1. Genre and BPM Range
The type of show you are playing will provide the framework of your genre and BPM choices for the night. Some shows leave you to decide on your own what to play, some might need a wide variety of genres and BPMs (i.e. Top 40 clubs), while others might have a very specific genre and style that you need to play (i.e. opening for a well-known producer). You should do a little research into the club you are playing and the other DJs you are playing with to get a general idea of what kind of music will go over best with the crowd.
2. Key Analysis
There are a few different software options for key analyzing your songs. One of the favorites among DJs is a program called Mixed in Key. Programs like this analyze the audio waveform of each track and determine what key they are in as well as their tempo. Results can be displayed in their traditional key form (i.e. A Major) or in a custom system called the ‘Camelot System’ that shows the key as a number and letter combination that is easy for DJs to use (i.e. 1a, 5b, etc.). Mixed in Key gives you the option to write this new info into the metadata of the digital file so that music programs like iTunes, Traktor, Serato, etc. can display it. This information can be very useful when creating playlists and also when you need to quickly throw on a track in a mix without being able to fully preview because you know that it will sonically fit with the rest.
3. Playlist Organization
In a previous article, I discussed creating “smart playlists” in iTunes and how you can integrate them into your DJ workflow. A huge part of learning to how DJ is this type of song preparation that takes place well before you get to the club. You can’t (and some would argue shouldn’t) always play out a set as a rigid playlist. Vibes on the dancefloor can change quickly and you need to be able to adapt to these changes equally as fast. Having all of your music categorized into sub folders of genre, BPM, ratings, color, etc. will help you tremendously in these situations. If you think that you suddenly need to switch from a dubstep song in A minor to a trap song that will fit in key, a little playlist organization can make the search a lot easier.
4. Improvised and Transition Material
One topic that sometimes gets passed over is the issue of having song material that you can use to improvise with and/or transition out of an area that isn’t working. This can take many different forms depending on your personal style. Here are a couple of examples;
- A big melodic wash out without any drums or percussion to give the crowd a break.
- Playable drum kits, synths, or other hardware to break down the flow and give the crowd something tailor-made from your brain.
- A capellas (either from songs or spoken word) to transition between genres and/or BPM ranges.
This cannot be stressed enough; PRACTICE. Practice as much as possible. All of this preparation might not seem like it’s needed on a night where you’re running smooth and everyone is dancing, but nights like these are not common occurrences. Very rarely will you be able to play through a set exactly as you laid it in your iTunes playlist or in the mixtape that you made. Maybe the DJ before you played 3 songs that you were going to play. Maybe there was a fight on the dancefloor and the vibe of the room changed. There will always be unexpected twists and turns, and you have to be ready to deal with them. The best way to prepare for unexpected events is to have a complete handle on all of your equipment and songs so that you can react as quickly as possible.
If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.
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