Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Finding & organizing music

Danny writes:
I have started to DJ a bit outside of my college club and I was wondering if you had any tips. The main things I am wondering are (1) once you have a music base, how do you organize it and (2) what is your main source for acquiring new music/discovering new music. I read what you said about acquiring music, but I'm just wondering if you pick from all of those sites equally (do you use jazz-online.com?) or do you have one you use most?
My response:
My go-to source for finding tracks is definitely EMusic (followed by Amazon if it is not available on EMusic). I use jazz-online every now and again, especially if I am interested in exploring odd-ball tracks by a particular artist. For instance, I grabbed pretty much every Hot Lips Page off that site. He's got a fantastic rendition of St. James Infirmary that you should check out. I also buy a lot of music from current bands, either through BandCamp or directly from the artist webpages. When I'm at a weekend event with one or more good bands, I almost always buy some (or ALL) of their music.
As far as sources for finding out about new artists and music, I read blogs by other DJs and musicians (like Christian Bossert's, Sam Carroll's, Christian Frommelt's, Glenn Crytzer's, and of course Michael Steinman's). I listen to Hey Mr. Jesse and browse EMusic and Youtube. I've also found that reading about jazz musicians is a great way to discover new music--for instance, Count Basie has a fantastic autobiography, and there is a new biography of Louis Armstrong that is worth reading, and has a list of 30 essential Armstrong recordings.
Finally, as far as organization goes. I use iTunes to manage my music and JRiver Media Center to DJ. It's annoying to have to go back and forth, but I just can't work up the willpower to move everything over to JRiver. Regardless, I think that my organization scheme would be applicable to most music management software. I use the following fields: BPM (here's an online metronome), rating, comments, and grouping. I use the comment field to note anything peculiar about a track, such as an 8-minute introduction that can be skipped, or an extended drum solo. When I started out, I used the grouping field to describe the track as "lindy," "balboa," "blues," "charleston," etc. But as I gained experience, I realized that this was an inadequate (or irrelevant maybe) way to describe a tune. These days, I list the style of music (classic big band, small group swing, trad. jazz, modern combo) as well as whether there is a vocal (male and/or female) and any prominent instruments. Not that I list "clarinet" in every single Benny Goodman track, just anything that's not immediately obvious. I then create smart playlists that pull up styles, or I can search for tracks using the keywords that I've entered.
So there's my take. I'd be curious if there are other blogs or things that you find helpful. Leave a note in the comments!


  1. Thanks for the nice mention, James -- of course! Cheers from Michael Steinman. May your knees never ache . . .

  2. Hey James
    Thanks for mentioning my website. A while ago, I published the blog post "Great Sources for Swing DJs" with some more ideas to find new music. Here is the link: http://www.shuffleprojects.com/2010/great-sources-for-swing-djs/

  3. Hy James.
    After reading your recommendations I've decided to to digital DJing and support the growing Lindy community here in small Portugal.
    But going over Emusics terms of user i found that:
    "You agree not to reproduce, retransmit, distribute, disseminate, sell, broadcast, perform, make available to third parties or circulate the content received through the Service to anyone or to exploit any such content for commercial or noncommercial purposes without the express prior written consent of eMusic."

    Doesn't this mean you cannot use eMusic material for legal DJing? Amazon also has a similar restriction:
    "non-exclusive, non-transferable right to use the Digital Content for your personal, non-commercial, entertainment use, subject to and in accordance with the Terms of Use. You may copy, store, transfer and burn the Digital Content only for your personal, non-commercial, entertainment use, subject to and in accordance with the Terms of Use."

    If this is so, how in the world can digital DJ's exist?

    I'm lost and could use a little help.

  4. David, I would guess that most DJs pick their favorite rationalization, such as one of the following:
    A) The terms are just CYA (that's American for Cover Your A--) boilerplate and a bit absurd, and probably forbid you from ever actually playing the music at all.
    B) DJs hardly make any money DJing (maybe enough to cover beer & a cab home after the dance), so EMusic isn't going to be terribly interested in unleashing their lawyers on us.
    C) DJs never read terms of service. Plead ignorance.
    Personally I know hardly anything about copyright law, so I won't comment any further than that.

  5. Thank you for your opinion James.
    I have to agree on those points of view.
    But there is something legally important for the DJ: a proof of media legality. And in this case, it seems that Amazon does provide an invoice for each item bought, while eMmusic doesn't seem to do so.
    Could you confirm that? If that is the case, it's a really important downside of eMusic service.

    I was thinking of becoming a eMusic DJ, but here in Portugal we always have to carry proff of originality of the media played.

    By the way, your blog is a awesome source of information.

  6. Hi again David, It's possible demonstrate proof of purchase by logging in to your Emusic account--under your profile, it gives you a list of all your downloads. Not sure if that's sufficient for the Portuguese authorities...