Five Steps To Your Perfect DJ Music Library System

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 27 March, 2018

Back in the old days, DJs used to throw a pile of tunes in a box and run out of the door. There are many DJs who do this today, just digitally. And that’s still fine – although it’s just one of the countless ways you can organise your digital music nowadays…

Our post recommending that DJs stop using iTunes to organise their music libraries recently certainly got a people talking, with about a 50/50 split among fans and haters of iTunes. But I’m aware we left some people who aren’t sure in pain, pointing out what’s wrong with iTunes without fully outlining a preferred alternative.

This post will help. It is designed to empower you, by showing you that as long as you follow the five steps of good music library organisation, you can organise your library any damn way you like, and with any tools you like (and yes, that includes iTunes). The funny thing is, the DJs who had strong views for/against iTunes in our previous post generally all “get this” already… which is precisely why they’re fine with how they do things right now.

So if you’re still feeling music library organisation is confusing you, read on…

(By the way, I’m also asking you to share the way you organise your own music with us in the comments.)

The five steps of any good DJ music library system

OK so right off, then, here they are:

  1. Only admit to your DJ library the tunes you actually know you’ll want to DJ with – and purge it of anything else; the rest of your music doesn’t belong there
  2. Make sure your files contain the metadata that’s important to you – as a minimum artist, title, any remix title, year, and genre
  3. Know how to sort and filter your files and how to listen to them day-to-day  – when you’re not actually DJing or practising
  4. Have a way of choosing a set of possible tunes for any particular gig – and of getting that set of tunes into your DJ software (or to your gig with you in another way)
  5. Have a way of regularly backing up – not only your music files but any work done on them with any other software you use (ie cue points etc)

That’s it.

If your music library “system” can tick all five boxes, it really doesn’t matter how you do it or what tools you use. In fact, DJs do this all kinds of ways. Just from recent memory, in real DJ booths and among people I know, I’ve seen DJs:

  • Doing it all using files and folders (ie in macOS or Windows folders directly), with the track info listed in the filename itself; when it comes to DJing, they literally drag the tunes from an open file browser window directly onto the decks in their DJ software, bypassing their DJ software’s library and any music organisation tools altogether
  • Doing the above, but dragging the files for “tonight’s set” onto a USB or two, to play from directly in a club (you’ll be surprised how many big name DJs do this – no iTunes, no pre-analysis, just MP3s or WAV files on a USB stick, dragged straight from a folder on their hard drive)
  • Using iTunes to sort, tag and playlist their music, but keeping all the files themselves in a single folder, and turning off the iTunes features that organises the music files; then, opening the iTunes section of their music library feature in their DJ software and DJing from those playlists
  • Doing the above, but letting iTunes organise their file and folders too
  • Doing the above, but then using Rekordbox (which can also show you your iTunes library internally) to put those sets onto USB drives for DJing with in DJ booths on Pioneer gear
  • Using another tag editor that isn’t iTunes to add the artist, title, genre etc to their files, and then importing them into their DJ software and using the DJ software’s playlisting/crates feature to organise the tracks for DJing
  • Using another music library program that isn’t iTunes to add the artist, title, genre etc to their files and to organise them into playlists, but then dragging whole playlists into folders/crates/playlists in their DJ software for each gig
  • Throwing all their new music into one folder, then tidying up the tags and doing all the playlisting directly in their music library (this was the method I described back in the don’t use iTunes post)

I really could go on. And while there are of course pluses and minuses to all of the above systems, they all worked for each of those DJs. The reason they work, though, is not due to the system itself (whichever one they’d settled on), but that all of those DJs were – underneath it all – applying (whether consciously or subconsciously) the five steps listed at the start of this post.

That meant they were cool with their music collection. They were confident of finding what they wanted. And if they wanted to switch to a different way of doing it for whatever reason (change of software, DJing on a different set-up, wanting to ditch a particular program they’ve been using, whatever), they would be able to do so with the minimum possible pain, due to understanding and applying the five steps.

How do you organise your music?

Now, I do know this stuff can be confusing, and I know it doesn’t come naturally to many DJs, especially those used to CDs and vinyl (no surprise that the first two methods above are preferred by just such – generally older – DJs). We have always spent a lot of time teaching this in our courses for just that reason. We’re also going to come back to this subject here on the blog soon, in order to bring you more insight.

But this will help too: I want all you readers with music organisation systems you love to tell us below how you do it. Try and keep it short (we don’t need all the details), and try and refer to how your method ticks the boxes above (the five steps). The idea is to let other readers see how you do it to – help them spot similarities, differences, new ideas and potential issues with the way they’re doing it.

And finally, if you’re still stuck about all of this, please feel free to ask any questions – I’ll be happy to chime in and help you out in any way I can.

So, the comments below are all yours: Tell us how you organise your music…

Click here for your free DJ Gear and software guide