How To Declutter Your DJ Library: Part 1

De-Clutter

Is this absolute mess what your digital DJ library's starting to look like? Your DJ library plays a big part in forming your identity as a DJ, so in part one of our series on decluttering, we weed out tracks you don't love or need from your DJ library...

We’re DJs - we love music above all else. The only thing that may probably rival our passion for music is our passion for gear (trimming your gear collection is another article altogether…) so it’s no surprise that we’ve got tons of music.

If you’re an *ahem* older DJ, you probably obsessed about storing your vinyl, cassettes and CDs, which took up more space in your room than it should (or so your then-girlfriend said). With digital, that all changed.

You no longer need a huge space or budget to house an impressive collection of DJ music - it can all fit on your laptop, or even on something as tiny as a thumb drive. Today’s high-speed internet connections can even download you enough music for a lifetime of DJing in single afternoon.

These modern conveniences, however, do come with new problems. How many times have you encountered tracks in your hard drive that you couldn’t remember why you had them in the first place? Or what about when you do a song search, and multiple copies of the same song exist on your drive, but with slightly different tags (album art, album names for instance)?

In small doses, these are tolerable - if you’re just starting out DJing and have a few hundred songs in your hard drive, you may be able to skirt around these minor annoyances to get to the song that you’re looking for, but what if you’ve got a bigger library of tunes, say upwards of a thousand, and your once-pruned collection is starting to look like an overgrown lawn?

The funny thing with today's digital music libraries is that this is bound to happen at one point - getting music is just so easy in the internet age, and with hard drives getting bigger and cheaper all the time, it’s easy to think of our collections as a bottomless pit of tunes that we can just keep adding onto.

Common sense would dictate adding to your collection, not taking away from it, is the way to go - after all, why not store everything when it virtually costs next to zero per song? That’s the tough question, and is one of the big reasons why we really don’t spend more time pruning our libraries. We have enough space, so why not have all of them?

But the important question to ask yourself here is are you really working with a music collection that accurately reflects who you are as a DJ today, as opposed to who you were when you first started?

This is the jump off point for our training series on decluttering, and in today's article I’m going to introduce you to the KonMari method that could be just what you need to get rid of the bloat and get your library in shape.

What is the KonMari method?

A few years ago, a “tidiness guru” from Japan made waves Stateside. Her name is Marie Kondo, and her book The Magic Of Tidying Up was a big hit with consumer-obsessed America, and it all relied on the simple concept of only surrounding yourself with things that you love.

This meant discarding items from your home and office that no longer “spark joy”, and led to a tidiness revolution (the book became a New York Times bestseller with two million copies sold). The method was dubbed KonMari.

It’s easy to think of this system as a “discard everything and live minimalist in solitude” sort of thing, but it’s not. The intention is not to make you live with less (although that is a byproduct of the method), but rather to live with more of what you love around you - the things that have meaning.

In part one of our series, we’ll implement the KonMari method to remove songs in your library that you don’t immediately need or enjoy, and if you’re like most DJs, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of them lurking in your hard drive. You are what you DJ - it plays a central role in your identity, so you keeping your library accurate and representative of who you are is important.

But apart from just weeding out those songs, I’ll also teach you how to segregate songs that you don’t need right now, but usually need for certain events (weddings, debuts, birthdays and so on), which you can file for sorting later on. Filing is a crucial step in keeping your DJ library trim, while still giving you access to these “seasonal” use songs when you need them, and for that we’ll be implementing a different system (more on that in Part 2 of this series).

KonMari For DJs

1. Does it "spark joy"?

Marie Kondo

Centre to the entire KonMari system is asking yourself “does this spark joy” while you hold a piece of clothing or item in your hand with a loving gaze. You don’t have to get all sappy with your music library, but it is worth asking yourself: “Do I really like this song?”

Always listen to it one last time before you decide whether or not you like it. This is an important step - our DJing tastes and style evolve as we go through changes, so you’re basically reassessing who you are as a DJ and where you stand right now in your artistic growth by doing this. If you don’t like it, delete it immediately.

In practice: Begin with a folder in your DJ library (if you’re not using iTunes), or start in one of your playlists in iTunes. Comb through the tunes and if you see one that you’re sure you don’t enjoy and haven’t played at all (except that one time when a cute girl requested it five years ago), delete it immediately, not just from the playlist but from your collection.

If you’re not sure whether or not you like a song, have a look at its play count in iTunes or in your DJ software to help you decide just how important it is to your collection. If it isn’t important, chuck it.

2. Segregate, then file away

Tossing the songs you don’t like is easy, but what about the ones that you aren’t sure about? Or what about songs that you need for special events and occasions (Auld Lang Syne for NYE, David Guetta for your son’s upcoming fifth birthday party)? This is where segregating them for later filing becomes essential.

Basically, we’ll be making several “boxes” on our computer where we can place these songs that we aren’t sure about yet, or songs that we’re sure we’ll use but only on rare occasions. We’ll then keep those boxes separate from our DJ music library, allowing us to trim the fat in our main DJ collection for quicker browsing and less clutter.

In practice: Create a folder on your desktop hard drive and name it EVENTS INBOX. If you're using iTunes, make a playlist with the name EVENTS INBOX. When you go through your folder, drag the songs that you’ll be using for special occasions here, making sure that they leave your DJ library folder and transfer onto the inbox. If you're using iTunes, you can simply drag the songs onto the inbox playlist. Again, be sure to listen to each and every song that you go through this way just to be sure and to check with yourself whether or not you still want it.

Create another folder called UNSURE INBOX, which will be composed of songs that you don’t feel strongly about using. When you comb through your library, drag those songs you feel half-hearted about here.

Feel free to create other inboxes for music that you feel you could play at some point in the year (holidays, festivals, the odd pub gig). We'll further sort these big inboxes into smaller ones in part two of this guide. What's important is you've segregated these songs from your main DJ library.

3. Remove them from your main DJ library

Delete

Once you've transferred them to these inbox file folders, you've got to take them out of your main DJ library. This way, they don't show up as search results within your DJ software or iTunes and browsing through your library will be quicker because they're out of the way, even though they still exist in your hard drive.

In practice: If you're just using Finder or Windows Explorer, the inbox folders you created will be in your desktop, so they've already been removed from your main DJ library.

If you're using iTunes to organise your library, first create a folder on your hard drive with the same name as the iTunes playlists you've made for all the inboxes (EVENTS INBOX, for example), and highlight all the songs in that iTunes playlist and drag them on over to the inbox folder on your hard drive.

Once you've copied the songs from all your inbox playlists in iTunes over to all the inbox folders on your hard drive, you can then delete the songs from the inbox playlists in iTunes by highlighting all the songs in the inbox playlist and then hitting "Option + Delete" if you're on a Mac, or "Shift + Delete" if you're on a PC.

Doing this will remove the songs from your iTunes library, but you'll still have the songs stored in the inbox folders you've made on your hard drive.

4. Start small, but commit to doing it regularly

Calendar

KonMari suggests doing your tidying room by room (or for us DJs, folder by folder), all in one go, and make it a big event akin to a celebration rivalling the Second Coming. That’s often easier to do with a handful of items, not a huge music library in the thousands!

In practice: Because of the nature of digital, we recommend starting small - just a folder or playlist or two in your library today, which for some can already be overwhelming, and then setting a calendar item either on the weekend or when you aren’t busy to continue going through your tracks.

In closing...

Weeding out tracks that you don't enjoy or no longer serve a purpose is the first step to decluttering your DJ music library. You may find that you're removing a lot of tracks here (not a bad thing!), but the more that you delete or segregate / remove from your DJ library, the more you'll begin to realise that all the tracks you have immediately accessible to you when you're DJing are tracks that you truly care about.

Tidying isn't just about discarding music - as we've said, it also helps you reconnect with who you have become as a DJ, and that will be even made more evident with your newly trimmed library of DJ tunes. Think of it as going through the process of fine-tuning your relationship with music by only being surrounded by songs  that you really love - in the end, all DJing is about the music.

How do you prune your DJ library? Is there a specific method you implement to keep music that you don't immediately need, but want access to later on? Or do you think pruning is a non-issue in today's terabyte-sized digital storage media? Let us know below.

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Comments

  1. Gabriel Browne says:

    Hey Joey, great article. I'm struggling with this very topic right now so this is very timely for me and looking forward to the next installment. I have one comment however relating to the technical workings of iTunes that I believe you may have mis-spoken about: In section 3: above relating to deleting files from your library on itunes you mention: "Once you've copied the songs from all your inbox playlists in iTunes over to all the inbox folders on your hard drive, you can then delete the songs from the inbox playlists in iTunes by highlighting all the songs in the inbox playlist and then hitting "Option + Delete" if you're on a Mac, or "Shift + Delete" if you're on a PC." As an avid iTues user (not by love simply by default as we all know) I personally have found that highlighting songs WITHIN A PLAYLIST and then clicking delete ONLY deletes them from THAT playlist NOT my library collection. Which, I've found, is a good thing in many "accidental" delete cases. I believe I understand what you are trying to say quite clearly but I thought I'd mention this as something I noticed in your writing style. Please let me know if I'm mistaken in this regard. My own workaround for this is that I do everything you've mentioned: creating a playlist called TO BE ARCHIVED for example, then once I've moved the songs into that playlist (and AFTER I move them to the Folder OUTSIDE of iTunes, great advice BTW) I'll highlight them all > Right Click GET INFO > when asked if I want to edit all the songs at once choose "YES edit ALL items" > under GROUPING (or comments or whichever column you don't use regularly) i type TO BE ARCHIVED and click OK. Now ALL the songs on that playlist have the sortable name in the Grouping column TO BE ARCHIVED. I can now go back to my MASTER collection in iTunes (all 10k songs viewed at once etc) SORT by GROUPING and SEARCH by TO BE ARCHIVED. Now I can highlight all those songs with the TO BE ARCHIVED group name inside the MASTER Collection ( NOT a Playlist) and when I click DELETE the system asks "Are you sure you want to delete these songs from your iTunes LIBRARY" It also asks me the second time "Do you want Keep Files or Move to Trash" I click move to trash. This is the step that truly deletes them from my collection completely.

    • Hey Gabriel, that's a great workaround for sorting/deleting, nice one :) I tested deleting directly from a playlist to make sure - I think the key thing is hitting Option + Delete if you're on a Mac, or Shift + Delete on a PC, doing so results in the "remove from library?" dialog box (not just the playlist, as hitting just the delete button would do). Hope that helps simplify it a bit!

    • Matheesha says:

      Another way to look at the number of songs we need is to see how long we plan to play them for. If you leave 3 minutes per song and 20 songs per hour, even a 5 hour gig would need only a 100 of the best songs you have. Each song bought has an 'opportunity cost'. - which great song am I not going to play because I want to play this song? Having time specific play lists really help. Recently I bought 75 songs for a 2 hour 70's music session and learnt the hard way!

  2. No disrespect to this article, there are a lot of good points here and I hope to use some of the ideas. There is another way to look at this, which was touched on in this article. I personally have over 50,000 songs in my library and add over 1,000 each year through subscriptions. Do I play them all - no. Do I need them all - probably not, but neither do I know which ones I will need in the future. So for me decluttering is very important and I hope this article will be beneficial. But I can't eliminate songs just because I don't care for them.
    I put DJs in basically two catagories, those DJs that play what they like and DJs that play what their crowd/audience likes. When those two circles intersect it's GOLD, and you are a genius. But when a DJ needs to make a decision to which circle do I choose when the two circles don't intersect - that is critical. That is where decluttering will be critical to MY success. I need to quickly see my options when making a decision and decluttering (but not eliminating) will be important to me.

    • DJ Vintage says:

      Being a long time mobile DJ, I understand fully the need/desire to be able to answer to a lot of requests.
      This long time playing has also given me a lot of insight in what I play regularly. My collection has grown over the years to a disproportionate size. Safe to say that I play maybe 0,5% regularly, the rest is once in a blue moon.

      But it became increasingly difficult to find my core tracks in that enormous pile of music, so ...
      ... I have made a decision to start a completely new collection (parallel to my old one until I am finished with the new one) that I will try to limit to 1.000 tracks (I'll allow myself 1.200 if I really need it, but rather not). This will be my core DJ collection, sitting on all my devices (MacBook, RekordBox stick, iPad, iPhone). It will be meticulously prepared. All tracks through Platinum Notes and Mixed In Key, all with proper tags, genres and cover art, all with properly set and checked beatgrids and all with the necessary cue points set. Everything in appropriate (mini)playlists. And everything managed in iTunes.

      Once done, I will add only tracks while removing others. This should over the next years fine-tune my collection to contain only the best of the stuff I like/want/have to play. Where my criterium used to be "when in doubt add to collection", I will now use "when in doubt, delete".

      The rest of my tracks will sit on an external HD, I will run it through Mixed In Key and Platinum Notes, but that is it. You can easily find a track with the file browser in your DJ software, so finding that request won't take long and you know you can safely toss it in.

      That way I can have great optimized core collection that I know intimately and that I can DJ any gig with (even if my external disk gets forgotten or crashes) and still have easy access to my large cache of request tracks. I'll probably buy a couple of compilation albums every year and just toss those in the request disk, minus the few that made the core collection.

      What I find very helpful, even with only 1.000 tracks in your core collection is having a number of mini-playlists (3-4 tracks) with tracks that you know will go well together. Once you hit that playlist, you have a few options to move forward without having to worry about each next track. This comes in handy sometimes, even if most times you will switch to something else anyway. Also comes in handy on those nights that getting "into the flow" isn't automatic :-) .

    • That's completely fine Kenny - everyone will have different levels of decluttering/deleting their tunes. What's important is going through them and deciding on a method that works for you so that everything stays tidy. You'll probably create more playlists than the average DJ and like DJ Vintage recommended, mini playlists. You might find a handful of songs that you want to keep but rarely play so put them on the hard drive, but out of your collection. Beyond thinking "Do I really like it?" you can ask "Will this make people dance? Will my crowd be happy?" - if the answer is no, then you can delete it :)

  3. Kenny Schachat says:

    In addition to de-cluttering one's existing library, there's the other side of the issue: learning which tracks to add in the first place!

    For many years, my problem (and one that I think is fairly common) is hanging on to what I call the "maybe" tracks. You know, the tracks that you review that aren't obviously great keepers, but aren't bad enough to reject out out of hand. The tracks that might have some small section that you like or that are "OK" and you think might someday have a place in a vaguely imagined future set. So you keep them. and keep more of them and keep keeping them...you get the picture.

    At one point, I created a "Maybe" folder where I would dump any track that I reviewed as a "maybe". A year or two later it was still sitting there, so I reviewed a few hundred of them and guess what, not ONE of them had magically turned into a great keeper track.

    Well fortunately, I've been DJing for many years and I have enough confidence in my continued ability to find plenty of great, A+ keeper tracks. So at this point, anything less than the best gets the axe immediately. I've also gone through my main collection and tossed out all of the 'maybes" (99.99% of which I NEVER played). What a relief to scroll through my library and only look through super high quality material.

    Oh and deleted that maybe folder for good 😉

    • Haha good for you :) It's hard to get rid of the anything you think might be useful later, whether it's a random household item or a "Maybe" music folder. I have a hard time getting rid of birthday cards... Humans can become very resourceful hoarders with this mindset. Something I like to do (not just with music) is: if I can't use it as is or repurpose it, then it's gone. With some of your 'maybe' tracks, you could cut down the song into parts you like and use them as loops (Audacity), getting rid of the rest. Everything else either goes to the hard drive folder or is deleted. Also, definitely agree, the tracks you put into your collection are equally important! You should create a high security, musical "firewall" so to speak, and not let anything in that doesn't fit all the criteria you specify (unique to each DJ). A great first step is making room for the new songs though, as you don't want the collection to get any more chaotic :)

  4. Great article, I would add one thing I figured out. Since I use Windows Explorer to manage my files, I bought a copy of Audio Dedupe and it has proven to be helpful tool for finding duplicate filenames that I can then delete. I built up and curated my digital dj library over the course of 3 years and last year I decided I needed to isolate and delete the redundant files I ended up with over that time, often because I found lossless sources for songs that were previously mp3 copies or updated m4a's from iTunes match.

  5. Ian Williams says:

    I keep a fairly well curated DJ collection in iTunes, but I also have a lot of random stuff on my hard drive that i've removed from my DJing collection, but still kept on my laptop. ....it's there, just in case i need it!

    Just because a track is on your hard drive, doesn't mean it has to be in your DJing collection.

  6. Damien Connolly says:

    Great article, thanks Joey!

  7. Hey all,
    Thank for the great article.
    But a pointed out by some, this jut doe not work alway's. I'm wedding and Birthday DJ... I don't play for the masses... I need a lot of music I don't like!.
    If I just played music I did like, I would probly boor the hack out of everybody :-)

    I think any DJ with a 10.000 ong library or bigger knows the problem you write about and the i only really one solution... Go over your library almost daily with a fine toothcome..
    How many doubles, triples do you have... with misspeld, or withe or whitout the word "THE" in front of the band name? I bet many!

    Just a tip: before adding songs... use explorer or finder to look if that song you want to isn't already there!.

    Tip 2: Don't just delete... store it on a external harddrive for archiving and a good laugh every now and then.

    Music i NOT a trow away thing ... ave it ... It's worth it. even if you don't like it (anymore)
    Count Storing digitaly as a blessing and use it...

    just my two cents

  8. DJ Peeti-V says:

    Great Article...in fact, we need more articles like this.

    I will agree that there is some legitimacy that this article will be tailored to the "type of dj" you are. For instance, mobile or wedding djs may need a vast library when compared to a specific genre/open format dj.

    I myself am an open format dj with 3 main residencies. I specifically will not add certain genres I do not play. In addition, we often times do hold on to tracks that "might make it". After sometime, I have learned to "let these tracks go" as they are just fillers to my library and will eventually convolute it.

    Also, I mainly play the top Mainstream and EDM tracks from the past 2 years. Therefore, I have gone a depth further and started purging before that date. If I do not recall a track by name or title and it came out 2 years or further, the likelihood of me playing it is probably very slim. Make life easier and learn to let go (in many things and not just music lol).

    Free yourself and make it easier for your gigs. Most tracks will reveal itself as a "banger" within the 6-12 month range. Anything after that, will probably not make it.

    There will always be songs that just "speak to you" regardless if they are big or not. This is what makes djing fun and unique to you so I keep some but don't go overboard.

    *Note: I was originally a straight house music dj back in the late 90s/00s rave scene. This philosophy might have been a little bit different back then because my sets were more so an expression of the "vibe" I wanted to portray and not necessarily the artist or title of the songs.

  9. The Legend says:

    Hi Joey, thanks for publishing this article. It's help me realize how much dead music I needed to clear out of my huge library. After been in the DJ business for over 30 years this method made it easy to think about what songs I really loved and those that needed to go. I was able to free up one terabyte off my 3 terabyte drive. Now I have 5 folders, Hot House, Hot Latin, Freestyle folder with sub folders by year & bpm, Hot Urban, and Hot Remixed tracks. Not to shabby, great article.
    Louie

  10. Tribal Pilot says:

    I loved this article and I'm looking forward to future installments. A while ago, I spit the music on my DJ laptop into two libraries: DJ and Non-DJ. The point was to keep DJ mixes, in-progress edits, new music, etc. out of my DJ collection, but I never made the jump to throwing old, "dead", tracks in there as well!
    BTW I use Musicbee, which supports multiple libraries, to manage my music files, so it will automate the INBOX folder process described here, as the Non-DJ library is in a place where Traktor will not look for music.

  11. Kevin Cheng says:

    In the KonMari method book there's actually an important piece that's missed with this article. The point is not to pick what you get rid of, but what you keep. Does it bring joy? If so, put it in the keep pile. Get rid of the rest. Looking at play count is akin to deciding whether to get rid of a shirt based on if you haven't worn it for x weeks which the author pretty explicitly talks about as a method that doesn't work in the long term.

    I'm going through the KonMari method for both physical things and my music collection and I can tell you, it seems like two sides of the same thing to decide what to keep vs what to get rid of but is, in fact, a huge mindset shift.

  12. Am new to all this and am loving it and learning great stuff here.
    I love my music but the ones I don't listen to often I have to do something about them.

  13. Anatoliy Tolstihs says:

    Nice artile, but i really don`t see the problem in managing library if you`re mostly play, for example, house music (or EDM, or only HipHop). The problem is - how to manage multiple genres and how to manage library if you`re Djing not only in clubs or electronic music events, but also on wedding or some other events. That`s tricky.

    I`ve started as a Latin music DJ on social dance events (mostly salsa and bachata music, kizomba, ghetto zouk and zouk bass). As about salsa and bachata - you dont need any mixing skills, cause the crowd that you`re playing for (social dancers) don`t like mixes - they want to hear the start of the song and the end of it, cause they can and they want to interpret the music with their moves, they paid money to learn some specific moves and they want to use them appropriately. So, for a DJ, it mostly comes to the track selection and reading the crowd, not mixing. And I can say, that i dont have any good descision of how to manage salsa, bachata and kizomba/ghetto zouk library. The reasons are: 1) The songs that worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or the songs that worked in one city will not work in other city. I may like old school salsa from 70s and i may don`t like romantic melodies, but i HAVE TO keep romantic melodies, cause the crowd may like it. 2) You have to deal with albums, not only with sigle tracks. For example, I`ve listened an album and I`ve selected only one track from 8 tracks, but during the event i got request for an other song from that album. And some albums have not only salsa - they have bolero, bomba, plena, merengue and only one salsa song. 3) To listen the track and to dance this track with other person - this is two diffent things. I may like the song, but it may be too fast or have so many breaks that dancers just dont like to dance to it. So, i need to sort this track out. BUT. In other city with other crowd this track will work, cause there is more experieced dancers that may like a challange. So, i need to keep this track in my library, despite that it will be played one in a year. 4) The genres and sub-genres. 70s salsa, timba, romantic salsa, bachata sensual, dominican style bachata - there are many of them and they sounds differetly.
    I`m using itunes to manage my latin library cause i`m playing mostly from a iPad. I`m adding a whole albums to library and to separate track for DJing i`m using next steps:
    1) Combining multiple sub-genres to Groupings - for example, grouping named "Bachata" will combine all styles of bachata, grouping named "Chacha/Son Montuno/Guajira" will combine all the genres listed
    2) Adding to song genre a "DJ" field (example - "Chacha DJ" instead of "ChaCha"). Adding to genre "NEW" to mark new tracks
    3) Adding to songs name or genre (not the comment) if the track have some "surprises" - long rumba part in the middle, long piano introduction, switching to other genre etc. I`m not using comment, cause in djay 2 app on iPad i cannot see the comments, but i can see the genres.
    3) Rating system. 1, 3, 5 stars. 1-3 are "starters" or "low energy tracks" , 5 are the top tracks
    4) "Ckecked" and "Loved" fields. New tracks are marked as "Loved" but are unchecked.
    5) Smart playlists, a lot of them (20 or even more)
    6) Deleting from library tracks with genres that will not be used for 100% - bomba, plena, bolero, latin pop
    Advantages:
    1) The Library more or less is sorted.
    2) All your music is your library - you ready for requests
    3) Library ready to use with iPad or with Traktor
    Disadvantages:
    1) Too big to handle
    2) Better not to add any other music styles
    3) Playilists. Too many of them.
    Now i`m looking some other way to manage that kind of library...

    Now I`ve started to play on weddings and i`m not using itunes to sort wedding music library - i`m using Traktor Playlists. Its easier to manage, cause the crowd is easier =)

    But I`m planning to go deeper into the Tropical music - Tropical Bass, digital Cumbia, Moomahthon etc, so i may needed to add to my existing Latin library other genres...And I think, there`s no answer to "How to manage ALL GENRES digital library". You need to separate them...

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