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How To Discover Great Music


Part of your job as a DJ is to hear more of the world’s music than your average person, so you can pick the best of that music for your own collection – music that talks to you personally. Armed with a collection of tunes you really care about and the DJing formula taught in this book, you’ll be ready to play DJ sets that please both your crowds and you.

It all starts with music discovery. Music discovery is the first stage of a process I illustrate with the Playlist Pyramid.

Playlist Pyramid Level 1
Right there at the base of the pyramid we have all the music that’s ever been recorded in the whole world.

The Playlist Pyramid allows you to visualise the process you’ll go through as a DJ to filter the music that’s out there, from everything that exists to the exact handful of tunes you end up playing in any given DJ set. We’ll work with it a lot more in this step of this process, but for now, note that the bottom of the pyramid is where you’ll find all the music that’s ever been recorded in the whole world.
Now, if you’re hearing less music than everyone else, or just buying the stuff you hear other DJs play, then how can you possibly make a good job of standing out from the next DJ? So we need to build the pure simplicity of listening to lots and lots of music into your life.

Here are the five golden rules.

Five rules of music discovery

Listen to music anywhere and everywhere

Your job is to build music into your life to such an extent that it’s harder to avoid it than it is to keep listening. Got a buzzer-style alarm clock? Get a clock radio instead, and tune in to a music station as you wake up. Make sure you have speakers in every room of your house (Bluetooth, Sonos, whatever). Keep your iPad, iPhone or MP3 player packed with music for when you’re out and about. Set every preset on your car radio to a different music channel. If you’re allowed headphones at work, wear ’em. When you go out, try to go to a music bar rather than a sports bar (for instance). Subscribe to a streaming music service such as Apple Music or Spotify, and make sure you get your money’s worth. Wear headphones at the gym, walking the dog, while running, on planes…you get the idea. No silence.

Listen to anything and everything

This isn’t about being painfully cool, it’s about listening to music – any music. From death metal to kiddies’ TV themes, classical to country, this is your chance to hear music of all types, not just music you’d play, buy or even particularly like. The point is to have music on. Indeed, it is often better to listen to stuff that makes you uncomfortable – that’s when you broaden your tastes and become more knowledgeable.

Don’t think too much about it

This is at first a hard one to do, but you will get better at it. listening to music 24/7 is not about having long debates with yourself over whether what you’re hearing is cool or not, whether you could play it in a DJ set, or anything else cerebral, for that matter. If you cave in to consciously grading, sorting and organising the music you hear, you’ll be exhausted pretty quickly and find yourself turning it off to get a break from yourself. This is about feelings, not thoughts; emotions, not reasons. When a joke makes you laugh, do you analyse why it made you laugh? of course not. Nor should you analyse the music you’ve got on.

Notice what interests you

As from now you’ll be playing music all the time, and as you’re not going to over analyse it, you’re inevitably going to switch off and almost forget you have music on at all. That’s exactly what we want, because now you’ll be listening like a ‘normal’ person, not a DJ. And when something grabs your attention, it will do so not via the critical faculties of a hard-to-please DJ, but because deep down you like something about whatever the piece of music is. It’s important to realise that what it is you like about that tune is not important. You may notice it because it’s a great song, because it really annoys you, because it sounds like something else in your collection, because it’s the first tune you’ve heard loud for ages – whatever. learn to acknowledge that something has got your attention, take note of the fact, and get on with your day.

Religiously note all such tunes

Using a note-taking app on your smartphone, or Shazam (the music recognition app for ioS and Android, which is great if you don’t know the title of a particular piece of music), or just good old pen and paper, scribble down names, artists, even snippets of lyrics for you to Google later if that’s all you can get. Just try and get some kind of placeholder for that tune in your system.

Four ideas to get you started

In order to achieve the above every day of your life from now on, it’s true that you’re going to need a bit of planning and preparation. Spend a couple of hours doing some or all of the following things so you’ve always got something to listen to. You can revisit this exercise weekly as part of your choosing and shortlisting music session (more about that in the next chapter), because there are always new services, shows and technologies, and it pays to shake things up sometimes.

Get loads of music on your iPad, iPhone, or smartphone

As mentioned above, you really do need to subscribe to a streaming service, such as Apple Music or Spotify. These services let you keep music offline to play when you don’t have an internet connection, so make the most of that fact and pack your device with albums by artists you think you may like, compilations, playlists curated by the service’s staff – whatever. This is your fallback for all times, so make sure it’s full of new music.

Find out when the chart show is broadcast in your area, and tune in religiously

Doesn’t matter whether you want to be the most underground DJ on the block or play chart music yourself – your local chart show tells you what people near you are buying, streaming and downloading. There is always value to be had by keeping up to date with this information, if only to find that the underground track you thought was your little discovery is actually in the Top 10.

Choose a music web/iOS/Android app or two, and learn how they work

There are apps out there that trawl the music blogs, bringing you aggregated ‘hot tracks’ from across the web. There are apps where people upload their own productions, radio shows, and DJ mixes. There are services that bring web feeds from local broadcast radio stations worldwide to anyone, anywhere. There are even sites that broadcast other DJs’ sets live. Find one or two you like, and use them. Look at names like Hype Machine, SoundCloud and Mixcloud.

Don’t forget about the music you already like or own

You may have been collecting music for decades, or you may have very little, but you certainly have artists you like, and songs you love. listen to all of this stuff too, and make a note of the tracks that particularly stand out for you in the same way as if it were new music to you.

Playlist Pyramid Level 2
This chapter has taught you to move to the second tier of the Playlist Pyramid, where you’ve heard a wide variety of the music that’s out there, and naturally made a note of a whole bunch of stuff you may or may not decide later to go to the next tier with.

Keeping an open mind

This is music discovery, not critical appraisal. This is the one time when you really do put quantity over quality – listen to anything! If you’re going to become a tastemaker, someone who spots new trends, you’re going to have to have your ears open, and not only to the stuff you think you’re going to want to use in your DJ sets. As you’ll see in the next chapter, there’s plenty of time for formally thinking through the music you’ve identified as being interesting in your day-to-day discovery sessions.

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