Where do DJs get their music from?
Want to know where DJs get their music from?
DJs get their music from many different sources but there are some important things to consider when building a collection of music.
Too DJ is to be a curator of music. The aim is to harness the power of music to create collective memories that people will remember their entire lives. Researching, sourcing and organising an extensive music collection is the cornerstone of a great DJ career.
To be a great selector you need to have a vast knowledge of music, both past and present. Many DJs make listening to music and collecting music a daily habit. They search far and wide through multiple avenues to find new exciting music and uncover old gems.
However, like a curator of any good museum, you need to contextualise each track within your exhibition of music. For that, you truly need to understand music culture.
Step One - Research
It's important to understand the culture of your music so that you can curate an informed and educated set.
- Music Documentaries
One of the best ways to learn about music is to watch documentaries. There is a wealth of music history in many feature-length documentaries available on the internet. It’s fundamental to learn about the history of music to help you contextualise your song selections in an intelligent way. DJs who did this get more respect from their peers and will go further in the industry.
Books provide a wealth of information on music and the various different music scenes. Any good book store will be brimming with them, even some record stores. Start building a collection and absorb every word. There is a great collection in Rough Trade, start there.
- Magazines & Blogs
There are still many great magazines available for various music scenes, notably DJ Mag. Alongside there are many lifestyle magazines that report on musicians and the scene overall, i-D and Vice Magazine being some of the most famous. However, the print industry is gradually fading away and many online blogs are informing a new generation of readers. One such blog is by Resident Advisor, they report on the scene around the world another is Mixmag (also a print magazine). Start bookmarking important websites and check on them regularly for updates.
- Field Research
There is no better way to learn about music and the scene than actually experiencing it yourself. Find gigs, festivals, conferences, meet-ups and real-life situations where you can be inspired, learn and grow as an artist. You can also attend music conferences like Brighton Music Confernence!
Step Two - Sourcing Your Music
Find a multitude of sources for your music but be aware of the different formats available and how they may affect the sound quality of your performance.
Digital or Analogue?
Sound can be recorded, stored and played using either digital or analogue methods. Neither method is truly flawless and there is great debate about the differences between them. The best way to understand analogue vs digital is to think of a single sound wave and how it is reproduced. When reproduced in an analogue way it becomes a smooth line, much like the original. When the wave is reproduced in a digital way it only becomes smooth with more data (measured in kbps.) More data equals higher file sizes and more computing power needed. This is why AIFF, WAV and FLAC (lossless digital formats) come as big file sizes compared to MP3s (compressed digital format) that have fewer points of reference along the curve (less data).
Another way of thinking about the difference between analogue and digital sound is by comparing it to the difference between analogue and digital photography. Everyone knows the bigger the megapixels capability of your camera the better the image. Now think about when you zoom in on a digital image; the further you zoom in the more you see distortion and pixelation. However, if you look closely at an analogue photograph print you won’t see pixelation even with a microscope. Now you can see that analogue formats have a different type of definition, one that does not lose detail when you look closer.
Music Formats Currently In Mainstream Use By DJs
Vinyl Records (Analog)
FLAC - A high-resolution lossless format that supports meta-data but is not compatible with every player.
AIFF - Apples own high-resolution lossless format that supports meta-data and is compatible with iTunes or Apple Music.
WAV - The industry-standard high-resolution lossless format. Limited meta-data options.
MP3 - A compressed format with a lower file size that is normally cheaper to buy.
What is Meta-Data?
Meta-data is the information saved alongside a file. For example, when you download an MP3 you often get the cover art image along with the music file itself. In addition, you sometimes get other information like who the singer was and which release it is from.
Some formats like MP3 and AIFF support the full range of meta-data but others like WAV do not. It’s advisable to choose a format with meta-data where possible to help you organise your digital music library.
Record shops or rather music retail shops are not only a great place to source music for your collection but also good places to network and absorb the culture. Create a list of record stores in your neighbourhood and visit them regularly to discover the latest releases. It’s also wise to visit record stores when away from home, on holiday for example.
Charity shops are often treasure troves waiting to be plundered! Many charity shops sell CDs and records at seriously cheap prices. Some DJs even make a business from buying and selling on rare records found in charity shops or car-boot sales. They are especially useful for building up a back-catalogue of older hits and music from different decades.
Any kind of market where people sell second-hand music is a great place to uncover hidden and long-forgotten gems for bargain prices!
Although the popularity of eBay has waned since its heyday it still provides a great international platform for collections to buy and sell music. Many DJs buy CDs or records on eBay and then digitise them. You can often pick up ‘lots’ of records or a whole collection at once. Wedding DJs use this for building up a music collection of past hits.
Discogs is like eBay but for music only. Many record collectors will use Discogs to buy and sell music and keep an eye out for rare records on their watchlist. It’s one of the best places to find rare releases, bootlegs and promotional copies that are often impossible to find elsewhere.
Other than the traditional brands HMV and Tower Record there is a plethora of online music retailers just selling digital downloads. iTunes is the biggest and for DJs we have Beatport.com. Beatport is one of the most popular digital download services for DJs to buy and download tracks. Others include Juno, Bandcamp and Apple Music (Formerly iTunes).
Bandcamp is the best online retailer of music to support because they support the artist. Many of the other online retailers take huge commissions from the artists and record labels. That has a negative impact on the music industry. There is a large movement of people now not uploading to Beatport and instead exclusively uploading to Bandcamp in order to protect their income. If you want to be an ethical buyer of music, shop on Bandcamp!
Subscription Streaming Service (Consumer)
Subscription services including Apple Music and Spotify are not ideal for building a collection of music to DJ with because they offer low bit-rate files that are only for personal use. With these retailers you never actually own the file, you merely rent it for your lifetime. Furthermore, they do not allow you to download the file. In order to DJ in all venues with or without an internet connection, you need to have the file itself, not just access to it within the cloud.
Subscription Streaming Service (DJs)
There are some emerging services now offering music streaming services specifically for DJs, the forerunner being Beatport Link. This new service from Beatport will allow you to pay for access to their vast music library with a monthly subscription. This means you don’t have to buy individual tracks. There are various subscription options and some of them will allow you to store a limited number of tracks offline. Most clubs and venues do not have good GPS signal coverage or strong internet connections. This is a crucial point because it means you could only DJ with those few tracks you have actually downloaded if there is no internet connection. This is the critical issue, for this technology to be really useful for DJs all DJ booths would need to have a fast and reliable internet connection, something many clubs simply don’t have yet.
Like a subscription but you can download the file. DJ pools or record pools are services that charge a subscription fee so you can have access to their library of music and have the ability to download the digital file. The most popular one for DJs currently is DJ City, they offer a huge range of music for a monthly fee. It’s the perfect solution for DJs who have to play for a diverse audience and need a huge music library.
Download Free DJ Music
There are multiple places offering legal and illegal downloads on the internet. Here we will talk about the legal ones! One of the best ways to get free music is directly from the artist or record label. Bookmark your favourite artists' profiles and record labels and join any mailing list they may have running. Labels and artists will often send out links to free music and exclusive tracks. One of the most popular platforms to do so is a free download link on their Soundcloud profile but you can also try messaging them directly.
Many DJs will sign up for music promo lists (mailing lists from music PR companies). Smaller lists are easy to join but some of the top music PR companies will only allow established acts, music journalists and radio presenters to receive promos. Promos are often one of the best ways for a DJ to collect music as they are free and you often receive them in advance of the actual release date. This means you can play the tracks before any other DJs get their hands on them. Inflyte is one such service.
Download gates are where an artist uses a site like Hypeddit to offer free downloads of their music in exchange for the person downloading to join their mailing list, follow them on social media and allow your profile to repost their music. It’s more of an exchange than something totally free. Reposts allow their track to become more viral, something very useful if you learn how to produce and are looking for ways to promote your music.
Sometimes it works to go directly to the artist! Why not reach out to your favourite artist on Instagram, Facebook or Soundcloud and politely ask. Many times they will be happy to send you the music for free in return for the extra exposure of you playing it or if you help them by sharing their posts. The artist might also have their own personal promo mailing list, make sure you ask to join it!
Copyright & Ownership Limitations
Part of owning a music collection is also understanding what rights you have in regards to public performance and inheritance.
One common misunderstanding is that when you buy a piece of music, let’s say a CD, it does not give you the right to publicly perform it (DJ with it). In the UK, to legally DJ (public performance) you need to have sourced the music legally and the venue that you are performing at needs to have a license by PPL and/or PRS (now working jointly to offer the ‘TheMusicLicense’).
If you are DJing in a venue that does not have a license, like a village hall, you as the DJ will be required to obtain one. For this reason, many wedding DJs will have their own music license. There should always be a legally sourced track and a license for public performance to go ahead.
PPL and PRS who now operate under ‘TheMusicLicense’ gather the license fee and then distribute royalties to record labels and artists. This is one of the main sources of income for musicians and producers.
Streaming services are also quite confusing. When you sign up for a streaming service or subscription music service like AppleMusic, Spotify or Beatport Link you’re actually not buying the track, you are renting it for your lifetime or the period of the contract. You can still DJ with them but you don’t actually own them, if you die you cannot pass on your music collection to your family.
Furthermore, download services like Beatport or Bandcamp do not allow you to resell or copy digital music files. If you buy a vinyl record you can sell it onto another buyer but this is not allowed with digital music files.
Streaming your DJ set online is also fraught with copyright issues. Many of the big internet platforms like Facebook do not pay a license fee on your behalf. This means, if you upload a DJ mix it will often be removed for copyright reasons, even though you legally purchased the music. Remember, you need to have legally sourced music AND a license to make the whole system work! Some platforms like Mixcloud have agreed to pay a license fee to the big record labels and so you are able to host recordings of your mixes on Mixcloud and certain other sites.
Be careful with promo material. When you sign up for promo mailing lists they will often include a contract in the terms and conditions or small print. In these contracts the subscriber agrees not to copy or distribute any of the music you have received, failure to comply can leave you legally liable for any breach.
Avoid downloading illegally. If you download music illegally you will be in breach of many laws. Avoid any costly legal complications by always sourcing your music legally. After all, it does support the industry of which you are a part! Remember, if you want to support the industry you should consider shopping on Bandcamp!
Make sure that you download high-quality files legally and that you support retailers that support artists, like Bandcamp! If you would like to learn more about how to organise your music collection enrol on our DJ course online or in one of our studios in Manchester, Birmingham, London or Oxford! Click here to contact us.