Programming Your DJ Sets By Night Stages

Night stages

Spend less time with your head in your tune lists and more time mixing and interacting with your crowd by using this ‘night stages’ method of music organisation.

As DJs switched from using physical vinyl/CDs to digital files, they had to find new ways to organise their music so as not to get lost in new, often wider collections. It’s a problem all new digital DJs struggle with at one point or another to this day.

The trouble is, there are no best-practice guidelines out there for how you should organise your music library. Today I’d like to explore the importance of having some kind of system, look at some of the alternatives, and show you a method that works for me.

Questions DJs ask about organising music

When you’re organising your digital music collection, these are the questions you’ll typically find yourself asking:

  1. How many playlists should I have?
  2. How do I determine in which list a track should go?
  3. Can a track go into multiple playlists?
  4. How often should I update existing lists?
  5. How should I use “smart playlists” (ie that are created dynamically?)

There are nearly as many answers to these questions as there are DJs on the planet! Some create playlists for every music genre, others make lists for different BPM ranges. And then there are those DJs who simply play out of their complete music library without any kind of sorting at all.

There is no right way to do this, and all of these methods have their pros and cons. Let’s look at some of them now:

Ways to group your music


 

1. Group by genre

Only house music

If you only play a few genres, organising this way might make sense – but if your style is more varied it can be hard to keep up and difficult to play from such lists.

When you group your music by different genres (eg hip-hop, pop, dance) you have the advantage that you can usually find a track that will mix well with your current tune (tempo and key) pretty fast, because your playlists don’t get too big.

This kind of organisation helps you to avoid jumping back and forth between too many styles, which can be confusing for your audience. On the other hand, your mix can sound stale after a while if you play on autopilot out of genre lists, because it’s so straightforward and you’re discouraged from impromptu surprises (like mixing an 80s track with a new hip-hop joint).

Of course you can still do this, but in the example above, first you’d have to switch to your 80s playlist, then search for the right BPM and then find a track with the same key (assuming you use key mixing). That can take a lot of time which you often won’t have.

Another thing is that it’s complicated and time-consuming to keep your playlists up to date. You have to categorise every track into a musical genre, which isn’t always that easy and sometimes leads to having to add a track to two or three different playlists. So while this method might be good for strictly single-genre DJs or for beginner DJs who just want to produce a coherent mix as easily as possible, it clearly has its limitations.


 

2. Group by BPM range

BPM

Organising your tunes by BPM gives you a wide variety to mix from, but can lead to disjointed mixes as you’re tempted to shoe-horn inappropriate genres together.

You don’t have the problem I just outlined when you put all of your styles together and just have lists sorted by BPM ranges. (101-110, 111-120, 121-130 BPM etc.)

I know a couple of DJs who can pull off great mixes with this method. But usually these guys know their library and their music very well, so they don’t have to try, say, six different tracks before finding the right one to mix in next.

For many other DJs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the huge number of options this method presents as to which track to play next. Combined with the (above mentioned) problem of mixing too many styles together, this can lead to DJ mixes that have a lot of ups and downs in it, more than the DJ might wish.

So while this option can be great for DJs who play a lot with the same collection, or for people who have been doing this for a few years, it often won’t be a good choice for beginner or part-time DJs.


 

3. Don’t group at all!

Record collection

If you don’t organise your MP3s, your music collection will be the digital equivalent of the above, and it will be close to impossible to DJ effectively from it.

This is by far the hardest way to do digital DJing. You have (let’s guess) maybe a couple of thousand tracks right in front of you with no classification at all. I truly don’t know any real advantage of “sorting” your library like this. The only case when I see people play straight from a music folder is when they play with somebody else’s laptop.

When you don’t know how another DJ has organised their music at all, it’s probably best you just type in some songs you know that will work, or browse through the lot, making a temporary playlist of stuff you’re interested in using in your set.

If you do play straight from your (or someone else’s) music folder, you can sort so the tracks that were added just recently are at the top, so at least you’re putting just new hits or tunes you’re not bored of in a prominent position in your library.


 

4. Use my “night stages” method

DJ playlist

Check out today’s smart method for organising your digital music collection, that lets you spend more time mixing and less time searching for the next tune…

Recently I came up with another way of grouping my music, which is kind of a mixture of the methods mentioned above but with some definite advantages of its own. I call it the “night stages” method.

It works best for parties where everyone arrives at the start, has a (hopefully) great time, and leaves at the end – as opposed to say a long bar set where the crowd changes throughout the night. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Consider in what kind of venue you’re playing (big room club, back room, house party etc)
  2. Think about what music styles you will be able to play there (eg pop, dance, hip-hop, dancehall, house)
  3. Add three new playlists: warm-up, main set and cool down. These are the “night stages” of my title
  4. Sort each of the tunes you have for those different genres into one of these playlists. You just have to decide if each is a warm-up track, a peak tune or a song to cool the crowd down with

This is a little like sorting out your tunes in a record box, in rough “front-to-back” order, which is a method many DJs used to prefer in the vinyl days. In my digital take on it, you simply play from the list that suits the stage the night is currently at.

I believe it has the right mix of preparation and variety, it forces you to think beforehand about where you tunes are likely to work in a set (which is a good thing), and it is easy to do every week, which means you’re less likely to slip into playing from your music library, with no sorting at all.


 

My story…

I started out as a hip-hop DJ and used to grouped my music by genre or sub-genre. This worked just fine till I began working in clubs that demanded different kinds of music, because then, the number of genre playlists I had grew quickly to more than 30!

I was spending a lot of time updating all the different genres when adding new tracks, but in the end most of the time I got lazy and just put everything under a “new” playlist (which is basically the same as playing from your whole library). After realising this I began to take a look at the history of tracks I was playing in a night. (It’s always worth looking back at the history files your software keeps of what you actually play if you don’t already, by the way. You’ll learn a lot.)

In doing so I saw that the tunes I was playing were allotted across all kinds of music genres. In my case, though, I realised that most of the tracks were slower and older at the beginning of the night, in the middle they were mainly new and fast-paced, whereas at the end I played mostly classics and slow tracks again.

This way I came up with the idea to just separate my music by these three categories, which for me is working a lot better than having my previous huge number of playlists.

• DJ Tobander is a Serato Scratch Live DJ who started as a teenager, and nowadays spins in hip-hop, dance and alternative clubs. You can find him on SoundCloud, Twitter and his own website.

How do you organise your music? Do you have a tip or trick to share that helps you to stay organised when DJing? Or do you just play straight out of your music folder? Please share in the comments.

Comments

  1. Or you just know your songs so well that you instinctively are able to cue up the next track even before the playing track has hit the 1 min 30 mark. If you are in the booth fumbling around for your next track that shows a distinct lack of preparation and knowledge in your tunes and the venue in which you are playing.

    • There’s no harm in organising before a gig, it doesn’t show lack of knowledge of your tunes – or at least, it needn’t. It shows preparation for a particular crowd, situation (warming up for a certain DJ , for instance) – any of a whole host of variables. I always encourage people to do this, and I don’t think it reflects badly on the DJ at all.

      • I agree with you Phile, it is not always easy to determine your crowed before going on to do a set unless you have walked the crowed before hand, which I highly suggest every DJ doing before they go on live. Once you know the crowed then you can make adjustments, fine tune your playlist, etc.

    • I bet the best DJs in the world prepare their playlist months ago. (And I’m not talking about DMC and other championships, but gigs)
      I think in this site there was a 1 hour video with 2 professional DJs explaining how they prepare their playlist before their gig (somewhere in Ibiza)
      Also, you can see Aoki preparing their playlist with Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike before their night in Tomorrowland.

      But don’t get me wrong. Indeed, you must know your songs very well and you must be quick and pro-active (eg have a handy side list with some alternative tracks)

  2. Believe it or not, I actually, to a degree, have been using all four methods throughout my DJ career.

    It depends on the people, the venue and the situation. Sometimes I value spontaneity over order. Other nights, it’s a one or two genre tempo builder. Other nights I have a theme. And sometimes, I have a specific musical agenda.

    I would say learn all styles of programming. That way, you can merge them and use them any way you want.

  3. Good article. I prefer to have 3 playlists for each night.
    1) Social Mood Playlist
    2) Main Party Playlist
    3) After Party Playlist

    Also, I use VDJ database (it gives you amazing control over your songs) to organize these playlists according to BPM and Key simultaneously. I think it’s very close to that 4 “night stages” method. The rest of my songs which are out of these playlists are organized by Genre, so if I wanna find something, I can easily search it through the database.

    Oh, and sometimes, I have a virtual folder “New” with some new ideas (songs and DJ tools) that I wanna try for the first time, live. When I play something from there, I remove it, and put it in my regular playlist next time.

    • I want to second using the VDJ database. I usually recurse my main folder so all my music is all in one big folder in my library window. (right click the music folder and choose recurse).
      During the night I re organize it often on the fly, by bpm, by genre, by rating, by comments, and by date first seen.

      - BPM: always a good rough gauge of energy level
      - genre: I use general terms like house, breaks, trance, etc… and then get more specific in comments
      - rating: one star is ambient or chill out. Two stars = you could dance. Three is getting there. Four = high energy. Five = absolute peak.
      - comments: I use “good” to mean I personally really like the track. I usually play just tracks I really like, but I have some on my HD that are such great examples of their genre that I keep them as a reserve. I also add in variations on the genre here. “Deep”, “funky”, “groove”, “long intro”… I also add a comment if the presence or absence of vocals is notable. If a house track is instrumental I put in “i”. If a trance track has actual singing I put in “vox”.
      - date first seen turns the library window into essentially a “new” folder. I find it easy to keep track of new tracks this way.

      Concurrently I use the VDJ virtual folders to prepare lists for specific gigs or moods. But I find I spend the most amount of time in the main recursed music folder hopping around by means of reorganizing on the fly.

  4. The huge benefit of using digital is that you can use all those systems together. Add your tracks to genres and also add new tracks to new list, which you also cull at at same time and using that create your list for specific nights if you play different venues.
    Now as you can sort by BPM in music managers, just use that within the other lists. You can also add tracks to a release date list Early 2012, Spring 2012, Summer 2012, Late 2012 for example.

    Pre computers, I used to make CD compilations [x 2] of my vinyl and CD tracks by Genre AND by Date and then order them by BPM on each disc – easier than alphabetically for DJing.

    But whatever system you use, as miami_jim correctly says you should know your music inside out anyway. Your organising is just to help you quickly find the track you want.

  5. And the easiest way to get things in correct folders is to use smart folders, I just add genres and feel to the genre category and my various smart folders pick them up, that way they got straight into the correct folder or folders automatically.

  6. As always great informative article. I use the genre and four stages method.

    In Traktor I give tunes the following labels in the comments section.

    WU – Warm Up
    MS – Mid Set
    PK – Peak Time
    CL – Closing

    So let say I am in the middele of my set and I want to go from deep house to more tech house, I just type in tech house in the finder/search bar and from the results I arrange the comments section and look for the MS group, ignoring the rest. You can also use the four labels together. If I have a tune that I can use as warm up/early night but also a closing tune it will read MS-CL.

    I use the same method in preparing playlist for gigs at spesific places for example Frankie’s Bar WU, or Frankie’s Bar PK. In these I arrange the tunes into the feel or energy in the track, I like my sets to have a progression. I dont like to be an hour into my set moving into the MS stage and then drop a track that has less energy then what I am currently playing. However I must constantly check myself not just playing one track after the other with the above method or sticking to one genre for along period of time during my set.

    That said I am constantly trying to find new and better ways to organise my music, I think my biggest issue is to have it in such a way that I can be more spontanious and creative in my sets

    Suggestions welcome :p

    • this sounds like a very good method. I will try to apply this method! thanks for this commment Sparky, very usefull!!

    • DJ Forced Hand says:

      I love that DJs are talking about this. I’ve been trying to convince people that there’s an actual groove for the evening just like there’s a groove per set, but most of the people I know who spin music don’t seem to care too much about flow even though they can see the positive effects of it. I’d really like to thank everyone who does this for supporting this style since I’ve been told I was crazy for trying to do something like this MANY times.

    • to find more creativity do not mix harmonically all the time, forget the keys and use your ears :) also for added fun place post-it notes over your beat counters. cheers

      • Don’t forget Tom that many of use did that for many years, so we understand the temptation to fall into the “harmonic mixing trap” – this is just one tool, not the only way of doing things. We get that.

  7. I use the now famous digital DJ tips Itunes method of using groups, ratings and smart playlists in Itunes. It has worked wonders for me as a mobile DJ as I have to stock many types of different music and the smart playlists have done all the work sorting and organising my music in different ways (BPM, Rating, Grouping and any combination of these). Thanks Phil!

  8. I Tend to build one Playlist per Night, put together the Tracks I think or I would like to play and having in mind BPM, Genre, and the Three parts (Beginning, Middle, and Ending of the Night), but knowing that I might and almost always will not play it exactly as I have arrange it.
    So when I sit down/put myself to arrange it I try to build it in ways I can re-arrange it on the Moment, like have a couple of Tracks that play well together then doesn’t matter a lot where I place them on the playlist, as long as they go all one after the other.
    Even tough I’ve learned it’s good exercise to teach yourself to play Tracks “random” like choosing them in the Moment, cause you never know what will happen.
    Great Article.

  9. That’s what I use ‘rating’ for. Three stars for warm up, five stars for full steam ahead and four stars for everything inbetween. Why rate your tracks, you should have done that before you purchased anything and made sure it was all killa and no filla, no?
    I also have music organised by genre and bpm

    • I agree on the killa no filla thing!

    • Ruben daCosta says:

      I use a very similar method, I organize my folders by ratings, from ’1′ to ’5′, ‘being ’1′ the lower points tracks and ’5′ the high frenetic shirts flying in the air tracks (bpm it´s not taking in count, there are 125bpm tracks that are by far more raged tha 132bpm). I only play mainly techno music, so I don’t know if this method would be well applied with other genres, what I do is open all my tracks in iTunes, choose 2 or 3 songs that I want to play (usually new tracks) from each folder, and the other 80 tracks are choosed randomly by it. Imagine that you’re in an ‘Masterchef’ version for dj’s, and that in the basket there are 80 songs, that you know but never thought of mixing them together. Limiting yourself in an arbitrary way sometimes is a good way to develop youre criativity.

  10. I use smart playlists within itunes and pretty much every method in here. Having each option keeps you incredibly versatile, and I just add tagging and sorting into my tune digging routine and everything stays spot on. I’ve added playlists using the star rating method for energy levels in the songs and I can switch between playlists at ease within traktor.

    Screenshot of my organization below :)
    http://i.imgur.com/Nxy5g.png

  11. This topic def hits home for me coming from vinyl where I knew my music almost more by the sticker label than the artist or track name.

    FWIW this is how I organize. I play on Traktor out of my iTunes library. I have a genre folder full of smart playlists for each genre and I update all my tracks to really broad genres like pop, beats, house, hip-hop etc.

    I have a DJ smart playlists folder which has playlists for down, mid, and uptempo as well as a d&b tempo. I also have smart playlists in there that search the comments e.g. I have an intros playlist that searches for intro in the comment. I also keep a recently imported list.

    The last folder I have is curated (non-smart) playlists. I try to keep these below 100 tracks and they are not really exhaustive but more of my favorite tracks in a particular sub genre like new-school Chicago jack or UK future garage. I update these fairly regularly especially when I’m playing or buying a lot of that sound.

    In practice I tend to move around from playlist to playlist in a single set. One of my biggest problems was knowing the track I wanted to play next but not remembering the name or just not being able to find it. Having a bunch of lists to look in has helped a lot with that. Playing out of different lists also helps with the static sound problem when your playlists are too focused and everything starts to sound the same.

  12. I’m considered sorting by genre. I’ve only been DJing for 2 years or so, and I currently have a collective playlist of songs that I know well enough to mix in and out of no matter what. It’s a fairly small collection, but I prefer to have a smaller list. I’ve got enough music to play for about 4 or 5 hours, but I know each song incredibly well.

    I don’t think I could stand having 1,000 songs or so. If I had that many I don’t think I would know the songs as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always looking for more music, but I keep my “playable” music list very thin on purpose.

  13. I use Phil’s iTunes method of star ratings and comments. I have Genre’s very well organized too. However a big word of caution; if your iTunes library ever becomes corrupt and you need to create a new one, the Star ratings are lost and will not transfer. So use the Comment and Grouping fields wisely. I have 3 groupings; DJ Possess (all 3 star songs), DJ Possess 4-5 Star and HSK which is for salsa/latin.

    For comments, I have the word “Banger” as a keyword for any genre. These are also 4-5 star songs (in case the stars are lost). Also, Star ratings dont come over correctly in Traktor for all songs. So again, Comments are helpful.

    I have Hip-Hop arranged in different ways; Bangers, 80′s, 90′s 2000′s. For newer songs I use a genre name Urban. So I dont confuse Flo-Rida and Lil Wayne with LL Cool J and Biggie. Within a list I can sort by Key or BPM in Traktor but alot of hip-hop beats vary so you cant always play 2 songs w/ the same BPM and expect them to sound good.

    I have several different Dance genre’s; Dance(older), Club-Dance, NuDance (newer). I also have; House, House-Electro, Deep House, Tech House. Then the House music is also grouped by decade so I know where the Old School songs are quickly.

    I do not use Mixed in Key but I am a huge fan of Beatunes for iTunes. Every song gets BPM, color and key meta data. Then I use the program to make Match Lists which is worth its weight in gold.

  14. I have all my 500 + tracks in one folder and I work with notes and playlists that I constantly write on notepad. If I want to load a certain track I just type it in search.

    • Best bit about your comment is “500+” tracks, not “50,000+ tracks”. Less music really does simplify everything.

    • I just realized last week why it’s not a bad thing to have a NEWS folder.

      I booked a guest DJ and was warming-up for him. When the dancefloor was full and the crowd good to go. I told him to get a starting track ready and he came up with sth. 4 or 5 years old.

      So I said to him just try to play new stuff the first hour or so and this was actually pretty hard for him.
      He didn’t know his tracks so well and didn’t have a NEWS folder. Okay I know you as a DJ you should know which
      tracks (in your Genre) are new and which are not but it seems like a lot of DJs have this problem lately.

      So why don’t make things easier by just have to play out of a NEWS folder.

      • i dont use the ” new ” playlist/folder , bcz in a 2 months or so it can be old by then , because some tracks especially in POp dance .. can came banging and die fast

        what i do if i want to play the new songs , i use the “date added ” sorting , and i type the date of it’s release in the title , so my song titles always like this ( Key – Artist – Title – Mix/remix – release date )
        example :
        10A – Jennifer Lopez Ft Pitbull – Dance Again (Jyvhouse Extended Mix) (5Apr12)

        and to make it more easier , a dj should know whats new NOW and whats the public want and know as NEW , if not then this dj need to learn more or just forget it

  15. Yep. I started doing this in the spring. It works because I have been playing in the same place for years. You have to put in the maintenance work too. I laughed so hard I thought I was the only one with a folder titled “new” for months. I actually had started a “new2″ “new3″ at one point. When I say maintain, I mean really stay on top of those “crates” you regularly play. I have also now gotten used to having “playlists” which in my mind I have to consider different than a “crate” to keep me sane.
    I notice DJs with more years of experience tend to have a reason for what they do and it always goes back to “real” world material in hand situation. I asked a fellow DJ/mentor how he organizes. He answered “I organize and label my crates by the clubs I play”. LOVED IT! Simpler solution is always better.

  16. Hello! I have not yet had the opportunity to play live. Soon tho!

    What I found by using iTunes as my form of organizing the music based on “energy” level really works. Well that is what I learn from Phil’s videos.

    I also found out that VDJ has an option of analyzing your entire library on the iTunes. There’s also an option of organizing the BPMs, Keys and Keys(numeric). I found that organizing my music using the Keys(numeric) sound so much better harmonically.

    I am amaze how well it all flowed w/ the different genres. I have a playlist of about 5 hrs worth of dance music ranging from 70′s, 80′s, and present remix/mashups.

    After talking to the woman that is organizing the dance that I will be playing in a bar, she suggested that I have certain music to accommodate certain age groups. I find that once she told me that, it helped me organize my music library. Now, we just need a date to when they want to make it all happen.

    Meanwhile, practicing and having fun! :)

  17. Great article this Tobander… I use an almost similar ‘night stages’ sorting method. I have 4 main playlists of which 2 are hip-hop and the other 2 are for house/dance, namely ‘Let’s Party’ and ‘Let’s Chill’. Within a particular list, I can sort by RATING, BMP or even KEY if I suddenly decide to do a harmonic mix mid-set. This works for me as it gives me options when I’m in the thick of it. I also have a number of smaller, more focused lists created from checking out the history on occasions to see what mixed well.

    • Thanks Rizzlah,

      you’re right, often 2 Lists (Party, Chill) seem to be enough.

      Sometimes I have a hard time to decide wheather a track belongs in the Warm-Up or Cool-Down Folder.

      Are you using Serato Online-Playlists to check your history?

      • Indeed! I find that about half, or more, of the tracks in my chill folder can be both warm-up or cool-down tracks. That’s why I choose to have one chill list to start the party and also come back and end it on.

        I was refering to my own history playlist that I revisit about once or twice a month for ‘reflection’.

        My word… When looking for tracks to buy, I usually visit 1001tracklists.com, but man, oh, man… I had no idea Serato had something like this. I like, I like it a lot!!!

  18. I thought I would share my system, because it very heavily relies on smart playlists and I thought maybe people get some ideas from it:

    So I have a very intricate sorting system that consists of many different smart playlists and playlist folders (on iTunes). My main method of sorting is genre. So I have two main folders Hip-Hop/Top 40 and Electronic. Under each of these folders I have one main playlist of each, which has everything within the entire macro genre. I then have folders for each “sub-genre.” (Hip hop, R&B, Top 40, Dutch House, Electro House etc.). Within these folders I have a sorting system that uses “night-stages.” So this way I can choose based on the stage of the night and what genre I would like to play with the specific playlist to play out of. I use traktor and using the function keys I have assigned the most commonly used playlists a hot key so I can easily switch through them. I sort by BPM so I can find the perfect song very quickly.

    Now one may say this must require a lot of sorting etc. to create this system. However, because I use smart playlists and a unique tagging system. All I have to do is listen to my new music, tag it, and it is put into the right folder. Every song is given a rating, which helps me create “banger” playlists for each folder. Furthermore, every song is given a “night stage,” to use your terminology, (I use Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 to break down the three stages of the night). Lastly, every song is given a genre (Dutch house, electro house, hip hop, etc.). Sometimes songs blend the lines between different genres. These songs are prefect for transitioning between different genres as well. To incorporate this, I use the “contains” function in my smart playlists. I can then tag a genre, say, Dutch House/Top 40, which will then add to to both playlists. Setting this up was quite tedious, but the complete automation of this system, makes my day-to-day workflow very simple. After listening to a songs a few times, I just run through at tag them (which takes maybe under 10 minutes for 50 songs).

    I DJ many different genres, so ultimately, I am able to go through about 10,000 songs and find the exact one I would like. The trick is to set up very conditional smart playlists, to make sure tracks are well organized.

  19. First thing I usually do is make sure all the tunes have a genre and are tagged properly. I don’t even use iTunes’ smart playlists feature because Traktor has genre playlists which are basically the same, smart playlists with a single criteria (genre). I also try to keep genres to a minimum (I have somewhere between 50 and 60 genre playlists which are updated automatically) – for example there is no need for separate “Electronic” and “Electronica”, “Deep House” and “House”, etc.

    I also have my manually created playlists. There are several sub-groups of them:
    1) concepts, ideas. Sometimes I have an idea of a set or a concept (for example: glitchy drum&bass / IDM) and so I drag the tracks which make sense to me personally in that context to these playlists. Or, build them up around a certain term which initally can be more vague (90s dance music, for example, which can contain anything from Macarena to Prodigy; or chillwave). Or a sub-genre (Detroit techno, certain form of deep house, …). Sort of like an idea bank.
    2) event series/types. This is similar to the venue grouping concept, except that I create playlists for most events I play at, separately. So I have a general idea of what works on a certain night. When I play at a new event I haven’t played before I use some other playlist as a basis, or create a new one from scratch. I irregularly update them.
    3) mix preparations. Whenever I feel like making a mix at home and I have a fixed idea of what I want to do, here is where I assemble the full tracklist for that mix. Of course, this is not strictly programming. Sometimes it’s by trial and error, sometimes I find some tracks compartible by their key, sometimes it evolves from a concept (see above). I begin with tracks I want to play in that mix.
    4) archive. The (previously prepared) sets I have done (and which have worked well).

    And, of course, there is a preparation playlist. Sometimes I prepare specifically for the event, sometimes I combine it from the previous categories. It all depends on the event really. Whenever I go somewhere I haven’t played before, and I have some sort of idea of what’s going on there, it helps to have the aforementioned event playlists. Even if I haven’t specifically prepared for the event I can still adapt to the situation (“what worked yesterday at club A might work here, if not, let’s try what I have at club B playlist, …”).

    In total, I have about 50 manually created playlists (about 20 concepts, about 15 event series). I normally use at least two at once per night. As an example, the following playlists were actually used today when I played at the bar where there were mostly students who liked pop music :
    genre: pop, concept: 90s dance, two mainstream’y event series playlists.
    Because I have played at that bar before I knew what to expect, multiple playlists ensure some variation.

    Needless to say, sometimes there is a lot of overlap between all the playlists. Also it requires a lot of preparation. Even though my collection is not that big (around 5000 tracks). I think it took about 3-4 days to set the genres properly. And I did not create all the manual playlists at once, of course :) Only whenever there was a need for one.

    So, whenever I go out to play somewhere I quickly drag the playlists (genre or manual) to the Traktor favourite bar (since in my case “All Tracks” and “Preparation” are constantly there, this leaves 10 playlist slots which is more than enough). It takes a few seconds time so I can basically do it on the fly. The point is to bring the time spent typing and digging for specific tunes to a minimum.

    It’s not perfect (and I described it as briefly as I could), but it works for me. As an ex-database programmer I see a lot of data and a virtually unlimited number of views for it, whatever suits my needs at that point of time.

    I have no need to group the tracks by night stages because either
    1) I know my tracks (in majority of cases)
    2) I do what most of DJs do – I pre-listen to them before throwing in the mix. If I don’t remember what a tune sounds like, that is the moment of the truth. If it does not fit, I find the next one in a matter of seconds.

    Now, the interesting part is creating a playlist system for samples (looped/one-shots), but that’s another subject ;)

    • Essentially, I see playlists as a form of tags or keywords. You could do this on the ID3 tag level, but for me it makes much more sense to keep non-factual information out of the metadata. The sound files themselves only contain data relevant to them, not the context of their usage (with the exception of genre which is basically a big fat guideline, nothing else). Plus, you can have virtually unlimited playlists = unlimited keywords.

    • Thanks so much for the detailed share there; as you say no system is perfect, but it’s highly illuminating to see how other people tackle this big issue.

  20. Hank dubyou says:

    I organize my music by bpm folders, then within those I have genres, then within those I have sub genres then within those I organize according to the Camelot notation. The way I know what to play is the Camelot folders are smart playlists that only accept the song if it matches the folder and is 4-5 star in rating, so that I know that what I’m playing isnt garbage. I rate every song and also correct the genre tag if I have to, the good thing is that it has automatic updating!

  21. I am a wedding DJ my playlist are basically grouped by time.

    Cocktail Hour
    Dinner Hour
    Program (wedding formalities)
    Dance 1st Hour
    Dance 2nd Hour

    I generally only play for 2 hours with the dance portion of the night so i have to pack in a lot of music in a short time.

    The split between hours kinda makes sure i don’t blow all my bangers the first hour. I have a generic set for these playlist that i modify on a per wedding basis.

    I also use the iTunes method reccomended by phil.

  22. hey guys i looked it this video on duspots tutorial by Dj Endo
    Its a bit confusing at times but really shows the power of iTunes for sorting music
    I has made filling music for me very easy indeed

  23. My system is a little different. I always go by ‘month/year’ of purchase, or in the case of older music, ‘decade folders’.(eg 60′s’70′s 80′s) Then from all of this, traktor lovingly ‘genrefies’ and ‘artistifies’ my collection if I(ever) need to check tracks by genre(to add to a playlist I am building). I also have playlists that I build from all my month/year folders adding in tracks I think will be suited for the event.
    It is really the playlists I focus on as I know the tracks in them.
    If I get a request I just do search for the track from the track collection folder.
    I also save an archive list as a new playlist if it (the event or practice session)was awesome and name it with the event name.
    As for BPM sorting I do this from within my playlists on the fly if the need arises.

  24. Robert Wulfman says:

    I use something I call the “Energy Level” this is a 0-9 scale that represents how much energy a track has. With this all I have to do is go up one to increase energy or down one to decrease. Sometimes if the track is close to one of the other levels I’ll make mention of it in the comments.

    Also if you want to mark different phases of the night or separate the current preplaned setlist from ones that might sound good next, you can make what I call a spacer. Simply go into audacity or some other audio editing program, make sure there is no sound, then export it. This gives you a completely empty audio file. I like to name it “———-” so that it can divide elements better. Then just put it wherever you want to, like your music folder or in a separate playlist (I keep it in a playlist titled ” ” which I use to put blank spaces in the favourites list) then just add it to your playlists wherever you need some devision.
    NOTE: some programs may display an error when you try to play the file

  25. Hello! I’m a total beginner and this friday is my first Djing in a cocktail bar (actually first time in public!). It´s a 5.5 hr set but I can play the music I like (indie, nu disco, synthpop, funk). I´m a little afraid that this set might get a bit boring. Is there a way to organize this long set by stages like in a shorter one? or should I stick to music genres?

    PD: I use Traktor Pro.

  26. Hi Phil,
    I’m thankful since i have found your blog a couple weeks ago, i’m reading all the articles and they are excellent!, I’m an ‘enthusiast’ Dj, i have selflearned to Dj begining with a Numark mixtrack-DjIO/Laptop-Traktor/Hi-Fi, and then i have moved to a real mixer real cd units to truly learn how to beat match (sold the controller due i found myself in panic hitting the sync button which sometimes is not accurate), one of the first things i have realized was that i have to move the music to USB drives and then figure out how to organize it (due the screen of the cd units only display one song tite at a time), then i have decided to organize it by genre and after that four subfolders, the first one is Kick off, the second is for warm-up, the third one is for the top of the set, and the fourth is for the outro, i constantly add new tracks, but then each folders grew larger and browse through the USB to find a track is getting harder and time consuming during the set, sometimes i have found myself finding a track in the 1:30 mins to the current track to end, please if you can help me with your advice on how i should manage this issue or any of the persons in this blog that have address this issue HELP WILL BE REALLY PRECIATED!, thanks a lot and love this blog, its been a lot of help reading it!!!

  27. I prefer grouping into different genres. If a song fits multiple genres i’ll just stick with one. Also helps to have a “Crap, theres only 30 seconds left in this song” playlist. This playlist will have some mainstream anthems and bangers to throw up real quick when all else fails.

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