Music streaming services (such as Spotify and Apple Music) have completely changed the way a huge number of us listen to music.
They are offering most of the world’s music on phone, tablet or computer for a small monthly subscription – yet they have been slower to catch on in the DJ world.
There is a saying in DJ circles that what happens in the “real world” takes a decade to reach DJing (think CDs, for instance).
And it is only now, over 10 years since Spotify started, that we are seeing a coming of age of streaming service availability for DJs.
Thanks to recent developments, DJs can now access the same millions of songs that the public can, from right inside their DJ software or hardware.
In this guide:
We’ll start by looking at why DJs should stream music, and some of the things to be wary of before you dive in
We’ll then look at each of the streaming services that are available for DJ software and hardware, considering their pros and cons, to help you start thinking about the most suitable DJ music streaming service for you
Next, we will looking platform-by-platform at the choices available for each DJ system, so you can be sure of what music streaming services works with your DJ software and hardware
Then, we’ll answer all the frequently asked questions about DJ streaming services, based on what our students ask us the most
We’re going to talk through some of the best practices if you decide to take the plunge and start using a music streaming service in your DJing – a whole range of DJ music streaming tips and tricks
Finally, we’ll give you recommendations based on the type of DJ you are, and your aspirations, so you can decide upon the best DJ music streaming service.
There is no single best music streaming service for DJs – but this guide will help you pick the right one for you.
Music streaming from Beatsource Link in Algoriddim's djay Pro 2 software on a Mac
Why should DJs stream music?
Many DJs who have been, and are, quite happy playing music they have bought themselves ask this question.
What, they say, are the advantages to streaming music? The truth is that “mileage will vary”, and what doesn’t make sense for one DJ will be a dream come true for the next.
So let’s look at some of the reasons DJs give for using streaming music in their DJ sets.
It lowers the barriers of entry to DJing for new DJs
You want to start DJing, to play a party or two, to try your hand at mixing. Trouble is, you have no music. Why would you? “Your” music is in your streaming service!
Having to go and buy music files to have a go at DJing seems crazy to new DJs, and hopefully if you take a second to look at it this way, you can see why.
My wife once said to me, “When you’re away on [insert glamorous DJ-related trip here], I am going to try to learn to DJ! Can you set me up some gear?”
I did so, and then we got on to the subject of music. “How do I get my music into it?” she asks.
“You don’t have any music!” I say,
“Rubbish, I’ve got hundreds of my playlists on Spotify. What do you think I listen to when I go running?” (My wife is an ultra runner.)
“That’s not your music, you can’t use that in DJ software…” I start, but I trail off as she loses interest.
Point is – if new DJs can access a streaming service in their DJ software it makes it easier for them to get started. In our book, this is a good thing.
If you already have a streaming service subscription, why wouldn’t you add it to your DJ software?
Not all music streaming services are available in DJ software, with Spotify and Apple Music – the two biggest – absent.
But Deezer, Tidal, SoundCloud and others are available. And if one of those happens to be a subscription of yours, you’d be crazy not to activate it in your DJ software, right?
It’s natural to want to DJ with music you like. And it’s pretty cool to click “like” for music on your phone, and next time you open your DJ software, be able to access those “liked” tunes for some DJing practice.
Streaming music streaming services are a great way to explore new genres
DJs should strive to always be learning, expanding their knowledge, keeping abreast with changes in music. You never know when soeone will ask you to play a segment or even a set in a style you’re not used to.
Let’s say you cultivate an interest in deep house, but you’ve until now been an open-format/mainstream DJ. In the past, you’d have to go and buy a pile of deep house, even though you play no gigs in that genre and aren’t an expert in it, just to explore.
Nowadays, you dial up “deep house” in your streaming software, and explore away. Spend a few weeks DJing with the new genre. Work out who the important artists are. Make tentative playlists of tracks you like. Even drop one or two into your sets – all without the financial commitment of buying music you may, in truth, never need for your DJ sets.
Streaming music services can help you with requests and one-off DJ sets
Ever been in the position where somebody important (wedding DJs – the bride…) wants you to play something and you don’t have it with you? It’s not for nothing that wedding DJ often have Spotify on their phones, plugged in to a spare channel on their mixers, in case they get asked to play something they don’t have.
But it’s not only requests. What if you’re asked to play a Greek traditional music segment at a Greek wedding? Or to play a 1990s hip hop classics party? What if you don’t own a single track in those genres? You could go out and buy them (to only ever play them once)… or you could play them from a streaming service.
As long as you are sure you can rely on that streaming service (more later about that), it’s a great, cost-effective solution.
Streaming music services are the ultimate party DJ must-haves
How many house parties have you been to where the music is a battle for Bluetooth and a load of smartphones, streaming audio from YouTube? How much better would it be to have a proper DJ set-up, where everyone at the party can choose songs to hear next?
Having a streaming service in your DJ set-up for house parties and get-togethers is the clever way to make sure everyone hears what they want.
Also, there is at least half a chance of it all fitting together, because someone (ie you) can actually have a go at mixing that music.
Some of the best nights I’ve had in recent years have been lazy summer barbecues that turn into night-time dance parties round the pool, where we have music streaming in the day, and we carry on streaming with the addition of DJ gear as the sun sets…
Before you leap in…
Sounds great right? Why isn’t everyone doing it?
Well, there are things you should be aware of that come with the territory. Towards the end of this piece I’ll give you some “best practices” for using DJ streaming services. But for now, let’s look at some of the reasons to tread carefully as you start to use music streaming in your DJing.
You need the internet
Some DJ booths – those in the best clubs – have rock-solid, high-speed, wired Ethernet direct to the equipment. In the future, all will. But it is hardly the norm today. And by and large, you do need the internet to use these services. Replying on public WiFi or your cellular 4G to keep the party going is not advisable, and no professional would ever do so.
Now, let’s be clear: you don’t always need rock solid internet. Some of these services offer “cached” or offline tracks, where you can download playlists to your DJ system beforehand. This means that at the gig, you won’t need the internet. That’s the ideal.
Others will load whole tracks, one at a time. That means that even if the internet dips, your track will play to the end. You may not be able to load the next track, but the music won’t stop (and you can cue up a track from your own music collection to play next).
But with some implementations, if the internet drops, your music stops. Definitely one to be aware of…
They may not have the versions of the tracks that you want
Many DJs rely on “DJ edits”: Remixes, mashups, DJ-friendly versions of tracks (with mixable intros and outros), DJ tools, acapellas, and so on. You don’t generally find any of these on the music streaming services, (with the possible exception of “clean” versions). You usually find just the main mix – the “radio” mix – of any given song.
If you need DJ versions of tracks, right now most music streaming services may not be for you (we’ll move in to look at the services available later).
For instance, Beatport’s streaming service, Beatport Link, would be good enough for you as an electronic DJ (those tracks are made like that anyway).
But even Beatsource Link, the open-format service from the same company (part-owned by the DJcity download pool) doesn’t have DJ edits.
As we’ll see later, Virtual DJ software does in fact have a unique tie-in with a DJ download pool for streaming, but this isn’t the norm.
“Your” music may disappear!
With streaming services, understand that the music is only on them at all due to licensing agreement made with the record labels. If those agreements expire, or there is a falling out between a label and a service, tracks are likely to disappear.
Just because you’ve “liked” tracks, added them to “My Library” in your service, or put them in a playlist, doesn’t mean they’ll be there when you next want to play them.
If you have a streaming service and you’ve been a subscriber for some time, try looking at playlists from a year or two ago. Assuming you have the “only show me tracks I can play” option unticked, it’s likely that a few of them are greyed out and unplayable.
Non-streaming DJs often remind streaming aficionados that if they own a track, it is “theirs” to play forever.
There is a temptation to short-cut some of the music skills of DJs
It is perfectly possible to dial up a David Guetta-curated music playlist in a streaming services, and DJ with it in your DJ set.
I hope you can see that while this could be fun (if you like David Guetta, of course), it also bypasses some of the most crucial skills DJs need to grow.
I’m talking about the ability to listen to, shortlist, buy and then learn a cherished collection of music, music that then becomes a “part” of you.
In the right hands, music streaming services can be an awesome addition to a DJ’s musical armoury. In the wrong hands, they can prevent a DJ ever developing their own musical voice. Instead, they can encourage a lazy type of DJing that is nothing more than cutting out the gaps in the music provided by someone else.
If you include streaming services in your DJing, don’t become one of those DJs.
Beatport Link allows you to stream most of Beatport catalogue into compatible DJ software and hardware. To audit track and build playlists, you can either use the Beatport.com store (where you can listen to full tracks, unlike general users of the store), or you can listen through the Top 100s, Genre playlists and Curated Playlists, all available in the file tree in your DJ software.
Audio quality is a rather measly 128kbps AAC for the basic US$15/month Beatport Link subscription (although don’t confuse 128kbps AACs with 128kbps MP3s – AACs at this bitrate sound much better).
If you want better audio quality (256 kbps AAC) as well as the much-touted offline locker, you need to upgrade to the higher tiers. They are Beatport Pro (50 offline tunes, US$30/month) and Beatport Link Pro+ (US$45/month).
Available in: Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, djay Pro, Engine OS (coming soon) Find out more:Beatport Link website
Beatsource Link is the streaming service offered by Beatsource, a DJ music store founded by Beatsource and DJcity. DJcity is a DJ download pool beloved of open-format DJs. If Beatport is underground and independent label-focused, Beatsource is mainstream and major-label focused. It carried pop, mainstream dance, hip-hop Latin, reggae/Dancehall and R&B music.
Beatsource is all about curation. It provides busy open-format DJs with useful charts, lists, curated new releases and so on to make their lives easier. That carries over into Beatsource Link, which is full the same playlists you find on the store.
It runs on the same platform as Beatport, so it functions in exactly the same way, including the three tiers and pricing. Unsurprisingly, you also find it in the same DJ platforms as Beatport.
It costs $10 a month for the basic version (128kbps AAC), and $20 or $30 a month for Pro and Pro+, which give you 256kbps AACs and 50 and 100 offline tunes respectively.
Available in: Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, djay Pro, Engine OS – coming soon (Denon DJ standalone hardware) Find out more:Beatsource Link website
SoundCloud’s Go+ subscription tier is an interesting proposition for DJs. It offers a decent chunk of the mainstream music that the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Deezer have. But also, it gives you access to the rich seam of music uploaded by independent creators, which is a real differentiator from the other services.
I know of DJs who claim to only spin with music they find on the SoundCloud site, to remain upfront/”underground”. So being able to stream such music into your DJ software could be a great thing for you, if you too like being the first to new music that you can’t find anywhere else.
Like all the other services except Beatport Link and Beatsource Link, you need active internet to DJ with SoundCloud Go+.
It costs US$10 a month.
Available in: Serato DJ Pro, Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, djay Pro, Engine OS (Denon DJ standalone hardware) Find out more:SoundCloud Go+ website
This first of the two platforms integrated into DJ systems that your non-DJ friends will have heard of. Tidal is of course the streaming service founded by Jay-Z. As well as offering standard audio quality, it also offers hi-fi audio, if you subscribe at a higher tier.
It is roughly comparable to the mainstream music streaming leaders Spotify and Apple Music. Maybe it is comparatively such a small player is because there are few differentiators other than audio quality.
We find it to be fit for purpose, although it does have a poorer search function. We found you had to type the names of artists and tracks in exactly, whereas the main players are more forgiving.
In common with all the other platforms apart from those running on Beatport’s technology (ie Beatport Link and Beatsource Link), there is no offline locker or caching. That mean you do need the internet to DJ with this.
It costs $10 a month with standard sound quality, and $20 a month with lossless quality.
Available in: Serato DJ Pro, djay Pro, Engine OS (Denon DJ standalone hardware) Find out more:Tidal website
Deezer pretty big name in music streaming in Europe, coming out of France. Deezer is like Tidal in that it is a mainstream service roughly comparable to Spotify and Apple Music. Of course it is a minnow, but nonetheless established enough.
So no surprises about what you’ll find – roughly the same catalogue as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, same features, similar pricing and so on.
As with all the other platforms that aren’t Beatsource Link or Beatport Link, there isn’t an offline locker facility so you need reliable internet to DJ with it.
At the time of writing, all major laptop DJ software with the notable exception of Traktor Pro offers access to streaming services.
Also, and quite excitingly, certain streaming services are available in the standalone Prime series of DJ hardware from Denon DJ.
Generally these services work in much the same way whatever you’re using. You log in, view both the platform’s own playlists and those you’ve created on it, can search, and so on. But there are differences in both the services offered and the way they’re implemented in the platforms. So let’s look platform-by-platform at what you get and how it works:
Serato DJ Pro
The most popular software platform among our students, Serato DJ Pro has the least impressive streaming implementation. You get a choice of Tidal and SoundCloud Go+, but disappointingly, not both at the same time.
As with the other software platforms we’re about to look at, DJs can search music from the streaming service catalogues, within Serato DJ Pro. You click the Tidal or SoundCloud icon next to the search bar and enter your search query. Local results from your “All” crate will be displayed first, followed by results from the streaming service. Streamed tracks will have a small tidal or SoundCloud icon in the first column of the library.
You can create and edit playlists in Serato DJ Pro by dragging and dropping tracks from your search results or other playlists.
Rekordbox’s implementation is better than Serato’s. To start with you get access to Beatport Link, Beatsource Link and SoundCloud Go (the most pro DJ-friendly of the services on offer here). You can activate them simultaneously.
More than that, you can make local playlists, inside of Rekordbox, and drag and drop tracks from anywhere – local music, or any of your streaming services into those playlists. A little icon shows you where the track is from, but apart form that, where the tracks are from begins to play into insignificance. It’s a glimpse of the future, and we like it.
In many ways, this is the best implementation of the lot. You get Beatport Link, Beatsource Link, Deezer (the only platform to offer that), and SoundCloud Go+ – a wide choice of mainstream services.
But uniquely among DJ platforms, you also get access to three streaming services not yet spoken about. They are iDJPool (a pro DJ download pool), VJ-Pro (a video pool for Video jockeys), and Digitrax (a karaoke specialist).
These are bit different than the other music streaming providers. These are only for professional, working DJs, and it appears are only legal for use in the USA. But if that’s you, you’ll enjoy the upfront commercial DJ edits and dancefloor-friendly versions of tracks that are lacking from the other services.
Algoriddim’s djay Pro became everyone’s “second favourite DJ app” over the period leading up to 2020 by having Spotify integrated – something few DJ apps had managed. But, that all went away in summer 2020, and now it offers the “standard four” of Tidal, Soundcloud Go+, Beatport Link and Beatsource Link.
You can’t make playlists from here (you have to make them in your streaming services). But one nice thing is that in the Beatport Link and Beatsource Link implementations, you get to see the musical key and BPM of tracks before landing or analysing them – something some of the other services don’t have.
Engine OS (Denon Prime hardware)
Uniquely on this list, Engine OS is an embedded platform. That means the software runs of DJ gear without the need for a laptop. Currently, Engine OS runs on Denon DJ gear – the Prime series of hardware, to be precise. In combination with the built-in WiFi on those units, you can stream without wires from the services it offers.
Those services are Tidal and SoundCloud Go+, although Beatport Link and Beatsource Link have been promised for a long time now, so maybe they’ll appear some time soon.
Many people find the combination of WiFi browsing of “all the world’s music”, and the lack of a laptop with these units to be a real gamechanger in their thinking about streaming in DJ software. We can’t see it being long before Pioneer DJ starts introducing similar innovations in to its hardware.
Traktor Pro currently has no streaming services integrated.
Music streaming for DJs FAQs
Is it legal?
Technically, it’s a minefield. Practically, if the venue is licensed for music performance, you should be OK (no guarantees, we’re not lawyers). You’re better off with Beatport Link or Beatsource Link if this question worries you, because they are touted as pro DJ services. (On the other hand, inside Virtual DJ, Deezer is clearly marked as “for personal use only”).
Do I need the internet?
Some services will load the whole track before letting you play it, so the internet can go down and it won’t affect that particular track, although with others, you don’t even get that comfort. Beatport Link and Beatsource Link let you download up to 100 songs in advance, so in the case of these services, it is true that you can DJ without the internet at the venue, using those “cached” files (but of course you still need the internet initially to download them…)
Why are Apple Music and Spotify not available in my service of choice?
It’s annoying, isn’t it? The services most of the world uses aren’t on DJ software at all (Spotify withdrew from the market in 2020). Our opinion is that these companies are too big to care about offering streaming to DJs, with all the work needed to get the licensing right. We don’t expect to see either of these companies appear in any kind of DJ software any time soon, although of the two, we would hold out more hope for Apple Music. (We think they should buy Algoriddim and include djay for free on all Macs, including full Apple Music integration…)
Do I keep my music if I stop subscribing?
Usually, yes. Generally, if you re-subscribe using the same account, all your work on playlists, favourites and so on will still be there. You’ll then be able to continue using your streaming service with your DJ software, like before. Do check with your service if you want to “furlough” your account, though, to be sure.
Is all the music on all the services?
Most of the time, yes – with some notable exceptions though. Tidal and Deezer have the overwhelming majority of music you’ll find on Apple Music and Spotify, for instance, and SoundCloud Go+ has a lot of it. Beatsource Link has the major-label music that they think will be of most use to DJs. Meanwhile, Beatport is electronic and underground, and SoundCloud Go+ also features an unrivalled choice of independent music, much of which isn’t even released (and won’t ever be). Pick one that looks the best fit for you – but no service will ever ahave everything.
Can I "convert" my music from one platform to another?
Yes. Services that can do this for you include MusConv, Soundiiz, and Free Your Music. In this way, you can transfer, say, your Spotify catalogue onto Tidal, so you can use it in your DJ software. Be aware that not all tracks will port across – it depends on the availability on your particular service.
What about audio quality?
All are acceptable (usually 256kbps AAC, equivalent to 320kbps MP3). Tidal offers uncompressed FLAC audio at its higher price point. It’s worth pointing out that Beatport’s basic service is only 128kbps AAC. While this is better than a 128kbps MP3 (thankfully!) , this ought to be 256kbps AAC too – a change we hope they’ll make.
Can I stream on Pioneer DJ "pro" hardware?
Not at present. If you have laptop software that you can control from Pioneer DJ systems, then of course this is possible. But it isn’t possible to log in to streaming services from, say, a Pioneer CDJ2000Nexus 2 set-up and DJ from them in that way. Nor is it possible to prepare sets on streaming services and export them to USB drives to play on Pioneer hardware. If you want a hardware-only (ie no laptop) music streaming solution, Denon DJ’s Prime is the only one right now.
Can I stream my own music from the cloud to DJ systems?
Yes. With Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox 6 DJ software, you can integrate your own library via the cloud. It uses a combination of Dropbox for the music itself, and Pioneer DJ’s own cloud for the DJ-specific metadata.
Why can't I record my sets when I play with streaming music?
It is an annoying fact that as soon as you switch streaming on in your DJ system, the record function will be disabled. It’s down to licensing. Of course you can still record your sets, but you’ll have to set up another way to do it.
Can I add cue points, loops and grids to my music, and will they my software/hardware remember them?
Yes, as long as you load the same version of the track next time from your streaming service, all that work will be there.
So which service should I go for?
If you’re a casual DJ, you should use one of the mainstream services, and also use that service in your day-to-day life. As us DJs can’t use Apple Music or Spotify, go for Tidal if that’s the one your system supports, or Deezer if you’re a Virtual DJ user
If you’re an open-format/mobile DJ, Beatsource Link is a great choice. It is in most (probably soon, all) platforms. And it has a huge and well-curated selection of commercial music to choose from, plus an offline locker option
If you’re an electronic/underground DJ, Beatport Link will be appealing, because it allows you to stream the Beatport catalogue, which is where you probably buy a lot of your music anyway. Plus, you get that offline locker too, making that music safe to spin in public without the internet.
Finally, if you are already a SoundCloud user, and you enjoy uncovering music others can’t find (but would still like access to a broad range of today’s songs), SoundCloud Go+ will probably be perfect for you
This table summarises what works with what:
Pro tips for getting started
Streaming music instead of buying it is such a big leap for DJs, that many feel scared to give it a go, worried that it may impact on their art or their sets.
So I want to offer you some tips to help you get started , as well as to set some expectations for you, and help you avoid some common pitfalls:
Use streaming services as well as your own “owned” music collection, not instead of it
We are not at the point where it is advisable to ditch owning music entirely. You should usually base your DJ sets around music you have bought and that exists as local files for you to play. A streaming service can be used for occasional tracks or the odd set where you’ve thought it through. beforehand.
If you are a Beatport Link or Beatsource Link subscriber who has gone for offline locker capability, you are much safer playing bigger amounts of your music this way. Also if you’re playing private parties where it’s no big deal if the internet drops for a bit your decision may likewise be different. But by and large, this is the rule right now.
At the very least, have local music available if you should need it.
Put tracks from streaming services through the same auditioning process as you would if you were buying them
Hopefully when you buy music, you go through a process of shortlisting tracks, listening to them to decide if they’re worth your money, and then having bought them, practising your mixing with them until you know them well.
Don’t shortcut any of this because you’re accessing music via a streaming service.
A DJ’s job is to curate, filter and construct great DJ sets by cultivating a superior knowledge of more of the world’s music that your average person – not to aimlessly throw tracks onto the decks from a pre-curated dance playlist in a streaming service.
Don’t shortcut the discovery, familiarisation, and emotional attachment phases of getting to know your music, just because you’re choosing to access some of that music via a streaming service or two.
(Oh, and it is a good idea to actually buy the tracks you know you’re going to want permanent access to, and add them to your collection as local files.)
Make playlists in your streaming service
You don’t want to be scrolling aimlessly through your streaming service, looking for something to play next, while you’re actually DJing somewhere. So make playlists ahead of time. Then, when you’re DJing, access those playlists inside your DJ software.
Some DJ software does let you make playlists inside the program itself that include streaming files. But most will give you “read-only” access to your streaming service of choice – so it pays to do this as a separate process to anything you do inside your DJ software.
Creatively, listening to your music away from your DJ software, especially when that music is new, is a good idea anyway. The reason is that it forces you to listen more closely to the music itself, by making it impossible for you to start trying to mix with it!
Don’t expect one streaming service to do everything for you
As we’ve mentioned before, no streaming service has everything. Short of joining them all, the best thing to do is to pick one that you think will work best for you, then work within its limitations.
You shouldn’t ever be using a streaming service as your sole route to music discovery anyway. Cultivate a healthy curiosity for new music no matter where you come across it. If your streaming service can put a whole load off great tunes in your lap too, great.
Even if you don’t want to DJ with a streaming service, get one!
Streaming services are the single biggest tool for music discovery available to DJs nowadays. So even if you can never see yourself DJing with one, get one for that reason alone. You can always buy the tracks you discover that you want to include in your sets.
Like or hate algorithms, they will uncover tracks for you that you would otherwise never have heard. The trick is to “feed” them with enough data to do their job.
So where you can, make sure you follow artists you like on your streaming service. Click “like” by songs you enjoy. And then make use of the playlists the services generate for you. Here is where you’ll find those gems that otherwise you may never have discovered.
(Note we’re talking about the mainstream music services here, so in our list, that would be Tidal and Deezer – possibly you could include SoundCloud Go+ too. Beatport Link and Beatsource Link operate in a different way, and are not the best places to hang around listening to music, neither are they intended to be.)
Like it or hate it, streaming services are here to stay. They are the new way that non-DJs enjoy music, and they’re now arriving at pace in the DJ world too.
If you don’t have a streaming service subscription, there’s no excuse as a DJ – you ought to get one. In that case, it may make sense to get one that you can also use in your DJing platform, whether or not you currently think that is a good idea.
If you do have one (Spotify or Apple Music, right?) and you want to give this a go, consider whether you may want to switch to Tidal or Deezer so you can use the same subscription for DJing.
You may also decide it is worth adding a DJ-specific platform such as Beatport Link or Beatsource Link, on top of your existing “mainstream” streaming provider.
You can always get at least a free month anyway, so give one a go!
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Phil Morse is the founder of Digital DJ Tips. His DJ career has taken him from a 15-year residency in Manchester, England, to the main room at Privilege in Ibiza - the world's biggest club. He is also an award-winning club promoter, and has taught music tech and DJing since 2010. He regularly speaks at DJ seminars and events worldwide.
27 July, 2020
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