Your libraries a mess, I get it, mine too. Even my vinyl collection still sits on a shelf, unsorted since the last time I touched it (years ago). So don’t worry you’re not the first to ask how do DJs store their music? I know that because I did too. I didn’t find a comprehensive collection of ideas so decided to do the research and write one. Now my library is spick and spam, and yours can be to…
Before we dive in, I just want to make a couple of distinctions. Specifically about the most common software that DJs use to organize their music libraries.
Rekordbox by Pioneer
Rekordbox is the builtin software displayed when people use Pioneer decks such as the CDJ and DDJ ranges. It can also be used as a standalone product that allows DJs to work on organizing their music library while away from the decks.
Being the most common music library organizational software it has also been made compatible by other manufacturers such as Denon. Meaning you can plug a Rekordbox USB into Denon decks and it should be able to recognize most, if not all of the tags, that have been added in Rekordbox.
In Rekordbox lists of tunes are known as ‘Crates’.
Serato DJ Pro
Serato is perhaps the biggest when it comes to DJ software. So it is common for DJs to use this to organize their music library. In Serato groups of tracks are called ‘Playlists’ rather than Rekordbox’s ‘Crates’ although the function is very similar.
Traktor also calls groups of tracks ‘Playlists’
Those distinctions made, on with the rest of the article. For ease of description, I shall just use the term ‘Crate’ when referring to lists/groups of tracks.
Library not big enough to be messy yet? Then you need to join a DJ record pool…
How Do DJs Store Their Music
There are several different ways to store music and group them, how you do it will vary depending on your individual style. Therefore, I should just run through each option and you can then mix (lol, get it?) and match depending on what will serve you best.
Ideas For Crates
Splitting your tracks into genres saves you from having to scroll through the relevant tracks when playing a specific night.
Plus if you’re in the middle of a set and rushing to find the next track, then having groups of similar tracks together will cut down the amount of time searching.
Tip: Keep Genres Broad
It helps to be broad where genres are concerned. This is so tracks are similarly grouped together.
For example, if you were to sort your library by its genre column but if you have labels such as Tech House, Deep House, and Funky House then those tracks are going to be nowhere near each other. And in all probability will have other genres in between them.
Instead have the broad genre first, i.e House Deep, House Tech. This will make sure that on sorting, the tracks are all put together in their broad genres first. The sub-genre will then be sorted alphabetically so you’ll still have all the deep and tech tracks lined up next to each other.
Extra Tip: Utilize Spare Tags
We will talk a lot about tags throughout this article, however, you can use spare tag fields to your advantage.
For example, you can put the broad genre i.e House, EDM, Techno in the genre section, then use something like the ‘composer’ section to add the sub-genre i.e Deep, Tech, etc.
Doing this will allow you to search both on the broad term or on individual sub-genres.
It can be a good idea, if you drop in samples over your mixes or if you scratch, to have a dedicated crate for your samples. This makes them very accessible if you want to access them quickly in the middle of a mix.
Have another separate crate in which to store your acapellas. Again, to make them easy to access when you want to add that extra layer to your mix.
Tip: Be Descriptive Here Aswell
It helps to also utilize genres and add comments here as well. For example, use broad descriptions like ‘singing’, or ‘rapping’ when labeling your acapellas. This will enable you to quickly find what you are looking for as well as making it easier to create unexpected mixes.
For example, if you have several different acapellas labeled ‘rap’, then you know they’ll all work over a certain type of beat. Even if you have never practiced that exact mix before.
Extra Tip: Multiple Acapella Crates
If you wanted to take it a step further, you could actually create separate acapella crates, one for singing and one for rap.
Related: 13 different sites to get acapellas can be found here.
Wait… What’s The Point?
The aim of all of this is to cut down the amount of thinking you have to do during a set.
Yes, you probably know which tracks have singing or rap in them, but that takes thought. Having them in individual crates eliminates that thought process… freeing your mind to focus on your mixing/set.
Creating event-specific crates is a good idea If you have a big show coming up, or you do a residency or several.
A good habit is, in the lead up to an event, make a crate for it and as you think of/buy tunes you want to play then start adding them to it.
Likewise, it’s a good idea if you play regular residencies. Over time you will figure out what goes down well with that particular audience in that particular club.
By having an event/residency specific crate means you are able to jump straight to your list of tracks every time you go there. Saving you time having to scroll through music to find the same specific tracks, week after week.
Stage of the Night
A common practice amongst many DJs is to sort their music into stages of the night. For these, you might label them along the lines of:
- Main section
This means, depending on whether you are headlining, supporting or doing the closing set then you’re able to quickly jump to a list of tracks that has the general mood you want to get across.
Genre Transition Tracks
If you have certain tracks that include multiple genres, which makes them good bridges to go from one section another then include them in a separate crate.
This will allow you to quickly access the relevant tracks when you are looking to switch up genres.
To pull out a classic as an example… Skream’s remix of ‘In for the kill’, which is primarily a dubstep track, ends on a drum&bass section. Making it a perfect track to transition energy with.
Learn from the Past
Serato, Rekordbox, and Traktor all show you the history of tracks you have played recently. Therefore, a good practice to get into when learning how DJs store their music is to save your history of a set into its own crate.
Particularly when you did a set that you really enjoyed or discovered tracks that worked really well together.
This is also really helpful if you regularly release mixes online. In that, you are able to go back and easily recreate a set at home with the record button going by using one of your history crates.
Tip: Don’t Be Shy With Crates
It’s worth noting that tracks can go into unlimited crates so don’t be afraid to add them into multiple. Anything that saves you time is a bonus.
Intelligent Playlists / Automatic Crates
Rekordbox and Serato allow you to create smart crates that can be set up in a few different ways. Sadly this much-requested feature is still absent from Traktor.
Some ideas for automatic crates would be:
Set up a crate to automatically import any track that has been purchased within the last 1-3 months.
This is similar to how vinyl DJs back in the day would put their latest purchases at the front of their boxes to remind them to play the newest tracks.
To access thousands of tracks, join a DJ record pool.
If you would like a crate with all tracks containing a certain genre or instrument for example, then set up smart crates that filter on terms like House or Trumpet (more on instruments in a minute).
This means tracks old and new will always be there in one long list. This lets you see exactly how large your collection of a particular genre is.
It also saves you having to manually move them into genre crates (you just have to tag properly instead).
This can be useful if you’re going to be playing on the radio (or at kids parties, lol). You can set up a filter that searches for the word ‘Clean’ and means you won’t risk playing any expletives over the airwaves.
Trust me the fines are not worth it, even if you don’t cop the fine then chances are you’ll never play that station again. This does vary by country, of course, the UK is super strict on swearing, while in Australia they are free to swear all f**king day.
Filter by Genre then Year
This is a bit of a ninja trick when it comes to DJing. Where it can be particularly helpful is when you are doing specific sets i.e if you’re Classic 90s d&b set. Simply set the filters to Years: 1990-2000 and genre: Drum & Bass.
Tip: Put the Track’s Year Into the Id Tags
This is discussed more below and is a good idea, even if it is a bit of work. Not only does this help with filtering or when trying to find a track but the more tags you take the time to create, the more options when it comes to making smart crates.
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Set Your Default Sorting
This is usually down to personal preference, although a good way to ensure speed while you are in the mix is to have the defaults sort set to Genre, then BPM and then Key.
This will speed up your mixing as you’ll know straight away that the track is already at the same tempo and that you simply need to choose a track that’s in the same or complementary key.
This technique alone can quickly get you out of trouble when you are running out of track and need to find the next one to mix in.
Use Color Coding to Your Advantage
Available in all software, spending some time color coding can make your tracks super quick to find.
Examples of using color-coding include:
- The track’s key and actually basing the color coding on Mixed in Key’s complimentary wheel so that you can quickly see which tracks will work together
- Highlighting your own tracks so they stand out from those you have bought
- Recent or favorite tracks
- It can be a good idea highlighting tracks that you know are guaranteed to get a big response.
- We’ve all done it as DJs… We go down a rabbit hole of tracks we want to play only to find that the audience hasn’t quite gone with us on the journey. Therefore, we need to bring some energy back to the room and in some cases, some people back to the dance floor.
- By highlighting guaranteed smashers, you can quickly find one and throw it on to have the dance floor pumping again within minutes.
- Track energy – Further to the above you can also use color-coding to visually describe the energy of a track.
- For example, using the traffic light system of red (slow/chilled tracks), orange (medium energy/build-up) and green for tracks that you know will get the crowd rocking.
Tip: How Do DJs Store Their Music? With Clean Tags…
Although cleaning up your tags can be time-consuming, and it’s not time spent on the decks (see our recommended ones here), well thought out tags will make your live mixes infinitely better.
As soon as an idea pops into your head you’ll be able to quickly find the track, sub-genre or acapella you are thinking of. Without having to scroll and decode confusing/mislabeled tracks.
If you have already built up a large library then dedicate a couple of hours to and sort out your tracks. If you have too many to do in one hit then simply go through your history and start with the tracks you have been playing recently.
Then, going forward, get in the habit of checking the ID tags of a track as you buy and amending/updating to how your DJ library is organized.
This will only take you minutes per week but will save frustration and allow you to make more complex mixes when playing gigs.
Tip: Be Sure to Have Your Import Date Column Enabled
This is another simple hack that allows you to quickly see your most recent purchases, as you can sort by when tracks were added to your library. Anything you bought in the last weeks or months will be at the top of the list for you to play to your heart’s content.
This is surprisingly helpful as, while we sometimes can’t remember a track’s name, we will generally be able to remember when it came into our lives.
Adding Dominant Instruments/Elements Using the Comment Section
The comment section of ID tags can be a great place to put in the dominant sound within the track. By this, I mean things like adding the main instrument or even whether there are vocals in the track.
Doing this will give you ideas you may not have thought of when it comes to creating flow in your mixes.
For example, you could do a search on ‘saxophone’ and find multiple tracks where that is the dominant instrument. This would give you options, for example, of mixing two different sax sounds in a call & response type of way.
Track Artwork / Extra Color Coding
Taking time to add the track’s artwork is another hack designed to speed up scanning your library. After all, your brain works much better visually than it does with words.
When scrolling a list of tracks your brain will pick out an image much faster than if you are having to read/scan text.
Tip: The Artwork Section Doesn’t Have to Be for Artwork…
You can actually use the artwork section as a secondary form of color-coding.
For example, add a plain blue cover for all House tracks, red for EDM, green for d&b, etc. Then you’ll still have the normal color coding for Key or other highlights you have chosen.
How Do DJs Store Their Music? Always With a Cloud Backup
While you may have thousands of tracks in your main library, there’s a chance you may not always have them all on your USBs or laptop. Or in the worst-case scenario, if either of those things goes missing.
Therefore, it is a good idea to always have your entire library synced to the cloud. I recommend pCloud for this.
This not only acts as a safety net should you lose anything but it also means if you don’t have a particular track on you then you can access the cloud and pull it down. Essentially meaning you have your entire library, however many thousands of tracks that may be, wherever you go.
How Do DJs Store Their Music in the Cloud With There’s Loads of Them?
When it comes to storing huge libraries then you may be looking at having to pay for storage. If you’re doing this monthly with something like Dropbox then the cost can quickly build up.
That is why I recommend pCloud as they offer a one-off, lifetime fee for 2TB of cloud storage.
They also have apps for Android and iPhone, that also allow you to download any or all of your tracks should the worst happen and you lose your USB or laptop.
How Do DJs Store Their Music? Not in iTunes…But it Has its Uses…
Generally, iTunes is to be avoided as a media player due to how bloated and generally shit it is. However, where it does come in useful is in the ID window and the options it provides you.
So above, where I talked about adding comments or adding sub-genres to the ‘composer’ section, it is iTunes that makes this easy. Simply click a track and go to ‘Get Info’.
So if you are tidying your library all in one go can be a good idea to drag it all into an iTunes play, and then go through updating tracks individually. You can also select multiple to edit in bulk.
Then when you import your tracks into your preferred DJ software, the comments and tags will show up and be searchable.
But iTunes, Really?
One of the benefits of labeling everything in iTunes is that the relevant tags and descriptions will be embedded on the track. This means that whenever you import your library into different DJ software, everything is going to be there.
The danger of updating your tracks solely in Serato or Rekordbox, for example, is the risk that there are features unique to that software. Meaning, if you then import your tracks into different software some of your tags or comments may be missing.
Embedding them directly on the track with iTunes should solve this and ensure consistency across any DJ software you might use.
Bonus Tip: Label Your Cue Points
This is again another hack designed to help you make your mixes smoother while reducing pressure and thinking during live shows. Once you have set a cue point in your DJ software, you’re able to click the name and change the label.
Get in the habit of adding simple, yet descriptive terms so that, combined with the tag tips above, you will quickly be able to find your tracks and jump to key points.
Examples of labels could include things like melodic breakdown, no drums, vocal solo, chorus, bass drops, etc. Whatever makes the most sense to you.
Extra Bonus Tip: You Don’t Need The ‘Bitrate’ Column Enabled
Because anything less than 320kbps has NO place in your library, simple. The only time you need to enable it is to sort and find any tracks lower than that so you can delete them.
Conclusion How Do DJs Store Their Music?
Hopefully from this article, you’ve learned a few different ways that DJs organize their music and have got some ideas of how you could store your own music library.
Organization might take time, particularly if you’ve never done it before, but it will be time well spent. Just remind yourself that you will make all of that time back during your actual gigs.
Instead, you’ll be able to quickly find tracks or realize ideas in the moment as you’re not having to scroll through endless tracks. Meaning you get to spend more of your set actually mixing and engaging with your audience, rather than staring at the screen of your laptop or deck.
- If you have any other ideas or unique ways that you organize your music library then drop them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to add them to the article.
- Find out what DJ gear will serve you best.