As of today, it is still important for DJs to own a carefully collected, local music collection. A DJ’s music collection constitutes their tools of the trade, and no DJ will have exactly the same one.
Yes, it is possible to use streaming services (which of course is what the majority of non-DJs do for their music nowadays) as your day-to-day music source, even to DJ with. Indeed, in our DJ courses we recommend that every student DJ subscribe to a streaming service, if only for the purpose of music discovery. And DJing with streaming services is lots of fun and has its own advantages, too.
But owning your own music in the shape of downloaded, locally kept music files is still a non-negotiable. Why? Well, in no particular order…
- Local files are more reliable to DJ with – Once these tracks are on your computer, or your USB drive, it’s as good as having the record or CD with you
- They’re truly yours forever – No streaming service going bankrupt, or licensing agreement with a record label running out, can affect the availability of tunes you actually own
- You’ll think harder about each track once you go to the trouble of downloading and organising it into your collection – The act of downloading/buying, tagging, and protecting your local music takes effort and often money, and so you’ll give more thought to each new track, which is always a good thing for keeping the quality of your DJing high. And finally, if you’ll permit me to share an artistic reason…
- An actual collection says something tangible about you – These individual tracks become part of how you view the world of music. By owning them, you’re making a statement. To put it more poetically, the tracks you play are the words that form the sentences you “speak” to your audience when you DJ. And as all great communicators know, if you want to convince anyone of anything, you should never use borrowed words…
OK so my final point may be a stretch too far, but if you’ve ever collected vinyl or CDs, you’ll know that intangible quality that comes with ownership. Even with digital files, some of that lives on.
So where do DJs get music files from?
You can’t just download all the songs you like on Spotify, TIDAL etc, as these sites are not stores. And also, good DJs do not get their music from just one place anyway, because they know it is better to look far and wide in the name of finding the exact tracks they want, and often tracks others may not have.
DJs use music download stores like the ones we’re about the share with you, but they also use DJ download pools (we have an article on those here), and free sources (we cover free DJ music here). Over time, the best DJs foster direct contact with the labels, artists and other DJs they follow, often through social media, DM contact and so on. Then of course there is ripping vinyl and CDs.
If you’re interested in the bigger picture of how to assemble a great DJ music library, we’ve got a complete introduction to the topic in our Where DJs Get Their Music From article. For the rest of this article, we’ll concentrate on paid download stores – effectively, online digital record shops.
The Best DJ Music Download Stores 2022
We’ve divided this into two sets of stores – the big/main ones, and some others to consider too. Before we get going, a quick word about music formats. They all sell both lossy MP3s (or AACs in the case of iTunes), and lossless formats – where this isn’t the case, we’ve mentioned it in the text.
Best for electronic & EDM DJs: Beatport
The first name most electronic music fans think of when it comes to buying music files is Beatport. Beatport offers a wide selection including the vast majority of underground labels, and a mind-boggling array of genres and sub-genres. The store is fun to shop in, with lots of DJ charts and other tools to help you sift and listen to music, including a pretty good preview player and the ability to make playlists before buying.
Prices have dropped over the years (they used to be sometimes prohibitively expensive), and Beatport has introduced lots of innovation including Beatport Streaming (that integrates perfectly with the store and DJ software), and even a browser-based DJ app. Thoroughly recommended for electronic music DJs, as it is definitely one of a kind and consistently a market leader.
Best for house DJs: Traxsource
Like Beatport, Traxsource has been around for a long time, since 2004. It is a specialist DJ download store, with a particular emphasis on underground house music, although you’ll find techno, progressive house, nu-disco and other related genres too. Also like Beatport, it has useful charts, both store-compiled and from DJs.
Unlike Beatport though, Traxsource is purely a download store, with no non-store features to distract you. And with a decidedly anti-corporate/underground feel, if you miss shopping in real good independent dance music stores, this could well be your digital home. Naturally, the store sells all relevant formats, with AIFF and WAV as well as MP3s.
Best for open-format DJs: Beatsource
Owned by the same company that owns both Beatport and DJcity (the DJ download pool), Beatsource sells itself as the one-stop shop for open-format DJs – so we’re talking dance, hip-hop, pop, Latin, R&B, reggae/dancehall, African, even rock, with a major label slant.
What makes Beatsource different from buying major label stuff from, say, Amazon, is three things. One, the curation: It’s designed for DJs, so you get playlists, charts and so on to help you. Two, they sell exclusive DJ edits that are easier to mix than the standard versions of songs – a great feature. And three, it’s also a DJ streaming service that plugs into DJ software, so you can do your shopping, buying of key tracks, and streaming of the rest, all in one place.
Best for mainstream music: iTunes Store
iTunes kicked it all off, and there is still an iTunes Store available to Mac, Windows, and iOS users, although Apple has firmly moved its priorities into the streaming arena nowadays with Apple Music, its flagship music product. However, the iTunes Store is relatively cheap, has the vast majority of music available to buy, and if you have it, it’s as good a place as any to buy, and offers a browsing and exploring experience akin to shopping in, say, HMV back in the day.
However, due to the amount of confusion we see with students who buy music from here, then at some point choose to subscribe to Apple Music too, and literally lose track of where they are (as Apple products “mixes up” your bought music and streaming favourites), what we would say is be careful to know where your downloads are, and how to access them away from Apple’s ecosystem. Also be aware that its lossy format is AAC, not MP3, although this still plays on all DJ gear fine.
Website: iTunes Store
Best for supporting the artists: Bandcamp
Bandcamp is artist-focused in a way none of the other stores on here are. Artists get to keep a lot more of the revenue from their tracks (82%), but also have far more say in how their music is presented on the site – almost a few echoes of MySpace going on here. Artists can even pick what they want to charge for their music. And while Bandcamp is a download store, you can also stream all the music you’ve ever purchased, making it a sort-of streaming service too.
Bandcamp feels like what the musicians, artists and producers get up to while the corporates are looking the other way, and is a wonderful place because of that. (Ironic, actually, as it was bought by the makers of Fortnite recently.) And while it certainly isn’t DJ or dancefloor-focused primarily (if you had to give it a single tag, it would probably be “indie”), all music is on here, including plenty of dance music. And as you can follow who you like, and as the site is built around the idea of artists communicating directly with followers, it is in that way a bit like SoundCloud – except everything is for sale and downloadable.
Best for penny pinchers: Amazon
So Amazon sells pretty much everything you’ll find in, say, the iTunes store, as MP3s. Its prices are cheap, often very cheap, so if you know what you want and you’re looking to save a few pennies, you can definitely do so by simply hitting that Amazon search bar and typing in the name of your track, and selecting “MP3” from the buying options.
Where you’ll miss out on Amazon is the highest quality formats, as Amazon “aims for” 256kbps MP3, which for most people will sound fine, but it’s not the best (we recommend 320kbps MP3 or lossless formats for DJing). Also, as a DJ or dance music fan browsing Amazon for music, the experience is pretty horrible – it’s a pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap environment as we all know. And like iTunes, nowadays Amazon wants you to subscribe to its own streaming service, so you’ll be swerving all the prompts for that along the way too.
Others Music Stores For DJs To Try
Pick two or three of the above to visit religiously and you’ll be golden. However, as we keep alluding to, it’s the DJs who search wider and deeper who tend to find the gems. So for the sake of completion, here are some other services you may want to check out:
I remember buying vinyl bootlegs from Juno 25 years ago (it actually started in 2006). It is a UK-based dance music specialist that sells physical records/CDs and DJ equipment and accessories too. But for many years now, Juno has also had a download store, offering a full range of formats, and a wide range of genres too, including some you won’t find elsewhere generally (gabba, for instance).
Like the other DJ stores, it has DJ charts to help you shop. You may not find charts from the household names you’ll find on, say, Beatport, but there are still plenty of them here, and you may actually find a handful of DJs to “follow” whose tastes open your mind to new music and artists other bigger sites miss. You can even add your own chart, if you like, which is a nice touch.
Website: Juno Download
Boomkat is a small UK (Manchester, actually)-based independent music store that sells vinyl and CDs as well as MP3s, FLACs etc for download. However, mainstream it ain’t – this is a store curated by serious underground music fans with genres like basic channel, dub techno, dark ambient, grime, industrial, jazz etc.
If you play to alternative dancefloors, have specialised tastes, or just want fresh, often overlooked music for your own devious satisfaction, it’s definitely one to bookmark and check – and even if not, this is the kind of store where you may just uncover that killer, underground track that nobody else has got.
Qobuz is a French music company that is primarily a streaming service, which tries to differentiate itself from the competition with high quality music files, and deep curation. (When you use it as a streaming service, it provides sleeve notes and so on to make streaming a richer experience, especially for fans of classical and jazz, two areas it shines in.)
However, it is also a download store, and has a wide range of genres, including pop/rock, electronic, soul/funk/R&B, and hip-hop/rap. One thing it excels at is giving well-written and illuminating descriptions/articles for a lot of the releases and artists it sells, even interviews sometimes. This is something it often does much better than anyone else, making Qobuz a lovely place to learn about music you may not know yet, even if you don’t buy it. However, Qobuz does push its streaming service at you at every turn, which can be off-putting.
This is a site aimed at older hi-fi buff types, and its USP is, unsurprisingly, hi-res (or HD) audio. So if things like “24 bit and “96 kHz” mean something to you, you may appreciate their slant. However, that said, it is an expensive store, and is very “release” focused rather than “track” focused, so you’ll be buying full albums when you only want a track or two.
Overall this is definitely not a place to make a regular stop at as a DJ. However, if you’re both a DJ and a music collector, and especially if you’re the kind of person who invests thousands in home speakers, amps, DACs and all the rest, then here you’ll find the absolute top quality studio master versions of all the pop, rock, jazz and classical music you did or didn’t once own on CD/vinyl.
A UK-based digital download store that once was an innovator when it came to hi-res music (no MP3s here), 7digital is available in the US and the UK and non-EU markets, but curiously, nowadays not in Europe.
It is in many ways similar to Qobuz, with curation and things like artist interviews that you won’t find elsewhere, but for me, it is looking tired nowadays and doesn’t really differentiate itself from others who are doing it better. However unlike Qobuz, you’re not constantly offered upsells to a streaming service – this is just a store.
Now you know a whole host of places to find great music for your DJ sets. Here’s some advice so you don’t get overwhelmed by all of this!
- Pick two or three stores, and get to know them well – It’s better to be a wizard at a few of the above than attempt to get the most out of all of them. You can always chop and change over time…
- Put time aside each week to shop for music – You’ll never find enough time for doing this, but if you at least put some time in regularly, it’ll all add up
- Don’t try and “keep up” – All the world’s music is available to everyone, all time time nowadays, and that is impossible for anyone to keep up with. Stop feeling that pressure. Grab the tracks that matter to you, old or new, and learn to work really well with those in your DJ sets
- Don’t just rely on stores – DJs get their music in other ways, too – do take time to check out our Where DJs Get Their Music From article for the bigger picture
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