Your Questions: How Do I Build A Unique Music Collection?


Our reader uses Rhapsody as a streaming music service, but finds it to be too mainstream to discover hidden gems that will make his sets stand out from the crowd.

Reader Chris Games over on the Digital DJ Tips Forum asks: "OK guys so I'm building up my library now and my problem is, I want to find good songs, but not just stuff everybody's already heard. I'm saying I don't want to just play Avicii, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia, etc. I want to cultivate my own unique library which of course has hits but has my own flavour of tracks."

"I use Rhapsody for listening to music but Rhapsody is highly oriented towards putting the most popular stuff right in your face. I know Beatport has the best selection of EDM, but it is kind of overwhelming. Any help here?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

This is a question we tackle regularly and from different angles, but in your case I'd like to offer you three things to think about:

  1. Have a discovery stage - Discovery happens when you're doing something else. You need to tune out your preconceptions of what's "big" and just listen. The best way to do that is to find ways of streaming music randomly all the time in the background when you're doing other things. It's up to you to find what works for you (try internet radio, DJ mix sites, SoundCloud web players etc) - but this stage is vital, because it puts you in the midset of the listener, not the DJ. Then whenever a tune grabs your attention, for whatever reason, simply note it. Which brings us to...
  2. Have a shortlist stage. Treat this differently to the discovery stage. It's something you maybe do once a week. Here, you assemble all the tunes that caught your attention in the discovery stage, and listen to them all the way through, several times. The point is to basically throw out half of them - if you end up throwing away 90% of them, fine! If you're keeping more than half, you're being too choosy in the "discovery" stage. If you're not sure about a tune, leave it in till next time. Only then can you buy only the tunes you really like from your list, before moving onto my third tip, which is...
  3. Have a practice stage - Those tunes are simply building blocks for your style. Something appealed to you about them; now it's up to you to make them bigger than the sum of their parts. How are you going to make what you do with those tunes unique? What bits will you loop, sample, re-use, add effects to and so on, to turn them from a bunch of tunes into something really unique? What do they have in common? What does that tell you about the way music affects you, and the message you want to use those tunes to get across to other people?

Why this works

When you start thinking about your music this way, the best bit is that the insights you get at stage 3 feed directly back into stage 1 (ie you end up "listening out" for tunes that fill gaps in your style, not just recognising big tunes everyone else has or plays. I think you're right not to dismiss the "big" tunes entirely. But I remember a DJ friend saying to me when we were discussing a floor-filling DJ in our town: "It's not the big tunes, but the tunes he picks to play in-between them - that's what makes his style great." I think that's good thing to aim for. Finally, for some specifics, the first link below is an answer to a similar question fro a while back that ought to give you some more ideas.

• There is a lot more detail on how to build an effective DJ music collection in our popular beginner DJ video course, How To Digital DJ Fast.

How do you cut through the noise to find the signal? Do you have "stages" of music discovery similar to those I just outlined, or do you have your own different method? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Mike Blades says:

    It's cool that you want to play unique, unheard of tracks, but you will find a lot of people nowadays who go to clubs only want the top hits. its annoying as fuck.

    few years back it was SEXY BITCH, over & over. then Party rock that GODDAM style!!

    i wish people nowadays DID have an appreciation for something new......but good luck, and im sure if you search hard enough you will find some gems

    • Yeh exactly, often its only the DJs who are into the less well known stuff and so they have whole libraries they don't even get to play. At clubs it seems people only want chart stuff. Not even music by Avicii and Tiesto etc. goes down that well, people just want crap like NIcki Minaj and Pitbull.

    • I dont think its about only playing hits... i think it about playing music with groove and melody... and having some vocals in there to give ure mix that human organic flavour. Its not that people want to hear hits its that they want to hear tracks that make them want to dance. Its very very important to stay true to ure sound... i think what alot of djs do nowadays is they play big track so they get more gigs and please the crowd. skillex avicci guetta is the new wave of dj... willing to sell there soul for fame. Yound djs wanna be like them instead of true mastering the art of djing like sasha and digweed.

      • Maybe thats true for Guetta, but I really don't think Skrillex and Avicii have 'sold their souls.' Just because their music appeals to a greater number of people doesn't make it any worse. Avicii's music is just very melodically focused making it sound appealing to people's ears and that's what is responsible for his success, it has nothing to do with him selling out; his music's stayed the same from the beginning. And whatever you say about Skrillex you have to credit the fact that he is able to fling together random noises and turn them into danceable songs.

  2. It's a lot of digging, finding EDM news blogs, free music, and soundcloud to name a few. Your library will grow one song at a time. Be sure to pay attention to the ID tags after each download(if its free), otherwise you might wind up with a track with no artist or name.

    Find some DJs you like and listen to their mixes. Look up those tracks and listen to the artists of THOSE tracks' mixes.

    It's pretty endless. Just keep it organized!!

  3. I've found the "Users who bought this also liked..." lists a great starting point. So you hear that big Avicii tune you liked, but you look at that list and go exploring.

    From there, add labels and artists to your "follow" list. The "My Beatport" thing. Make sure though these are artists and/or labels who CONSISTENTLY put out cool stuff you like. Avoid adding one hit wonders.

    From there, just remember what I said about the "saturation blues" and not fall into the trap where you feel like you're behind or missing out on some gems because you are not constantly listening/seeking. If you have a shopping cart full of stuff you really like, then you found gems. Relish that as opposed to worrying about what you possibly missed.

    At this point, you just need to have the guts to experiment on the crowd and not fall into the "play it safe" mode too many DJs fall into. Anyone can play an hour of anthems. Paris Hilton does that, but you notice that the biggest names...even Guetta and Tïesto...all experiment.

  4. Gotta agree with Mike Blades. All of that work finding new tracks will get you nowhere. Well OK< it will get you thrown off the decks like dj shadow. Save yourself a lot of time and money, and just play the same stuff over and over, it's what they want. I have no idea when going out became "having my lame taste re-affirmed by hearing the song I was playing in the car now played louder on a PA system"...but sadly that is what has happened. If you can find a place with a hipper crowd, consider yourself lucky, and just ask them what they are listening to.

    • I disagree. You have to compromise but there are always people with better taste than lowest common denominator. Finding them is sometimes not easy, but that shouldn't stop you trying.

      • I liked the article and I agree with you, but how can you say 'there are always people with better taste than the common denominator'?

        Just because they doesn't have the same taste of music as you, doesn't make your taste of music better than theirs. There is a reason to why they call it 'mainstream' and that reason can ONLY be, because the music is simply good (or atleast decent, 'eh?)

        You, the DJ, the radio and everyone else for that matter, won't listen to crappy music, just because som famous artist created it. As a DJ, my opinion is, that you should play what the crowd wants to hear and not what you want to play.

        So if the crowd want's to hear your style of music, play it, if not, go with the mainstream.

      • Totally agree with this Phil. I have been DJing underground house music for over 10 years and have never had a problem finding music in different cities and different countries where I have lived and have always managed to find gigs to attend and play at.

        You can't expect to head to the main strip where all the masses and main nightclubs are in a city and and just fall over underground music. By definition it is herder to find and less accessible to the mainstream so you need to hunt it out.

        Resident Advisor and record stores would be your best bet I think.

  5. DJ Demonick says:

    One thing I like to do is go to a place like Beatport, search a theme or keyword, and just start listening to tracks that fit my genre/key/whatever. I may only find one or two songs I really like, but none of my DJ buddies have them.

  6. check out

    I find a lot of new stuff there that i find very interesting and totally not mainstream 😉

  7. I was thinking something similar myself just yesterday.
    I'm not interested in the "big hits" as I don't go out too much any more, I just want tunes which I'm going to love and my mates might enjoy. :)
    What I did last night was go to the tech house new release section on beatport and just listened to the previews of about 100 tunes. Not all the way through, sometimes you know you don't like a tune within 5 seconds, but I ended up putting about 30 tunes in my cart.

    I didn't buy anything last night though. You can never be sure if you really like something if you're bopping your head already.
    I went back this morning and listened to the tunes in my cart again. Knocked out about half and ended up buying 15 tunes.

    I could of afforded the other 15 as it was payday, but what would be the point of paying for 15 tunes I'm never going to play?

  8. I personally enjoy using Pandora or Digitally Imported; we use them at work and I often find tracks in many genre's that strike my fancy.

  9. am guessing, there are a lot of trance fans here, just the mention of EDM makes my blood run cold, if you like House Music, in various forms try Traxsource, very underground, with quality music on there.

  10. I just find it interesting that people learn to DJ first, and THEN they want to try and build a "unique" music collection.

    It used to be the other way around from what I remember

  11. Not having as much time to invest in crate digging as I wish I had, this is the way I do it:

    Find artists/DJs you like and listen to their monthly Top 10s on beatport/traxsource, whatever.

    In time, you will notice that actually what your favorite artists play doesn't represent you totally, but gives you nice hints...

    Then follow the hints/other DJs/ specific labels. See where that gets you...

    It is an ever shifting-process. You evolve, your favorite DJs, your favorite sounds do as well.

    Now you have gathered material over many months/ years. Material that you liked and new material you seriously dig.

    Now you have to combine the ingredients and make it work(like a pasta sauce)! When you do that successfully, you will have your unique sound.

    Granted you will lose many mainstream gigs. But when you DO gig, people will know that is YOU on the decks! People will love you or hate you (most of them probably the latter)!

    And you may end up poor, but the smile/ hug/ props from a single person, that normally listens to something totally different but loved your set, will make you the richest man on earth!

  12. This is a very good article, and it's about finding music and building your library and this is how it should be done or at least a good way to do it. it's not about what to play because there is not standard rule about what to play. if its a small mainstream club then yeh its remixed top 40. its different if its a venue that catters for a niche market. as always right place, right time, right music.

  13. Find a few podcasts from DJ's or labels that you like and listen to them. Listen to live sets of DJ's you like and see what they are actually playing on the floor.

    For discovering new music and broadening your horizons the website "22tracks" is totally worth a look.

  14. I listen to select DJ Podcasts in my car and at work alot. Also I Like Beatport/ Soundcloud and Mixcloud but tends to be a little overwhelming needle in haystack sometimes... and I don't always have a lot of leisure time. Use top 40 charts from around the world i.e. USA and Europe to fill the non - EDM genre. However, recently I've been experimenting with Pulselocker which is currently in Beta Testing and was offered via E-mail from DDJT. I get to temporarily store 105 new tracks in my File (locker), play them all I want, mix them, see if I like them, buy the ones I like... sounds like a novel way of finding and buying tracks. Was mixing this evening with some newly release Techno and House tracks using Traktor. Integrates well, still a few bugs which I reported, still have to dig through "the virtual crates" so to speak to find appealing tracks... but it is fun :-) They have a "New For You" and "Just In" Menu to click on.... So yeah: Pulselocker: Another way to check out new tracks. Best of luck to them getting this off the ground.

  15. Good music is Like a News Paper - Especially for DJs. So there will be a question - Who told you That ? Well wait...

    This is my first ever contribution for Digital DJ. And that's not an answer for the above. There were many instances in this Forum leads us to discuss about good music and Junk(Didn't mean to hurt any).

    There was a Judgement phrase for an innocent "Leave him, not hurt him" - Judge meant to release the innocent. But ordered "Leave him not, hurt him". Now the suspect is in trouble.

    Same thing applies for DJ. We have been given and blessed with infinite possibilities of the same music. You can make the Avivci, Tiesto sound like your style. So you will get attention of their fans and Unique Fans for you.

    Then you extract the style and apply to different music. They will still love you. This comes only by practice - else its like a Chinese or any other Foreign Lang.

    Everything is hard, Before its easy 😉 Good luck

  16. I forget to say why its a Newspaper. Todays newspaper is tomorrows waste paper. Music have the same effect. Probably you guys know what I mean. What sounds good to you today, will sound like junk tomorrow. That's what mentioned as 90% Junk.

  17. Cool post. Well i listen a lot of dj mixes. I use a lot a page and a app. For mobile phones. In this page it obligatory publishing the playlist so tracks that i like now i can start finding them and purchase them. It also helps you finding the tracks. Also listen listen alot to the tracks and spend at least 2 hours of practice mixing them. In this way you experiment on adding fx to differnt parts of the song, loops, vocals or tricks. Traktor users can build their own remix deck library so your music it is your. You cant escape the trend of hits. These is because people know that song. It is like caraokee people sing the song they know. But if you smartly introduce new discovered track, and the hits are played on your style as mantioned above then you are unique. So play your song practice them and record your self. Put the mix on your phone and listen to it and so you can realise what track is mixed well, those that really dont make for these mix or any improvement. And you. An built your personalized play list that is yours and unique. Also practiced playlists makes you confort and confident in front of the crowd.

  18. Digging is the fun part. Dig, Dig, Dig! soundcloud, itunes, beatport, top 10 lists of people you like to listen, blogs follow tangents on tangents on artists you like until you get to the stuff you never heard. Soon you get a unique collection going and probably in more than one kind of sound.

  19. Good question i've asked myself lots of times, and for me, and are awesome and they have worked for me, and the audience. I also check on soundcloud, there are a lot of cool bedroom producers out there not that famous that create some of the best remixes and edits but you gotta look for them and are kinda hard to find... I also keep up to date with lots of artists to really see what's trending and kind of go that way but keeping your style or something like that... but thats just what I like.

  20. Tracks I find/discover mostly get appreciation from other DJs. As per the crowd, you have to "feel" what's catchy to them, may it be mainstream/popular or a new discovery. What I do is insert a new track in between popular ones and if the crowd is receptive, I get more daring and insert a few more. I go by the rule: not only is the crowd listening to what you play, but YOU should also listen to the crowd on what they like to hear. All told, your crowd should have more fun than you do during your performances. Maybe when I get to produce my own songs and get my name posted in neon lights outside a club, then I'll play strictly what I have prepped for the night, at least I know at that stage, the crowd came for my own sound.

  21. I tend to find myself on the hype machine and looking through the tracks I really like then I find which music blog submitted it, usually they are blogs trying to be different to everyone else so just follow them and they will keep you up to date with different music, hope that helps.

  22. To answer the OP: this can be hard at first, I agree. I would start by listening to mixes of DJs you like. Make a note of the tracks you like and listen to more by the same producer. If that producer (or DJ) has posted mixes, listen to them and note your favorites there and repeat, digging deeper as you go. Soundcloud is very useful for digging through layers of music. And if you find an incredible tune on Soundcloud, check who has liked it or reposted it and follow those people and check out their taste.

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