Tame The Beast: Take Control Of Your Digital Music Collection

Digital music collections are a gift and a curse. They allow DJs to carry and manage massive amounts of music that would be physically impossible with vinyl. Very rarely will a modern DJ have the thought “darn I left that track at home.” The curse is that this massive collection can quickly get out of hand. The core of any great DJ is their music collection and if their collection is a mess or filled with subpar tracks, it can make it harder to find the next perfect track to play. Today Ryan Dejaegher will share 5 tools to take control.

1. You

Even if it’s free, it’s more music to manage.

You, yes you, are the best tool for managing your collection. The first step is to be more selective about what goes into your collection. The best DJ is not the DJ with the largest collection, it’s the DJ that knows their library inside and out and is ruthless about what gets added. There are a number of ways to be more selective. This can be a difficult thing to understand for new DJs that may have a smaller collection. They may feel like they don’t have enough tracks so they need to go on a big downloading binge. While it may seem harmless in the beginning, this behaviour can quickly lead to a massive collection of mediocre tracks that clutter your library and that never get played.

Next time you’re looking for new music, ask yourself:

  1. If this wasn’t a free download, would I buy it?
  2. Where/when would I play this? Get specific.
  3. How many times have I listened to it? Do I repeatedly keep streaming it from Spotify or Soundcloud?

” Follow the same rules you use in your clothing closet. When new tracks come in, try to get rid of an equal number of the old ones so the overall size stays manageable. Every 3 to 6 months evaluate songs that have not been played in that time – they are probably the ones to get cut. – Ean Golden”

2. Mixed In Key (Mac/PC)

Most DJs will be familiar with Mixed In Key (check out MIK 7 with automatic cue points). For those that aren’t, it’s an app that will analyze and detect the key of tracks to make it easier to find tracks that are harmonically compatible. With version 6, MIK introduced a new feature, “energy detection.” With energy detection, MIK will rate a tracks energy from 1-10 (least to most energy).

The energy detection takes into account the BPM of the track, so that the energy is relative between slow and fast tracks. While this data is useful for helping DJs understand what songs will work together, it can also be used for easy organization when combined with iTunes smart playlists, which we’ll get into later.

3. MetaBliss (Mac Only/PC coming soon)

MetaBliss is another app from the Mixed In Key team that’s designed to help DJs take control over their metadata. DJs can drag and drop a collection of tracks and quickly edit multiple ID3 fields/tags and save these changes to the track. Tired of having multiple entries for the same artist: Jayz, jay-z, JayZ, Jay Z? Now you can change all of them to be “Jay Z”. This is also great for cleaning up multiple genre tags (hip hop, hip-hop, hiphop).

MetaBliss also lets you search and delete text from specific columns. So if lots of titles have the artist name beside the track, you can easily remove the artist name from the title field. A highly recommended app for the obsessive compulsive DJ that wants a clean and consistent library.

4. TuneUp (Mac/PC)

TuneUp is designed to “fix your entire music library automagically”. TuneUp runs alongside iTunes or Windows Media Player. It will fix mislabeled song info, detect and delete duplicate tracks, and it will analyze your music collection and determine how clean it is. The real magic of the software is that it analyzes the audio of the track to find the song information, rather then relying on the existing metadata of the track. That means that even if a track has no metadata (unknown artist, untitled track), TuneUp can still identify and label the song.

This makes it a great program for DJs that have old vinyl rips that they want to have properly labelled in their software or if they used another program that messed up their ID3 tags. TuneUp gives users the ability to determine what tags are updated. So if you’re happy with the artist and titles but you want the genre tagged or album art, you can choose to only have those tags written to the track. TuneUp uses Gracenote for its music data, the same database that iTunes uses to add track information to people’s ripped CD collections so it’s pretty good at detecting tracks. Where it’s not as strong is with new releases, acapellas, and remixes. In this case it’d be best to use MetaBliss to manually tag the tracks.

5. Smart Playlists (iTunes)

Smart Playlists are super helpful for cleaning up your library. The best part is that it’s all automated, once you’ve made a smart playlist there isn’t much that needs to be managed. The reason it’s last in the list is that it’s helpful to have extra data from apps like Mixed In Key to work with. To create a new smart playlist click “File” —> “New” —> Smart Playlist. A window will appear to create a set of rules for the smart playlist to follow. You can create a rule with nearly all the iTunes columns (Artist, title, album, genre etc.) and there are several variables to assign: “contains/does not contain”, “is/is not”, or “begins/ends with”. There are so many ways that Smart Playlists can be used to help organize tracks but for now we’ll focus on a few key playlists.

“Find tracks that haven’t been analyzed by Mixed In Key”

You’ll need a rule for each MIK Key Label

There are lots of times where I’ll download tracks and they get added to iTunes without being run through Mixed In Key. Rather then guess what songs need to be analyzed I can create a smart playlist that will automatically gather all the tracks that don’t have any data in the comment field (which is where I’ve set MIK to write the Key)

What if the comment field isn’t blank but it doesn’t have the key? No problem, we’ll just need to add extra fields to exclude tracks that do have the key.

Now we have a smart playlist of all the tracks in our library that haven’t been analyzed by MIK.

“Find Tracks That Are in Key and in a similar BPM range”

Smart Playlists can help us narrow down the amount of song choices. Of course this doesn’t mean you should only rely on the songs in the smart playlist, but it can be a helpful tool to start building a manual playlist from rather then trying to create a playlist from the entire collection. With your tracks analyzed by MIK you can now have 3 useful pieces of data to help pair your tracks: key, energy, and BPM.

With this criteria, my smart playlist will gather songs that have key 1A (A-Flat Minor), are between 120 – 130BPM, and only with at least a “3” for energy (This helps filter out any super chill tracks, interviews or podcasts from the playlist.) Now I have a playlist of songs that is automatically updated whenever a song in my library fits this criteria. This can be taken a step further by adding the genre to narrow things further. Again with a massive collection this can be a great way to find mixes and track combinations that you may not have found otherwise.

“Find Tracks From Record Pool”

If you’re subscribed to a record pool (check out our record pool comparison), then you likely have multiple versions of the same track such as clean edits, dirty edits, intro edits, or transition tools. These can quickly get lost in a large collection so it’s beneficial to create a smart playlist where you can easily find them. Depending on the record pool you’re subscribed to and the way they label their tracks you may need adjust your playlist accordingly but the playlist above will give you an idea to help you get started. Now I have a playlist that is automatically updated with new tracks that I download from my record pools.

Take Control Of Your Collection

At the end of the day, these tools can help DJs clean up and organize their collection but ultimately they’re not a substitute for a DJs taste. All this organization really means nothing if it’s organizing a bunch of mediocre tracks. Remember be very critical and selective of what gets added to your collection. If you find yourself constantly adding music that you don’t like to your collection, perhaps for requests or to fill requirements for gigs, then it may be time to reevaluate the kinds of gigs you’re taking.

What are some tools or ways you organize your music?

Let us know in the comments below!

iTunesmanaging your musicMetaBlissmixed in keyMusic organizationplaylistsrecord poolssmart playlistssmart playlists for DJstaking gigstuneup
Comments (36)
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  • Brad

    My Method for finding/Organizing my tracks:


    My 2 main methods for finding tracks are my DJ pool and spotify. With the DJ pool I will listen at work. I pull up the new tracks, sort by the genre I am in the mood for and start listening as I work. The pool I use (Digital DJ Pool) allows you to sort tracks into crates, which I do by genre (based on my opinion, not the site’s). Any track I like gets put in a crate.

    With Spotify, I usually listen in the car to and from work. When I hear a track I like, I make a mental note or pause and screenshot it at a red light. When I get home, I look for it in the DJ pool first (why pay twice if you don’t have to?) and if it is not there then I will download from traxsource or beatport.


    1. When I get home, I download the tracks. I download one genre at a time because of my initial organization structure. Once all the day’s track from a genre are downloaded, I move them to my genre specific folders. I keep this quite simple. I have a few others, but my most-used genre folders are Deep House, Tech House, House and Dance. I keep these broad because my crates in Serato mirror the folder names. I use tagging to get more specific later.

    2. Once all the new files from a genre are added to their folder, I run everything through Mixed in Key. I let MIK do cue points for me as well, then adjust later as needed to suit my preferences, but for the most part MIK is pretty good. MIK also tags all the keys, of course.

    Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all genres are complete.

    3. Once everything has been run through MIK, I open up my file tree in Serato and drag the folders into their corresponding crates to update my Serato (DJ) library.

    4. Once all the files have been added to Serato, the real fun begins. At this point I listen to each track again. If I decide I don’t like something, I mark it in the comments for a second listen at a later date (I always like to be sure I want to remove a track). I will also edit the cue points during listening if I don’t like the MIK cues. During this time I also update the comments with the energy of the track (I use a 3 tier rating system, but whatever works for you) as well as the “feel” of the track. For me I use tags like “beachy,” “dark,” “sexy,” “early,” “late,” etc. for the feel. Many tracks have multiple “feel” tags as they are personal notes to myself to help me recall aspects of the track. This part is totally subjective and based on personal preference. I use the energy to structure my set, but the “feel” tags are to help me create a consistent vibe and to help me play tracks appropriate to the time slot/venue/party.

    5. After a few days I will go back and listen to the tracks that I marked because I didn’t like them. If I don’t like them the third time around, they get deleted.

    6. Repeat the process whenever I download new music!

    I hope this is helpful to someone out there. As every article on process/workflow/organization disclaims, the best workflow is the one that works for you. That said, I hope folks are able to take something away from this, even if it is only a small piece. The thing I like most about my process is that nothing is ever downloaded/purchased without a listen, and nothing hits the decks without at least two listens. The process builds in time to get familiar with new tracks and gives every track at least three listens before being discarded, hopefully avoiding mood-based discarding of tracks (discarding because you listened in a bad mood and were being too critical). I also like it because nothing gets added to my DJ library for deck load without being personally analyzed. I make a point to follow the process from start to finish any time I acquire new music, whether I get 1 song or 100 in a day. If this means that an entire practice session is used on organizing and tagging tracks then so be it, it is always worth it in the long run when you can find the perfect track for every moment easily within seconds.

  • Bjørnar Karlsen

    I change my download folder each month, ex 2015_06, and I have folders 01, 02, etc inside. I have corresponding archives within Traktor, in addition to genre-based and gig-specific playlists, using the stars to rate the energy-level (1,3 and 5 stars).

  • Daniel Berggren

    Beatport Pro app + Meta
    Both for Mac

    Meta is the first mac app to replace tag&rename I used on pc before.

    Beatport pro lets me create playlists and tag my music similar to rekordbox.
    No need for iTunes anymore.

    I have extreme OCD, and waited for a while to find something good enough to organize exactly the way I want it.

  • Tony Mitchell

    Anyone using the “single bucket” approach? I was having problems organizing music and someone suggested I put every song in one directory and let the MP3 tags organize it. I didn’t do it.

  • Tastytracks

    After a few years, I developped a fairly stable to process to add tracks to my library.
    1) I check various sources for interesting new release during the month (beatport, soundcloud, hypem, radio, friends, …) to find the perfect gems => This is the most time consuming part of the process
    2) Every time I find an interesting track during the month I purchase/free download it and put it in a separate folder
    3) During a given month I will listen mainly the newly added track
    4) At the end of the month I review all the tracks (delete some of them), rate them, mix in key them and adjust the tags (using mp3 tag mainly)
    5) I import all the tracks into serato, reflect the rating in serato using the various colors available and start setting cue points

    To make sure my librairy remains up to date I regurlarly review the colors/rating assigned to each track and downgrade/upgrade those ratings.

    I avoid deleting tracks from the librairy as you never know what people will request on specific occasion.

    That’s it folks, just wanted to share my own process 😀

    • BeastFremont

      So you sit on a track for a month before you decide to play it out?

  • sevitzky

    Guys, I agree with Peko. You should really credit images you use. It’s kind of not cool…

  • Robu Andrei

    excuse me, i can’t find any app called you on the internet, can anyone please send me a link or something?? :/

  • Christopher Allen

    This is what I do. 1. acquire music while studying/at work 2. listen in itunes (deleting the crap, and throwing the rest into playlists for either listening or DJing) 3. tag in file explorer (not itunes, wmp, or zune because the tags within programs don’t always transfer to the ID3 of the file) 4. analyze the ones that make it to dj playlists in scratch live (the fastest i’ve used) 5. (OPTIONAL) set cues in scratch live or toss new tracks on usb so i can set cues on my SC2900 (way faster than in scratch live but doesn’t carry over to other software) | as someone who gets new music all the time, if i don’t do this every three days it becomes a nightmare to catch up. keep in mind that most of these auto tagging software is for commercial music only. good luck trying to tag soundcloud rips or beatport tracks which is the bulk of what’s played now. but even with all of this tagging, doing a gig with more than 100 songs per 2hrs is excess, and even this number includes a buffer of starting early, finishing late, or possibly just choosing not to play certain tracks last minute

  • killmedj

    It would be great if the Traktor library wasn’t so bogus. That would be a major help for my digital library!!

  • QAMRONparq

    I can’t believe that nobody has mentioned TagScanner yet.

    It can rename metadata from filenames and rename the files from the metadata. It also has copy, paste and move functions. The best part is that it’s free! However, it is Windows only.

  • Luke Austin Smith

    Hi, my name is Luke or DJHD. I’m 22 and would like to add to this discussion. I have been following DJTT since the first MidiFighter. Although I am not lucky enough to have my hands on and DJTT equipment yet, I will be when I feel I have enough money and skill otherwise to take on learning a new skill. I am a mobile DJ and have been running my company for almost 5 years. I started my collection as most kids my age did, I downloaded all of my family CDs when I was much younger. When I started DJing I began sharing collections with friends and adding to mine. My collection grew from a few thousand to now 43,000. I have been struggling with music management for a very long time. I was young and reckelessly download thousands of tracks, often times meta data was wrong or absent completely. I have used the exact techniques listed above to improve my collection and it’s usability. I am currently sorting through my 90s collection using a smart playlist (over 8000 tracks) and narrowing it down only to danceable songs. I have to do the same with 70s and 60s which are a bit smaller collections. The reason why I am making this post is as follows. I have been using these techniques for years. And it takes a lot of focus to sort through so many tracks. iTunes doesn’t make it easy to transfer playlist from one PC/MAC to another. So in the event my computer blows up…. I lost years and years of track preparation. Here is my solution. Once you have mastered the steps above, you have to duplicate the playlist into your hard rive. Most of us use external hard drives. So after you have cleaned up your library making it tagged and sorted just the way you like it…. Take a moment and make sure you have the exact same feeling in your hard drive. This will also allow any DJ to take his hard rive to another PC/MAC/Controller and use it just the same as he would at his own workstation. I also have problems with if a track is stored on my external hard drive, Traktor will not recognize the files as playable through the iTunes area inside Traktor. (i think this is an compatibility issue with using USB3 ports, USB3Hub, and USB3 Hard drive) Only tracks stored on my internal hard drive are playable through iTunes inside of Traktor. I have Traktor set to also view my hard drive so that if needed I can get into those tracks. All of the music stored on my MAC is hand selected music. Which is why I can get away with a messy music library. I made playlist to put the tracks I want to use all of the time in front of me and forgot about the thousands of tracks hiding in my library. I have enough tracks stored locally to do any mobile DJ gig, but a lot of request I take are not on there. It’s problems like these that make me wish my hard drive was sorted better. I would suggest setting up a hard drive in two sections. You have you playlist backups in one area, and you have you entire music collection in another. While this system will create duplicate tracks on your hard drive, it will make it easy to use and understand.

  • DJ Looneytunes

    Get BeaTunes, it does it all 😉 Except the personal selection…

    • leavesremix

      I hate software that requires you buy to buy a seperate license for Win and Mac. BeaTunes looks like it does this. The Mixed in Key softwares are like this as well.
      Personally I won’t pay for a software twice, simply because I move between between OS’s on occasion.

  • LTParis

    I think that Jaikoz should get a mention in here too. If you want to get more metadata in your collection then Jaikoz is a great tool to leverage.

  • Rudy.cz

    There is a PC alternative to MetaBliss, its called Mp3tag, its free and it can do much more than MetaBliss which is for 20$.

    • CUSP

      I’ve used MP3Tag for years, it really helps when you’re ripping from CDs, or Records.

    • Christopher Poynter

      Yeah +1 for Mp3tag. Amazing program, and I’ve missed it ever since I switched to a mac!

    • JonFB

      Another vote for Mp3tag! And if you like to have disc art included with your MP3s, it’s easy to add it or modify it. You can even drag images directly from your web browser into the image field. So just do a Google image search for the album (or single), find the image you want, and drag it over. If the song has a wikipedia entry, it usually has the original artwork.

    • needforseeed

      Somewhere around the web there is a MP3tag version wrapped to a Macintosh executable using WINE. Google “mp3tag osx” and see for yourself (not sure if links are allowed to post here). MP3tag is a really good program by itself, and this way it works like a charm on OSX.

      If you don’t trust other peoples download links and prefer to build it yourself, the easiest way to do so is using Wineskin Winery. Add a blank new wrapper, then install MP3tag (run the setup exe) in there. It’ll look and feel like ol’ Windows, it’s completely GUI-guided, and as MP3tag is not a complicated program by nature, this “DIY” WINE configuration is fairly idiot proof (and quick, bout 5-10 minutes of button clicking sounds reasonable) to pull off as well.

      Cheers mates!

  • doclvly

    any tips for gain leveling a collection on macs? I used to use mp3gain when i was on a pc but the mac counterparts do not compare. I also have tried “audio normalizer” an app i got in the mac app store but it doesn’t work on large libraries.

    • deejae snafu

      mixed in key makes a program called platinum notes that fixes track gain among other things..

      • doclvly

        this is what i meant, ill take a look

    • Luke Austin Smith

      Use the very great application called Logic. While you do need a basic understanding on how to run a DAW, it will allow you to use a limiter and an exciter to take that oldies track from flat to exciting. I am not to this point in my musical journey. I currently use the gain control inside Traktor when mixing those tricky tracks. Once I sort my library correctly, I am going to go back in and select tracks that need a modern improvement. I use this technique to master my mixes to ensure even sound before posting them to the internet. I use the same project over and over again to do this. It is basically a temple late at this point, I just drag and drop my mix, master it, and bounce it to file type that is usable by mix cloud. Unfortunately Traktor exports to WAV which is not usable by Mixcloud.

  • Trackhunter

    A brilliant article, I’m getting to the point where I “need” this. It’s not something I’ve given too much thought to as I don’t play out but more recently I’ve been buying much more music and I now reguarly podcast. Managing playlists, having a “pot” to be able to pick from and easily navigate through when jamming for hours on end is becoming more and more important for me. It’s especially helpful for those times when you got carried away with a mix and you don’t have much time left 🙂

    Thanks for this!

  • ksandvik

    Yes, there’s no need to have thousands of tracks, just enough good tracks that people like to dance to and for building a great night. One has to be ruthless to filter out less good material from the set list.

    • LTParis

      Well it depends the kind of DJ you are. The majority of my gigs are weddings and I could have to play dozens of genres in a given night. But I am diligent in rating my music and have created very complex itunes smart playlists that helps me manage subgenres and main genres.

      • Gio Alex (Tekit Izi)

        Greed. For Bars, lounges, clubs it may not matter as much, but a mobile DJ needs access to a lot more music.

      • ksandvik

        That’s true, wedding and bar DJs need lots of tracks due to the issue of taking requests of all kinds. No, I’m not doing such gigs myself. Never liked them in the first place.

    • No Qualms

      I have have weekly residencies, I can’t play the same songs over and over. So I do need thousands of tracks. Also I have a radio show, where I can’t play the same tracks over and over, so I need thousands of tracks. Tens of thousands! Ohohahahahah ????

      • Guest

        Note taken. But. If you have 100,000 tracks, average play time is about 4 minutes, that’s 400,000 minutes, 6666 hours. Or if you had a 24 hours non-stop radio show, that would mean 18 years of non-stop music. One might hope that dubstep and house is still popular in future, or you might need to get another 10,000 tracks…

        BTW the Rinse.fm DJs play repeat tracks and it does not cause them grief.

      • ksandvik

        Note taken. BTW 10,000 tracks with average 4 minutes is 40,000 minutes of music, 666 hours, 22 months nonstop if you have a radio show that plays 24 hours a day. If you play once a week you could play those tracks for years and hope that dubstep and house et rest are still popular 20 years from now.

        Rinse.FM DJs do repeat tracks and it does not hurt them.

        • No Qualms

          Ever heard of different genres. One place I DJ at is Hip-Hop, another is Chillout Lounge and Deep House, I also do Neo-Soul and traditional Jazz. Sometimes DnB. If I do a corporate event it’s usually a mix of 70-80-90-00-10’s pop music. It easily adds up. Obviously you don’t do many gigs!

          If you have actually studied the musical cultures of society you would realise every genre that has ever been invented will always be here it never goes away. That’s what sub-cultures are! DubStep will be here forever in some form just like Jazz, Rock, Bluegrass, Big Band, Psychobilly etc.

          Besides my MP3s I also have an cabinet full of records and another one filled with CDs. I love music there is a lot I enjoy listening to that I would never DJ with. I guess you either live it or you don’t 🙂

          • ksandvik

            It’s true, some still like ragtime, dixieland jazz, folk music from Ukraine and so on. There’s always a small niche for any kind of music, but we could debate if it works across a larger population attending events.

            My iTunes collection is just now so large that I realized I will never be able to listen to all those tracks fully. Which is weird. Mostly as I’ don’t have time due to all the production work. So I gave up and instead create music for others.