry dude, this is David Guetta.
    It is ?? Ok, play something else from him than.

    When I swithed from CDs to digital the biggest problem I had was actually remembering titles and artists, I knew what I wanted to play and which track on which CD it was, but I couldn’t pinpoint it as “Rocker” from Alter Ego for example.

  16. I think it’s a sign of the times and the way that people store and listen to music.
    I’ve played to crowds in the 90s, and now have a regular set at a retro club with a very wide age range, and it seems that the younger generation just don’t remember artists and song names the way we did, even when requesting something from the current charts.
    The older patrons (my age!) know exactly which artist and song they want.

  17. Howitzer says:

    I think its actually getting better with digital.

    early ipods didnt have album artwork so theres no point of reference for the listener.

    CD’s burnt off by DJ’s all look the same! No artwork there either.

    With new DJ software I work by cover pic, I usually find stuff much faster that way, the same way vinyl dj’s do!

    I think this also goes for music software for casual listeners too. wmp, itunes, even last.fm has the album artwork displayed on your device.

    Its just a shame the music industry has evolved into a machine with ADHD. Moar new music! Moar new artists! It cant last.

  18. reason808 says:

    I think as the size of album art shrunk from 12 inches to JPEG thumbnails so did the size of music star, and music’s impact on the culture at large.

    In late 80s there were tons of music superstars: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Boy George and I’m sure I’m forgetting many others. People from all walks of life, not music fans, knew about them. When they released an album it was an event, much like big Hollywood movies are today. I can only think of musician today that truly qualifies as a superstar like this: Lady Gaga.

    I think adding a song to a giant pile of MP3s creates makes it inherently forgettable and disposable. One more item to scroll through on a list. Old Records and CD’s were huge posters about the emotional meaning of the songs and the artists behind them – they were a big part of the experience.

  19. Peter Halliwell says:

    Not knowing the song wanted goes back a long long way, Benny Green used to tell the tale of being asked for ‘That’s What You Are’ fifty years ago when the punter wanted ‘Unforgettable’.

    My favourite recently is the number of requests for ‘Tonight’s going to be a good good night’!

    At least now when you are playing and someone comes up with a bit of a lyric or the grey cells let you down you can very quickly google a lyric and find the half remembered song.

    For me adding covers to MP3s is great and it has actually taken me back to before the transition to CDs being able to add original 12″ sleeves from the 70s & 80s to classic tracks on MP3 which I have only had on compilation CDs

  20. DJ Sippy says:

    I believe the biggest reason for people not knowing a song, whether by title or artist, is simply because so much of today’s music sounds the same. In fact, many of the hooks are edits from another song.

  21. And sometimes, people just don’t know their music at all. I was playing Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” on Saturday night (yeah, I’m ooooold school) and a woman came up to me and asked if I had any Elvis Costello. Hehe. When I pointed it out that this WAS Elvis Costello, she looked at me all confused and wandered off. (later on she came up and asked for “that song that goes daaaar dum dee dum daaaar darr…” she really was a classic, bless her heart.

  22. And sometimes, people just don’t know their music at all. I was playing Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” on Saturday night (yeah, I’m ooooold school) and a woman came up to me and asked if I had any Elvis Costello. Hehe. When I pointed it out that this WAS Elvis Costello, she looked at me all confused and wandered off. (later on she came up and asked for “that song that goes daaaar dum dee dum daaaar darr…” she really was a classic, bless her heart.
    And yes, I really prefer seeing cover art. I don’t just associate songs but also a feeling to the visual. I find a long list of song titles harder to choose from for some reason.

  23. I think a lot of this is to do with quantity. As a kid or student I just wouldn’t have the funds to buy a lot of music so whatever was bought you read the artwork and lyrics and even looked for the hidden messages stamped on the vinyl. Plus because you had limited funds you sort of forced yourself to like what you’d bought sometimes. Now music just feels so disposable. I download in a week what I would’ve bought in a few months as a kid so I think it’s a volume thing and feeling of being almost overwhelmed by it all sometimes.

  24. DJ MusicalHost says:

    I grew up with vinyl(Records) I remember in the 1980’s going into my local record store and looking through the piles of vinyl for something specify or new albums. Good Record Covers always stood out and you did identify with the artist/band. Nowadays the most people have their whole song collections on their smart phones even though they are small you can add record covers to them. Its just the way technology is today. Some people when requesting do not know the artist they just hand you their iphone and tell you they want this song. That’s why a good DJ should have good knowledge of songs I admit I struggle with the newer songs but I’m getting there.

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