Five Steps To Your Perfect DJ Music Library System


Back in the old days, DJs used to throw a pile of tunes in a box and run out of the door. There are many DJs who do this today, just digitally. And that's still fine - although it's just one of the countless ways you can organise your digital music nowadays...

Our post recommending that DJs stop using iTunes to organise their music libraries recently certainly got a people talking, with about a 50/50 split among fans and haters of iTunes. But I'm aware we left some people who aren't sure in pain, pointing out what's wrong with iTunes without fully outlining a preferred alternative.

This post will help. It is designed to empower you, by showing you that as long as you follow the five steps of good music library organisation, you can organise your library any damn way you like, and with any tools you like (and yes, that includes iTunes). The funny thing is, the DJs who had strong views for/against iTunes in our previous post generally all "get this" already... which is precisely why they're fine with how they do things right now.

So if you're still feeling music library organisation is confusing you, read on...

(By the way, I'm also asking you to share the way you organise your own music with us in the comments.)

The five steps of any good DJ music library system

OK so right off, then, here they are:

  1. Only admit to your DJ library the tunes you actually know you'll want to DJ with - and purge it of anything else; the rest of your music doesn't belong there
  2. Make sure your files contain the metadata that's important to you - as a minimum artist, title, any remix title, year, and genre
  3. Know how to sort and filter your files and how to listen to them day-to-day  - when you're not actually DJing or practising
  4. Have a way of choosing a set of possible tunes for any particular gig - and of getting that set of tunes into your DJ software (or to your gig with you in another way)
  5. Have a way of regularly backing up - not only your music files but any work done on them with any other software you use (ie cue points etc)

That's it.

If your music library "system" can tick all five boxes, it really doesn't matter how you do it or what tools you use. In fact, DJs do this all kinds of ways. Just from recent memory, in real DJ booths and among people I know, I've seen DJs:

  • Doing it all using files and folders (ie in macOS or Windows folders directly), with the track info listed in the filename itself; when it comes to DJing, they literally drag the tunes from an open file browser window directly onto the decks in their DJ software, bypassing their DJ software's library and any music organisation tools altogether
  • Doing the above, but dragging the files for "tonight's set" onto a USB or two, to play from directly in a club (you'll be surprised how many big name DJs do this - no iTunes, no pre-analysis, just MP3s or WAV files on a USB stick, dragged straight from a folder on their hard drive)
  • Using iTunes to sort, tag and playlist their music, but keeping all the files themselves in a single folder, and turning off the iTunes features that organises the music files; then, opening the iTunes section of their music library feature in their DJ software and DJing from those playlists
  • Doing the above, but letting iTunes organise their file and folders too
  • Doing the above, but then using Rekordbox (which can also show you your iTunes library internally) to put those sets onto USB drives for DJing with in DJ booths on Pioneer gear
  • Using another tag editor that isn't iTunes to add the artist, title, genre etc to their files, and then importing them into their DJ software and using the DJ software's playlisting/crates feature to organise the tracks for DJing
  • Using another music library program that isn't iTunes to add the artist, title, genre etc to their files and to organise them into playlists, but then dragging whole playlists into folders/crates/playlists in their DJ software for each gig
  • Throwing all their new music into one folder, then tidying up the tags and doing all the playlisting directly in their music library (this was the method I described back in the don't use iTunes post)

I really could go on. And while there are of course pluses and minuses to all of the above systems, they all worked for each of those DJs. The reason they work, though, is not due to the system itself (whichever one they'd settled on), but that all of those DJs were - underneath it all - applying (whether consciously or subconsciously) the five steps listed at the start of this post.

That meant they were cool with their music collection. They were confident of finding what they wanted. And if they wanted to switch to a different way of doing it for whatever reason (change of software, DJing on a different set-up, wanting to ditch a particular program they've been using, whatever), they would be able to do so with the minimum possible pain, due to understanding and applying the five steps.

How do you organise your music?

Now, I do know this stuff can be confusing, and I know it doesn't come naturally to many DJs, especially those used to CDs and vinyl (no surprise that the first two methods above are preferred by just such - generally older - DJs). We have always spent a lot of time teaching this in our courses for just that reason. We're also going to come back to this subject here on the blog soon, in order to bring you more insight.

But this will help too: I want all you readers with music organisation systems you love to tell us below how you do it. Try and keep it short (we don't need all the details), and try and refer to how your method ticks the boxes above (the five steps). The idea is to let other readers see how you do it to - help them spot similarities, differences, new ideas and potential issues with the way they're doing it.

And finally, if you're still stuck about all of this, please feel free to ask any questions - I'll be happy to chime in and help you out in any way I can.

So, the comments below are all yours: Tell us how you organise your music...

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  1. Jens Fahlstedt says:

    I use my DJ software for my controller and Mixed In Key 8. I have a lot of playlist for what kind of gig I going to. There is one more prog I use called Tagg Scan.

  2. Maykel Smits says:

    Nowadays (2 weeks ago I was using Itunes) I organise my music in Media Monkey. I love this program so far. I run my files through Platinum Notes and Mixed in Key and then drop them in my folder DJ Music (nothing else gets in). I 've just synced the DJ playlist with my phone. I am still in the proces of decluttering my music library. Now I am just under 1500 tunes (tags: title (version), artist, genre, year, bpm, key. Besides this I like the put in the right artwork.

    • And how do you get the tunes into your DJ software? Just import the whole folder like normal, and do any playlisting in there?

      • Maykel Smits says:

        I do my playlisting in Media Monkey. They have great extended possibilties. And then I drop the tunes into Serato DJ.

        • Bart's Place says:

          Hi Phil, Maykel and everyone esle of course,
          here the article to import your autoplaylists in Traktor or Serato from Media Monkey
          Have fun with this great program,

          • Maykel Smits says:

            Thanks Bart, I will give it a try. Sorry for my late reaction. At this moment I am moving from one house to another, busy, busy, busy.
            Thanks again, I will give it a try.

    • How much has Platinum Notes improved in the last few years? I used to use it before I went *320 minimum*, and it was markedly better than the unprocessed songs, but since I went 320 plus, the higher but rate songs didn't seem to change much (if at all).

      Color me curious.

      Side note: I still use MP3Tag.

      • Walter White says:

        You realize that it's physically impossible for platinum notes to "improve" the sound quality of a file right ? You can make it louder, but the platinum notes software resamples an existing lossy file. The only possible result is a loss of audio data as the audio is resampled to the new bit rate. Once you have a track that this 320 bit rate or less ... there is no way for platinum notes to magically create new data and insert it into the track. The information is already gone. All you can do is go down in quality. Making your track possibly louder but definitely less detailed and clear. You use platinum notes to make wave and flac files into mp3's. that's it.

    • Natasa Komlenic says:

      Hi Maykel, I downloaded it yesterday as I needed some freeware to convert my audio files and decided upon Media Monkey as it sounded better than the rest. I've seen the playlists as well but do you maybe know if I can export these playlists into traktor?

      Thx, N.

  3. Mauri Moore says:

    Back in the days i use to have my music in folders & subfolders , But i had a lot of duplicates .
    Now I use Traktor to organise my music , all in a single folder .
    I have my columns : Genre , Comment 1 , Comment 2 , Label , Rating , Artist & Tittle to filter what i want.

    BUT ... Traktor adds to the collection any song i listen , and i don't like this ... so , i have installed in my Mac an old Traktor (1.2.7 ) just to pre listen and prepare .
    When i download music from Dj City or Zip Dj i put the songs in a prepare folder .
    Then i open the old Traktor , I listen and tag Genre , Comments , all with using # before . For example : (Genre) #House , (Comment) #Bomba , (comment 2) #Shazam , (Label) #Groovy . I choose a way to know how to tag to do my playlists .

    I copy the selected & tagged songs to my music folder , then i open Traktor (last version) , i order the songs using "imported date" column , and I put the new songs where i want them .

  4. i use MP3 Tag and MusicBee to create smart playlists. Music Bee can export a static copy which i then import into Serato (by dragging).Virtual DJ Browser can load these just fine.
    My preferred DJ Software is VDJ tho.
    Oh and I NEVER LIKED ITUNES (yes with a Capital I)

  5. Douglas Budde says:

    Hummm... I use the following:
    - Tag&Rename (self explanatory)
    - Mixed in Key 8
    - Serato (for building playlists and DJing)
    - BeaTunes ( for diversified playlists, e.i. playing a chillout set mixing anything and everything)

  6. Mikael Helje says:

    As a Mac-fan, dj-ing with Algoriddim's Djay pro I'm stickin' with iTunes for now.
    iTunes is not as good as I was, but the seamless connection between Mac/Djay-pro/iTunes/Spotify are working so perfect, for me it's still the best......

  7. Bart's Place says:

    Hi everyone,
    I use MediaMonkey and MixedinKey to catalogue and manage my music.
    Here include a link to a PDF file explaining my way of working. Sharing with you this way I avoid going too much in details here in this forum.

  8. Walter White says:

    Why would you want to populate "year" in the minimum meta-data requirements? What a useless data field. I just got a track that's "journey don't stop believin" mashed up with "chain-smokers roses." Do you insert 1981 for the year or 2016 for the year? And why would you care anyway. The date you imported the track to your library (which self populates) is far more than important than the year the song was released or the year the original Source track the remix was created for was released.

    And if your goal is to eventually be a successful club or festival DJ ... it's imperative that you master performing on the industry standard CDJ2000NXS. So the artist should be preparing their library for the changes necessary to migrate or toggle between DJ software workflow and rekordbox prepped flash memory as an audio source.

    You can only show two fields on the cdj display at the same time. So double populating your key and genre into the comment field along with your discriptive terms about the track will let you see all the necessary info about the track without having to swap fields out on the CDJ2000NXS display to see the info you need to make the correct track selection.

  9. I have my entire main music collection ripped as FLAC in dBpoweramp, all tunes in their relevant folders and subfolders. I have a separate single DJ Set folder for gigs, and I copy any individual tunes that I want to play from my main music library to the DJ Set folder, where I tag everything appropriately in MediaMonkey (an amazing piece of software) using only a handful of tags (artist, title, year, album, genre). At gigs, I play directly from this single DJ Set folder using Traktor. No Library, no Playlists, just on the fly drag and drop from the DJ Set folder onto the two decks. Pretty much random, instinctive DJing, reading and reacting to the crowd, taking endless requests. This is how I've always played music at gigs for over 35 years, with vinyl, then cds, and now a laptop. Only the tools/playback mechanism have changed. With digital DJing, I've always preferred total manual control, and no software automation. I've never planned a set beforehand or used a playlist (other than a handful of times for weddings where the bride and groom insisted on a certain selection of songs), as the nature of my gigs and the people who go to them are very random and vary widely, and I play lots of requests that I could never have anticipated beforehand.

    • Walter White says:

      Phil... how did you manage to find all of the music in your collection in high quality FLAC files?

      If you have any music that was created and released before the invention of flac technology then the only possible way you could have a true flac file is to have somehow sourced out the raw wave file from the production source and sampled it down to FLAC.

      It's physically impossible to go from MP3 quality level "up" to flac.... no matter what software do you use. All you're doing is resampling and already sampled file and degrading the quality of it. Just cause the file extension changes from .mp3 to .flac ... the change in file type does not make it sound better.

      You can't insert new data into a track that already been created as MP3 and improve the quality of it. It's a scientific impossibility.

      • Walter... I don't download music at all, except where I have no other choice, or when I can find the FLAC recordings by good bands online on the likes of Bandcamp. 99.99% of my music is ripped directly from CD to FLAC, which is no problem as I have all of the source CDs in my collection, every last one of them bought legit over many, many years as a DJ and music collector, and many of which I also have in vinyl format from before I bought them again in CD format. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay the record industry a THIRD time for the same music in a different format.

        I still buy all my music in CD format from local record stores, or Amazon and Ebay, before I rip them to FLAC for my computer based music library. Then it's just a matter of copying the tunes that I want to use at gigs from my library across to the DJ Set folder on my laptop and tagging them for the gigs. Coming from an audiophile music listener background, I've never used mp3s, and I'm already au fait with the info you've given above about trying to resample mp3 up to higher quality being impossible (thanks for the heads up anyway, as others reading the discussion might not know that stuff). I'm much more a fan of open formats such as FLAC and OGG, and prefer to have my entire music collection archived in lossless quality. All of my music is lossless, so no problem about the quality at any time, either at home or at gigs.

        • Saswata Mitra says:

          As far as I understand you get access to the stems when you purchase a track on itunes. Is it difficult to isolate the layers and take out a rhythm? Just curious on what could be an easier way to have access to samples without having big holes in the pocket. I tried picking up a toolroom track the other day to slice it. Was not too successful in doing so. Appls can sometimes be a serious pain in the backside.

  10. Simon Van der Burg says:


    I am/was a vinyl DJ. 2 years ago I made a switch to digital and had all the questions a beginner has.. I followed the tips and tutorials on digitaldjtips for converting vinyl to digital (done 3000 tracks so far), how to manage my library and use the equipment I own. It's pretty basic and I can check the 5 boxes 😉

    I use the same workflow for every track. If I buy it on Beatport, rip it from CD or record it from vinyl it gets the same treatment. Every track is run through Platinum Notes and Mixed in Key to start with. Then I use MetaBliss and Music Tag Editor for further tagging (Music Tag Editor for adding year and publisher, I made an R&D request for these 2 extra fields with Mixed in Key (they also made Platinum Notes and MetaBliss, it's on the roadmap they told me;-)).

    After tagging (genre is the most important*) I sort them in 13 subfolders on my computer corresponding to the genre (doesn't have to for my workflow, but in the future it might be helpful). Then I drag and drop these folders into my Rekordbox collection. *In Rekordbox I created smart playlists with the 13 genres and the tracks gets automatically sorted out.

    From there it's easy crate filling.. All is sorted bij genre, track info, BPM, key and I can use the comments and ratings for further tuning in Rekordbox. After filling the crates I export it to USB and use it on XDJ-1000 at home and CDJ-2000NXS2 in the club(s).

    So.. thank you digitaldjtips for helping me out and keep up the good work!


  11. 1) Download new music.
    2) Run through Platinum Notes (Default Setting)
    3) Run through Mixed In Key (BPM - Initial Key, before comments and in their respective fields)
    4) Tag&Rename to get the file name how I want and every other field that I want to populate. For example, Miked In Key does not fill in the BPM down to the .10 in the BPM field like in comments. I fix this in Tag&Rename.
    5) Copy folder to my Music Drive.
    6) Analyze in Denon Engine (but don't change my BPM or Key).
    7) Add to desired playlist.


  12. Owen Fuller says:

    These recent articles about music library tips have been timely! I have been hosting pub trivia a couple nights a week for a friend's DJ company. I've enjoyed it, and plan to start doing weddings for him in the spring. I've taken the "How to Digital DJ Fast," and have my first non-trivia gig (well, trivia followed by an night of music at a house party) coming up in a couple of weeks. I've been working on fleshing out my music collection using the tips from the course, but have definitely felt a bit unsure what to do for library management.

    Over the last couple weeks I've been cleaning up the junk and fixing metadata in my existing library using Media Monkey on a freshly formatted laptop I intend to use solely for DJ purposes.

    Next, I plan to select from the cleaned up library those songs I want to add to my DJ collection in a separate folder on the computer which I will let Virtual DJ index (the main library will not be revealed to Virtual DJ, only the curated tracks).

    I already use Virtual DJ's playlists for trivia background music, name that tune, etc. and will continue to build playlists in it. I am working on putting together "mini set" playlists of 3-5 songs which mix well together.

    I have most of my music on multiple devices, but plan to backup the curated DJ collection to an external drive to take with me to sets. I will be backing up my Virtual DJ database and probably the music files with CrashPlan as well. (I'm an IT guy by day...never too many backups!)

    Thanks for being such a great site and community for novices like me!

  13. Kenny Schachat says:

    I have a 4 step system for organizing my DJ music files.

    1) I manually place the files on my drive in folders and subfolders by genre. The genre system isn't perfect but I'm consistent and it's meaningful to me. I would never trust iTunes or any other software to do this automatically. This step is extra work compared to dumping the files in one huge folder but I want to have a file organization that's *independent* of any library software. I may change my library software at some point and want to be have some semblance of order to the files on my drive.

    2) I go to a lot of effort to be rigorously consistent on my naming convention for the files, even down to the case of the names. By doing once this up front, it will also be picked up by iTunes and Traktor (or any other library or DJ software) and I won't have to change it there. When I'm in the heat and stress of DJing at a gig and scanning a list for that perfect tune, I don't want to be looking through a jumble of inconsistently name files, etc. I use a mp3 tagging sofware to help with the file naming and mp3 tagging. I use Tag & Rename on Windows, mostly because it make sit easy to change the either the file name based on the tags or the other way around. When I'm finished, then most of the tagging is done by the time I bring the file into iTunes.

    3) I use iTunes as my library for finding, sorting, etc. I make creative use of the the non-music fields in iTunes ( Show, Episode, Season) for any additional tags. For example I have fields that indicate that a track has been analyzed and integrated in Traktor, Ableton. The biggest plus for iTunes are the Smart Playlists, which instantly update based on what you enter. If have an upcoming gig where I want to see all of my Nu Funk, between 100-110 BPM, added to the library in the last 3 months - creating a smart playlist for that is a pip.

    4) I use my playlist and other library DJ sfotware (Traktor at the moment) to create playlists. Although Traktor can read iTunes playlists, I don't use that feature. There have been bugs and other issues, like compatibility problems due to iTunes updates, that have made me mistrust that.

    I suppose all of that sounds like a lot of work but it practice it's really very quick.

  14. Fascinating, Phil! My head is spinning like a you-know-what from all the possiblities. For me, what would make it clearer would be visual aids: to see video demos or screenshots of some of these solutions...

  15. I'm an open format DJ so my night can go all over the place depending on the crowd that shows up. I simply use Serato crates and create lists for the venues I play at. I can bounce around the different lists because each list has a "feel" to it based on the vibe of the venue, vs. all hip hop, all 90s, etc.

    My DJ mentor has a really simple, interesting system. It's just dumped together. He typically plays from his history, ie the tracks in blue, because he knows that's worked in the past.

    I always reset my history so I don't play a track twice.

  16. I think it's all right on the money. It's funny how much easier my life became when I started organizing and taking music in the same logic as I would with vinyl records.

  17. Jerry Otwoma says:

    I'm a beginner DJ from africa . learning DJ in Kenya is quite a hustle (expensive) just want to buy a beginner controller on the budget side . which one is the best choose for me I got some skills but no idea what I'm going to buy for the first time pliz help

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