Organising Music In The Digital Age
There is one thing that DJs have always needed and will always need, and that thing is music. It’s the one topic that isn’t even up for debate. If you want to be a successful DJ, a professional DJ, you need an expansive and varied music library. This is especially important for us mobile DJs, because we really do cater for the masses; unlike club DJs, who may work residencies that require them to play certain genres, we need to have access to all genres from across the decades. Moreover, we also need to know these genres inside out, which tracks work well together, and where they sit in our collection.
Like many of you probably did, I spent years and years building up my library. It’s something we’re all proud of and something we don’t necessarily want to lose, either. Recently I decided my library needed reorganising: it had become stale and I’d fallen into the same old routines when it came to the songs I was playing. Another problem was the pesky duplicates littering my collection, many of which were of differing qualities due to using different settings each time I’d ripped music from CDs over the years. By taking songs from various compilation CDs and purchasing music online, I’d ended up with dozens of copies of certain individual tracks. I mean, Whitney’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is great but, let’s face it, nobody needs eleven copies. It was time for a change in how I had my music organised!
Obviously I turned to Google (because we all know Google holds the answers to all of our problems!), searched ‘How to organise your music library’ and took it from there. Nestled in amongst the search results, I found interesting content from Digital DJ Tips and a number of blog posts, all offering advice for reorganisation! I also reached out to my colleagues in the industry, putting out a Facebook post asking other DJs how they do things. Each replied with details of their own unique methods and while each of these suggestions had its own merits, it still seemed clear to me that there is no set way to do things, no industry standard. Unlike back in the days of vinyl and CDs…
Back then, it was easy to find music during a gig. You flicked through a library that was wholly physical, reminding yourself, in a very tangible way, of tracks that worked together or offered smart juxtapositions. This physicality was partly down to the artwork on the vinyl/CD sleeves. If you had no idea what to play, flicking through the sleeves would remind you of the gems in your collection in a way that scanning through a plain list of artists/titles in DJ software simply can’t.
I really do miss ‘upending’ my crates; propping up the selection of discs that I wanted to play throughout the evening, saving them for later. Of course, finding particular tracks in the old days required you to have an incredibly organised library. I once knew of a blind DJ who was so familiar with his collection and had his records organised so well that, during gigs, he knew exactly where every record was and could therefore pick and choose as he went!
No software can ever really replicate the physicality of browsing and playing music like we did back then and modern DJ technology also makes it all too tempting to be lazy. These days, with digital, it’s easy to find yourself going through the motions, viewing the playback history for your set the week before and replicating it almost track for track. You find yourself moving in circles, stuck on a digital roundabout, so to speak. In a live setting, while you’re searching through what you played in your set a few nights before, looking to replicate it, you aren’t keeping an eye on the floor; you aren’t reading the crowd when you should be using their reaction as the basis for your next decision. Without the physical reminders offered by thumbing through a vinyl or CD collection, you end up mixing the same tried-and-tested tracks instead of doing something different.
Despite some of the advantages that DJing with vinyl/CD has over digital DJing, the latter certainly offers a lot more positives than negatives. It allows you to carry a vast music collection without breaking your back and search for specific tracks very quickly and easily (assuming that you know what you’re looking for). However, having reflected back on the ‘good old days’ of vinyl, I began to question how the old-style system – of knowing your music library inside out – can transfer to digital? And how exactly we can organise our music most effectively in the digital age?
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 73, Pages 26 - 30.