Last updated 15 November, 2017


Our reader uses Rhapsody as a streaming music service, but finds it to be too mainstream to discover hidden gems that will make his sets stand out from the crowd.

Reader Chris Games over on the Digital DJ Tips Forum asks: “OK guys so I’m building up my library now and my problem is, I want to find good songs, but not just stuff everybody’s already heard. I’m saying I don’t want to just play Avicii, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia, etc. I want to cultivate my own unique library which of course has hits but has my own flavour of tracks.”

“I use Rhapsody for listening to music but Rhapsody is highly oriented towards putting the most popular stuff right in your face. I know Beatport has the best selection of EDM, but it is kind of overwhelming. Any help here?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

This is a question we tackle regularly and from different angles, but in your case I’d like to offer you three things to think about:

  1. Have a discovery stage – Discovery happens when you’re doing something else. You need to tune out your preconceptions of what’s “big” and just listen. The best way to do that is to find ways of streaming music randomly all the time in the background when you’re doing other things. It’s up to you to find what works for you (try internet radio, DJ mix sites, SoundCloud web players etc) – but this stage is vital, because it puts you in the midset of the listener, not the DJ. Then whenever a tune grabs your attention, for whatever reason, simply note it. Which brings us to…
  2. Have a shortlist stage. Treat this differently to the discovery stage. It’s something you maybe do once a week. Here, you assemble all the tunes that caught your attention in the discovery stage, and listen to them all the way through, several times. The point is to basically throw out half of them – if you end up throwing away 90% of them, fine! If you’re keeping more than half, you’re being too choosy in the “discovery” stage. If you’re not sure about a tune, leave it in till next time. Only then can you buy only the tunes you really like from your list, before moving onto my third tip, which is…
  3. Have a practice stage – Those tunes are simply building blocks for your style. Something appealed to you about them; now it’s up to you to make them bigger than the sum of their parts. How are you going to make what you do with those tunes unique? What bits will you loop, sample, re-use, add effects to and so on, to turn them from a bunch of tunes into something really unique? What do they have in common? What does that tell you about the way music affects you, and the message you want to use those tunes to get across to other people?

Why this works

When you start thinking about your music this way, the best bit is that the insights you get at stage 3 feed directly back into stage 1 (ie you end up “listening out” for tunes that fill gaps in your style, not just recognising big tunes everyone else has or plays. I think you’re right not to dismiss the “big” tunes entirely. But I remember a DJ friend saying to me when we were discussing a floor-filling DJ in our town: “It’s not the big tunes, but the tunes he picks to play in-between them – that’s what makes his style great.” I think that’s good thing to aim for. Finally, for some specifics, the first link below is an answer to a similar question fro a while back that ought to give you some more ideas.

• There is a lot more detail on how to build an effective DJ music collection in our popular beginner DJ video course, How To Digital DJ Fast.

How do you cut through the noise to find the signal? Do you have “stages” of music discovery similar to those I just outlined, or do you have your own different method? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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