In the 5th instalment of my DJ Series, I'm giving you the essential tips, tricks and hacks for the types of music files that you should be using and where DJs actually get their music from. What's the difference between lossy and lossless? Does having uncompressed files matter? Is a DJ Pool where DJs go swimming? All will be explained.
There are 3 main categories of music files and they have varying quality. They are:
Compressed, lossy formats:
MP3 – coded at 192kbps, 320kbps, and variable bit rate (VBR).
AAC – aka .m4a files. These lossy files share the .m4a extension with lossless ALAC files, but AAC refers to the lossy files that are sold for example at iTunes.
Ogg Vorbis – free and open-source audio coding format (I've never seen or heard of this one until I wrote this)
Compressed, lossless formats - Smaller file size than uncompressed and higher quality that Compressed
FLAC – Free Lossless Audio Codec
ALAC – Apple Lossless Audio Codec
Uncompressed, lossless formats = highest audio quality& bigger file size, more expensive
WAV (No metadata)
There is no difference between the Uncompressed Lossless files types. WAV was developed by PC & AIFF was developed by Apple by both file types work on any device/computer.
Mp3 files are perhaps the most widely used. They are cheaper than other files types, take less space in storage and the quality is good enough for most sound systems. The bigger the sound system, the more the quality will be amplified so you might notice a difference if playing an mp3 file next to an uncompressed, lossless file. The key thing to ensure is that your mp3 bitrate is 320 kbps. Anything less will sound noticeably different. If you purchase your music (as you should be) then an mp3 file will be at least 320kbps. If you illegally download it, then it won't necessarily be of that quality- even if it claims it is.
Apple Music = streaming. To DJ, with some music you actually have to buy the music file.
There are 3 main areas where DJs usually get their music from. They are:
‘Free’ download sites - Soundcloud, Blogs
Sites where you can buy music - Beatport, iTunes, Bandcamp, Traxsource, Googleplay, Amazon
DJ Record Pools - DJ City, Selected Recs
Producers/artists upload their tracks onto Soundcloud and use platforms like ‘Hypedit’ to offer those tracks as a free download. But really, there's no such thing as free. In return for the Free Download you promote the track for them by it being reposted to your profile. It's fair enough though, you get a cool piece of music in exchange for a repost. I usually put all of the reposted tracks on my profile onto one playlist so they still get the exposure on my profile but it’s separate from my uploads. I’ve found some really cool Edits and Remixes that always get an amazing reaction when I play them. It can be a grey area with remixes whether they are legit or not though. It takes a while to build up a good selection of Artists and for the algorithm to show you some good stuff, but it’s worth the effort.
Music Blogs are also good to checkout but I’ve never really had the time to explore that too much and the ones that I used to follow back in the day aren’t around any more.
Find my Soundcloud here;
Sites to Buy Music
Unless a track is being given for free by the artist, you should always pay for it. Obviously there are so many illegal sites where you can download music from but it’s already hard to make it in this industry without people stealing from each other. Also, illegal/free downloads are usually low quality files.
I’ve always mainly used Beatport. When I started DJing in Portugal I was told to always have copies of the receipts for my music in case I got inspected. There they can slap you with a big fine if you can’t prove where you downloaded some of your music from and inspections are fairly regular. I have 2 friends that it happened to. Beatport makes it easy because you have all of your purchases listed on your profile. You can also choose the file quality for most tracks.
Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play—only sold one kind of lossy audio. Bandcamp however, sells all seven formats here, often in more than one resolution per format. You don’t have to pay extra to download any higher-resolution audio file, because Bandcamp’s business model lets each artist set their own prices. They upload a mastered track at the highest resolution possible, and Bandcamp converts that to all the other formats for customers to choose for themselves.
All modern CDJs support the major files types.
DJ Record Pools
These are subscription sites for DJs. They're best for those who are downloading A LOT of music regularly as it works out to be much cheaper. I used to use one called Selected Recs which you have to apply to with links to your Socials and you can subscribe when you get approved by the admins. That one was House and Techno as well as Stems & other production stuff. It was really good but when I stopped DJing in the first lockdown I didn’t see the point in continuing it. I’ve also used DJ City in the past which is more Hip Hop and Commercial stuff.
DJ Pools are a bit of a legal grey area (I think). You’re paying so from your POV you’re doing the right thing but whether these platforms actually pay the royalties fairly… I have no idea. I hope they do.
BONUS: Grow your network
Be friends with DJs and Producers!
They will send you music. When I did my show on Select I used to have friends email me regularly asking if I could feature their track. It’s one of the really cool things about the industry.
There are obviously other ways, but those are some of the most common ones. Let me know if you think I have missed anything off the list though! If you’re just starting out and on a budget then get deep into Soundcloud. If you have the cash to spare then do right by your fellow artists and be sure to buy their music to support them. If you get gifted music then do your friends a favour and promote their track across your socials if it’s good/your vibe.