When I started out as a DJ 20+ years ago, it was during that transition period from vinyl to CD. I played on vinyl for a very short period of time, when organizing a music collection literally meant keeping track of where your records were stored within a series of big heavy crates. However I soon migrated over to CD, where I would burn my own custom discs and my organization method was knowing where certain discs were within my CD case. Sometimes I’d make a custom coloured cover to slip inside the CD sleeve, so I’d know exactly where to find it. Now that just about all of us DJs have gone digital (at least in the mobile DJ world) and use software like Serato, Traktor, Virtual DJ or rekordbox dj, we’ve entered a new phase as it relates to crate management. We may no longer have physical crates to carry around, but keeping our music organised within virtual ‘crates’ (or folders) is no less important to ensure that we can always find the right song to play at the right moment.
As far as I’m aware, there’s never really been a course on how to set this up nor is there an industry standard way of handling it. Last year I met up with some DJs to see how they tackled crate management. It was fascinating to see how everyone’s mind worked. I’ve since adopted some of their practices and tweaked some of my own. A lot of DJs thought I was the most organised one of the bunch (though I certainly didn’t feel that way), so I thought I’d use this article to share with you my own crate management practices. I’m not expecting you to follow my way of working exactly – this is definitely one of those areas where one size certainly doesn’t fit all – however hopefully you may pick up an idea or two that helps you tweak your system to make it more efficient. So, here goes…
I start by putting major ‘throwback dance hits’ in a ‘decades’ folder that would crossover between just about any party. In the ‘genre’ category I’ll name them by the decade (i.e. 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s), but my sub-crates then look like this:
EDM Late Night Hard
EDM Late Night Melodic
Party Tracks (Sing-A-Long)
Under 80 BPM
This may seem like a lot of work but, because I do so many different styles of party, I need it this organised and the hard work I put into preparation pays off at events. I can easily set the right tone by quickly finding exactly the right track for the moment with my music collection organised with this level of detail.
Other ‘top tier’ crates I’ve created are A cappellas, Alternative, Albums, Booty, Brian B Stash (for obscure events and my personal listening pleasure!), Country, Ethnic Music, Holiday Music, Freestyle, Hip Hop, HNRG (which consists of EDM, Tropical House, Deep House, etc.), Instrumentals, Karaoke, Latin, Mashups, Old School, Party Bangers (which consists of throwbacks, party classics and current anthems), R&B, Reggae, Samples, Schools, Top 40, Transition Tracks, Urban, Weddings and Wordplay. Within most of these I’ll then have sub-folders of ‘Recurrent’ and ‘Current Year’ to allow me to differentiate between perennial floor-fillers and current trends.
For the Weddings folder, I sub-crate with ‘Ceremony Music’ and ‘Dinner Music’. I then further sub-crate the Dinner Music by breaking it out by genre and decade (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, Alternative, Big Band, Blues, Country, Christian, Hip Hop, HNRG, Indie, Instrumental, Latin, Motown, Obscure, R&B and Reggae). Why do I do this with the wedding folder in particular? For one, I do a ton of weddings. Secondly, there’s always that one client that will ask for a ‘Big Band’ song or a ‘50s Rock Song’ and I want to be able to easily jump to an appropriate track right away.
Having organised your collection, it’s then important to keep refining it. My advice is to sort through your crates at least annually. Archive tracks or even full crates that you aren’t going to use anymore to keep your library clean. One of the DJs I met up with does this every six months. I only wish I could have the time to do it that regularly. But waiting years to go through it is really not a good idea.
Bottom line – the more organised your music collection and the more regularly you refine it, the better your sets and programming will be at events.
What’s your method? How do your crates look? I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve here, so any thoughts are more than welcome. Send me a note!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 92, Pages 60-61.