Over To You: Where Can I Find A “Standard” DJ Playlist?

dj playlist

Is there a standard set of tunes a new mainstream DJ can use to get in front of an audience? Today's Over To You asks you to help our reader with this question.
Photo credit: DreadM Skin

In stark contrast to yesterday's question about building a unique music collection, today Digital DJ Tips reader Sabri writes: "My goal is to begin DJing part time as soon as possible. I took your How to Digital DJ Fast course as well as went over your YouTube channel content. I think the only way I can begin my DJing business / career is to become a mobile DJ (school events such as dances, and bars around the region) and then expand into the scenes I aspire to be in (remixing, becoming a club resident, promoting events). However, I do not want to buy every track that made it to the top 40 since the 60s just to have it there! Is there a good current starter playlist for beginner mobile DJ you could recommend or point me towards? Once I begin, I am confident that I will get a better understanding on what I need."

Digital DJ Tips says:

I actually took exactly the same route (mobile DJing as a 17-year-old, bar DJing by 21, club DJing by 24) so I think there's a lot of worth in doing it that way. You're going to need to have the best pop/chart music for the last, say, two to three years, then some carefully chosen "classics". Best way to find these is just to listen when you're out and about, and watch what people dance/sing to, and if you like it too, buy it. At the same time, get used to saying "I'll see what I can do!" when someone asks you for something you don't have, and understand that you'll have to often find something similar to keep them happy instead.

True "mobile" DJs do indeed often have massive (tens of thousands) record collections, but you can get away with having far, far fewer. Apart from weddings (where there really does seem to be a pretty standard tune selection - the full list is part of our Complete 21st Century Wedding DJ guide), there's no "standard" playlist for more general mainstream gigs, as this is completely dependent on where you are and the exact types of crowds you play to, and any "standard list" is going to contain lots of stuff you will never play.

However, I'd like to throw this open to the readers to see if they can assist you in your strategy of getting a highly useful, lean tune collection to get you started in mainstream DJing.

So, how would you advise Sabri to proceed? Have you built a "starter" collection quickly in order to start playing gigs? How did you go about it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. I would say be your own DJ, and get to know music, as many different genres as you can, and discover your own sound. There really needs to be more DJs doing their own thing.

    • i second this…. i dont mean to sound harsh or anything but ure attitude is all wrong… it sounds like you just seen a dj and said that looks easy money… before u even think about djing out you need to know your tunes have a passion for music… it doesnt matter what style you dj. If things arent going well you need to know tunes that will save you.

  2. You’d need to play about 90 to 120 tracks at a regular club gig (talking about a 5-6 hour performance).
    So, figure out yourself how many songs you should keep in your library. Most commercial music wear out in a short time and lose its popularity.
    I suggest you have real classics steady in your playlists since they always work to get the crowd going any time.
    Other than that, focus on daily trends and the updated top 40 depending on what genre you play.
    Good luck in your future DJ’ing career !

    • “Most commercial music wear out in a short time and lose its popularity.
      I suggest you have real classics steady in your playlists since they always work to get the crowd going any time.”

      Now this is a good advice. Commercial music always comes and goes, except for the classic tracks. Also, try to look for classic tracks that not everyone knows by name, but by sound (I mean, I really don’t know the name of a lot of Disco music tracks, but when I listen to them, I can’t stop dancing!). People will be like “Hey, I love that song!” even if they don’t know it’s name.

  3. 6 words (if you’re in the UK) – now that’s what i call music… ;)

  4. Andy Taylor says:

    There’s only one way to learn the ropes – get in touch with some local mobile DJs and offer to help them out for free. Be honest and say that you’d like to learn the ropes from an experienced person but you’re happy to help out for free.

    I did this with a local agency and the main guy gave me loads of valuable experience at various types of gig and then started sending me out on my own.

    I DJ’ed for a few years before that and it made me realise how bad I must have been because I really didn’t have a clue what the most popular songs were and what people actually liked to dance to.

    It might take a few phone calls to find the right person who’s interested in training you up, but if there’s someone who needs extra people they might be pretty interested.

    Hope that helps.

    • I agree with everything Andy says, but I think there’s a step between wanting to be a DJ and becoming a student and that’s proper preparation. A lot of people simply want to do things without the annoying “learning part” just fake it until you make it and “talk the talk… etc.”
      The thing is, attitude, especially PRIDE gets in the way of learning. There is a saying about learning “You cannot fill a glass with another glass when the first glass is half-full.” The reason for this is “preconcieved notions often lead to bad conclusions and resistance to learning.” The reason people are saying there’s no shortcut to a successful dj set is because there isn’t one.

      It’s a hard thing to build a list of successful dance floor songs and a lot of people think everyone should just share their lists because “It’s just a list, it’s not like you made the songs”… but that’s where at least half the art is. There are people whom are willing to give their hard work up for free but more often than not people are willing to trade what they value for what you value.

      Go find a free list somewhere and then go find a DJ who rocks the floors. That free list has nothing but data tooffer you, the DJ has reasons and contingency plans for why their sets rock the floors.

  5. I had this question myself about two years ago. I realised there were so many genres of music i had no clue about, simply because the genre wouldnt interest me. i started by listening to all the nr ones from the 60s until now and getting the ones i liked and id heard before being played where i live. then i googled top 100 X songs of all time. where X, i put the genre I wanted to learn about each time. different lists would come up in different websites. i then listened to as much as i could from each genre (god i thank youtube for that), then acquired what i liked.

    Growing up i was well into alternative, rock/hard rock even some heavy metal and hated and refused to listen to everything else. So suddenly i realised i had no clue about say disco, motown, techno, house and so on and this is how i started.

    I then started liking other genres and sounds too so i started looking into songs by artists that i had recently “discovered”. I got over the fact that its impossible to have everything from all the genres so focused again on the genres i wanted to play but made sure i had a tiny bit of everything just in case it got requested.

    Then again as Phil said its down to where you are in the world and to what type of gig in what type of venue you re looking to get.

  6. Dj’s seem to have a too large collection. Tracks which never get played in ages. I suggest to stick to a smaller collection with quality tracks.

  7. david -dj xl- says:

    i agree be your own dj BUT there actually is a “foundation” to build upon. Mobile Beat has produced a 100 most requested list for years. solid and crowd tested. build forward by keeping up. build oldies by buying those greatest hits albums. the fun after all of being your own dj is digging for the gems. have fun

    • It always surprises me when I go through US lists like that one, how different Europe, and in my case Denmark, is.

      1/3 of these songs would work great in Denmark, 1/3 would be only a little familiar to the crowd, and 1/3 would be unknown

      To answer your question: The baseline classic list is very different depending on which country you are DJing in

  8. DJ what you like and you soon will be getting gigs that need you to play what you want and not what everyone likes, and that’s waaay more enjoyable and fun than pretending you like what other stuff (if that’s the case) but that’s only my opinion.

    Haha this reminds me of the Boys Noize track “What You Want” where a robot voice says “this is what you want, this is what you get” btw cool track, and Chromeo made a dance remix as well if you want to check it out.

  9. Look for a record pools provide online for 3 month subscription to try out. Also you will find on Craigslist a wedding Dj Changing career and selling everything off at much discounted price. There are larger wedding DJ companies that provide everything for you and you are hired just as DJ or helper to the DJ.

  10. I’d agree with the poster above who said the Now That’s What I Call Music series are great for older stuff and for building a collection quickly.

    Most of the older ones can be bought very cheaply on eBay.

  11. I’m a wedding DJ and I don’t carry tens of thousands of tracks. It just makes the good tracks more difficult to find.

    Often at weddings and family functions you get the ‘standard’ playlist, which in some ways is a shame but our job is to play records that people will dance to, and they often dance to their favourites ‘what they know’

    I have a list of 250-300 tracks which is my ‘standard’ list. I refer back to this for inspiration. My theory is that if it all went bad and I only had those tracks with me, it would on the whole still be a good party. In that list are the obvious tracks like Dancing Queen that gets played a lot but them less obvious like say Rock DJ which is still decent if you are playing to youngish crowd. The list has an even spread of about 50 tracks from each decade from the 50s/60s so plenty to go at if you have a younger or older crowd.

    In addition to this I keep a ‘Recent Top Hits’. This doesn’t reflect the current chart as such but is a list of about 25-30 tracks from the last 2 years that are big right now so I can hit the current stuff easily, so tracks like ‘Party Rock Anthem’, ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Moves Like Jagger’ and ‘We Found Love’ are in there. This normally covers the modern tracks that I would play at a wedding or family function.

    As stated above, I would build your collection from NOW and greatest hits, but I do find it useful to have playlists of the ‘standards’ to hand.

    With that said, I always work with the customer to find out what they like because I always want tracks to hand that are special to them, but the standard list is useful particularly when the bride and groom are busy talking and Aunt Flo and Uncle Tom want to take to the floor and show off their dance moves!

    Cheers ;-)

    • Thanks Dave, nicely explained.

    • I talk to Wedding DJs and they say the bride usually gives them a list of all the songs they want the DJ to play… often on a memory stick. Obtaining the tracks you need won’t be the hard part, it’s being the showman that is the difficult part of being a wedding DJ.

      • The only problem with that is that the Bride and Groom spend lots of time in the bar or elsewhere with their guest, whilst you have to play their irritating song choices. I always make them aware that my job is to please them AND their guests, otherwise I really think twice about taking the gig on.

  12. I’m a mobile DJ from Massachusetts. (BTW Phil, YOU and this site are what motivated me to take on gigs in the first place and we had an excellent year. The experience I’ve gained and the income I’ve made since taking the plunge has been awesome. I can’t thank you and the community you’ve created here enough.) I struggled with this issue in the beginning as well. I found DJ Intelligence to be a life saver. You can search their list of top 100 requested tracks divided up by decade. I do a lot of private parties for the 40+ crowd and I’ve found the top tracks for the 60’s 70’s and 80’s is all I need to keep the floor packed. I’ve done parties for this age group and never needed a top 40 track. Alternatively, sweet 16’s and bar gigs will absolutely require mostly top 40 and it’s worth staying on top of it at least monthly. Most of the time, Wifi access is available and I’ll download requests if I know of the song and it’s not in my collection. (As long as they are not vibe killers.) The most important thing you can do for yourself though is to have a very good idea of the type of crowd your playing for. I’ve had request lists come in from party planners who were making arrangements on behalf of a planning committee. These individuals are typically out of touch with what the rest of the attendees want to hear. So I’ve walked into gigs loaded with jazz, only to end up switching over to mainstream dance and top 40, for example. Bottom line – be ready for anything!

  13. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    I am one DJ that fell for the “easy” route of getting any digital song in my collection that I could get my hands on. Apart from it becoming a library that is way too big to still make any sense :-), there isn’t the slightest chance of checking them all for quality, consistency, loudness, beatgrid, markers, well … you get my drift.

    So, I am now stripping it down to a 600-800 track library (which about equals what I had in the vinyl days), making sure they are all checked, tagged, etc. Lots of work, but I am sure I will end up with a very usable library that I know inside out and I can trust to be good quality.

    As an added bonus the library will be so “small” (expecting about 8-10 GB) that it will fit on all my devices from iPhone to iPad to SSD equipped MacBook Pro or on USB sticks for use with other than my own gear.

    I’ll be adding new music on a 1 in – 1 out rotation so it doesn’t start growing out of hand with new stuff again. I will also have like a yearly evaluation (most software can tell you easily how much each song has been played) and kick out what I haven’t played.

    One word of caution about using lists online. Be sure they apply to your area/country. I remember getting a few “best of 70s disco” music. Top 3 spot on all these (American) lists was Cerrone – Love In C Minor. A song that never ever appeared in the Dutch scene.

    Also I remember from my early days that for example the UK, the US and mainland Europe scenes had some pretty big differences. So even for building a “classics” list, dig into local sources.

    Greetinx and happy holidays!
    Chuck “DJ Vintage”van Eekelen

  14. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    Oh, and if you are in Holland and haven’t found it already, Dutch Dance List has a weekly top 40/tip15 with half year and year list for the Dutch dance scene. Pretty good stuff.

    You can click on most tracks to go straight to a youtube on it to check it out.

    Greetinx & happy holidays,
    Chuck “DJ Vintage” van Eekelen

  15. Mobile Beat Charts should be helpful to get you going.

    http://www.mobilebeat.com/top-200/

    I would recommend seeking advice for seasoned mobile DJs in your area.

  16. DJ Majestic says:

    I don’t agree with having a library that is TOO big. The bigger the better. Diversity is great. My library starts from the 1800’s from saloon music to classical all the way up to the most current tracks covering all genre’s. The key is organization. At the click of a mouse I can find any track on my HD. That’s the importance of properly tagging all your music. I have secured more gigs because of this. A client calls & says I have spoken to several DJ’s but they didn’t have what I was looking for. Presto, instant bookings along with referrals for future work. Happy New Year All. Make 2013 Prosperous.

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      Hey Majestic,

      I am not saying that I am tossing the rest of my collection, but it will not be in my main library. And I won’t have it with me when using USB-sticks or stuff like that.
      Everything I have is tagged correctly (gotta love tag&rename), so I can find stuff simply enough, it’s been analyzed too, so have bpm and musical key for every song too.

      My point however was that if you have so many songs (40.000+) it is impossible to know every tune inside out, have them all checked (and preferably ripped yourself) for quality (everything in my collection needs to be 320kbps MP3 true stereo), checked for correct beatgrid, beatmarkers, loopmarkers, intro/outro markers, etc.

      By my going back to 600-800 tunes, I hope to regain what I had in the vinyl days (CD’s was already worse), namely that I knew my collection blindfolded, knew everything about a tune, it’s bpm, where it’s breaks were, knew the lyrics, heck I’d know where scratches (the destructive kind, not the musical artistry) were on each record. That made it very easy in my head to be preparing the playlist, since you knew every available record that could come next.

      A while ago I noticed myself searching by bpm and musical key trying to find the next song to play and being presented by Traktor with a looong list of songs, part of which do not ring a bell with me. I might cue them, listen and go … oohhhh, that song … but that all takes way too much time.

      There are, by the way, scientific reports that show that people like some choice (e.g. 3-5 pairs of sneakers to choose from, but having too much choice becomes a stress factor). That is exactly what I started to experience from my big collection and why I am rebuilding right now.

      By asking potential customers up front what kind of music has their preferences and by having them name some of their favorites specifically in advance, I can always make sure I have those songs with me. The availability of music is such these days, that you can get any song you like immediately.

      So, good for you that you have a big collection and that it has landed you extra jobs. I have never lost a job because I didn’t carry a specific song or genre of songs either, but I have been faced on party night with request I couldn’t fill, even with a 40.000+ collection.

      I am sticking with a less is more advice to new DJ’s that have just started building a collection. Don’t go off half-cocked and download anything you can find, but listen to some of the guys here (Phil up front of course lol), do some online research, talk to local jocks, make a plan and then execute your plan.

      Greetinx & Happy Holidays!

  17. I can’t believe you guys! None of you guys even mentioned the oldie but still goodie: RADIO! And it goes beyond that! Maybe your radio stations differ from mine, but here in the Bay Area, we have a lot of “Party Stations”. A lot of times they bring in a local DJ to do some live sets and what not. That’s not my point, but it’s one way to get an idea of what’s hip in the club. My point is that thanks to the awesome invention of the internet, the radio stations have their own website usually have top list of requested songs. This info shows you a good idea of what your locals like to hear in and out of the club. Talk about free info! Good luck, fellas!

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      Hi,

      Good point, although the thing with radio usually is, that is is … well … radio. And what is played on radio is generally popular with people as music to LISTEN to. However as DJ’s we need the stuff people like to MOVE to.

      I know the US has many more and therefor many more different/specialized stations, apparently even a party station. I have no doubt you can pick up a lot of info there.

      Here, I would be harder pressed to find something similar.

      Digging into internetradio stations might indeed help.

      Again, good tip, thanks!

      Greetinx and happy holidays :-)

  18. A place where I look now and then for playlists different from my style is: http://www.djwhitehawk.com/ He has almost every genre covered and his playlists a updated regulary.

  19. DJ Possess says:

    1- This is a dirty little secret for which I will surely get flamed: go on Craigslist For Sale section and you’re bound to find a DJ getting out of the game who is trying to sell his gear and hard drive of music. Buy it without remorse.
    2- Join iDJPool.com record pool for $50/month and each week download tracks. They keep 3 years online so you’ll get every current and recent popular track and a boat load of EDM.

    3- Use Yelp and google mobile DJ companies in your area. See if set lists are on their sites and use this intel. You’ll find most of it is the ame. That’s cuz people are the same. Accept this as a rule before blazing your own trail of creativity.

    4- You’re going to get very frustrated at some point. When this happens go to a banging awesome club and dream of being there one day.

    Ok flame away (I don’t care).

  20. Just go on the most listened radio site around town and choose their top 40-50 or even the itunes chart is a good way to start!

  21. iTunes top 40 chart for your country is what people are listening to. Most countries have a chart as well. I know here in Ireland we get a lot of uk stuff but some euro and some states music just doesn’t come over so always check local chart. The djintelligence is nice but available for free elsewhere and more region specific.
    No collection can be too big but if you’re going to keep it small the set has to be rock solid so I’d recommend not trimming anything until you’re at it a while. I’ve shared my collection with a few guys over the years but I won’t share my playlists. Years of full and emptying floors have gone into getting them right, theyre my babies and backed up regularly ( thank you traktor collection backup!!)
    I’ve got about ten lists. chart, essential, house, indie, rock, slow, 60s, 70s etc.

    The chart list is a 50 song list from last 3 years that I make a point of taking one out every time I put 1 in. Review it weekly. You can have a good guess at a song when you hear it but you’ll only really know after you gig it.
    My essential list has about 300 floor fillers (abba etc), took me 4-5 years to build up and rarely changes.
    The essential and chart playlists get synched to my iPhone so I always have them as backup.

  22. For mainstream (what’s hitting now), I found an app called “Top 100 Hits” that lists tops in multiple countries including US and Mexico. They also have the apps catered to specific genres. Find it here:
    http://www.sixpackmobile.com/apps/music-top-100-hits-pro

  23. Unlike some of the other commenters, you do have to start somewhere and there is nothing wrong with a little bit of OJT (on the job training) to learn the tops. I would stand behind the thought that most DJ’s do their research to perfect their sets. Nonetheless, to get a head start, study this:
    http://www.playlistresearch.com/

  24. For weddings, Check this list often for most requested wedding tunes:
    http://joeytunes.com/list/top_music_requests.pdf

  25. So easy to, simply go out and find compilation CD’s, usually put about by ministry of Sound etc, these are great because they have a variety of artists and their most well known songs!

  26. This site has a good number of nice songs by year. It’s helpful when you don’t quite remember the name or artist of some of the older pieces.

    http://www.computerdjsummit.com/music/chart_1601_1700.html

  27. I started off with a library of 20,000+ songs but it is WAY too much. I have reduced my core playlist to c.900 songs across most mainstream genres and back to 1950s. I give my clients the chance to give me a list of no more than 25 “must play” tunes in advance (working on the basis that I’ll play between 90 and 120 tracks in an evening. This will give you a rough idea of what to play on the night.

    Get to know the music in your library, and which tracks work well together, especially when changing genres. Quality over quantity for me.

    I advise them to avoid niche genres and to stick to music that their guests will know. As a general rule, i try to play music that i like, as i think that this transmits itself to the audience.

    Finally, Spotify is a great backup. I always play from the laptop in the main, but have the iPad and my phone as backups.

    Make sure you regularly update “current chart stuff” and that you have all the essential party classics and popular tunes from yesteryear.

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