Is It Time For DJs To Ditch iTunes?

Last updated 2 October, 2018

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iTunes 12
With how feature-laden iTunes has become, is it time for DJs to bypass it completely in favour of something simpler? We examine the possibilities in this post…

With the latest iTunes 12.2 update incorporating Apple Music and therefore swinging firmly towards streaming media and online services, and reportedly breaking more than a few users’ local music libraries along the way, the outcry against the program among DJs is louder than ever. So today we’re asking: Is it now time for DJs to ditch using iTunes altogether in their music preparation?

Why use iTunes at all?

Many DJs who don’t use iTunes ask this question whenever issues like this arise. They organise their music themselves in folders, use specialist tagging programs, or simply use their DJ software to organise their music, and fail to understand why anyone would want to use iTunes to do this at all – especially DJs.

Well, the reasons are many. Firstly, from the very first iPods onwards, iTunes has just been… there. We are mostly all used to it. And it makes it easy to organise your music due to that familiarity (not to mention the ease of putting your music onto the iPod, then later the iPhone).

The other reason DJs use it is that it’s there in all DJ software. That means any work you do in iTunes to organise your music using smart playlists and so on is faithfully reproduced right there in your DJ software’s library. There is no other music library software that can do this.

So what’s the issue?

Apple Music
Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service is the biggest draw for installing iTunes 12.2, but it comes at a cost for DJs – some users have reported corrupted music libraries after updating.

Truth is, most DJs nowadays tend to put up with or try to find workarounds for the increasingly bloated nature of iTunes (videos, radio, podcasts, and now Apple Music, all shoehorned in there).
As iTunes becomes an entertainment hub rather than a music file management program, it inevitably moves away from what us DJs really need: A clean, easy to use program for fixing our metadata, making playlists, and listening to our music when we’re not actually DJing.

For many, this last week’s update to 12.2 with its push towards streaming music and the issues faced with it not playing nicely with DJ software and even corrupting whole libraries has forced a rethink of whether it is actually a good idea to use it at all.

OK, so what are the alternatives?

There is no alternative if you want all those nicely crafted iTunes playlists to appear in your DJ software – period. Beatport Pro (Mac only) can just about do this with some hacking, but it’s not perfect. If you DJ with both a rekordbox-compatible controller at home and CDJs in clubs, you can consider using rekordbox for your library management.

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Apart from those, if you want to work on playlists outside of your DJ software then play from them inside your DJ app, you’re stuck. So with that in mind, what could you do instead?

Use your DJ software to tag and organise your music

DJ Software
Instead of using iTunes, you could simply use the library editor within your DJ software of choice.

This makes sense in theory, After all, it’s where you play your tunes when you’re DJing. So why not use it to organise them too?

The answer is: You can / could. Just dump them in one big folder, then use whatever playlisting functions and tag editing your DJ software allows to organise your music from right within its interface. You may miss functions (Traktor has no rules-based smart playlisting for instance, and no DJ software has smart playlisting as good as that in iTunes), and you may be wary of the fact that any work you do in one type of DJ software may not work in another, but for many, this may appear the obvious choice.

Alternatively, you could organise your music into a simple folder structure that you then worked on some more in your DJ software: One obvious way would be to do it by year then month to at least give you some kind of file / folder system to start with.

Use an external tag editor / iTunes replacement

MP3Tag
As far as external taggers go, basic apps like MP3Tag get the job done quickly.

However, what if you want to work on your music extensively before admitting it to your DJ software (batch tidying up tags, adding artwork etc)? And what if not all the music you have is stuff you want to DJ with?

You’re still going to want something outside of your DJ software to tidy up tags at the very least, and preferably help you organise your music into playlists. (It’s possible to drag-and-drop playlists manually from a separate program to some DJ software.)

So now your choice is either tag editors or full-blown iTunes replacements, depending on whether you want to be able to playlist / audition your music as well as edit tags, filenames, etc, or just do the latter.

As far as tag editors go, MP3Tag for the PC has always done the job for us, and on the Mac, Tagr is competent and Yate is all-singing, all dancing with macros and more – great for power users. If you want an iTunes replacement for day-to-day listening as well as tag editing, MediaMonkey on the PC is very popular, and you could look at Swinsian or Ecoute, both of which feel like iTunes used to many years ago (ie lightweight and bloat-free.) These programs can put the music on your iDevices for you too, so you don’t lose out there.

For ripping music from CD, there are plenty of alternatives, or you could continue to use iTunes to do this (and nothing else) if you wanted.

Don’t all those alternatives just add complication?

Mixed In Key
As DJs we already use highly specialised apps like Mixed In Key and Platinum Notes, so bypassing iTunes altogether by using a library organisation alternative is entirely possible.

Well, it’s in response to the complication added by iTunes, remember! And truth is, we already use specialist programs: Many of us use things like MP3Gain, Mixed in Key, and Platinum Notes to process our files, so it’s not a massive leap to replace the “iTunes part” of our workflow too.

One handy tip if you decide to find a way of working that bypasses iTunes is to set music file formats not to open in iTunes by default. I do that anyway: I have it so that all music file formats open in QuickTime for previewing etc, which is faster than iTunes heaving into life when I want to slap a few tunes on, and stops you inadvertently building up an iTunes library if you’re trying to avoid using that program. VLC is popular for this purpose, too.

Is it really so bad?

Maybe not. Apple will surely iron out kinks, and with a few best practices (and some fixes from the DJ software companies to their iTunes playlist implementations) I suspect most DJs who use iTunes will find a way to carry on doing so.

Such pragmatism may turn out to be a good move: After all, one of Apple Music’s big things is downloadable music that you can stream offline as part of your monthly subscription to the service. If your “offline listening” playlists quietly appear in the iTunes section of your DJ software, well – wow! Universal streaming music in all DJ software! I’ve no idea if this can or could happen, but it’s a remote possibility that wasn’t there this time last week… iTunes could just turn out to be the ultimate DJ tool for both local and streaming music, after all.

Finally…

iTunes 12
It’s safe to expect Apple to fix iTunes’ current library corruption issues in an upcoming version, as well as DJ software developers to catch on and offer a patch, so it isn’t exactly “doom and gloom” for the iTunes faithful. Our advice at the moment though – don’t update just yet.

Even in this age where DJing is more mainstream than ever, us DJs do have specialist needs. A sacred music library is definitely one of them, organised exactly how we want it: No compromise.

We can’t ignore the rise of streaming music and online services, nor should we – they are hands-down some of the best music discovery methods out there, and we ought to be celebrating and embracing them. It just seems that – in the case of iTunes, anyway – the program is drifting further and further from what we really want it to do and to do well. For some, it could be a good time to join the growing minority of DJ who avoid it. If that’s you, hopefully this article has given you some ideas.

So over to you! Are you exploring ways to not use iTunes? Are you, on the other hand, happy to do so and can’t see what the fuss is about? Or have you always avoided it? If so, how do you organise your music for DJing? Please let us know in the comments.

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