I love DJing on a laptop. I can take all my music with me wherever I go, and it wouldn’t be a problem. I’m mainly a Top 40 / pop DJ, but I also do weddings, corporate gigs, techno / house nights, and even rock and sports bars. So it makes perfect sense for me to have my growing collection at all times.
One thing that really gets to me though is having to transfer my music from one computer to another.
See, I enjoy tech just as much as the next gear-obsessed DJ (aren’t we all), so I do a fair bit of laptop shuffling every other year – makes it easier to sell my current laptop for a better price before it gets way devalued, and also enables me to stay on the edge of tech. But transferring my DJ music files was never a pleasant affair for me, and this past week I ran into some bad luck.
Last week I got a shiny new 15” MacBook Pro (for Digital DJ Tips work too, of course) just in time for a DJ gig I was going to play over the weekend. I’m using Traktor Pro 2 right now because of Stems (switched from Serato DJ, and coming from a previous Traktor installation), so I checked online if there were any new ways to export a collection and the like.
It all seemed to be as normal, so I just backed up my music folder to an external drive containing over a decade of music, exported my Traktor collection to the same external drive as instructed, wiped my current laptop (my second-hand buyer was eager to get her hands on it), and then proceeded to transfer to my new MacBook Pro.
The music files transferred intact, but importing my Traktor collection into my new Traktor Pro 2 installation wasn’t as successful – the progress bar stayed stuck for hours, I even left it running overnight and still no dice!
So there I was, Saturday morning sat at my home office desk wondering how the hell I’m supposed to play a really important gig that evening without any of my Traktor playlists which I’ve come to rely on over the years. I tried not to panic too much (I was already panicking, though manageably) so I just rebuilt playlists up until it was time for me to go on – not exactly the best “pre-game” ritual for your first big show of the year, is it?
The night went on without a hitch, and no one was the wiser about the files faux pas I experienced just 48 hours prior, but from that point on I promised myself that I’d take music file management a lot more seriously, which would have minimised all this trouble exporting collections as well as the DJ drama that followed.
Here are five simple ways you can avoid my file management and transfer fate…
5 Library Transfer Lessons
- Don’t do it right before a gig – Unless you want to end up with a 50/50 chance of performing without a properly working music library, set aside enough time to actually make the transfer. Of course this depends on how large your collection is, but sometimes we’re so used to the idea of modern tech doing things quickly and correctly that we forget that sometimes things can go wrong. If you get screwed like I did, at least get screwed a couple days before your show, not a few hours! That gives you enough time to manually recreate any important playlists you’ve made (eg wedding playlists, sweet sixteens, 4AM ragers, etc) and you won’t go into your show flatfooted like I did
- Do a regular backup of your music collection – Always have an up to date archive of your entire music library, don’t just back it up when you need to make the transfer. I suggest purchasing an external hard drive (1TB drives are inexpensive these days) and making an exact copy of your library, and not using it for anything else but that. If you’re extra neurotic, keep your library stored in the cloud: I’ve got a 1TB Dropbox plan where I store all my music files. Of course, this will all be for naught if you aren’t able to properly export your Traktor / Serato / Virtual DJ collection file, which is why I’m going to stress that you…
- Start using iTunes immediately – This whole debacle would’ve been avoided if I had been using iTunes in the first place. I don’t care if you don’t like the interface or whatever, what’s important is you’ve got a third-party app that’s had a proven track record (except iTunes 12.2, though a fluke) should you decide to jump DJ apps in the years ahead (did it too many times to remember now). Also, this means that all of the playlists you make will appear in practically any DJ software out there, plus it’s just so much simpler to export your entire music library if you’ve set iTunes to manage it for you (trust me, Phil, and practically any other DJ who swears by iTunes on this)
- Focus on quality over quantity – It’s easy to download 10, 20, 500 songs from your favourite (legal) music site, but are you really improving the quality of your music library, or you’re just satisfying an urge for quantity? Handpick the songs you include in your collection, because in the long run you’re going to be doing more work organising music that you don’t really enjoy as opposed to curating tunes that you love. Go KonMari all over your collection (more on this in a future article on weeding out songs that don’t “spark joy”)
- Schedule checkups and optimisations in your calendar – Think of your DJ library like it’s a car. For it to run well, you’ve got to do some maintenance on regular intervals. Sometimes an oil change and tune up is all that’s necessary (fixing ID3 tags with apps likes beaTunes, optimising them with Platinum Notes, etc), while sometimes you need to replace parts that no longer work (removing songs you rarely ever place to make space on your cramped hard drive, for instance). This is perhaps the most important part of making sure that your music library is in top shape and ready to be migrated to a fresh new laptop. Anything less means you’re just transferring generations worth of junk to a spiffy new device
Modern DJ technology has given us a lot of conveniences, and we always expect them to work as they should. Gigabytes of data can be transferred in seconds these days, so it’s pretty easy to forget that things can and will go wrong at the worst possible times.
Your music collection is crucial to your DJing, but probably even more important is that you’re able to reference songs in that collection consistently over the years. That means spending time maintaining your library playlists, preferably with something outside of your DJ software.
I’ll admit it – organising a pile of MP3s on iTunes is hardly as exciting as sitting in the middle of a pile of vinyl, CDs, and cassettes as you spend an entire weekend arranging and rearranging them on your girlfriend’s shelves (assuming she hasn’t left you), but it’s a necessary evil that you’re paying for upfront in exchange for peace of mind later on.
I should know – I’ve finally started to catalogue my 10,000+ tracks in iTunes. I really do learn things the hard way, don’t I?
Have any music library transfer nightmare stories of your own? Any tips you’d like to share about library management? Share them with us below.