Why it’s Important to Know and Organise your Music Library

There are so many articles and videos out there including some on Traktortips, of how you can organise your music files when using digital DJ’ing. This article however, is intended to explain why it is important to organise your music library!

know your music  - searching for musicBack in the days of Vinyl, I didnt read one article that advised me on how I should organize my record box, it just didn’t need writing about. I never had an issue finding stuff, my brain was just able to know where it was. You knew roughly how far back in the box it was and maybe what it was near, or possibly what you played it with the last time you played it. You had no ‘instant recall’ function or the ability to type the first 3 letters into a magical machine to locate it for you in 3 seconds. Yet, these days, even with all this technology, we seem to find it harder to organise, locate and pick a track.

There are 2 reasons for this:

  1. We rely on technology way too much and therefore don’t use our brains enough. Our brains’ ability to recall things is weaker these days.
  2. The information we use to select our music is ten fold. In other words we choose it based on key, or by BPM, or by artist, or genre, or year.

A DJ’s brain has switched from mentally recalling what goes well with another track, to “what does my computer tell me goes well with this track!

People are becoming too reliant on their computer to locate tracks instead of the DJ fully knowing what’s in his box (or USB Stick). Just because you have the added assistance of a computer, doesn’t mean you should shut your brain off. Your brain and computer can work together in this.

Knowing Your Music

I speak about this from recent experiences and can whole heartedly express the incredible importance of knowing what’s in your box and what it sounds like.

organizing music files in TraktorI hadn’t DJ’d a wedding for many years. I had not listened once to the top 40 charts, I didnt know how long Rihanna had actually been around, “Really?! That long!!?” I’d never heard the name Bruno Mars, and Pitbull was simply a breed of dog!

If these names mean nothing to you and you’re a wedding or party DJ, then it’s time you updated your music supply.

Having moved to a new town I saw the opportunity to start making some extra money as a wedding DJ. The town is a tourist town, it’s small, but lots of people come here to tie the knot so there’s a huge market for weddings. There’s about 3 or 4 wedding DJ’s in town so I didn’t want to step on any toes. I ended up connecting with a very well trusted and respected DJ who needed some help with his weddings throughout the summer. Because of the number of years since my last wedding gig, I was very much behind in my music knowledge and my music collection.

The ‘collection’ problem was easy to sort. My new found business partner had a huge collection of music and even an extra thunderbolt drive, so I was away. I trusted that the best hits were on the drive and all was hunky dory (that’s an English expression meaning ‘all is well’). So with the help of just two playlists pieced together by my DJ partner; ‘Wedding Tunes‘ & ‘Electro Wedding‘, I set off on my first wedding in years!

Surprisingly enough the wedding went down great! On the surface I was calm, the crowd were easily pleased and my music selection seemed to satisfy most people there. The problem was; inside I was hurting. Panic constantly pumped through my body and many times I had merely 20 seconds left of a track without even having chosen what was coming next. The traktor decks were flashing, my brain was blank, I was frantically twisting knobs and previewing every track; as the name on the screen meant nothing to me.

I know you’ve all been there, at least once, but for every track! Now that’s what I call pain.

It got easier as the night went on. I had set up a preparation list in Traktor and made sure there was a hot key set up so I could add tracks to it on the fly. As I came across awesome wedding music, I threw it in the preparation list for later. This helped narrow down my choices. Having 18,000 tracks on the external made it unbearable to search through, so creating a list of tracks you knew would sound great, really helped.

So I got through my first wedding, maybe adding a grey hair or two to my head, but the bride and groom were very happy and my job was done.

I must organise and listen to these tracks!” I remember saying to myself.

And I remember saying this exact thing to myself following every wedding after that, until finally I decided to put time aside in my very busy schedule.

Spend Quality Time Organising Music

music library - iTunesI had been putting off organising the music for almost 3 months. I knew it was a mammoth task and I didn’t want to do it. But I knew it needed to be done.

A wedding was coming up, they had requested lots of 90’s Hip Hop. Now this seemed like fun, but I needed to remind myself of what 90’s Hip Hop sounded like. Many of you reading this may not even have been around for most of the 90’s; making your research task way more difficult than mine.  But it was the 90’s when I last DJ’d a wedding, so I was in luck, I just needed a refresher.

The timing of this wedding was perfect, my wife was away for a few nights leading up to the wedding, so I was home alone. I had lots of free time to sit with my laptop and music collection. Whilst I have often preferred using my own folders to organise my music, as opposed to iTunes (something I cover in more detail in the Basics Course), I felt that choosing iTunes and smart playlists was the way to go here with such high volumes of music.

Over the next few days I would spend over 15 hours listening, labelling and cataloguing music in iTunes.

As I was going through the music, I would lose my train of thought and notice I was hearing tracks I’d already labelled. Were they duplicates, or was I just re-organising lists and turning myself around? It was exhausting, but over time it all started to make sense. I began deleting duplicates using the show duplicates mode (be careful when doing this) and my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and so on, were all looking way more manageable. Sub-playlists existed within these lists, based on genre and awesomeness. The perceived pain of trying to locate awesome music quickly, for the right mood or request, subsided and the excitement of playing music returned.

Technology is a Tool – Not a Purpose

Using the technology available to me, I was able to filter out the best tracks in the collection without having to delete anything. You’ll find times when you’ll be glad that you kept that random track, because I guarantee you Uncle Jonny’s brother will request it. But it doesn’t need to be kept on show and you never need to see it until you need to recall it using the keyboard.

Once I spent the time organising, and listening to, the music; the next wedding was in-fact my best wedding ever. I can confidently say that having the music sorted and most importantly knowing how it how it sounded, allowed me to have as much fun as those that remained on the dance floor right through the night. When you know the music, your brain is triggered to choose the next track, based on your intuition and musical knowledge, your computer just helps you find it quickly.

It’s the best feeling in the world having people come up to you and play air guitar and tell you what a great DJ you are. After all we DJ because we want people to have a good time! It’s all about people dancing and having fun, no matter what genre or year you might be playing!

So take my advice and listen to ALL your music. Know it, know it works, know where it is and store it in your brain!

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8 comments

  1. Great advice, I’ve been doing it regularly for a while now. Having all your music tagged properly is incredibly helpful in selecting the right track for the occasion.

    Also, maybe also a good tip for people struggling with music library managing: I am currently limiting my iTunes DJ library to a maximum number of tracks, to keep it manageable. Every time I find new good songs, I try to delete a few I never play or that aren’t that good anyway. I try to stick to 2000, but maybe if you DJ at weddings and also regular parties in certain genres, more is probably ok too. As long as you kan keep track of it yourself. Knowing where to find this or that song, and knowing what your songs sound like are the most important things.

    • Yes, this is good advice too. As I say in the article, I use the stars in iTunes to select the music that I always (99% of the time) play. that way the other tunes, don’t appear at the top of your lists, but are still there is you need them.

  2. Wow this sounds like the story of my life!!! Thanks for the great tips.. I sometimes wish we could go back to vinyl.

    • No problem Robert. Thanks for the comment. I will never get rid of my turntables. (want to buy a bunch of new vinyl though as I’m kinda fed up of my 1994 – 2004 vinyl collection.

  3. Preview/Load/Play is how I’ve been doing my sets. Playing a single genre such as House or Trance, it gets easier because one can sort through Record Lables, Directories, etc and line up tracks that sound good together. But on Open format (which is the better part of the week), its un-nerving. Tracks don’t sound as well together or sometimes not good at all. Previewing on headphones doesn’t always give you the full audio picture as playing them on PAs will.

    And the moment when I find the perfect track, my joy turns to horror when I realize I have to find a good follow-up for that track. But even with all the stress this causes, I love this job.
    When previewing, (wearing my producer hat for a moment), it might be good to have a reference track or 2 handy (you know that track that sounds great on large speakers).

    • Yep the stress can be pretty high when frolicking around for the right track. This is why i recommend you MAKE SURE you know your stuff!

  4. The comment section on Traktor Scratch keeps me alive. I use it to mark up hot tracks, using personal tags such as bngrtrk, so that I can locate in a second hot tracks inside a playlist or even in my entire collection.

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