Download pools are special music subscription services aimed at working DJs. For a set monthly fee, you get access to unlimited music downloads for use in your DJing – no restrictions, no strings. Originally called “record pools” (referring to their origins as distribution / feedback services for pre-release records to top DJs), these modern online equivalents can be a great way for DJs to pack their sets with upfront, DJ-ready songs and mixes, quickly and cost effectively.
To find out a bit more about download pools, and to help you decide if joining a download pool would be right for you, I spent some time chatting to Nick Hahn, who is director of marketing at Promo Only, one of the USA’s leading and most respected pools.
Nick, what is the advantage of joining a record or download pool for today’s DJ?
Firstly, you’re guaranteed early releases, which is obviously of importance to DJs wanting the latest hits first. Those releases will always be near-CD quality (for instance 256 M4As, 320 MP3s, Apple Lossless files etc), so they’ll sound great to DJ with. And many of them will be “DJ friendly”, which could mean anything from having easy-to-mix intros and outros, to “quick edit” versions (which are shorter, “intro-verse-chorus-outro” cuts of tired songs), to things like exclusive remixes and even BPM transition tools – all of which help you play more exciting DJ sets.
Secondly, pick the right pool and you’re effectively employing a team of experts, whose job it is day in, day out to expertly programme and curate the music on offer. This means you get the hot tunes and big hits relevant to you all in one place, so you save time you’d otherwise spend scouring the internet for them. Good pools have DJ charts and other tools to help you ensure you don’t miss anything big.
Finally of course, for any working DJ who buys a reasonable amount of music, a record or download pool will almost definitely end up costing you a lot less than purchasing those tunes individually.
So how exactly does a pool work?
Well, as soon as you’re a working DJ (that means actually playing out regularly – whether that’s to 50 people in a bar, or to thousands at Privilege in Ibiza!), and can demonstrate that fact through your own website, flyers etc, you can apply to join a pool. This “working DJ” stuff is important, as pools are as much promotion for the labels as they are a service for the DJ. Don’t think you have to be Tïesto to join a pool (you really don’t), but remember that you can be kicked out if you’ve lied and in fact are not a bona fide DJ.
So once accepted, you pay your monthly fee, and you get access to the pool’s music. As tracks arrive at the pool, the staff make them available inside the portal daily, and you can grab them daily or weekly, or whatever works for you. By the way, although I’m talking about downloads here, actually there still are many DJs who prefer to get their music on CD from their pool. In these cases, CDs tend to be sent out once a month.
Choosing the right pool for you is important, because they don’t all have the same music, and some pools offer genre-specific options, where you can spend less but at the same time get more focused on what you actually play (for instance, urban or top 40).
OK, so speaking of styles, what kind of music can DJs expect to finds in download pools?
Just about everything! As mentioned, top 40, urban, also Latin, hip-hop, Christian, rock, EDM… some pools even offer adult contemporary music such as jazz. There really is huge choice.
What is almost always true, though, is that pools offer new music, not old music. This is because they were originally promotional vehicles for record labels to service DJs and tastemakers with new music to help build a buzz around it pre-release and retain that as an important function.
So what is the legality of pools?
Obviously there are lots of pools out there, and they’re not all the same. Actually, they run the full spectrum as far as the legality of their operation goes. Many are completely legitimate and pay all the necessary licensing fees; more still fall in a large “grey area” somewhere in the middle (where they do some of what they’re meant to, but cheat a bit too)… and some are flat-out illegal!
Unless a pool clearly and explicitly is set up to serve old or “legacy” music (very rare), the biggest giveaway as to a pool being dodgy is if it has lots of old, back catalogue music available, because as stated, that’s not what pools are there for. (The only real exception to this is music video, by the way, which is a different case.)
Other things to look for are a genuine contact page, and endorsement from professional organisations in that particular country (NAME, ADJA etc). Generally, beware offers that appear too good to be true – they unfortunately usually are!
So you’ve found a legal pool that can service you with the kind of music you want, and you’ve joined up. Can you give us some top tips for getting the most from a new pool subscription, Nick?
Firstly, I would recommend always start with the pool’s charts first: These are usually from music programmers who have a lot of experience, and they are going to guide you to the good stuff fast.
Secondly, you should familiarise yourself with all the filters and settings offered to you, which most pools have. These help you to slice and dice the music available to quickly get to stuff that should interest you, and can save you a huge amount of time.
Thirdly, don’t expect any pool to have everything that you need! There is no pool in the world that can possibly give you everything you want, when you want it, every time. Expect to supplement your pool tracks with a purchase here and there, or a handful of legitimate SoundCloud downloads, and indeed, some DJs even join two or three services just to cover their bases.
And finally, give yourself time! The more you use your new pool, the more familiar you’re going to be with how it works. Give yourself the time to get up to speed, and you will get more efficient and so get more from your pool over time.
• Nick Hahn is director of marketing for Promo Only, one of the US’s leading pools. You can find out more about their service here.
Keen to join a record pool? Have you had any experience with a download pool before? If so, what was it like? Let us know in the comments below.