Alphabetically? Chronologically? All thrown together in one massive folder called ‘Jamz’? We speak to some DJs about how they organise their music collections.
Attack readers come from many different backgrounds and demographics but we are all united by one thing – we all love music. And many of us have huge music collections that stretch out across multiple hard drives, USBs, vinyl and CDs. Keeping on top of your collection is essential to DJs and collectors alike, but how do we all do it?
Do you keep your vinyl in chronological order or alphabetical? Or by genre? Or by label? What about your digital collection, do you have a naming system or filing protocol? How do you organise your Rekordbox so you can find tracks quickly and easily? In an era of near-limitless music, keeping your music organised has become something of a challenge. So we decided to ask some DJs how they organised their music collections – and this is what they told us.
Thomaas Banks (Psychemagik)
With digital it varies. I still use an older version of iTunes and within that are hundreds of folders and then subfolders. Compilations and albums have their own folders, EPs and singles not so much. Then I’ll go through everything, picking what’s going to be in the “crate”. Then all of those get put into even more DJ dedicated folders categorized by BPMs and style/genre. Then beyond that its all memory. I have thought about trying to do them by year too or maybe even 2 parts of each year, but that’s for another day!
Vinyl is way more relaxed. They are grouped by genre then roughly oldest to newest from left to right. Then there’s a separate box that has my current jams in there. No labelling or anything with vinyl, you can tell what record it is by the different shaped scuffs on the sleeve. Itunes can’t do that. Ha!
I store my records in boxes because I hate getting dust on them. Then it’s by year – label – country, or artist and genre. For digital music, it’s date – genre. For edits, I only use the titles of the track.
Black Girl, White Girl
Organisation is key and it has been essential to find our own way of doing it that actually works for us. Our music collection is vast, but not exactly categorized perfectly. We work with two different systems to sort and navigate our collection. First, all our digital files are categorised temporally, so that means by the year, month, and week the record was picked up. As our entire collection is digital, it’s fundamental to always make sure all the crucial metadata is complete and accurate. Having all the tags filled out makes it pretty straightforward to unearth the records we need at any moment in time.
This works really well for us, and an added perk is that this method also acts as a sort of time capsule, because you can go back to a particular week or month, and find all the tracks you were into at that moment, which can be really fun. Humans naturally associate music with moments and memories so, for us, this type of approach works quite organically.
I organise all my music and playlists in iTunes, then I import those playlists into Rekordbox. I like to categorise tracks using keywords and tags that I have made up like ‘Chunky’, ‘Jackin’, ‘Closing, etc., then when I’m playing I’ll search for these words on the CDJ’s. I also list my music in order of date added and have set up ’smart’ playlists on iTunes which is a godsend. iTunes will automatically add tracks into these playlists based on the parameter rules you set, for example I have smart playlists for styles, artists, keywords etc.
To be honest, we’re terrible at organising. Or at least, physically. Our records are scattered over 2 homes and our studio and structured by a kind of genre-bending pan-alphabetical post-gig algorithm. In other words: it’s a mess. There will be priceless records next to thrift shops pickups and slow soul next to slamming techno. The good thing we found out though: When you’re sorting records for a set, you’ll always come across that record you didn’t think about taking and it’ll be exactly that record that really makes the night. It probably has to as well, because the record you were looking for in the first place was nowhere to be found.
Our digital music is gathering giga-dust in the download folders of 2 hard drives, 3 SSD’s and a dropbox storage account, so it’s safe, but we’re not librarians so by the time we’re thinking about organising, there are already way too many other things on our plate to really be bothered with it.
The best part of our method of non-organisation is probably in our heads. My mind works like a catalogue and together with Lars’ approach on how to describe the songs for which he can’t remember the track titles, we’re sorted. It’s fool-proof and even though it won’t win any awards, it goes to show this disorganisation itself has it’s pro’s as well.
I have been through so many different ways of organising my digital files. I used to have folders in Rekordbox labeled: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. The numbers denote the energy level or time slot I would play in. A 5 would be very high energy, 3 would be solid main stage tracks, 0 is ambient. The “+” means a mood that would be more bright and “-“ would be darker. So, if I was looking for an Industrial Techno banger I would look in my “-4” folder.
Having it organised like that was cool, but I think I play too many different genres and a mix of new and old, that it just became easier to find tracks in playlists pertaining to the genre or ‘vibe’. For example, I have a playlist with Schranz and Tribal because the BPM and rhythm is similar and it’s easy to switch between those genres. The folders don’t need to be 100% genre specific. My ‘Acid House’ folder is mainly Acid House (what a surprise), but also has tracks from other genres that blend well with my selection.
The first step for digital and vinyl is to organise the music by release dates. The second step for the vinyl is sorting them in bigger crates like Hip Hop, Jazz, Organic Grooves, World Music, House, Techno, and Electro. Sometimes it can also be sorted by label or artist, depends on the amount. The third step it’s selecting them for a gig and in that case, we use little colour stickers that represent moods and genre.
For the digital files, the work takes a bit more time as in some periods a lot of promos come in and you have to be really selective. We usually sort them by date, second by artist, label, and genre, third. Then the final ‘gig’ step is to create some playlists named ‘Soft, Medium, Hard, Classic/Killers’, and ‘Vocals/Acappellas’.