6. Find And Play Unique Tracks

General Tips for Organizing Your Music Collection

How many times during a set have you searched through thousands of tracks in your library trying to find a particular track? The clock is ticking, and before you know it you’ve got less than a minute to find the perfect song.

Before the advent of MP3s, DJs would have to carefully select a cache of vinyl records–usually a full crate or two that they had to carry themselves to each gig. They were physically limited in the amount of music they could bring with them, so they often ran the risk of leaving that perfect record at home.

Today, thanks to MP3s and digital downloads, DJs can use a laptop or hard drive as a virtual crate to store thousands of records. But sorting through an avalanche of tracks presents its own set of challenges.

To start, be sure to clean up your ID3 tags. ID3 is a metadata container that stores information such as the title, artist, album, and comment in the file itself. You can edit ID3 tags using iTunes or Mixed In Key. Most audio players allow you to edit single files or even groups of them, which is often called batch tagging.

To edit ID3 tags inside iTunes, right-click your music file and select Get info. From there, you can update the song name, artist, album, genre, and album art, and you can add comments. If you import your iTunes playlists into Serato Scratch Live, Traktor, or Pioneer rekordbox software, the ID3 tag information you stored will be converted automatically.

Be sure to update key values in both the comments and key column. Having the Camelot value in both locations gives you more flexibility if you are using multiple DJ mediums (such as Traktor and Pioneer CDJs). You can keep your library organized by Camelot value and quickly identify songs that mix well together.

In addition to sorting by key, you can categorize by genre (tech house, deep house, indie, progressive house, and so on), separate new tunes from classics, or use a detailed rating system. Software like iTunes lets you easily create playlists based on the genres and ratings you identify. For more specific sorting, you can also create subgenres within a broader genre. If house is your main genre, for example, progressive or electro might be your subgenres.

Another option is to separate your music by energy level according to warm-up, peak time and last hour. You can color code tracks based on energy level as follows:

  • Blue = chill/early (Level 1-4 on our scale)
  • Orange = warm-up (Level 5-7)
  • Red = high energy (Level 8-10)

Of course, you can also color code your tracks based on their Camelot key.

Organizing Your Digital Files

Once you’ve sorted your playlists in iTunes based on genre, energy level, key, or specific gig, you can import them directly into software programs such as Traktor, Serato Scratch Live, or rekordbox. If you’re using a program like Traktor, make sure your software analyzes the track for BPM before you play. The analysis takes up a lot of CPU power and might cause latency (lag time) during playback, so it’s better to do it at home. It’s crucial to set up cue points, align beat grids, and get familiar with how your music is organized before your gig.

If you use Pioneer rekordbox, you can set hot cue and loop points, beat grids, color codes, and add all the ID3 information so it appears automatically on any CDJ-2000 display. The Quantize feature makes loop and cue points snap to the beat, ensuring beat-perfect loops and cues. rekordbox also enables you to export prepared tracks to a USB or SD card, and will load waveforms instantly onto the CDJ.

Organizing Your CDs

If you are burning CDs to use in CD players, we recommend creating a separate CD for each key–for example, put all your 8A tracks on one CD and put 9A tracks on another. If you burn two copies of each CD, then you can mix between songs in the same key. (And as an added benefit, if one disc gets scratched, you can play the other as a backup copy.)

For easy reference, print a CD label with the key code on top (8A in this case), along with the date you made the CD, and the full track names. Adding a Camelot key color at the top of the label is another useful aid.

When storing CDs in a wallet for easy browsing, we usually put 1A/1B in the front and 12A/12B in the back. It makes intuitive sense to sort your CDs from low to high; this way you can flip one page forward or backward to see other harmonically compatible songs. It makes it easy to find the next tune to play.

Preparing Your MP3s for Mixing

When people hear music, they often think louder is better. The problem is that the louder the music, the more distorted it gets. When the volume exceeds a certain level, the audio wave starts clipping, which results in a loss of audio quality. Turn your car radio to maximum volume and you’ll hear the speakers struggling to reproduce the sound because of audio clipping.

To use a visual analogy, if you shoot a photo of deadmau5 on stage and zoom in too close, the frame might clip off his ears. The same thing happens in music when the audio signal is louder than the MP3 can handle.

In the world of DJing, it’s important to play high-quality music that won’t clip. You may have noticed that some files in your collection are much louder than others. It’s practically guaranteed that the loudest songs will have clipping in them. All music files have a limit to how loud they can get, and many songs sold on iTunes and Beatport push this to the maximum.

Musicians and record companies apply compression and limiting in an attempt to make their recordings louder, but over-compression can cause listening fatigue, and has even been blamed for the decline of the music industry. According to mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, “When you’re through listening to a whole album of this highly compressed music, your ear is fatigued. You may have enjoyed the music, but you don’t really feel like going back and listening to it again.”12 A short YouTube video called “The Loudness War” uses an audio example to explain the phenomenon.

One of the main complaints about over-compression is that it dampens the emotional impact of the music. You can avoid this problem by using software like Platinum Notes www.platinumnotes.com to adjust the volume levels of each track in your library. Platinum Notes uses studio filters to correct pitch, improve volume, and make every file ready to be played anywhere, from an iPod to a festival sound system. Similar to Mixed In Key, Platinum Notes automatically analyzes and adjusts as many files as you need.

Interview: Mark Walker and Brian Tappert/Traxsource

Once your individual sound as a DJ has progressed significantly, chances are you’ll feel creative enough to move toward producing your own tracks. We wanted to find out what happens behind the scenes in a digital DJ music store, so we talked to Mark Walker and Brian Tappert from Traxsource.com about the process of submitting music and selling it online.

Many of our readers are interested in producing. Can you talk about the process of submitting a track for sale on Traxsource?

Traxsource: In general terms, if the release already has a home–in the case of a remix commissioned by a label, for example–the producer will deliver it to the label via Dropbox or YouSendIt or some mode of media transfer. If the producer is still trying to shop the track–that is, find a label home for it–the most popular method to use is SoundCloud or some other streaming provider.

How long does the submission process take?

Traxsource: Most sites, including us, require submission of releases at least a week ahead of the date the label would like to have the release available for download.

What do you do to prepare tracks for sale?

Traxsource: Files are delivered to Traxsource via secure FTP and tags are created from information submitted by the content owners using our label submission system. We make music downloads available as 192 kbps and 320 kbps MP3s, as well as fully uncompressed WAV format. All the tracks we sell are DRM-free [meaning no copy protection].

We talk about the “loudness war” in Beyond Beatmatching. Have you seen an increase in the overall loudness of tracks submitted to the point that sound clipping is a problem?

Traxsource: Apart from creating the two-minute preview, encoding to MP3, and embedding the image supplied by the label or content owner, we don’t alter masters in any way. We’re aware of the “loudness wars,” and we see evidence of it in the tracks we receive, but everything sold is an exact digital copy of the masters provided by the record companies.

Preparing for a Live Set

Like any live performance, putting on your game face for any DJ set should be not just a routine, but a ritual. Mixing music is obviously your primary task, but proper preparation can help your set go much more smoothly. The first step is to do as much research as possible ahead of time about the vibe of the venue you’re playing. You might need to adapt your personal style in a way that best matches the venue, but don’t go overboard; if you’re good enough to have landed the gig in the first place, then you’ve already got some clout going in.

As you prepare for each venue, think about what type of crowd will be there and how long they’ll stay. Try to picture the flow of the night. When does the energy need to pick up? When is the peak time of the evening?

You can approach controlling the energy level in a few different ways. One way is to slowly build the energy throughout the night to a peak level, then dip briefly at the end. If you play mainstream music, another option is to rotate genres, spending 30 minutes per genre. The best way to be prepared for any type of set is to create a music management system that works for you.

Proper preparation for a weekend gig should begin early in the week. David Mancuso, who got his start in New York back in 1970 as the DJ for his own roving party called The Loft, remembers that most of the week revolved around preparations for the next gig. “I found out that if I started working on Thursday I would be in too much of a rush, so I began to get ready from high noon on Wednesday. My diet, my sleep, the sound, the balloons, the menu, the floor, the theme–everything built up to Saturday night.”13

Next: Create Your Own Mashups