Humans love collecting things and music is high up on the list of those things collected by us. Take this guy from Australia for example, he has over 600,000 vinyl records – practically an entire library’s worth! However, for DJs, knowing the difference between maintaining a lean music collection that works for you and a mindlessly expanding collection is crucial.
If you are stockpiling tracks and filling terabyte external hard drives just for the sake of having the most tunes (the digital DJ equivalent of a pissing contest), you’re suffering from the DJ equivalent of what project managers call “scope creep” – when a project grows and grows until it is too big to handle, and everyone loses sight of what the original aim was.
Why having too much music is a problem for DJs
Having too many tracks in your hard drive can overwhelm you. DJs need music like mechanics need tools. Think of your DJ library as your “workshop”, and your DJ playlists as your “toolbox”.
You don’t need to have all the tools in the world to have an efficient workshop – basics like a workbench with a vice, a set of screwdrivers, some Allen keys, wrenches, spanners, a soldering iron and so on get the job done for a majority of repair tasks you need to do. thus mechanics think carefully about new tools and whether they really need them. In the same way, your DJ library doesn’t need to have every single dance track in the history of recorded music – it makes tracks harder to find, and if I just described you, be honest: you probably haven’t even listened to a lot of those tracks.
Similarly, if a mechanic needs to do some repair work on-site, he or she don’t need to take along their entire workshop – just a few apt tools in a toolbox (plus some lunch) will suffice. It’s thew same with your DJ playlists: you should plan ahead, and make a playlist of tracks you’re likely to need, the sweet spot being about double the number of tracks you think you’ll play, that cover a wide variety of types. Again, no need to stuff it with every single tool under the sun: you wouldn’t see a repair man carrying five spanners of the same size, would you?
A mechanic isn’t judged by how many tools he or she has got, so why do some DJs feel they are judged or feel the need to show off how many tracks they have? Mechanics takes just the right number of tools to the job because they are generally heavy and take up space. This is still the case for DJs who play vinyl but the problem with digital DJs is that physically there is no limit to the amount of music they can take to a gig. Physically, true but mentally? the more “lean” and thought through your selection, the better a job you’ll do.
Browsing through a bloated library before a gig is time-consuming; you are presented with an endless list of tracks and whittling them down into manageable crates is a pain in the backside. As a result, many don’t even bother to do this and take their entire collection with them wherever they go and wherever they gig.
This is a bad idea because you will easily lose track of what you actually have in your library. It is also unlikely that you will know your tracks properly so that they are ready for you to play out. This leads to mid-set dilemmas and gawking at the laptop when you should be engaged with your audience.
Three steps to fixing “music creep”
In order to put a stop to the hoarding, you are going to have to implement some stringent policies when it comes to the acquisition and storage of your tracks.
1. Audit your library
First of all, and the biggest task, is to audit your current library. Go through all of your tracks and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself the following questions: when did you last play this? Will you ever play it again? Have you ever played it? Be brutal! A good tip is to take everything out of your library, then only put back in what you need (you’ll end up with a smaller library that way in the ned, trust us).
Now the initial audit is out of the way, you have to carry on in the same vein. Set a reminder in your calendar for a 90 day, six-monthly or yearly audit.
2. Sleep on purchases instead of hitting “Buy” right away
Next up, you need to change your approach to acquiring music. Instead of sending tracks willy-nilly to your cart and buying them without a second thought, have a cooling off period before pulling the trigger. Have another listen a day later. Do you still like it? OK, keep it in the cart and have another listen a few days later and again after one week is up.
If at any point you think “meh”, delete the track from your cart. The human mind is amazing at convincing you of “those special times” when certain tracks would be appropriate – don’t fall into its traps. You will be surprised at how many of those “sick” tracks are actually bang average or just plain derivative given a week or two cooling off period. Another way of keeping the inflow of new tracks down is to have rules to help you mix it up. For example, only buy every other track in your cart this time or just the bottom five, and so on.
Streaming services are an excellent way to preview tracks without owning them.
Spotify is great for “digging on-the-go” and the Mighty will even let you do that without an internet connection. Pulselocker is another useful service to help DJs deal with one-off requests at gigs. You can stream tracks from Pulselocker in your DJ software, keeping the party-goers happy and your hard drive free of unwanted clutter. When collection at ultimate size, one in-one out
3. Adopt the “one in, one out” mindset
When you finally have your collection at its ideal size, to maintain it you will have to introduce a strict “one in, one out” policy. To do this, you could have tracks on a hard drive and only allow, say, 200 onto your DJ laptop at any one time (we know one big-name DJ who does exactly this for each gig). Don’t undo your hard work by becoming lax about this, as the problem will quickly creep back in if you do.
It’s easy for DJs to get caught up in the perils of the quest for music acquisition. You start to download tracks without listening to them, filling your hard drive up with filler that, in most cases, will never be listened to. Some DJs boast about the 1000s of vinyl records or the 10s of terabytes they have. They have lost track of what matters – the music. No one cares how much music you have; people care about the quality of your tracks and your ability to programme them into a set.
The video below serves as a great guide to prevent you from falling into the trap of hoarding music (and anything in general that you might hoard, for that matter). This “hoarders quest” never ends. There will always be new music coming out and there is not enough time to listen to all of the music that is already out as it is! Take a few minutes to watch the video now and let its message sink in…
It’s a powerful message and it’s bang on. Focus on what is important for us DJs, curating a lean library stocked with killer tracks. If ever you do start to slack off with your DJ library (or anything that you are buying too much of, for that matter), come back to this video and give it another watch to refresh your mind.
Having too many records, physical or digital is no good for DJs. I have learned this the hard way: The larger my collection became, the worse a DJ I became. It became harder to practice, to pick records for gigs and generally overwhelming. I also “wasted” a fair bit of cash on records that I am unlikely to ever play at home, never mind at a gig. It’s a tough process but once you come out of the other side, you will be given a new lease of DJ life… with a huge bonus of having extra cash to spend on more gear! (OK, that’s another story…)
Would you consider your DJ library to be “bloated”? Do you have a system in place for maintaining your library? How often do you delete tracks? Let us know in the comments below…