Getting your hands on upfront and exclusive material has always been a big part of DJing. With MP3s and digital music, getting cool stuff first has become harder, and thanks to blogs especially, anything worth having often flashes around the world in as long as it takes to download it.
Record pools were originally a US/Canadian phenomenon that aim to allow record labels to provide upfront and often exclusive material to DJs in exchange for their feedback on that material. You get something hot to play, and they get the opinion on how hot it actually is straight from your dancefloors. But you pay a fee for the privilege. Are they worth the money? And how do you choose one? We find out…
How it all started
Record pools started in the mid-70s in New York, where influential DJs such as David Mancuso wanted to establish the link between working DJs and the music industry. Meanwhile in the UK, record labels (and later specialised promotions companies employed by the record labels), maintained lists of DJs whom they sent promotional records to for free, again in return for feedback – and for the implied inclusion of their material in the DJ charts that working DJs submitted to weekly music publications.
Of course, digital has changed the whole landscape, with far less genuine promotional material around, and with the record labels steadily losing their grip on music releases in general as music is distributed in different (online) ways.
Music pools today
Today, modern music pools let you download MP3s rather than mailing you vinyl or CDs (although the latter still exist). Many still present the pretence of serving working DJs with promotional music, but most don’t as a rule run any checks on whether you’re a working DJ or not (you just say you are when you sign up – and pay).
That said, there are still exclusive tracks to be had (the best pools know that if they commission remixes and offer value-added DJ services, they have an edge), and if you are a working DJ and need hassle-free, dependable access to upfront material on a regular basis, music pools certainly can help.
Part of the game nowadays is improving the experience for DJs looking for music. Buying online can be great but it can be painfully tedious, and having a music pool that offers you the support, tracks, quality and exclusivity you need to actually enjoy filling your virtual crates every week is an alluring prospect.
These are interesting times, though, because new services that didn’t grow out of the old vinyl and CD pools are offering subscription downloads to consumers direct, so DJ record pools have to up their game further by offering more and more DJ-friendly services to their subscribers. As usual, outstanding customer service will make the difference.
How to choose a music pool
At the end of this article is a list of music pools that you can explore, but meanwhile, lets look at the things you should be looking for when choosing a music pool to try.
- What quality is the material? It all starts with file quality. 192kbps is the absolute minimum MP3 quality, with 320kbps preferable. That’s not all, though – are these MP3s straight from the label? Ripped from vinyl? Are they from less formal sources altogether? Check you’re getting good source material to play with. If you’re a mobile DJ maybe you don’t mind 160kbps MP3s, but if you play on good club systems, you should
- How many new MP3s are added each day/week/month? Once you’ve signed up and handed over your monthly subscription, it’s over to them. How hard are they working to give you new material? If the music pool isn’t updated with enough material, the deal looks less appealing
- Are there enough MP3s you can actually use? It’s all very well there being 100 new tunes a day, but not if they’re all Top 40 and you’re an EDM DJ. Check to see there’s enough stuff that you’ll be able to use
- What’s exclusive? Are they offering you acappellas to help you spice up your DJ sets? Pop with beat intros and outros to help your mixing? Exclusive remixes and mash-ups? Instrumentals? Clean/dirty versions? Proper file tagging? What are they giving you that will help your DJ sets stand out?
- What’s the support like? Many music pools grew out of certain cities, scenes and to address definite needs. That means you may find truly excellent service, and indeed this may be the biggest reason to join a pool – to get access to DJs in your locality, or scene, who can help you get ahead. Conversely, if you can’t get a reply from the music pool to your queries, are they really any better than Beatport? Asking about some of the points above before you join is a good way to gauge this
- What’s the cost? We’ve left this to the end because a good pool is going to be worth the money, and a bad one maybe isn’t worth a lower fee anyway. But obviously if you’re cash-strapped this will factor into it, because it’s money out of your overall music-buying budget
What are music pools actually like?
To show you what it’s like to use a music pool, we’ll talk you through one of the more popular ones, DJ City (Disclaimer: DJ City advertises with Digital DJ Tips). DJ City is a Top 40, electro-house and hip-hop centred record pool, and it’s pretty typical of the better record pools out there.
Here’s the DJ City home page (click the image to enlarge it). You can see a list of new arrivals by day, taking up the main part of the screen. The symbols tell you whether the track is dirty or clean, whether instrumental, acappella and intro version are available, and the BPM.
Typically you’ll get the ability to search and to filter your searches too – here you can do it by genre, BPM, sort by date, A-Z and so on, and usefully also look at exclusives from the pool to see what you can get that maybe other DJs in your city who don’t subscribe haven’t got.
Click on a release and you move to a preview page where you can hear the track and also see what versions are available for you to download (see the second screenshot for an example of this).
DJ City asks you to feed back your comments to the label/producer, and once you’ve done that, you can download the versions you want.
In a nutshell, that’s how record pools work. Note there was no credit card bit – in fact, it would be fair to say that good music pools make the whole experience like record shopping at the consumer MP3 stores, but stripped back to the essentials, and with added DJ features.
OK… so I may want to join one.
Here are a few record pools you may wish to consider from the many that are out there. You’ll pay from $10 to $60 or more a month for the privilege. If you DJ regularly and get paid for it, there will almost certainly be a record pool out there that can help you.
The bottom line is that if you DJ regularly and get paid for it, you play a certain style of music, and spend much of your time online looking for that music, there will almost certainly be a record pool out there that can help you to spend less time and get better music in your sets.
Some leading digital record pools
- DJ City – Nice interface, good quality files, mainly pop with some house/electro, hip hop and even a bit of Latin. Lots of exclusive remixes, growing fast.
- Digiwaxx – Long-established, popular and busy urban (read: hip hop) DJ pool.
- Masspool Digital – Respected and popular DJ pool with a wide choice of music. Well respected within the industry.
- zipDJ – Wide choice of music across several genrres. Good reports from DJs on this one.
- Late night Record Pool – Professional pool offering video as well as audio.
- My Promo Pool – Extensive choice of electronic dance music, one of the few pools specialising in this type of music.
- ERG Music – Mainstream promo pool offering videos and karaoke alongside the usual pop-fare and on-subscription services.
- iDJ Pool – This might be MP3 but its true old school – you simply download a directory of tunes to preview offline. Wide choice.
- Direct Music Service – Distinctive and clearly professional-led service with a large number of edits and mash-ups.
Have you joined any of the pools? Are you looking to join a DJ pool? Let us know your experiences in the comments.