Organizing Music! Music nerd heaven? Gigantic pain in the ass? Whatever your viewpoint, as a dj using Traktor, chances are your hard drive is awash with mp3s, and finding the one you want when mixing can be a challenge.
There are a thousand and one lengthy articles on organizing music, so if like me you tend towards distraction when overloaded with tech talk, you need a simple and effective way to keep track (sic) of your tracks. Here is what I do:
Organizing Music using ID3 tags
Clean these right up. I use mp3tag (freeware) to pare down the information to a minimum (Editors Note: a quick internet search will turn up other options out there for mac users) – remove everything apart from name, artist, genre, bitrate and date added. That includes deleting the album information (for reasons we will come to), and means you don’t get any random song titles or artists causing confusion.
Key is key
(Edit July 4th: Traktor has since built in it’s own key analysis software built right in to Traktor)
Mixed in key – genius! Download, open and drop your files onto the analyser. Be careful to follow the instructions on the forum to ensure your key info is written to the “comments” ID3 tag. This means you will be able to see it directly inside of iTunes and Traktor. Harmonic mixing is now a breeze, just browse inside Traktor using the comments field.
I’m sticking with iTunes as my player because of its seamless integration of libraries and tracklists with Traktor. Once you have cleaned your tags and binned any tunes downloaded on a whim, import them into iTunes. You can now use iTunes on your laptop or mobile to work out mixes, save them to playlists and there they are right in Traktor.
Categorise your tunes
This has one simple function – when the floor is bouncing and you are trawling for the next tune, can you find it based on where you want the mix to go? I don’t mean the obvious stuff like bpm or genre – what about if you want to drop the energy or throw in something darker – how do you know which track to pick?
Add some information for each tune to the “comments” field that now has your key information. I use dark, edgy, neutral, funky, upbeat, driving, euphoric. Now iTunes and Traktor will list your tunes by key and mood. Don’t be tempted to create too many categories!
Use iTunes rating of 1-5 stars to reference the tracks “energy”, for example:
* set opener / soft / no beats.
** early set / light / beats.
*** mid set.
***** banger / set closer.
Selecting tracks using all this information put together means that from the song information displayed in Traktor, you know as much about the track as possible – key, mood, energy, genre, bpm – and the simple system means that categorising is not so much of a drag that you let it slide. You might argue that a good dj should know his tunes inside out and have all this stuff in his head. That’s true for tunes you know and love well, but with digital storage so cheap and downloads so easy, who can say that about their entire collection these days? Not me anyway!
For those of us on Android
It’s a massive pain that there is no music player on the platform that will mimic the search capability of iTunes. If you listen to music and work out mixes on the go (thank you, weekday commute) then you need to be able to use your information.
I copy the comments field above to the album field. This is why I delete the original entries at the start, I don’t care what album a track has come from when I’m thinking about mixes, I care what key and mood it has. So now my Android player has a big album of 7A key tunes of every mood, energy, bpm and genre. You can do a lot worse than just grabbing that and mixing it…
Digital music files make it easier than ever to work out mixes before playing them. But don’t fall into the trap of making your mixes completely preconceived and rigidly guided by adjacent key, similar bpm etc, thats not the point at all. A much better dj than me once told me never to work more than 2-3 songs ahead. Play a couple, read the crowd, play a couple, read the crowd. Is it working? Do you need to change tempo? Genre?
I use the categorisation information to work out mixes of 2-4 songs that fit really well together, then create a playlist with the information you need to know in a hurry. For example, a playlist in my library called “AHS.01.mid.10A.128” tells me that it’s a few tunes of acid house of mid energy and the first track is in key 10A and 128bpm. Mix them up and then see where you want to go next!
All the above works for me but there are a hundred ways you could vary it to suit your style. Categorising like this lets me concentrate on mixing the tunes and reading the crowd, and my mixing is better for it. I believe we should embrace new technology wholeheartedly, and these are exciting times for dj’ing, but keep perspective folks – technology has changed but the role of the dj hasn’t.
You might also like: How to Organize your music using multiple iTunes Libraries.