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How Streaming Music Services Could Be Better For DJs

Music streaming has been around a while (Spotify launched in 2008!), and since then it has come a long way. Access to a vast music library, delivered near instantly via the internet, has become routine. Beyond music fans, streaming is invaluable for DJs. The ability to preview tracks or albums in full, without committing to a purchase, is a powerful tool when digging. In today’s editorial, guest contributor Steven Maude has put together ideas for how every streaming service could improve for listeners, music producers, and DJs.

Improve The Library Sizes

Each streaming service is substantial in size, but almost every DJ will start running into walls and discovering missing essentials. There are two big reasons for this:

  1. Some rights owners and artists are around and able to do deals, but not necessarily willing to take what the streaming services are offering.
  2. Some rights owners aren’t around. Maybe it’s not even clear who owns the rights to a work: how would these tracks then make their way to legal services? Simple problems to describe, but not to solve.

For both listeners and DJs digging around, it’s frustrating. For example, on Amazon Music, I looked for Omni Trio and couldn’t find his classic 1995 drum and bass album there. The only trace of an artist — with the best part of a decade’s work in that genre — was reduced to a much more recently made remix that is, well, let’s be nice and call it “idiosyncratic”.

If there’s no one to negotiate rights […], they’re also often not around to file copyright takedown notices.

If you clicked on the link above, you might have the realization that YouTube does partially fill this these missing niches. If there’s no one to negotiate rights for the other legal music streaming services, they’re also often not around to file copyright takedown notices.

YouTube doesn’t have everything. Scout around on Discogs long enough and you’ll easily find details of obscure records, maybe even some reviews, but not find the tracks on YouTube at all.

Unfortunately, unless the rights owner can and is willing to act on those rights, the only way to hear missing music is likely via an existing physical copy. It’s a pity. There’s a lot of music that may never end up streamable, discoverable, or even purchasable. This is especially a problem for dance music in its earlier days, when releases may have been very limited.

A silver lining for record collectors: this is great news if you view your collection as an investment – rarities will continue to be desirable.

Ditch Single-Platform Exclusives

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
There’s no physical reason for exclusives like in record stores of old – time to ditch them!

Whether TIDAL (“over 40 million songs”), Spotify (“over 30 million”), Amazon Music Unlimited (“tens of millions of songs”), or Apple Music (quoted as having 40 million songs), they all claim a similar number of tracks. This could possibly reflect similar deals with rights holders and a similar catalog.

However, releases are occasionally exclusive. What user wants start managing multiple music subscriptions just to hear one album or new release?

Big exclusives sometimes make their way to other services. “The Life of Pablo”, once touted as a “permanent Tidal exclusive” by Kanye West, is now widely available. Alternately, Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is still only streamable via TIDAL. As this discussion highlights, Beyoncé doesn’t need to worry about sales or publicity, but she still may be losing out on sales as a result.

Artists without Beyoncé’s clout may be more reluctant to restrict their potential audience. Lower profile artists are less likely to make listeners jump ship straight into the waters of another streaming service.

Since most exclusives are timed, and the high-profile permanent exclusives will likely be played out all over radio regardless, it’s maybe not such a big loss for DJs using streaming for new music discovery. But if integration gets better with DJ applications (keep reading), mobile DJs will be out of luck if they rely on the “wrong” service.

Better Integration With DJ Services / Software

Whether discovering the original artist behind a fantastic sampled hook via WhoSampled, or searching through a label’s back catalog via Discogs, DJs have a wealth of tools to help them find music.

Streaming providers properly integrated into these sites means time savings for DJs. If they can play the tracks directly, there’s no switching focus to open a streaming service. Small amounts of wasted time across multiple apps or web sites can accumulate if this is a regular flow in your music discovery.

Both Discogs and WhoSampled do offer YouTube playback on their sites already. There’s not much in the way of integration of other streaming providers. But maybe we might very slowly get there. For instance, last year, WhoSampled launched Spotify integration into their phone app.

What About DJ Streaming Libraries?

Pulselocker search in Serato DJ

Would you want to entirely rely on streaming for a DJ set?

A more direct benefit for DJs could be more widespread use of streaming services as a music source in DJ software. Would you want to entirely rely on streaming for a DJ set? Probably not. But as a backup to maybe handle unusual requests, or to play a set where dancers want a selection other than your normal tastes, it would be useful nonetheless.

Progress is being made here, again at a glacial pace. Algoriddim has had Spotify integration for a while. Serato integrates with Pulselocker, and Virtual DJ began offering Pulselocker, Deezer and Spotify this year (although it’s noted that Spotify integration is apparently limited). Rekordbox DJ also has Pulselocker available, but Traktor is conspicuously absent.

Fill In The Gaps

MP3 went through a phase where encoders and players didn’t initially correctly handle gapless playback. That eventually got solved, providing you choose the right software. Some streaming services have failed to incorporate this function, bringing back this problem.

it’s particularly noticeable for DJ mixes released track by track

When playing tracks that should seamlessly follow each other, you might notice a short, but noticeable pause between them. And it’s particularly noticeable for DJ mixes released track by track (DJ-Kicks, for instance) when there’s a great mix, but as the new track comes in, there’s a brief-but-awkward silence before it’s playing. Not quite the same impact.

Some services have solved this. Spotify has supported gapless playback for a long time. YouTube and Amazon music don’t have gapless, although on YouTube uploaders sometimes instead upload albums as a single video). That’s a regressive step to enjoying music that should have long been fixed.

Crossing The Streams

it may be a long time before there’s a definitive “winner”

Ultimately, some of the inconsistencies between streaming services may start to disappear as some of the current fighters in this match eventually tap out. There are still several competing services, but as described by Billboard, the market may begin to be consolidated. But that might be a drawn out battle. With services backed by very big players (Google, Apple, and Amazon aren’t disappearing anytime soon) and success meaning a strong grip on the music market, it may be a long time before there’s a definitive “winner”.

As for the missing catalog problems, I’m less convinced these will get fixed any time soon. It’s a real loss for fans and DJs who want to delve back into dance music history. I’d love to see someone doing for dance music what Night Dive Studios do for video games: acquiring rights of older releases and publishing digitally, making those treasures available again.

Speak Up! Industry leaders might be reading this article, so share your biggest wishlist items for streaming services in the comments below.
  • Roey Tsemah

    Great article! I’d add, better filtering and categorizing options. At the moment, the only way to organize a music library is by creating playlists, or saving albums. It’d be super useful if we could create sub collections of albums, and search for tracks, albums and artists by genre, or BPM or other track data.

  • boris de koningh

    Any track, yep. However it doesn’t get around the the fact that you cannot use media source you like (legally speaking).

  • Paul

    Just read what’s written in any physical CD or vynil jacket. “Public performance prohibited”. So the legal problem isn’t the fact you use streaming or not, online or offline mode. The problem is if if you or the venue you’re playing at doesn’t have the licence.

  • Matheo

    I still don’t get the point, how would a photo of the Spotify tab in a Djing app would be more indicative that the DJ doesn’t have the appropriate licence than if he uses his own library?It’s just another format. Like going from vynils to CDs, from CDs to digital.

  • marius aubert

    I don’t understand the argument of licensing. Streaming or downloads, it’s the same, you need a licence. Why wasn’t this a problem with downloads or physical disks that one could borrow from his local disc library and now it’s a problem for streaming? If we can solve the licensing issue through a combined streaming service subscription with public diffusion rights, everyone would be glad of course, but for me it should not be considered as a blocking point.

  • nick tuinstra

    Any track, yep. However it doesn’t get around the the fact that you cannot use media source you like (legally speaking).

  • Gordon

    Any track, yep. However it doesn’t get around the the fact that you cannot use media source you like (legally speaking).

  • Paul

    Just read what’s written in any physical CD or vynil jacket. “Public performance prohibited”. So the legal problem isn’t the fact you use streaming or not, online or offline mode. The problem is if if you or the venue you’re playing at doesn’t have the licence.

  • Sinisa Radovcic

    has anyone else tried http://remixrotation.com ? it merges full-length previews from YouTube with prices from Amazon and iTunes for music organized into 31 genres.

  • Sinisa Radovcic

    i think the worst thing about all these services is that they have too much music: the sole act of “publishing” finished digital media has become very simple and cheap without any quality control. the result is that an avalanche of shit tracks is drowning-out the quality productions. also, there are many re-issues of tracks that are only a couple of weeks old.

  • christopher

    I don’t understand the argument of licensing. Streaming or downloads, it’s the same, you need a licence. Why wasn’t this a problem with downloads or physical disks that one could borrow from his local disc library and now it’s a problem for streaming? If we can solve the licensing issue through a combined streaming service subscription with public diffusion rights, everyone would be glad of course, but for me it should not be considered as a blocking point.

  • Mats

    I agree, most countries charge the venue, and this allows the DJ to use whatever track they like. Its a nice way to simplify the whole process

  • guest1234

    Please do not support streaming anything. It’s an agenda in which the end goal is to condition society into not owning but instead forever renting the material.

  • BOOMY

    I like to mix out of my own library every now and then. So I got Djay Pro just for that in combination with the Spotify Premium I already have…. But I enjoy long and subtile mixing, so all my own music are extended mixes or club mixes. I rarely use radio edit. The DJ genres within Djay Pro are pretty much all radio edits or mix cuts, would love to see more extended mixes in the DJ genres.

  • aaron

    I like to mix out of my own library every now and then. So I got Djay Pro just for that in combination with the Spotify Premium I already have…. But I enjoy long and subtile mixing, so all my own music are extended mixes or club mixes. I rarely use radio edit. The DJ genres within Djay Pro are pretty much all radio edits or mix cuts, would love to see more extended mixes in the DJ genres.

  • Pingback: How Streaming Music Services Could Be Better For DJs – dPico AUDIOS()

  • ??

    I’d love to be able to access my Google Play Music library inside of Traktor.

  • Steve Francesco

    The technical aspects aside, we need licensing agreements for commercial use of the content and platforms that are available.

    Whats not mentioned in the article is the legal issues surrounding all streaming services if DJ’s decide to use them. Pulselocker is the only one it appears that you can legally use for gigs. Spotify is the one that IMHO has the best crate digging features and best suggestions for new and old music based on what you regularly play.

    Apple, Amazon, Google and even Beatport etc .. do not allow public performance of any of their content as per T&C.

    Spotify Do have a Pro Tier, for public performance. But only available in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Anywhere else and its technically illegal.

    But then again technically so was playing CDs and Vinyl.

    And up vote commercial licensing for Spotify DJ’s here !

    https://community.spotify.com/t5/Live-Ideas/Subscription-DJ-Subscription-Offline-Sampling-etc/idi-p/1445485

    • Jay Neural

      I don’t understand the argument of licensing. Streaming or downloads, it’s the same, you need a licence. Why wasn’t this a problem with downloads or physical disks that one could borrow from his local disc library and now it’s a problem for streaming? If we can solve the licensing issue through a combined streaming service subscription with public diffusion rights, everyone would be glad of course, but for me it should not be considered as a blocking point.

      • Steve Francesco

        Most countries have some kind of music rights organization who collects from the venue on behalf of the industry – in that case license fees are paid and there’s no real reason to go after DJ’s and their music sources.

        But if you are a touring DJ. It could depend on the countries music rights enforcement agency where you are playing, and could complicate matters if you have all your music in a cloud based setting which explicitly prohibits public performance in their T&C. If nothing else you could get you a pretty bad rep if a photo got taken of your screen while using a non-commercial streaming service and it was posted online.

        In any case wouldn’t it be peace of mind to KNOW you are covered for music licensing when you play a set rather than wading around in the grey area of the terms and conditions like DJ’s have done for so long.

        • Sean Fernandez

          I agree, most countries charge the venue, and this allows the DJ to use whatever track they like. Its a nice way to simplify the whole process

          • Steve Francesco

            Any track, yep. However it doesn’t get around the the fact that you cannot use media source you like (legally speaking).

          • Sean Fernandez

            Assuming that your bar/club pays its royalty fees, you can download any track, any remix, from anywhere you want onto anything you want. I don’t understand what you mean by you can not use any media you want to?

        • Jay Neural

          I still don’t get the point, how would a photo of the Spotify tab in a Djing app would be more indicative that the DJ doesn’t have the appropriate licence than if he uses his own library?

          It’s just another format. Like going from vynils to CDs, from CDs to digital.

          • Jay Neural

            Just read what’s written in any physical CD or vynil jacket. “Public performance prohibited”. So the legal problem isn’t the fact you use streaming or not, online or offline mode. The problem is if if you or the venue you’re playing at doesn’t have the licence.

  • T1PT0P

    Only exponentially higher bandwidth networks funneling uncompressed lossless files will do.

  • Ywe

    I like to mix out of my own library every now and then. So I got Djay Pro just for that in combination with the Spotify Premium I already have…. But I enjoy long and subtile mixing, so all my own music are extended mixes or club mixes. I rarely use radio edit. The DJ genres within Djay Pro are pretty much all radio edits or mix cuts, would love to see more extended mixes in the DJ genres.