Back in the day, you could walk into a record store, have a quick catch up with the guy behind the counter and he would hand you a stack of records to go through. After an hour or so, you would trot up to the counter and be walking home with your new purchases, confident in the knowledge you were happy with what you got. These days, we as DJs are curators of both new and existing music. It is down to us to sift through the hemorrhaging mass of new material that appears daily, as well as the growing back catalogues. When you break into the world of DJing, that role can be very daunting, with the obvious question: “Where on earth do I start?”
Let’s begin with the obvious…
Just start searching. What artists, genres, labels do you like? Just. Google. It.
2. Online radio
“Web 2.0” brought with it rich media accessible to the masses. For a long time, my main source of new and unreleased tracks was a humble radio station called Proton Radio. I spent my hours/days listening to endless mixes. On the way to work, at work, at home in the background… any time I could find. There are so many stations available out there. Broadcast technologies such as Icecast and SHOUTcast help index and list some of the services, with some very obscure stations available (the one that just broadcasts NYC emergency services radio chatter comes to mind).
There are thousands of people out there with the same passion as you. Why reinvent the wheel? Blogs exist for every imaginable thing. If someone has taken the time to run a blog as hilarious as Wunderground, then I’m sure, with the help of point 1, you can find niche blogs for your favourite Chiptunes.
4. Online music stores
Have you ever visited a wiki to look up something like “Ford Motor Cars” then realised it’s three hours later and you are reading about weed killer? That should be happening every time you visit an online MP3 store.
- Start with a track you like
- Head for the artist’s page
- Listen to all the remixes and buy the ones you like
- Click on the remixer’s artist page
- Go to 1 and repeat until you are bankrupt
Did you know this site has a newsletter as part of its free to join mailing list? Twice a week you get great tips on discovering new music and insider secrets from the pros.
I used to subscribe to a (now defunct) website. Every evening I would get a list of the latest netlabel releases from my favourite genre straight to my inbox. Although I’d been Djing for nearly 10 years, I was new to the digital realm, with a pitiful music collection. This newsletter helped me build up my options and I still count some of those tracks amongst my favourites.
6. Mixcloud, SoundCloud etc
Much like the radio stations, music hosting sites are a great way to be part of a community of likeminded folk. SoundCloud in particular, lets you connect with artists and other DJs. Join groups based around the genres you like, follow big names, but above all get your hands dirty.
Although Mixcloud isn’t really about individual tracks, there’s plenty of opportunity to learn. Listen to other mixes. Find out how the DJs are using tracks. Hear what works. Most sets have tracklists and can help start your research chain reaction
There are obviously plenty of other similar sites popping up all over the place and as time goes on, you should hear about services recommended by others.
7. Record pools
Going old school for a moment, signing up for music pools like DJ City will keep the new music flowing, if more mainstream is you thing. You can pay for services like CD Pool Digital (in Europe) to receive weekly music currently being promoted. These could be great for building up a collection, but probably isn’t for those that want an edgier sound.
By now, this should go without saying… much like the dark side of the force, file sharing downloads are a tempting, easy way out. This shortcut is short lived as your respectability amongst your peers is called into question, not to mention the fact both yourself and the venue can get into trouble (there are anecdotal posts on various forums from people arriving into clubs and demanding an audit).
On top of this, just as you expect to be paid for your time, should the artists not get their dues as well?
Always remember, like anything in life, you get out what you put in. Staying ahead of the curve requires dedication and a lot of time. You need to get involved in communities, talk to other like-minded souls and contribute.
Something to keep in mind is the web’s growing “filter bubble”, with personally tailored content shielding you from the bigger picture. It’s good to follow website recommendations for your tastes, but going on a tangent can yield better results.
Some of these points are purposefully vague to encourage you to explore. Be brave. Be daring. Try something different. Once, at a party, I played U2’s With or Without You in the middle of a minimal techno set. It worked perfectly, with so many hands in the air.
Use everything you hear as an education and don’t rely on others to spoon feed you. That’s my final piece of advice: Be proactive.
• Dan Morse is a London, England-based DJ who runs his own DJing blog, It’s a DJ’s life!
Are you a DJ who used to shop in record stores but now shops online? Do you still do both? What are your tactics for enjoying your online music discovery? Please let us know in the comments.