Probably the most common question when starting to DJ is ‘Where do DJs get their music?’. Now, depending on what type of DJ you are planning on becoming could determine what music you want and where you would get it from. Either way, you will want a decent catalogue with a lot of music to get you started, and then look to keep up to date with your chosen genre or genres.
For example, as a Mobile DJ, playing a range of venues and events, I would start with at least every number 1 single from the 1960s to the current date. From there you can add particular popular artists, genres and albums as you see fit.
What I did when I first started was to look at some famous artists over the years and buy their Greatest Hits albums. I would look at compilation albums for ‘Best Tracks of the 70s’, ‘Best of Motown’, ‘Best Wedding Songs’, ‘The Ultimate Christmas Album’ ‘Queen: Greatest Hits’ (these are just examples, not actual CDs).
Good places to look for ideas are places like YouTube and Spotify playlists.
To make things easy for yourself – when you take your bookings, offer some kind of advanced requests system. I ask all my clients for at least 40 tracks and/or artists that they would like playing (and some that they don’t). From this, I can usually create a playlist for a 5-hour gig of around 100 tracks. If they give me a favourite artist or choose two or more tracks from an artist, I can then check a) if I have those tracks, and b) if I need to get their Greatest Hits album. You can assume that, even if they have only requested a few of that artist’s tracks, they may want at least another one or two playing on the night, so be prepared.
Don’t assume you can just download tracks at the venue – many I’ve been to don’t have Wi-Fi that you can use (if you would even want to connect to a public network), and some venues have a really poor internet signal. It is an option, but not one you can rely on.
One huge tip I will give you is to get the clean/radio edit versions of your tracks, especially if you are looking to be a mobile DJ, playing to families and children. The only time you could consider using the original, explicit versions is in a club environment.
Even if a client asks me to play non-edited versions of tracks I often decline. One complaint from another guest could affect my reputation.
One of the popular options for keeping an up-to-date music library from a variety of artists and labels is record pools. You have to declare that you are a working DJ to sign up, but once you do, you can have access to their huge database of records. They are subscription-based and you usually sign up to a mailing list, but this option can save you big compared with buying tracks individually.
Possibly the biggest and most popular record pools is DJ City. They add music pretty much daily, and they guide you through what works in various countries in the world.
The music you’ll find on DJ City is based around House, Hip-Hop, RnB, Trap and Reggaeton. There are two websites; DJ City which features more US Hip Hop, and; DJ City UK which covers UK House, Garage and Grime.
Unfortunately, they don’t offer a monthly subscription, rather quarterly, which can be a pain if you only wanted to try them for a month.
Cost: $90 per quarter (or £60 UK) (3 months)
Digital DJ Pool boasts a clean, simple to use website, over 40 genres of music and all at a very reasonable price. What’s more – you can try for 5 days for $1 (downloads are limited to 15 tracks per day during the trial period, and you will be automatically transferred to the full, monthly subscription after the trial ends if you do not cancel).
Their music is updated every day and their catalogue includes a wide selection of club edits and DJ tools.
Cost: $20 per month, £190 per year ($1 for 5-day trial)
One of the best DJ pools for current music in most genres; from Top 40, Dance and Urban to Country, Latin and Christian. Another record pool offering both audio and video tracks. The service they offer is based on a monthly digital delivery – you choose the genre or genres you wish to receive, either individually or in various pack options.
Cost: From $12 per month
DMS has a gigantic back catalogue of audio and video files from Rock, Pop, Hip Hop and Electro House to radio and club tracks over all music genres and decades. They specialise in DJ-friendly intro edits, ideal for the open format DJ. Their music is updated every weekday.
They have an unusual choice of subscription packages, some of which limit the number of files you can download per month.
- Starter – 40 downloads a month – $29.95 per month or $269.95 per year
- Semi-Pro – 80 downloads a month – $44.95 per month or $359.95 per year
- Pro – Unlimited downloads – $64.95 per month or $449.95 per year
Digital Download Stores
There are times when you just need that one, original track to add to this weekend’s playlist. Or maybe a new album release to add to your collection. Whatever your requirements you are bound to find what you need in the mainstream digital download stores – It isn’t the cheapest option though.
[Apple] Music and Amazon Music
For original, unedited tracks, you cannot go wrong with the main two. Both Apple’s ‘Music’ (formally iTunes) and Amazon Music have pretty much every genre and decade you would want. Search for and buy a single song, album or compilation, and you will also find similar artists suggested while you’re there.
Many electronic music DJs use Beatport for their large selection of House and Dance tracks, including remixes and edits. You can also find new tracks in their charts.
Beatport Link features the Beatport electronic download catalogue, a more niche electronic dance music collection.
Beatsource Link gives a more mainstream library from major labels, from dance, pop, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, dancehall and Latin music.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Traditionally, DJs used turntables (record players) and a mixer, on which they would play vinyl records. Later, Compact Discs (CDs) were used in a more digital format known as CDJs. At the time it was a better option, though it still required carrying large cases full of discs.
Nowadays, DJs use media files such as MP3s as they can be stored in smaller devices like Hard Disk drives or USB sticks. Though many carry their music library on their laptops. It is even possible to stream music from a subscription service - which is great to have access to millions of tracks from their DJ laptop, but it does rely on an internet connection.
Generally speaking, a DJ does not need any kind of licence or permission to play recorded music legally. The venue owner (Bar, Club, Nightclub) has the responsibility to hold the licence.
In terms of a private event, such as a birthday party or wedding, a licence is not usually required.
Legally, DJs have to pay for any music they plan to play to an audience. Although they don't need a licence themselves, the club, bar or other type of venue holds the responsibility to have a licence to play recorded music.
They can buy tracks or albums individually from places like iTunes/Apple Music, use a Record Pool - where a selection of music is sent weekly or monthly, or they can use a music streaming service - a catalogue of millions of tracks can be available to play instantly, providing the DJ has an internet connection.
With the advance of technology, many DJ Software developers integrated the use of Spotify in their apps. Though not illegal per se, the use does violate Spotify's Terms of Service.
Recently, however, Spotify has been removed from most DJ Software. Though there has been no official announcement from Spotity itself, other software companies have stated that the music subscription service will cease to work from July 2020.
DJs have access to music the same way anybody does, through legal music stores, either in physical format (vinyl, CDs) or digital (mp3s).
DJs also have the option to subscribe to Music Pools or Record Pools, where they pay usually a monthly fee and a selection of music from their chosen genres gets sent to them on a regular basis - either weekly or monthly. This enables them to keep an up-to-date music library.
There are also music streaming services that a DJ can subscribe to, where they can have access to millions of tracks anywhere they have an active internet connection.
DJs have access to music just like anybody. It must be paid for to legally play recorded music to an audience, and they can be asked to show proof of purchase if they were ever audited. There are other options for getting free music, but you will have to be certain it is a legal method.
There is a whole range of places DJs can buy or subscribe to music downloads, mainly;
- Physical – Vinyl records or CDs
- Digital – MP3s
- Record Pools – Weekly/monthly downloads
- Streaming Services – Instant access to millions of tracks (with an active internet connection).