Confessions of a Music Junkie: How I Kicked My 25,000 MP3 Habit

Joshua Routin | Read time: 7 mins
iTunes mp3s music library music library management
Last updated 27 November, 2017

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illegal-music-downloading-logoFollowing on from our reader’s question about trimming a 40k+ library of music last Sunday, we’ve got a confession from a similar DJ who’se seen the error of his ways and spent the time to put things right. Here’s his story about how he got back on the straight and narrow:

I have spent the last 17 months (I’m not joking or exaggerating about that) going over my 25,000+ song library. I had accumulated this library over the last 15 years, and knew there were gems in there I would love to play. Unfortunately, among my vinyl rips and legally acquired music, there was a lot of music I’d downloaded / ripped / acquired from websites, friend’s binders, or other recommendations.

Note: Please don’t hate – I’ve changed my ways because of the mess I’m in now. I highly recommend you not acquire your music illegally.

Not only do the artists suffer from lost revenue, but you suffer from a ridiculous situation which is trying to gig with 40,000+ tracks. It’s a nightmare and does not make you a good DJ. Only knowing your valued, legally acquired, small library inside and out gets you ready on the walk of life that is being a DJ.

Enough was enough
I bought my first piece of gear 17 months ago and started looking at all my music. It was then I realised I had no idea what my library consisted of. It was absolutely out of control; hundreds of gigabytes of every imaginable genre and style.

I started to practise with my new kit and with this musical mess, and slowly used the below-mentioned tools and tips to comb over my entire library. Here are the steps I have come to after many, many, many hours of running through my library. I offer them here in the hope that they’ll help other readers to turn their back on bloated, illegally acquired music libraries and start givng their digital collections the respect they, and the artists, deserve.

Note: My method has been done mostly with a weekly gig (one-year resident anniversary in October!) and a few special gigs (house parties, club sets, and so on) to test with. Also, I believe I am somewhere in the “OCD” spectrum, so this type of organization is right up my street!

So having filtered out the dubiously acquired music, re-bought good copies of poor recordings, and trimmed the collection to a rough state where I could begin fine tuning, this is how I proceeded:

My 10-point fix-it plan

1. Use iTunes. Just do it.
I cannot stress how important iTunes has been with smart playlists, manual playlists, and so on. It is better than any feature any other program has to offer – and I’ve used quite a few. If you use Traktor, use iTunes x100!

iTunes also has the ability to create Genius playlists to find artists, tracks, genres you may like and didn’t realise you have in your library. Do not, however, rely on Genius to make your set lists for you – you will be disappointed.

Also, fields like “Comments”, “Grouping”, “Composer” etc will become critical for properly organising your library and creating a method you can use for future cataloguing.

2. Use programs like beaTunes, TrainSpotter and MusicBrainz Picard
Picard really helped update track titles, artist names, genres, years, etc. Once you get all your information trued up, you can really dig in properly.

TrainspotterTwo review - improved searching
Trainspotter is a godsend for Traktor users.

TrainSpotter does roughly the same thing – some things better, some worse – but works directly with your Traktor collection file. This can prove very, very handy if you use Traktor (I do, but I load directly from iTunes).

beaTunes will then fill in the gaps where you are missing BPM or other pieces of information.

Try using a program called Moody as an add-on to iTunes. This lets you mark colour “mood” information quickly using keyboard shortcuts. It also lets you assign a rating (more on these later).

3. Run it all through Mixed In Key
There really is no debate on this issue. The only argument I find about this is “it’s a crutch, know your music”. BS to that! An analogy I’ve started to use is “Mixed in Key is like a spice in a dish – when used properly can really bring your creation skills to a new level”.

The fact that a US$60 tool can relatively accurately “key” a song for you in seconds (35% accurate, 35% relational) is such a time saver considering the position you’re in. Once you become familiar with the keys, you will be able to key the songs by ear, or use a piano/synth to assist you. Eventually, you will catch up with your music library and it will be second nature.

4. Become very friendly with Beatport, Juno, etc.
Sites that catalogue this metadata as a business take a lot of care to properly organise their information. When you simply cannot find the BPM, genre, remix artist, etc, turn to these sites and finish filling in the information from theirs.

5. Start using a rating system
None of my music was rated at all in iTunes, so I began picking music I liked and going with three stars. If I didn’t like the track, it got one or twostars. Hot tracks got four stars, and absolute bangers and classics got five stars.

If you have already been using a rating system, I would recommend revisiting it periodically, as you may found your tastes have changed, or you were inconsistent when rating tracks initially.

6. Create smart playlists
I created smart playlists of all kinds. One star, two stars, three stars. zero stars between 1990 and 2010. zero stars in 2011, zero stars where the date was unknown (so you can use Beatport, Juno etc to fill this in later)…

Other smart playlists I use that you might consider include:

  • Full sets, compilations
  • Genre
  • Remix artists
  • Transitions / BPM change tools
  • Acappellas
  • Categorised (tracks that exist in your manual playlists / crates; see #7)
  • “Fluff” – where a track exists in, say, a compilation and I want to remove it from the “main list” of tracks

7. Create manual playlists
I created normal playlists (crates, if you will) of things like progressive, deep house, tech house, electro etc, and began tossing tunes into them for later categorisation. Do not automatically start filling these crates based on the tracks’ listed genres..

I cannot stress enough how, overall, CDs tend to include multiple genres based on other tracks in the release and as such muddy the waters of each individual track. Ultimately, genres are too broad to be trusted alone and all tracks require you to listen to them to correctly label them.

Listen to the track, get the feel of “electro”, and only then chunk it into the electro bin.

8. Use smart playlists with manual playlists
I created more smart playlists like “3 stars uncategorised” for when a track had three stars but was not yet in any of my manual playlists / crates. This allowed me to pick up a song on the fly, five-star it as a dancefloor banger, and go over it later with more comments, colours, coding etc.

Also, use a smart playlist “Categorised” in conjunction with zero star, one star etc to find any missing files you may have categorised and not starred, added a star rating to and not categorise, and so on. It prevents files from slipping through the cracks.

9. Listen to your music. Listen to your music. Listen to your music.

Headphones
If you can listen you your music all day at work, all the better.

I work a computer desk job 8-5 doing programming and analytics all day long, so I have an insane amount of “face time” with my music. All day long, I am commenting, crating, starring on the side. Slowly, your manual playlists will build up to a greater level of organisation.

I add notes like “get new version” or “find _____ remix” and use a smart playlist to identify which tracks need a bit more digging or TLC. I get home, and continue this trend for several more hours as I work out (just be sure to leave some time to practise).

10. Routinely purge your collection
If you dislike a track, it has an error (glitch, pop, etc), is from a mix compilation and so on, mark it with one star and delete it at the end of the day.

Where all of this gets you…

I’ve reached a point now where I can:

  1. Listen to a radio show (I love Pete Tong’s Essential Selection)
  2. Hear a track I like
  3. Run to Beatport and grab the file
  4. Import into iTunes
  5. Drop it into a proper crate (Deep Progressive House)
  6. Mark it with a tempo beyond the BPM (high energy, low energy, chill)
  7. Mark it with a mood (dark red)
  8. Add comments (solid build at 3 min, mix with Nadia Ali)
  9. Give it a star rating (4 star – won’t kill the floor, but not a peak hour banger)
  10. Identify the key a tune in is using the Camelot system

At this point, I’m using the software to do well over 75% of the thinking for me. After it’s all said and done, it comes down to me and my decks. I know with my system I can roll up and pick several tracks in rapid succession that will more or less fit nicely with how I am mixing. It’s so important, though, to note that this still does not make you a good DJ.

I’ve found myself getting cocky at times knowing how easy it is to find my tunes in a massive library (after all, it’s powerful having just about any track a bar fly would want to hear at 1:45am last call), but you still have to know your music, when you drop that right track, when to let people get a drink, and so on.

So, yeah, there it is. You’ll be a bit of a shut-in if you truly want to get to the point where you’ve organised your massive mess into a trim collection you can reliably play out with, and it is going to cost you a bit to legally replace the stuff you want to keep out of the illegal stuff you’ve erroneously crammed your hard drive with over the years.

As I say, it has taken me 17 months – but I’ve pressed on and finished it off, and my DJing is now a lot better for it. Good luck!

• Josh is a DJ in San Antonio who pays the bills as a web developer full-time. Check his sounds out at completej.com.

How long did you spend each week listening to and cataloguing / playlisting your music? Do you have any particular “secrets” that help you organise your playlists better? do you use iTunes, or can’t you stand it? Let us know in the comments!

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