Judging by our postbag here at Digital DJ Tips, apart from “how can I mix smoothly” (preferably “between genres”….), “how the hell do I get to grips with my music organisation?” is one of the biggest challenges facing digital DJs today. Luckily, we’ve spent 10 years collecting, managing, sorting through and DJing from digital music, so I reckon collectively here at Digital DJ Tips we’ve got a pretty good idea of some of the big things any DJ can do to make a huge difference in how organised their libraries are, and which of course helps DJs to easily that perfect next tune every time.
So here are seven things for you to check you’re doing with your digital music. Tell us below how many you’re doing, any you’re not – and if you think we’ve hit the mark, or there’s stuff we’ve missed (or that just ain’t important in our list).
- Separate your DJ music from your non-DJ music – You do not – I repeat, DO NOT – want to be spending even nanoseconds quickly scrolling past that Phil Collins album that you’ve got in iTunes, ahem, for your mum, in the heat of a DJ gig. OK, so you may have a bit, some or a damned lot of non-DJ music on your iTunes or whatever – and that’s cool, families share computers, some of us do have a musical life outside of DJing, you know (although I draw the line at Phil Collins – then again, “Coming In The Air Tonight” is pretty cool…) – but seriously, just tag all the dancey stuff “DJ” and only work from that lot. Or just keep it somewhere separate
- Use genres that make sense to you – People get awfully respectful around genres. Let me tell you something: Half the people making, selling and distributing the music you buy digitally – the very same people adding the “genre” tags to the music – don’t have a damned clue about genre either. From the laughably vague (Dance/RnB) to the ridiculously specialist (“Nintendocore”? “Nerd Core Hip Hop”?), genres mean nothing unless they mean something to YOU. So use house, disco, pop, hip hop etc (pick a few and stick to ’em) and retag everything that comes into your library with just a few genres that make sense to you. This will help you immensely when DJing to lump together everything that sounds roughly the same in YOUR eyes (or ears)
- Make playlists – Make playlists for individual gigs. Make playlists for mixtapes. Make monthly playlists. Make sad ones. Happy ones. Just make ’em. And tuck them into a folder called “playlists” if having them there, in full view, offends you. You’ll come back to them, I promise you. Playlists are our way of doing what we want to do by nature – slice, dice, organise. They help us to look forward creatively. They may be only 2 or 3 songs or they may be 100s, but they don’t have to be perfect, they don’t even have to mean much – they could just be a few tunes that mix well together. But make ’em and keep ’em. One of the great things about digital is that the same song can appear in all different places in your library – so take advantage of that
- Keep your set history – All DJ software will allow you to save the history – what you’ve played. As with playlists, just do it! It’ll help you out in all types of ways, from remembering what you played last New Year’s Eve (trust me, it never changes that much year-on-year – you’d be surprised) to remembering what you played for the last two hours last night because, ahem, you were “in the spirit of things”. It costs nothing to do it, so just do it
- Back the hell up! – A reader and a friend, Jake, told me the other day that he was really, really happy, because his hard drives with all of his music on were NOT destroyed in the fire that destroyed pretty much everything else he owned, and which nearly killed him, a couple of months back. It happens, folks. Back up your music and keep a copy somewhere else. The same house even isn’t good enough (ask Jake). Obviously life/death/fires is serious stuff, but while this ain’t gonna happen to most of us, losing music happens to far too many people. And when you follow a backup regime, something else curious happens – you value your music more. Because you know you can be bothered to look after it, you somehow feel it’s worth more to you. And feeling your music is worth a lot is pretty essential for any self-respecting DJ
- K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple, stupid! No ridiculous tune finding techniques, no convoluted “I first rename it according to the boolean principles of the Aztecs, then I resample it, then I adjust the headroom to a quotient of the average loudness of my collection, then I run it through 15 plugins, then I add it to my collection in four of seven places… blah… blah” – look, this stuff probably works, but unless you’re ill, you’re not going to stick to it for more than a few weeks, months at best; then you’re back to square one. So keep it simple: New tune, adjust that genre, quick rename if necessary, key it, throw it in the collection, done. If that. I’m not saying don’t use audio improvement programs or clear naming techniques etc – just ask yourself “will I still really be doing this with every new tune in five years?” If the answer’s no, don’t start. Be realistic
- Be consistent – This kind of comes on from the last point. Once you’ve got a simple system – you know how you find music, you know where you buy it from, you know what you do when you get it, you know what day you back it all up on and so on – be consistent about it. Doing this has two effects: Firstly, it makes you respect your music more, a bit like the backing up does (you unconsciously thing “well, if I’m prepared to commit to doing this on a regular basis, it must be important…”) but secondly it becomes a habit – and so all of this stuff becomes easier to do. And as managing your music collection is absolutely one of the most important things any DJ does, feeling it’s important – and finding it easy to do – are Very. Good. Things.
I love my music collection but even so, hand on heart I can tick about five of the seven above “all the time” (we all lapse sometimes, right?). But small steps are better than not trying, and perfection is impossible anyway – just identifying that you don’t do something is often enough for you to start to at least think about putting it right! Treat your music collection as something deserving of your time, and a lifelong work in progress, and you’ll be just fine.
So, over to you. We missed anything? Anything up there not really important to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.