Every good DJ has a lot of fresh music and knows it in detail. It’s this knowledge that allows them to select the right tracks for the right crowd, venue, and time. A common problem that a lot of DJs face is not the lack of music to play, but having the difficult task of quickly filtering through all of the good music they have to choose the appropriate track. Spending some time off stage organizing your music can help you tremendously in this area. We can do this by using “Smart Playlists”.

Smart playlists are dynamic lists that will automatically update themselves when songs are added to iTunes based on the criteria you have established for them. All of the metadata fields you see in iTunes (artist, album, genre, etc.) can be used to set the criteria for what makes it into a smart playlist. If you command-click in the metadata bar in iTunes you will see a list of all of the parameters that you can add into the window. You can add any relevant data that you want to see (i.e. bit rate) and sort your lists with them. It might take a bit of time to initially set these up, but once they are established you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

There are several different ways that you can go about organizing your music. The way that you choose will be completely dependent on how you process and organize your music. I’m going to show two examples of how this can be done.

1. BPM and Key
My personal preference for organizing music in iTunes is through hard data such as the tempo and key signature. To do this quickly you can use software such as Mixed in Key, which will analyze all of your songs for these fields and can write the data into the metadata fields of the track. For example, you can choose to have each song’s tempo written in the BPM field and it’s key signature written at the front of the comments field. I usually bulk analyze all of my songs before adding them into iTunes so that everything is written properly.

2. Genre and Rating
This method involves a bit more time working with your tracks and works more on ‘feel’ than the hard parameters of the individual songs. Two of iTunes default metadata fields that you always see are ‘genre’ and ‘rating’. You can manually add your rating to every song as you listen to it and add or modify the genre field to suit your needs.

To create a smart playlist in iTunes you simply go to ‘File’-> ‘New’-> ‘Smart Playlist’. You will then see a dialogue box appear where you set the parameters of the playlist. If you have chosen method 1 to organize your music you will need to set up two different parameters. Set the first field to “BPM” and the sub-field to “is in the range”. The range of BPM you set is entirely up to you, but as an example, you could set it to 120 to 135. In the second field you want to set the key signature parameter, so you want use the field where this information has been written in the metadata (i.e. the “comments”). If the key is written at the beginning of the comments you would set the it to “comments”, then “begins with” and then manually enter the key signature for that playlist. Note that programs like Mixed in Key use the “Camelot System” so something in “B Major” might be written as “1B”. You will also want to make sure that at the very top of the playlist dialogue box you have selected “Match ALL of the following rules” and have “Live Updating” checked at the bottom. Once you click OK the playlist will be created and you should see all songs that meet the criteria automatically appear. You can then rename this list accordingly, such as “1B – 120-135 BPM”.

Now all you have to do is repeat this process across all key signatures and all tempo ranges. As I said, this could take a while if you do it this way because there are 24 possible key signature possibilities for each tempo range. However, it is definitely worth the effort. Once you are done you will be able to jump into a mix at any tempo and in any key and know that your tracks will fit well.

If you were to organize your music by genre and rating, you will have to set your smart playlist parameters accordingly. Since there are many sub-genres you might want to set your genre parameter to “contains” so that you can set wide ranges. This way, your “house” playlist would also include things labelled “progressive house”, “dutch house”, etc. The rating system you could set to meet exactly (i.e. the “5 star” category) or as a threshold (such as the “over 3 star” category), to best suit your needs. Of course, you can use a combination of these two systems or use any other system you see fit, just make sure that you can integrate it with your workflow.

Once you have all of your playlists written you can create playlist folders to keep everything neat and tidy. To do this simply go to ‘File’-> ‘New’-> ‘Playlist Folder’, and then drag and drop all of the relevant playlists into it. These playlists should now be visible in the browsers of most DJ software. This means that even when iTunes isn’t open, you can still utilize the power of smart playlists directly from your DJing software. If you have organized everything in a coherent fashion, you should be quite pleased with the results when you are on stage performing.

Part #1 – Two Deck Djing fundamentals

Part #2 – DJ Mixing Techniques

Part #3 – Playing for the crowd, how to play an opening set

Part #5 – Playing for the crowd, how to play a middle of the night set