7 Ways To Breathe New Life Into Your DJ Music Collection

Phil Morse | Read time: 4 mins
inspiration music library practising
Last updated 27 November, 2017

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Old music
Tired of staring at the same old songs looking for DJing inspiration? Here\’s some ideas to help you see them afresh…

We’ve probably all looked at our iTunes and thought “I’m bored of all of that music”, while secretly knowing it’s a ridiculous thing to think with the amount of stuff we’ve collected over time. It might even have happened to you at a gig.

What’s going on here? Why do we sometimes fall out of love with our music, and what can we do to put it right? Well, here are seven ideas for things you can do at home to help you to rediscover the nooks and crannies of your digital music collection, and to help you get inspired by it once again…

1. Ask a friend to do a mix for you using your music collection

Think you know your girlfriend well? Ask to watch while your best friend has sex with her – you might end up seeing her in a new light! 🙂

OK, bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this. You see, letting someone else loose on your hard-won music collection will always show you something you didn’t know about it. Get a friend to play with your beloved tunes and without a doubt they will handle them differently. They’ll pay attention to the remixes and artists you instinctively avoid. They’ll match old things up in new ways. They’ll see things afresh.

If you’ve never done this before, I really recommend it (the records bit, not the girlfriend bit) – I can practically guarantee that at some point you’ll be jumping up shouting: “What’s THIS?! It’s EXCELLENT!” to one of your own records.

2. Listen to mixes you’ve made in the past

Boring job
Pic: Lady Lucy

We’ve covered before how important it is to make DJ mixes. Listening to mixes you’ve made previously will remind you why you liked those tunes in the first place, and may suggest newer records you can mix those old tunes with in your sets. Especially if you use a lot of underground music, this way you may well find old records that actually would be “new” to your audiences were you to start playing them (again).

Some records seem to come into their own long after they were made, and if you take a shine to an obscure old tune from one of your mixes and start playing it again, it can feel even more exclusive than something new that everyone else is playing.

3. Commit to a weekly radio show or podcast

Whether you do this on your own or find a partner to help, producing a show for an online radio station or for a community station will force you to play more than just recent downloads. You can’t get away with playing the same set every week!

In doing so, you’ll start to find new connections between your music, and to mentally sort it out in different ways, and the result of this will be that not only will you play more of your music, but you’ll subconsciously be working out how to mix it together in new ways. Anything that gets you playing old music alongside new is good for your DJing.

4. Try sorting all your music by BPM

Either do it in iTunes (by showing the BPM column then clicking on its header) when you’re planning a set, or do the same thing in your DJ software when practising (or actually DJing).

When you’re practising, trying to do a mix with all tunes exactly 122 BPM (for instance) can force you to play a few of those records you have just been staring at. And when you’re actually DJing out and about, this one trick alone will give you access to a handful tunes that not only may contain something you want to play, but which of course you know will probably mix reasonably well into what you’re currently playing.

5. Play your music randomly in the background while you’re doing something else

If your tunes are in iTunes, try Genius. A variation of this is to navigate to your DJ tunes playlist or smart playlist and just hit “shuffle”, or alternatively set up a smart playlist with tunes you’ve only listened to 1,2 or 3 times in it and shuffle those. Our conscious mind is always making judgements about tunes. Label, date bought, producer, artist – they all colour what we tell ourselves to “think” about each of our tunes. It’s one of the reasons why we can look at a screenful of music and not want to play any of it.

Toilet dock
Try listening to music while your conscious mind is busy doing something else…

That’s why having your music on while you’re doing something else is so effective. Your conscious mind is elsewhere, and your unconscious mind is listening instead – it’ll tell you as soon as there’s something worth hearing, and the effect will be similar to the one I described when you get your friend to play your collection – you’ll end up thinking “What’s THIS?!” and… Presto! There’s a new song to use in your DJ sets.

6. Look at everything you’ve got in one particular key

If you’ve analysed your music with Mixed in Key or a similar program, this will give you a set of tunes which may share nothing in common bar the key, and in doing so throw up music from the depths of your collection right alongside stuff you love. This is a great way to get ideas for mashups, because mashups are often creative precisely because the music chosen does not on the face of it go well together, but which of course does go well nonetheless – key being a major part of this musical matching.

(Just make sure to key lock both tunes if you’re going to attempt impromptu mash-ups, and also be aware that the further you deviate from the original tempo, the worse your tunes will potentially sound.)

7. Force yourself to practice, even if you’re “not feeling it”

Writer Somerset Maugham was once asked by a journalist whether he wrote only when he was inspired, or whether he used a schedule. Maugham replied that he only wrote when inspired. “But,” he added, “luckily for me, inspiration hits every morning at 9am, sharp!”

Be like Somerset Vaughan. Force yourself to practise. You’re not going to breathe new life into your collection if you’re watching TV next door, and just a few minutes a day mixing is better than a few hours once a week. Put time aside, stick to it, and just play your tunes. If it inspires you, great. If it doesn’t, at least you’ve learned your music a bit better.

• Thanks to Darrin Bisson for his contribution towards this article.

Do any of these techniques work for you? How do you inspire yourself when you can’t seem to find anything to get you excited in your record collection? Let us know in the comments…

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