The music industry has, it is fair to say, completely transformed in the past decade or so. We went from physical albums and singles (vinyl/CDs), to “everything, everywhere” via digital downloads and streaming services.
So, for most people, the answer to “Where do you get your music?” nowadays is usually “Spotify”. End of story.
For DJs, though, it’s different. DJing, for all of its championing of new sounds and musical styles, is actually pretty conservative when it comes to tech – and that includes the sources, formats and workflows of music. For instance, it’s only in the last couple of years that physical CD slots stopped appearing on pro DJ gear!
In 2023, the way DJs obtain music is definitely in a state of flux, with lots of ways of getting music to DJ with. It can all be hugely confusing to beginners, who just want to grab their favourite music and start playing, only to find they can’t, because – just to throw in our first complication – Spotify is not available on any DJ gear. Realising you’re expected to actually own digital music files is a rude awakening to many.
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What’s in this article
So, where do DJs get their music in 2023? That’s what we’ll answer in this article, where we’ll talk you through all the main sources of DJ music.
Just as importantly though, we’ll help you figure out how to build a DJ music library using these services, with a set of tips to get you thinking along the right lines in the second half of this article. We’ve trained over 32,000 DJs with our DJ courses since 2010, so we know what to teach you!
Want us to actually SHOW you how to do this? There’s a whole module on this topic in our hugely popular Complete DJ Course.
Who this is for
You’ll find this useful if you’re totally new to DJing, but also if you’re getting started DJing the “new”, digital way, having done it before in the past (and no doubt having amassed a physical music collection along the way.)
Also, if you’re currently a digital DJ but you feel overwhelmed by the music options out there and feel you might be missing a trick or two, you’ll find the answers here.
Where DJs Get Their Music In 2023
Mainstream download stores
The places everyone used to buy their music, before Spotify, Apple Music etc obliterated the music download game.
- Amazon – Yup, the ubiquitous Amazon is a great place to buy your music. No, it’s not cool, and no, it won’t have the most underground, independent tracks, but most music will be here, it’s easy to buy, and it’s cheap
- iTunes store – Of course Apple started all of this, and just like Amazon, its mainstream download store is still a “player”, offering the same wide selection and competitive prices
- 7digital / HDtracks – We lump these two together because they are similar in offering superior audio quality files. While we’re pragmatic about audio quality here at Digital DJ Tips, you may not be – so if your want lossless WAV/FLAC etc, high bitrates and all the rest, these may be better for you
Pro advice: Don’t think you have to buy from specialist stores! If tracks you want are on these services and the price is right, grab ’em here.
Read this next: The 11 Best Music Download Stores For DJs
Specialist download stores
You’ve heard of Beatport of course, but there are plenty of others, and depending on the type of music you play, you’ll come across them soon enough. These stores tend to have better curation, and stuff you can’t get elsewhere – but at a cost.
- Beatport – The grandaddy of download stores, and the king for all types of electronic dance music. While Beatport is pushing hard towards streaming nowadays (see below), it still has a huge and healthy download store, and is a great place to explore if this is your kind of music
- Traxsource / Juno Download – We’re lumping these two together because you’d probably use one or the other alongside Beatport, them both being also-rans in the same market. That said, they have subtly different slants on dance music, and you should never rely on just one store for everything, so don’t ignore them (and others you/we could name)
- Bandcamp – Musician-friendly platform, where you’ll again find music that isn’t available on the other platforms mentioned, and where more of your money goes to the music makers than the others. It’s an “indie”, and we wager few if any DJs use it as their primary source of music, but you should get an account and explore here, for gems that may set you apart
Pro advice: If you’re old enough to remember buying vinyl or CDs, you also know that you used to go to HMV, Tower or Virgin, and also your local independent, right? So do the same “digitally” – mainstream and specialist stores are not an either/or.
DJ download pools
Once upon a time, working DJs could join lists to have pre-release vinyl 12″s mailed to them, for free, by the labels and promotion companies, which often contained club-friendly versions of big forthcoming releases. The DJs would “test” the tracks on their audiences, and report back to the labels, and that info helped labels to decide how big a record might be when released, and so how many copies to have pressed.
DJ download stores are the digital equivalent of that. Nowadays, you pay a monthly subscription, and not all ask you for “feedback” on tracks (indeed, most don’t). Likewise, while technically you are meant to be a working DJ to join them, the evidence they require is notoriously lax, so don’t let that put you off applying to join one – a DJ Facebook Page should be enough “proof” of your working DJ status.
- BPM Supreme – The most popular DJ pool among our students, BPM supreme is a good all-rounder, with a good selection of the more commercial end of dance music and other styles, including lots of DJ-friendly re-edits, many exclusive to them
- DJcity – Actually owned by the group that owns Beatport and Beatsource, DJcity grew out of hip-hop but now covers the whole range of DJ music you may want, and again, like BPM Supreme, offers a wide selection, including lots of exclusive DJ-friendly takes on current tracks
- zipDJ – Not as popular as the above, but particularly good if house music is your thing, as unlike the two more open-format pools just mentioned, zipDJ shines with the more underground, electronic styles
There are literally scores more, and if you’re into Latin, reggae/dancehall, or some other specialist style, there will almost certainly be a pool for you. Some other names to look out for include Digital DJ Pool, Promo Only, MyMP3Pool, Club Killers and DMS.
Pro advice: If you can justify the sub, a pool is a great idea – they can be more cost-effective than buying tracks individually, and you’ll get versions not available to the public. They’re usually better for the commercial end of the spectrum, don’t rely on it for everything (you won’t find much if any older music on download pools, as that is not the reason they exist), and do try several – you’ll soon find the one that suits you best.
Yes, you can DJ exclusively with streaming services. While they’ve not yet arrived on Pioneer DJ’s club gear, they are available within all DJ software, and in Engine DJ-powered standalone systems, too. Notably absent from the services available are Spotify and Apple Music, but one of the four services that are generally available should be right for you.
- TIDAL – The closest you’ll get to Spotify or Apple Music, TIDAL is the mainstream choice, giving you the vast majority of the world’s music in one place
- Beatport Streaming – The streaming arm of the Beatport download store, this service lets you stream practically the whole Beatport catalogue, and with certain systems, also offers an offline “cache” (so no internet needed when DJing)
- Beatsource Streaming – Sister service to Beatport, this is the major label/open-format choice, while still being DJ focused, with exclusive major label DJ-friendly edits you won’t find elsewhere. Like Beatport Streaming, there are offline options available on some gear/software
- SoundCloud Go+ – What’s unique about SoundCloud’s streaming offering is that you get access not only to most of the same large catalogue a service like TIDAL gives you, but also SoundCloud’s unrivalled producer network too, meaning there’s lots of stuff here you won’t find anywhere else
Pro advice: You should have a streaming service anyway as a DJ, just for music discovery – so if you want just the single service for both music discovery and DJing, picking one of these over the more universal Spotify or Apple Music makes sense. You can use a service like Soundiiz to transfer your music between platforms.
Read this next: 13 Places To Legally Download Free DJ Music
A lot of music isn’t available on streaming or digital services yet, especially older music. Also if you’re building a music library and you want the usual range of hits of the past five decades, old compilation CDs can be a hugely cost effective way of getting such tracks – much cheaper than buying the tracks from online download stores. As long as you have a CD ripper ($30 from Amazon) to plug into your computer, you’re good to go.
- Mail order record stores – Depending where you are in the world, Walmart, Amazon, FNAC and countless other mainstream outlets let you order CDs (and vinyl) by mail order, new. Find one in your country with good postage rates
- Discogs – An amazing place to buy those compilations of “hits of the 80s” or whatever, at prices that work out at pennies per track. Also a good place to look for hard-to-find gems, or even to buy whole collections for next to nothing, that you can comb for goodies, then sell on
- Thrift shops – “Cratedigging” has been sadly lost to today’s DJ generation, but you can still find gems if you frequent charity shops, “thrift stores” and the rest and get digging
- Real record shops – If you live in a big city, you may well still have one or more real record stores you can frequent. While in truth, buying vinyl to then rip is something to be avoided where possible (buy the digital files instead), there is still music that’s only pressed to vinyl, and nothing beats the atmosphere of a record store, so if you have one do visit every now and then…
Pro advice: Once you’ve bought it, do consider “ripping” physical music, especially CDs (as it’s so easy), rather than actually try to DJ with the physical items alongside your digital files. It keeps things simple, and once you’ve done it, it’s done forever.
5 Tips For Building A DJ Music Library
We’ve taught over 32,000 DJs, and we count some of the biggest DJs in the world among our tutors, including DJ Jazzy Jeff, James Hype, Laidback Luke, DJ ANGELO and more. We know the trials and tribulations of switching to digital or assembling a collection for the first time.
Over the years, we’ve seen DJs making the same mistakes over and over again with their music collections. So before you start assembling a collection of music to DJ with, we’re going to give you a set of rules, guidelines and things to do, so you keep a clear head and don’t dig yourself into a hole once you get going.
1. Only collect what you will DJ with
We’re all collectors by nature, and that means us music lovers naturally want to collect albums, artists, labels… so this rule is the most important of all. Only collect what you will DJ with! If you can’t see yourself playing a track in one of your DJ sets, do not add it to your DJ library.
Your tracks are the tools of your trade, and any craftsman knows that its having the right tools and knowing how to use them that counts, not how many you own.
Likewise, if you find their are “tools” you don’t use any more, they shouldn’t hang around in your collection – get rid of deadwood tracks! Our tutor Laidback Luke has been DJing for 25 years and has just 2,500 tunes. Big collections do not make you a better DJ.
2. Listen fully to tracks before you add or remove them from your collection
Two reasons for this: The first is creative. You do yourself and your audiences a disservice by not actually bothering to listen properly to music you’re thinking of playing in front of them, properly. Everything starts with listening to music. This simple act starts you thinking creatively about that music, making connections with other music you own, and – crucially – deciding for sure if it’s good enough to add to your collection.
The second reason is professional. What if there is an issue with the audio file (it isn’t what it says it is, or it finishes early, or it has cursing in it you didn’t know about, etc)? You’ll never know unless you listen to it. Likewise if it sounds bad. Forget keyboard warrior DJs drilling you on music formats, bitrates, lossless vs lossy, and all the rest – instead, just listen and decide! You need to be able to spot if a track sounds great with your ears.
So why listen to your tracks before you remove them? Because often, when you’re thinning out your music collection (see point 1 above), you fall into the trap of doing so with your “head”. “Oh, I’m tired of X” you’ll tell yourself, and enthusiastically highlight a load of X’s music and hover over “delete”.
But if you actually listened to it again, your heart would kick in. You may find yourself thinking, “Actually, I really love this!”, and far from removing a track from your collection, instead plan on re-introducing it to your DJ sets somehow! Listening again reminds you why you liked a track in the first place.
3. Collect lots of versions of tracks you like
Nowadays, you can get all kinds of versions of tracks – club mixes, radio mixes, clean mixes, short mixes, VIP edits, acapellas, dubs, instrumentals, and often, all kinds of remixes. Collect all that interest you. You fall in love with the track, but the different versions give you the flexibility to be able to use those tracks in as wide a set of DJing circumstances as possible. Same goes for cover versions of tracks you love – they can be solid gold to have in your collection.
Read this next: How To Be A Genre Fluid DJ
Taking it a step further, you should be interested in where elements of your favourite tracks have been sampled from, especially tracks that rely heavily on samples. Yeah sure, sometimes you’ll find a track has used the best bit of the source material – but likewise, sometimes you’ll find that following what’s been sampled on a track “to its source” reveals older tracks you can also play in your DJ sets.
At the very least, it’ll enrich your understanding of how music is constantly recycled. Take a look at the website and app WhoSampled – this is an amazing source of info about samples used in tracks.
4. Understand the technical side of a digital music collection
There is no getting away from it – managing a digital music collection is more complex than managing a physical record collection. So if you are “tech challenged”, you’ll need to do the work here to understand the following things:
- Where your music files actually are – and how to back them up
- Where the “metadata” about your music file lives, and how to edit it – Metadata is things like the artists, album, BPM, artwork etc for each track
- The difference between files, folders, playlists/crates and smart playlists/crates
- Where your DJ software stores its info about the audio tracks you import into it
- How your streaming playlists (if you use a streaming service for DJing) integrate with your DJ software, and how to make those playlists available when you’re offline should such a feature be available with your combo of streaming service and DJ gear
- How to back up your library and DJ software database
Too many times we get DJs claiming they’ve lost their whole collection, or accidentally deleted their playlists, or got multiple copies of their music without understanding how it happened, and it’s all down to simply not understanding how digital music works.
Manage your music collection like a pro: The Complete DJ Course
5. Look to actually own the music that’s important to you
As discussed in the first half of this article, music streaming services have “arrived” in DJing finally, 10 years later than for everyone else. But our advice is still that you should actually own your own digital copies of the tracks that are truly important to you – your “core” library.
Nobody can ever take those away from you, they’re not dependent upon a streaming service or that service’s licences with the labels, and they don’t rely on you paying anyone a subscription to retain access to them. Plus, there are still certain annoying technical limitations for DJs using streaming services that don’t affect DJs playing with their own music.
Sure, if you’re DJing for fun, for family, as a hobby, using just a streaming service can be great and may be all you ever need – but the second you step into public or start charging money for your DJing, it really is best to own the tracks you will be using.
Don’t be daunted by all of this. If you’re totally new, join a streaming service you can also DJ from as well as discover music with; sign up for and buy music from both a mainstream download store and a specialist; and consider joining a download pool. That’s a great start.
Know that there is no “right” or “perfect” way with digital music, so find a method of buying and organising your tunes that works for you, and stick to it. Whatever method you choose, work to keep everything simple.
Finally, don’t forget to listen to your music! Finding ways to be listening to the music you do have as often as possible is just as important as finding new places to get that music from.