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Genre Tagging For DJ Music Libraries

DJ’s libraries often grow at an absurd rate, with a rapid influx of new content happening on a weekly or even daily basis. Without a proper system of organization, it’s incredibly easy to forget about great tracks hiding just a few months back in your catalogue. Today, we’re sharing DJTT contributor PC3’s techniques for adding smartly structured genre tags and using them to easily find sets of songs with common characteristics, even in larger libraries.

THE GENRE TAG

Painfully useless Genre tags aren't uncommon.
Painfully useless Genre tags aren’t uncommon.

ID3 tags communicate useful information to DJs, including tempo, length, BPM, key, artist, and title. They’re all metadata that can be used instantly to help find the perfect song for the mix. But a casual survey of most digital DJs libraries will reveal that the Genre tag is often a complete mess, and generally devoid of any useful information. Sometimes it has invented genres (“Beats and Bass”) or inconsistent spellings (“Nu Disco” vs “New Disco” vs “NuDisco”) or a reminder of what mediocre blog you downloaded the track from back in 2011.

So this Genre Tagging system reclaims an unused and abused ID3 tag by adding as much useful categorization information as possible. It’s not about creating standard tags for everyone, but rather creating tags that will work for your library and can be used consistently – so it’s important that they reflect how you think about music. 

Here are the two levels of tags that you should plan out for all the major genres that you have in your library:

TOP LEVEL GENRE TAGS

top-level-tags

These will go at the beginning of the Genre ID3 tag. They are the actual genres from a very top level. In this instance, PC3 uses Hip Hop, EDM, R&B, Pop, Rock, and Latin as the main genres in his library. Dont’ be tempted to delve into subgenres here, all of that information will come in the next level.

We’re going to use Hip Hop as the genre to break down into Lower Level tags but obviously the same structure and style can be applied across every single top-level genre.

LOWER LEVEL GENRE TAGS

hip-hop-top-level-tag
Breaking down the different subtags of Hip Hop

These are the real meat and potatoes of the tags – secondary characteristics that make it easier to find a certain type of track.  A key element here is that each Top Level tag needs to have a unique set of lower level tags. Remember that when looking at ID3 tags,  iTunes is  just searching text fields. The software can’t detect a hierarchy, so we have to emulate one by giving every tag a unique identifier.

When you’re creating your own genre tagging system, remember that these lower level tags are parameters that you’ll realistically want to search for. Don’t add superfluous information that won’t be helpful later on.

In this system, lower level tags are split into factual and subjective tags:

  • Time (by decade): [80s] [90s] [2k] [2k10] (this tag could be eliminated by using the Year ID3 tag instead)
  • Region: [East] [West] [South] [MW] (for midwest)
  • Subgenre: [Bay] [Chill] [Crunk] [Drill] [Trap] [Twerk] [UG] (underground) [Pop]
  • Production Quality: [Dirty] [Clean]
  • Sound/Vibe: [Deep] (pitched-down vocals, bass focused) [High] (pitched-up vocals, melody focused)

Finally, adding an asterisk (*) to the end of a tag indicates if the song was a hit when it came out (either on the charts or not – again, this is subjective). This is a great way to rapidly re-discover songs that did really well after release, and makes it easy to avoid browsing through the b-side tracks and flops when you’re trying to fill the dance floor. This is the only tag that can be used cross-genre – but you could make up other cross-genre tags to indicate favorites, etc.

drake-trophies

Let’s review an example classification of a hip hop track – in this case, “Trophies” by Drake.

  • Hip Hop: Obviously!
  • [2k10] – it was released in 2013
  • [South] – Drake isn’t from the South, but has a very dirty south sound on this track.
  • [Trap] – Highly trap-influenced beat and production elements. 140 BPM.
  • [Clean] – There aren’t dirty or raw samples in this track – very well-produced.
  • [Deep] – Deep baseline and undertone,
  • * – it was a hit!

Every High Level tag has different options of lower level tags. For example, EDM doesn’t have a Dirty or Clean tag option because its not prevalent in EDM to use samples like in that way.

Full set of example Genre TagsCheck out a full list of example tags here?

ADDING TAGS IN ITUNES

Genre tags will start to autofill - use this to your advantage to remember all of your tags.
Genre tags will start to autofill – use this to your advantage to remember all of your tags.

To really be able to take advantage of this genre tagging system, you’ll want to use iTunes. It’s not a perfect media library system by any means, but it works with just about every piece of DJ software out there – meaning that you can easily use your smart playlists in Virtual DJ, Serato, Traktor, Cross, and others. It also does a really good job of properly managing the actual files in your library if you allow it – organizing your music folder by Artist and Album.

To start tagging, right-click on a track and click “Get Info” – this will give you the ID3 tag editing screen. As you start to fill out your library with these smarter genre tags, you’ll notice that the Genre tag will autofill as you start typing. Use this to quickly remember what your low-level tags are and adjust them accordingly. You can easily do song after song by using the “Previous” and “Next” buttons.

Obviously this will quite some work for a larger selection of tracks and will take dedicated time to get through a DJ library. Start with music that you play regularly, and tracks that you’re adding to your collection, while dedicating some time to going back through your own personal catalogue.

WHY TAKE THE TIME TO DO ALL OF THIS? (SMART PLAYLISTS)

trap-twerk-rules-genre
Setting the rules for a Smart Playlist

iTunes smart playlists are incredibly powerful if you have metadata for them to use, and once we’ve cataloged an entire library of tracks with really great genre tags, we’re able to create dynamic sets that reveal tracks you might have completely forgotten about.

The basis of a Smart Playlist in iTunes is a set of rules – you can specify what you want the tags to contain. In the instance of the above screenshot, we’re focusing on finding tracks that are appropriate for a bass loving crowd that likes EDM and hip hop. Make sure to set the drop down to match “any” of the rules – and see the results.

STACKING SMART PLAYLISTS

Narrow down your options with Smart Playlists that target your previous playlists
Narrow down your options with Smart Playlists that target your previous playlists

This is where Smart Playlists really start to shine. Create a folder in iTunes for all of your playlists for a certain gig, and then make a broad-reaching Smart Playlist that returns a ton of appropriate tracks. Now to make a new, more useful Smart Playlist to draw from during a set, set a rule that pulls from the broad playlist, and looks for hits (*) and isn’t an a capella, instrumental, or clean track using the settings above.

You can do this repeatedly, building stacked Smart Playlists that reference each other and update dynamically when you make changes. Just remember that when you change things around in iTunes, you’ll usually have to restart your DJ software to see the updates.

Video Demo

Here’s PC3 showing how his system works in a quick video:

Read more tips on music library organization: 

  • FLVR

    What tags you would do for EDM?

  • Christoph Meyer

    Nice work-around!
    Yet, I would prefer the DJ packages to open up the way they deal with the users’ metadata and add value separators & value mapping – i.e. allow multiple Genres, and Star Ratings…. If you care about this, +1 / send your serato support ticket too please as Serato stated – “this is not something that gets requested very regularly.” – hence it is not on any roadmap!

    Related Serato Forum Thread:
    https://serato.com/forum/discussion/1573280

  • Daniel Wagner

    This would be great, except for the fact that I have well over 10,000 songs and there is no way for batch processing this information. could anyone help me find a program to help with this?

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  • LedParade

    Pretty much what I started doing a few weeks back. I got tired of dragging new tracks one by one to multiple playlists. I always had everything organised in playlists, mostly for personal use. Now I just fill in a few tags and that’s it. For personal use I made a main genre division between Bass, Beats, House, Techno, Hip Hop and IDM. Bass is for dubstep, glitch hop/110 and drum & bass. Beats is for more 808 driven stuff like trap and twerk.

    For commercial DJing I additionally use the grouping section in iTunes. I got pop, dance, hip hop and a 4th one for local stuff, then followed by time; new, 00’s or <00's. I also add a "DJ" tag before anything to separate this commercial stuff (which I really don't like) from the stuff I really like.

    A nice thing about this is that you can freely add all kinds of tags e.g. saxophone, caribbean, jamaican, lounge. And then when I have a need for something e.g. jamaican I'll just set up a new smart playlist for anything containing "jamaica" in genre and that's it.

    And thanks for the tip to add clean/dirty, deep/high and * for hits, as additional tags!

  • guest

    this method almost has it, but it’s still no Picard

  • MikeE

    I use a very similar system of smart playlists in itunes, and genre classification that I then narrow down in serato with crates on a per gig basis.

    When I get tunes first thing I do is wipe the comments and genre, grouping and comments metadata.

    In grouping I enter the catalogue number
    In comments I enter the label
    In Genre I go on set genres (make sure you spell them the same, which can be a problem for hip hop vs hip-hop vs hiphop etc) and then a dash with subgenre

    So for house

    Have a smart playlist for house (anything that contains “house” in genre)
    then Classic house is: house – classic

    and so on

    i.e.

    house – deep
    house – classic
    house – garage
    house – uk funky
    house – soulful

    then

    dubstep – dungeon
    dubstep – brostep
    dubstep – deep

    garage – uk/2step
    garage – dark

    drum & bass – liquid
    drum & bass – tech
    drum & bass – jump up

    etc etc

    I have smart playlists for label, genre, subgenre, tempo range, and anything else interesting..

  • Packman

    Where are the tags for ‘Rock’ in the PDF example?

  • Fantastic System, but I pondered one thing: Is there a reason why the * for hit is used at the very end? If it were put at the beginning, then “Hits” could be easily pushed to the top by sorting your library by genre. Just wondered if there was a particular reason it’s at the end. (I noticed Serato DJ 1.6 doesn’t allow for “ends with” Smart Crate option)

  • Per Jakobsen

    Great article and good comments, I actually use comments to organize, my music, and use keywords like, (instrumental,cover,hitlist, vocal, mustplay) and so on, i also have some total unknown tags, that only mean something to me, but thie i have done for long time now, and it’s definetly helping me and i can create smart playlists on the fly

  • P?RTY.MCFLY

    This is pretty much exactly how I manage my music but I use the grouping tag in iTunes instead so it’s not as cluttered on the screen. That way I am able to use the Gene tag for the actual Gene of the track. But in the grouping tag I am able to add the extra tags to keep everything searchable for smart playlists.

    Nice job.

  • Gabriel

    Also where would I find the PDF you were talking about at the end of your video? Would be awesome to have as a guide.

    • SiKNAS

      +1

      • check the above comment

  • Gabriel

    Awesome video helping me out a lot I just have so many tracks and most in spanish.

  • THORTZ

    I do a similar system,
    Though i use the comments area in iTunes instead.
    Otherwise its a split image of my current iTunes library & its worked for me for the past few years 🙂

  • ruff playa

    Nice. Can You make also example classification of electronic music? When I started collecting songs 15 years ago, I had only couple folders on my hdd like house, trance, club/techno, break… now I had around 30 and every year I have to split it and configure all tracks to new folders because there are so many sub genres coming out all the time…

  • pharaohg3

    Is there any software you could recommend that finds the BPM for all your tracks in your iTunes library? If not, I’m fine with a site or something of that such that is reliable… Since I am imputing this method into my library I’d much rather do it all together.

    • The only software I use for that is the built in BPM in Traktor and Mixed in Key.

    • SiKNAS

      Actually, all the tracks that has been bpm detected in traktor shows up with bom in itunes 🙂
      It works both ways!

  • JBoogz26

    You’ll have 100 different “Hip Hop genres” tagging with this method.

    I like the idea, but I have implemented a system that doesn’t make my genre column look like a bracketed mess. I use the grouping tag for the extra stuff. Obviously year has its own place, so I don’t need that. The grouping just made sense to me. Doing it this way still allows for smart playlists, and, again, doesn’t make my library genres ridiculously cluttered.

    • Yes, I agree you can use grouping and yes year is a way avoid the 1st tag (as the article suggests).

      I put it all in Genre because its simply more efficient to use (when less field to click) and I know every DJ software has recognizes the genre column.

      Frankly, I don’t even have my genre column “open,” so I never see it and since crowds aren’t dancing to how my music collection looks I could care less.

  • That Mexican DJ

    While this article talks itunes for changing tags …i like using rekordbox for this. Whatever new tracks I put on there i can select multiple tracks and change the genre of them all. Then you could always put on itunes after. All my tagging i do is through rekordbox first when i need to do multiple tracks at once I find it easier.

    • Yes, you can use iTunes to alter multiple tags. Simply select multiple songs (cmd or shift plus “click”), then right click into “Get Info” (or cmd + i).

      BUT the whole idea is to tag each song individually for each song sounds different (unless you are tagging the different versions of the track i.e. clean, dirty, intro, acapella, etc, then tagging multiple songs at once makes sense), otherwise you defeat the purpose of the system.

  • YS

    Why would you add all of those tags to ‘Genre’? Good idea but put them in comments or grouping.

    • Many DJs use the comments section for Mixed In Key readings (with energy results as well).

      But yes, you could use the Genre tag for Top-level broad genres then use grouping for the Tags.

      I put it all in Genre because its simply more efficient to use (when less field to click) and I know every DJ software has recognizes the genre column…

  • aimee

    normally, you have the genre in your balls (or breasts), but here you must have it in your post (scnr)

  • DJ Maverick

    Great information, I wish I would have implemented something like this when I was first starting my library. It also stinks that you have to type the “[ ]” characters when searching.

    • You don’t have to.

      I just do it for visual feedback of my system.

      As you can see the lower-level tags don’t have any spaces and use the “[]” as separators, thats why I did it.

      But you could use simple spaces, commas, etc, so you don’t have do the extra typing.

      This is just how I did it, to every DJ his own…

  • Futureglue Musik

    Keeping your genre tag simple is a good habit. I have been using this kind of system from the beginning of my digital library, although I don’t have any geographics attached to the tag.

    I use all the descriptive stuff in the comments section starting by the energy level, mood, tempo, lyrics, sub-genre or combination of genres. Also stuff like: 2b (2 buy: dl stuff to buy in lossless), 2e (2 erase at next cleanup) 128k (low quality file, old stuff I can’t find anywhere but is still a nice drop if everyone is drunk enough)..

    Then, I use Trainspotter to make dynamic smart playlists in Traktor based on energy level, sub-genre, bpm or any combination u can think of. It’s great for that. Get it!

    • Luiz Zen

      “but is still a nice drop if everyone is drunk enough” hahaha good one, mate! 🙂

  • Ryan Ruel

    Great article!

    I actually just wrote a program for the Mac called QuickTag that makes this tedious process much easier!

    It’s written in AppleScriptObjC, so it does only run on Mac’s. It runs along side iTunes in a separate window and uses AppleScript to talk to iTunes to actually update the tags. You then use Smart Playlists as the article states to sort your music however you like.

    In the App, as you click through your newly downloaded tracks listening to them, you select a new genre, a star rating, a category, then you tick off track attributes.

    In my case I used the Genre ID3 tag field for the genre, and the Comments field for the rest. I used different delimiters for each item to make them easily searchable in smart-playlists.

    (Genre) – Genre’s are tagged in “()’s” to differentiate your custom genres from ones from those from the music sites.

    – Ratings in iTunes aren’t stored in ID3, so I store in this format (1-5) in the comments to make them persistent if you move the file around.

    {Category} – This can be whatever you want, but only one of the set of 8 categories can be set at a time. I use things like “peak time”, “lounge”, “chill out”, etc.

    [Attributes] – You can configure up to 16 attributes, and tick off as many as you like for each track. These can be things like “glitchy”, “dark”, “vocals”, etc.

    QuickTag is working great for my collection, but I haven’t yet gone through the final process of getting it up on the app store.

    If anyone would like to test it out, let me know and I’d be happy to provide a beta copy 🙂

    • Wow, thats really tight. Wish I knew about that earlier lol, would have made my sorting that much easier.

      I will definitely give your app a try

      Thanks

      • Ryan Ruel

        I wish I had written it about 5 years ago, I could have saved so much time!

    • Zachary Davis

      id love to try it out…. where i can i get a copy

      • Ryan Ruel

        Posted about it in the forums, go there and PM me for the link!

        http://forum.djtechtools.com/showthread.php?t=79100

        • pharaohg3

          I went to the link. I could not find the download link for it.

          • Ryan Ruel

            You need to PM me on the forum please.

          • pharaohg3

            I did. After I realized that.

  • Kool Rick

    I use a similar system, except I place mainly TOP LEVEL genres in that (genre) field and add the decade info elsewhere. Other genre levels are used in fields like comment and grouping. I also take advantage of the EMOJI characters on my Macbook (great for Serato users).

  • chris

    btw: you can run an second, or an third iTunes-library.

    >> iTunes: How to open an alternate iTunes Library file or create a new one <<

  • guest

    I don’t like messing with the genre tag. My guess it’s being done due to the severe limitations imposed by iTunes (those limitations are not present in superior media players such as foobar).

    Either leave the genre tag single-valued and put styles into another field (e.g., the field “style”) or use proper multi-value tags. Don’t go for silly limitations just because of a poor software such as iTunes. If you mess with your genre tags as suggested here, you MUST use smart playlists. You’ve lost the option to work meaningfully with filters, column sort, etc. (you can only do this for the top five categories).

    • Ryan Ruel

      Why does this matter? The genre tags are pretty useless that come from the music sites, at least for electronic music.

      iTunes, hate it or not, is supported everywhere, which makes it powerful. My iTunes collection works seamlessly with all of my DJ software. I haven’t found another option that works as well.

      • Yes, you are correct on all accounts, which is the reason I choose iTunes

        • DJ Tank

          Their is something im confused about. For example, when playing off traktor from your itunes library, aren’t those tracks compressed for itunes therefore losing quality?

          • All MP3s are compressed in some form.

            But if you are asking if iTunes has a second form of compression on top the flie native compression… the answer is no it does not.

            iTunes also does NOT alter the flie (unless you tell it to).

            For example, I use Platinum Notes. Before I had any song to my iTunes library, I run it through platinum notes to “heal” it and then put it in iTunes. iTunes doesn’t do anything to the file after that.

          • DJ Tank

            i was under the impression that itunes would convert wave files into another format but i figured it out. Thank you. I will have to try platinum notes.

    • oConnor

      the question about foobar or itunes

      i think foobar will be ok. i never use it, but i respect the work, and i hear much good about. There is no foobar for mac. But i hear often that iTunes is bad. So, iTunes is for many different users. For the Pros and the “only consumer”. And it works with real big libraries. << really big libraries. Most of my friends likes the "genius" in iTunes. (take a look at iTunes "genius") This is a big Community and share his music. And to buy an song in the store is very easy. And when you lost your music, or your plate is crashed, with just one simple click you get your music back.

      And if you use the cloud, you can store your professional music also there.

      and with the remote control for iPhone or iPad you control iTunes very easy from everywhere. And with "AirPlay" ….

      and truly the tags: either you know your music, or not. You could even have your music in an suitcase, and the crowd want to hear it. 😉 With or without tags

    • Using my system doesn’t “hurt” your music collection so there is no problem with “messing” with.

      Never heard of Foobar, but I am pretty sure it doesn’t import libraries into all DJ software like iTunes (which is the point of the system, we are DJs).

      Does Foobar have smart-playlists, so you can create playlists on the very quickly?

      Also, in most DJ software you can search just one column (i.e. Genre, name, album etc) so you could just search the genre column, for example, for hip hop tracks that have a dirty sound (like in my system)

  • David

    Insightful. Given that the DJTT team seems to lean more towards either deep house and tech vibes, or otherwise underground approaches with regards to DJPC3 (or say, relatively mainstream hip hop), it would be interesting to hear their/your take(s) on this type of system for those of us geared towards that kind of sound. Great profile on this guy and his approach. thanks guys!

    • m

      Do you not remember when all the DJTT videos used glitchy brostep and electro? This method can be applied to any style of music