How to Cratedig in the 21st Century
Even though the vinyl medium has seen a resurgence, the era of digging through crates to find new songs is largely over for most DJs. While some may miss the nostalgic physical experience, it’s been replaced by a powerful digital landscape where no one is limited by their geography or the quality of local store clerks. Now we can follow and pick through the collections of the very best tastemakers from around the globe, digging up a treasure trove of new musical gems every day.
THE AGE OF COLLECTIVES
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you probably know that labels are in a tough place: nobody’s making any money any more, and artists are using things like Bandcamp and Tunecore to get their music out there, if they’re even selling it at all. But here’s a secret: a lot of music labels are doing just fine.
With easy online distribution, tons of new labels have sprouted up who exist less as music sales machines and more as tastemakers. Collectives like Friends of Friends, LuckyMe, Dirtybird’s Bird House, Mad Decent Premium, and OWSLA’s Nest are all examples of collectives that deal largely in forward thinking music with a certain “sound.” With the latter three, they’re actually microsites run by the labels on Drip.FM – each of which carries a monthly fee to get exclusive prereleases, unreleased tracks, and more.
While these small batch labels aren’t new in dance music, they’re more specific and plentiful then ever. To find the one that appeals to you, try these:
- Check up on a track you like: who posted it originally? Is it backed by a collective or label?
- Go to events in your town; see if the DJ’s are all affiliated: a new trend is club nights that feature a lineup of a few artists in the same collective.
- Check groups on Soundcloud; they frequently feature a narrow range of artists in the same sphere. Using genre tags, you can quickly find a collective that might be putting music out you like.
ENGAGE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
You may bristle at this, but if you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out. Sure, it’s a forum for a bunch of lonely people taking photos of their food, but it’s also a place where artists engage with other musicians about content they love. A quick browse across someone like Astronomar, a DJ from Los Angeles, reveals a huge treasure trove of new artists:
— MAIN.COURSE.MAR (@astronomar) September 27, 2013
Equally, Skrillex – love him or hate him – posts a huge amount of music from around the web on his Facebook page, both from his record label and from people he’s feeling at the moment. Go through the pages of artists you like and look for social media pages that feature a lot of interesting content.
Specific artists to look for are older DJs and musicians in the scene, especially ones who run their own boutique labels: they’re often the ones who are most passionate about new music.
YouTube channels are huge tastemakers these days, with full marketing teams and A&R departments. Look at who’s posting some tracks you’ve been enjoying recently: who uploaded them? Is there a single channel with a branded image (think MajesticCasual or TrapCity) or a conglomerate (EDMSpotlight and the .NET groups) that’s uploading stuff you love? Check recommended material; the algorithms have become incredibly sophisticated, and more often than not, you’ll be satisfied with the suggested material.
There are even subreddits dedicated to a lot of these channels: chances are, if you like a genre, there’s a dedicated forum on Reddit for it, with a group of users who will stumble across and post new material fairly consistently – check out this full list of music-related subreddits to get started.
Read More: The best podcasts and livestreams for DJs
VINYL SAMPLE BLOGS
You already know about music blogs – they’re the lifeblood of the HypeMachine and, in general, an overwhelming world of content varying in consistency, taste, and quality. But for the DJ who genuinely loves crate digging for the eclectic surpises and sample-friendly hooks, there’s a whole community of blogs that provide. Often these sample blogs post high-quality vinyl rips of records that haven’t ever been widely digitized – meaning you’re getting a relatively rare release (albeit of questionably legality).
Here’s a couple that we can recommend – but there’s always more to find:
FIND THE NEW RETAILERS
Record stores might be closing, but new online music retailers are popping up every day, and each one varies in methodology and delivery. Naturally, there are standard delivery websites like bandcamp and purevolume, allowing artists to rapidly release and distribute their own content.
On the flipside are new and exciting start-ups like Songza, a music suggestion engine that not only caters to moods and activities, but has a “Record Store Clerk” function which highlights certain musical trends, like “Dance Music That’s Not Assaultive” and even “This Will Piss Off Your Parents,” there’s a wealth of consumer-level music websites that fill the job of a record store near perfectly, albeit without that real-world feel.
Protip: Use multiple different engines in sync: try discovering new artists on a Rdio-like program and then looking through potential bandcamp releases; check for related artists, collaborators, or other credited musicians. This can open up a vast world of tracks, all from what began as a single song.
DON’T FEAR YOUR FRIENDS
Ultimately, an algorithm can do a lot of the work for you, but we’ve all skipped a Pandora track or two, and sometimes the “related musicians” section can be difficult to fine-tune. It’s at this point that consulting other real, human beings is your best bet. There are a few ways to do it; there’s of course the most obvious, which is checking out what your friends are posting on social media, but there are also vast forums online that specialize in crate digging for all sorts of eclectic music:
- the Cratedigging Co-Op, a lo-fi forum dedicated to all sorts of DJ-related track sourcing,
- futureproducers, which features numerous threads relating to new and exciting music
- seek out smaller G+ or Facebook groups where people share music – eg: FutureClubMusic
- even our own forum features a few guests who contribute new music/mixes
It’s all a question of seeking out the niche and finding the community online for it. And if that niche doesn’t exist (for you liquid-DnB-jungle-trance-hip-hop fans out there), you can always start your own – the LaidbackLuke forum, as bloated as it now might be, is a great example of a community that grew out of a very specific interest.
So stop reading this article now and get diggin’! Know any other great online crate-digging resources? Let us know in the comments.