DJ Trainspotting: How To Find Out What A DJ Is Playing

A really incredible track is playing, and you’ve never heard it before. In an era of instant-gratification music selection, DJs and their audiences all want to be “in the know”  about new, exciting tracks. How do you find out what track is playing without being rude? We explore in today’s article on trainspotting – the common nickname for peeking at the playing track in the DJ booth.

Trainspotting DJs?

Trainspotting (in DJing) as defined by the great Urban Dictionary

v: The act of staring over a DJ’s shoulder to see what records he’s spinning..

Originated from the British phenomenon of train geeks waiting on train platforms, notebooks in hand, recording the types and numbers of trains coming into the station.

“I went to the club last night to hit on this bad-ass DJ chick, but the records she brought were amazing, so I just sat near her at the decks trainspotting them all night!”

Whitelabel History and Hiding Tracks?

The act of finding out what track is playing has been a highly contentious one in DJ culture since the very early days of modern DJing. Bill Brewster and Frank Brougbton chronicle the first attempts to hide the names of records in their fantastic book “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”:

Inevitably, competition grew between DJs, and to protect new discoveries they would cover the label and give them false names. “Covering up” can be seen as the forerunner to modern DJs’ white label exclusives, or the hip hop DJs’ habit of soaking off the labels from their most treasured breaks. The practice actually originated in the early sixties […] However, it was soul jocks who popularized it, both to preserve their exclusives and also as a way of throwing bootleggers off the scent.

“It’s only really the same as people playing acetates today, but these days instead of covering old records they’ve gone right to the source,” argues Jonathan Woodliffe. Dave Godin, however, hated the practice. “If I went somewhere and a DJ had some exclusive cover-up I knew, I would immediately blow the whistle and review it. Fuck it. They were putting their own ego above the singer, the composer and everyone else, and I couldn’t abide that.”

Farmer Carl Dene, the first northern DJ to cover up, would cut out the center of an unused record and place it on top of the record spinning […] Rob Bellars at the Wheel was the first person to cover up and rename the song. Thus Bobby Paterson’s “What A Wonderful Night For Love” became Benny Harper’s “What A Wonderful Night.”

Peeking Over/Into The DJ Booth

Trainspotting cartoon via Stuff DJs Hate

Almost every DJ playing out has had the experience of someone in the DJ booth who gets just a little too close to the gear in an attempt to scope out the on-air track. It’s a great way to find out the track, but often is highly discouraged. No DJ wants a stranger to get close enough to their equipment that they might spill a drink on it or “accidentally” hit the pause button.

An exception is if the person behind the decks is a DJ who you know personally and know wouldn’t mind if they glance at the track – but you’re still better off complimenting their solid selection by…

Asking The DJ

If you really enjoy a track, and it’s not rude or excessive to casually make your way up to the booth and borrow 3 seconds of the DJ’s time, ask them what the track is! It’s as simple as saying

“Hey, I really like this song, great choice! What is it?”

If it’s a well-kept secret, they still might clue you into the label or artist that involved – but at least complimenting the track makes the DJ feel good and not like you’re only in the booth to steal their bangers.

Don’t do this more than once to a DJ in a night  – especially one who you like – because they’ll start to think you’re just poaching their tracks and don’t really care about the set that they’re playing.

Personally I’ve found that a great way to find out what a particular track was is by asking the DJ after the fact on Twitter. For instance – “Great set last night @w_o_r_t_h_y, what was that one song you played, female vocals, chorus had something about “say what you mean, mean what you say?”  clued me into an upcoming release:

Using Soundhound / Shazam

This is my most-used tool for identifying tracks in a club setting – particularly one where the DJ is inaccessible or going up and asking them about the track would be rude or impossible. Both apps have a really good reputation for identifying a wide swath of releases, including remixes and edits, but in my testing are about 60 – 70% successful at picking out a track in a DJ set and finding the correct version.

Shazam seems to have more luck in noisy environments, and also claims to have optimized their engine for DJ sets where tracks are different in pitch or tempo.

Either way, if you use either of these song-identifying tools in the club, try not to raise your phone above your head during every single song to catch an ID – be discreet and use sparingly.

If you’re a DJ who can’t stand seeing people Shazaming your tracks, think of it less as someone “stealing” your selections: if someone wants to know a track that you select as a DJ, it means you’re introducing to something new that they like. That’s a job well done.

Checking 1001 Tracklists

A screenshot of a typical set list on 1001 Tracklists – some tracks identified, some still unknown.

Sometimes the best way to find out exactly what was played during a set is to hope that the complete tracklist comes out after the fact. With bigger electronic music DJs and at larger events (particularly where the set was recorded for a live stream), it’s increasingly common to find those set lists on 1001 Tracklists, an online repository for crowdsourcing IDs from a DJ set.

If you’ve got a great ear for identifying tracks, think of this site as the Wikipedia of DJ sets and jump in and contribute where there are gaps!

You could also similarly crowdsource your trainspotting by posting a link to the exact audio of the song in question to a group like Reddit’s /r/NameThatSong

Listening To Similar Recorded Sets

Odds are pretty good a lot of the tracks DJs play will be ones they play with some regularity. For instance, if you were to go out and see breaks masters Stanton Warriors, many of the tracks they play will probably be on one of their recent guest mixes on other radio shows, or a mix on their own Stanton Sessions podcasts.  This cross-referencing often helps you find even more great music in the process, as well as potentially discovering the name of the song in question.

Do you have other ways to ID songs? Afraid of other DJs stealing your hard-found floor-fillers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The lead image for this article is a screencapture from the Mixmag LA stream of Hot Since 82. Despite some incredibly blatant trainspotting, this is a great set – watch the full thing below:

1001 tracklistsDJ AM modeplaylistsshazamsoundhoundtrackstrainspotting
Comments (75)
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  • DJ Track Trade: What Songs Were Winners In June 2017?

    […] especially well on dance floors. This time, we’ll share a few select tracks we’ve played, trainspotted, or seem to be doing really well on charts – and then turn it over to you in the […]

  • Trainspotting A DJ’s Tracks: Is It Lazy or Legit?

    […] in 2015, DJTT editor Dan wrote an informative article on the topic of trainspotting – which included this description of trainspotting (in DJing) as defined by the great Urban […]

  • DJ Track Trade: What Was Hot In April 2017?

    […] well on dance floors. We’ll share a few of our favorites, things that we’ve heard personally, trainspotted, or seem to be doing exceptionally well on charts – and then turn it over to you in the […]

  • Giulio Andreini

    A couple of months ago we launched a new service called Mixovery that is supposed to create a community of people interested in “trainspotting” tunes from boiler room, mixmag and general souncloud sets. Enjoy!

  • The Future Of DJing: VR DJ Sets With TheWave – dPico AUDIOS

    […] The DJ or visuals team can have complete control of the environment – instead of looking at visuals on the stage, you’re inside of the visuals experience. You can see and interact with other audience members. You could even walk up to the DJ booth and try to trainspot. […]

  • The Future Of DJing: VR DJ Sets With TheWave | NUTesla | The Informant

    […] The DJ or visuals team can have complete control of the environment – instead of looking at visuals on the stage, you’re inside of the visuals experience. You can see and interact with other audience members. You could even walk up to the DJ booth and try to trainspot. […]

  • The Future Of DJing: VR DJ Sets With TheWave - DJ TechTools

    […] The DJ or visuals team can have complete control of the environment – instead of looking at visuals on the stage, you’re inside of the visuals experience. You can see and interact with other audience members. You could even walk up to the DJ booth and try to trainspot. […]

  • Aylan Chas

    A generation of people who never paid for music, of course. Chances are you downloaded a TERA of music from thousands of producers over a decade and you spent a little time picking out a few tracks, that’s what makes you a decent DJ… but you don’t OWN that music because you crossfaded two similar genre songs with the same bpm… sorry but if people want to know, you should help that producer. It’s the least you can probably do considering you most likely didn’t even buy one stinking vinyl.

  • djfreesoul

    You forgot the simple “just google it”.

    Take some lines from the lyrics, and simply add “lyrics” to the end of it. Google will return links to several thousand lyrics-pages, and your song will most likely be one of the top hits.

    Try “I call never seem be home lyrics” and guess what comes up.

  • dj thief

    love this article lol

  • Johnny Fontana

    #1- go back to having a clear cut separation between dj & producer. #2- Stop foaming at the mouth for producers when they haven’t done anything for you. #3- the dj culture is about identity. You share with your own peers, not with the world. #4- social liberalism (fair distribution of resource and power) is ruining art…

  • DJ Elroy

    I can’t be the only one that will admit I used to cover up the labels on my vinyl back in the day. Times were different then; most records were finite, there weren’t nearly as many options as today, and it took time and energy (and a little skill and luck) to dig for the music. When you found something great it was a real treasure and you could truly have a unique playlist. Competition was tough and there were a few people that always seemed to be biting off everyone else.
    Around the mid 2000s (around the time I went digital) I stopped caring. Music was becoming disposable at that point anyway, so by the time other people started playing what I was playing I had already moved on to the next thing. I could afford six or more tracks for what I used to spend on a single record.
    That said, I’ve ALWAYS posted my playlists online and gave credit where due, and I never had a problem telling people exactly what I was playing if they came up and asked me about it.

  • Jason Finley

    Is that S.O.K. in the pic

  • János

    When you don’t know the name of a track, it’s usually Darude – Sandstorm. I’ll see myself out.

  • MissinMarble

    I think it’s your job as a Dj to share your great taste and support artists you love so If you don’t wanna share get out of the fucking booth and go sit in a corner with your headphones cuz that’s where you belong….stingy bastard.

  • Daniel Adams

    Hiding the name of tracks, so nobody else will be as likely to play them, is the DJ equivalent of plagiarism or theft, basically. Unless it’s a track you made yourself, going out of the way to keep other people from knowing about it (which, ironically, I highly doubt many people would do with their own tracks) is being greedy to the point of taking money out of the pocket of the producer, artist, etc. It takes away plenty of potential sales, and stifles the track’s popularity (since nobody knows what it is, or how to find it). If it’s a track by a less-known producer (which it probably will be most of the time), that selfishness could be the difference between success or failure for the person/people who CREATED the track. And again, the irony of it all is that if it’s a DJ/producer, and it was a track they created themselves, they’d almost ALWAYS be willing to tell EVERYBODY the name of it (because they know better than to step on their own toes, and intentionally sabotage the success of their own productions). There’s enough new music CONSTANTLY coming out that nobody should have to resort to ripping off the people who made the stuff that’s getting the DJ noticed. This has baffled me since I first heard about people doing it years ago.

    • Johnny Fontana

      If you actually were part of the original culture, you would have a difference of opinion….

  • ItsWesSmithYo

    I’d like to see all tracks easily displayed in realtime at the venue so everyone can see and not have to train spot at all. As a DJ/Producer that makes part of my living from producing, downloads, streams,’s important to have your music recognized and I try as much as possible to do the same for anyone’s music I’m playing…if there are no music makers there will be no music to play;)

    • Dj Richi AC

      that idea is so genius!!! tracktor hacking in 3, 2, 1…

      • ItsWesSmithYo

        love it…if anyone would have experience with the issue noted…he’s the man;) Nice interview too…

      • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

        Unfortunately that app doesnt work very well. All it does is post the songs on twitter if it has correct metadata.

        • ItsWesSmithYo

          yeah kind of a bummer, I checked it out, great idea, but looks like the implementation got parked. I’m currently seeking MaxForLive plugins that might do this for Ableton peeps…same fundamental idea though;)

        • ItsWesSmithYo

          BTW, I’d love to hear more about what you did…feel free to ping me on FB or Twitter @ItsWesSmithYo etc… AFEM ( is barreling down this line of thought as well…so that artists get recognized and paid within the current system of law;)

          • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

            Just left a message on your FB wall. You can find me @DJTeeOh

        • mczanetti

          well, i never tryed that app. I just remembered about a richie interview, where he tell about that. Anyway, tks for the advice. maybe its time for the nerdy programmer wizards to do an app that really works haha

    • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

      Already been doing that. Let me know if you need help. I also have it linked to social media so people can post requests with a hashtag.

    • Johnny Fontana

      you need to have a clear separation between dj and producer. That is the problem- everything is about you and your productions rather than promoting the journey of music.

      • ItsWesSmithYo

        Not sure I understand that…as noted in my OP, I’d like to see this for ALL music…so that performers are not preventing the Journey of music by hiding it’s source.

        • Johnny Fontana

          Electronic djs have become producers which is understandable. However, the hip hop/reggae/latin djs are not mostly producers. It’s a totally different mentality altogether. I started off as a hip hop dj in the early 90s where exclusive tracks were part of the culture. It’s engrained in you. It just doesn’t go away. Hip hop producers sell their beats on the internet on their own to other artists to use to rap over it. It’s mostly electronic djs that will play a set containing 80% of their own music. Open format djs don’t do this. Back in the day, tracks would be given out to djs months in advance that they would be used to break at clubs. It’s a culture, a way of life. Technology doesn’t take that away. So your mentality is that from a producer’s mentality. A dj has a different mentality- especially if you are from the hood and have grown up on it. Of course there are exceptions but this is simply explaining where it comes from. There is a reason why there is an article and why it was created. It’s a mentality, not simply a physical act.

          • ItsWesSmithYo

            Agreed, your comment is an important read for people that may not know this scenario exists…However, regarding the OP et al, I was a Hip Hop DJ in NYC for 5 years…a great part of my music journey…it’s how I learned to do beats, edits, produce, etc…and others did what you said, I would never hide the information related to anything I played…I have never had a concern about someone knowing what I am playing or where I got it and had no problem maintaining my own style. That said, I understand the reasons someone might choose to hide things, but I don’t and it has nothing to do with the genre…and thus my OP on what I would like to see…it’s never to late for change;)

          • Johnny Fontana

            I totally get you and you make fair points. I think it comes with the culture. And to be perfectly fair, there has been a culture shift. The Internet has done so much but has also disrupted the power of the dj. Before, the dj could hide and could release the information in time. Tracks were tested months in advance. The names were given but access wasn’t had. Now, there is no such option. The very core of breaking music to increase life of music, which benefitted artists, is now gone.

          • ItsWesSmithYo

            here too….I def concur…along the lines of the culture of having new music, breaking new music, etc….being a good thing, it’s definitely been flipped whether the producers want o be recognized or not… I guess why so many DJ’s have had to gain some production skills, at a minimum to do edits and such…in any case, thanks for the back and forth…

          • Aylan Chas

            Basically there is no middle man and that’s something that continues to impact every profession as technology gets more advanced. Large networks just aren’t needed anymore (not just DJ’ing) and it’s all about tapping into one of thousands of tiny niche markets with a tiny sized team. You can apply that to just about any market now that does business on the internet.

          • Johnny Fontana

            Couldn’t even say it much better. I have been watching Andrew Keen and he has been championing this very sentiment.

          • Johnny Fontana

            Also, all of this has created a sense of entitlement. On youtube or soundcloud, people don’t thank you for the video but straight away put up 4 question marks as to why you don’t have a track list up. What about the art of the mix itself? The shazam app has taking away any sense of courtesy and or communication. Now there is no need to thank the dj but go behind and get the music. Sure as a producer you are happy but the same mentality has created that person to now download it for free. So who is actually really making out?

          • ItsWesSmithYo

            Hey hey missed these…you bring up some great points here beyond our original chat…central theme seems a common courtesy issue perhaps…which the original article makes some good points around, in just being cool about it and most DJ’s will be cool back…

          • Julien

            necroing here IK but had to point out – the “80% own tracks” primarily comes from the EDM/mainstream/pop sector, which is popculture and shouldn’t really reflect on the actual DJ culture of house/techno. any real DJ won’t play 80% of their own tracks, unless it’s some sort of live/dj hybrid or something.

            having the mentality that you need to hide your tracks has always boiled down to insecurity imo. however, it didn’t matter as much because producers were getting paid by someone. now, it’s all independent, so a DJ’s promo and breaking of a record is more important than ever.

            in the same sense that you believe listeners to be entitled and rude towards DJs by simply finding the track from someone who has done the work, I find that hiding your tracks as a DJ is extremely entitled and is rude to the producer who made it. just as the listener has no real claim to the track, neither do you.

          • Johnny Fontana

            I think we are getting in the weeds here. we both made good points that needed to be said in order to create a sense of history. now, going fwd, the difference today is the sense of entitlement that many have. people are making mixes and putting out track lists all the time. people share music all the time. I really don’t think it’s because they have the creators in mind. it’s just sharing the culture. however, these platforms have allowed for the audience to come on the platforms and openly ask for the track lists without courtesy to the content creator. the dj expose them to that music and they should be more appreciative and less demanding. it happens to me all the time and so if my work as a dj is overlooked, then you don’t reward the viewer. it’s like walking into a house and asking for a drink without first saying hello…

            but we are on the same page essentially. it’s just a conversation that has many components.

  • thismeanswar

    To hide the ID or not hide the ID? I can’t believe this is even a discussion. Keeping the ID a secret is insanely disrespectful to the producer / artist and EXACTLY the same as not giving credit where credit is due. You might as well be pissing the creators in the face – at least that way they’ll get something out of it even though it’s just your selfish, ignorant urine.

    • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

      Uhm yea, because the producer or artist are standing right there staring at your screen.

    • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

      Some tracks Djs don’t want to share. It may be a hard to find remix or a new song by an artist that people aren’t yet playing. Those labels/ artists/ producers don’t pay DJs to play music like they do radio stations so who cares. If people know the song, they know who it is. If they don’t then it’s not the DJs job to provide them with that info. Especially other Djs who like to steal sets. Would Apple make a new processor and then show it to Microsoft? No. What business are you in that isn’t competitive and where people share everything to they lose business?

      • DJ_ADR

        I do share all the tracks I play when someone asked me, I just want other DJs to do the same when it’s me asking I guess…

        • DJ TeeOh "The Official"

          That’s what makes DJs unique. If everyone had the same remixes I had, I wouldn’t get booked like I do. I create remixes that are on pools like DJCity and DigitalDJPool, but some I make only for me to use. Why should I give up what I created to another DJ? Why should you give up music you found and built into your own library, which is like a fingerprint, to someone else?

          • Julien

            your analogy is correct re: apple / microsoft, but not the way you explain it.

            yes, consider yourself apple. thriving business (successful DJ). however, you don’t don’t make your own processors – intel does. and whenever intel releases their latest processors, anyone and everyone can buy it.

            apple and microsoft are using pretty much the same components available to the world. still, apple products are hot. why? it doesn’t matter what you have, it’s about how you use it. apple has a design philosophy, brand, and consistency that people love. people will always try to copy you by finding out the components of your computer, but at the end of the day, no one can make computers exactly the same as you.

            same goes for records. if you’re confident in yourself as a DJ, how you connect things and your taste, it doesn’t matter who trainspots your shit. it’s mostly branding and personality nowadays anyway (not that people shouldn’t have their talent on lock) so from a business perspective this shouldn’t really matter.

            now, you creating something is a different story. but the original comments were talking about not your intellectual property. now, let’s say the companies were all a bit smaller. unless your business (DJ career) was successful enough to completely keep your provider (record producer) successful and afloat as well, chances are that provider (record producer) won’t be able to stay around if there aren’t enough companies (DJs) paying.

            I’ve been known to not really tell people about some records myself (you know how it is, sometimes you have a song that’s pretty personal to you), but if this is about business and staying in it, there’s no real excuse. the only way to keep your business going is by being a part of the ecosystem so everyone gets a piece. most labels don’t have enough money to even get promo out, let alone radio time. historically, it has been our job as DJs to break records.

            my rule: if it’s a new record and available in stores, I’ll tell the person about it no questions asked to try to get them to buy. if it’s an old record, I give only a hint (digging is still important imo so I try to encourage). and if it’s unreleased i’ll drop the artist name to give them some promo.

  • Rusty

    Someone needs to name a song ID-ID so it will always be their track that comes up first.

  • D-Jam

    I could understand years ago in the days of analog vinyl to try to protect your playlists, mainly to stand ahead of the competition with new/innovative music. However, in the modern age where we have a plethora of music released weekly, it’s silly to think hiding tracks will get you ahead.

    I have no issue with trainspotting as long as the person isn’t interrupting or annoying the DJ. I also think if the DJ has some exclusive item (let’s say a promo), then a trainspotter should NOT ask to get a copy. If you can’t get it on your own, then that’s your problem.

    I think sharing playlists and such does more to help good artists and producers stay in the game. I often will shop off tracklists of DJs I like and respect. Doesn’t mean I’ll sound like them, but it’s a great way to find new tunes.

    • Johnny Fontana

      The if there is a plethora of music, why do you still need to have this discussion? Get your own plethora of music. Stop enacting social liberalism. Life isn’t always fair.

  • Lu Ynoji

    you dont 😉

    1) if shazam seems to work.. the dj hasn’t put enough effort in making the set his own

    2) at times it is indeed awesome to know what that tracks was/is.. but i now often feel like, fuck it.. i’ll enjoy the night and the stuff i heard was exclusive for that night as you dont know anything.; i might pick it up later from other source.. but i now like ” the moment” of that night : everything you heard will be untraceable for a while and it will probably appear on some label you already follow.. or its already on those labels.. if you search….

    • Dan White

      Completely disagree on point 1 – Shazam is VERY good these days, and cleverly picks up loads of remixes and edits. Try it out sometime.

      • Lu Ynoji

        miswrote that..;

        shazam does work well, yes, fully agree on that.. it does often find the weirder stuff.; ( if its on itunes it will get it)

        my point was if during a set shazam recognises a track, you should have twiddeld with it more, in order for it not to be detected..

  • midiman

    i hate those “trainspotting” assholes. once i payed in a club and there was that guy who would shazam all my tracks and track what i played. soon after he went to the club manager and was begging for my job . he told the boss to play for half of my money if he gets the job. the club owner gave him the chance to play once to see if he was good. i was there when he played and he played EXACTLY THE SAME PALAYLIST i played and whoooops he got my job. remember he would do it for half the money….

    • Dennis Olivieira

      Next play Some tracks that you can not Shazam. Make edits/remixes of you tracks. But The club owner is a asholl as wel to do that.

  • radley

    Either you’re a producer making the track or a fan playing the track. Either way, DJing is about sharing music for people to experience. Expose everything! If another DJ is over-the-shouldering you, then all the better. Just means you’re doing it right.

    When someone trainspots me, I point to the track on my screen so they can read the details. Lets me stay focused on the mix.

  • DJ Riddim

    If it’s a track with vocals I’ll record it in my phone and search for it the next day.

  • hellnegative

    I remember before digital really took off. When a hot tune came in at the record store, I would buy every copy they had and leave em unwrapped. PLay the track out over the weekend then the following week return each copy (except two) unopened. Was really the only way to stay ahead of the curve. This article can also be linked to how digital killed the culture, but thats a whole nother discussion,.

  • DJ alt.rock

    I liked this article because I’m that nerdy about the culture but, really, if Shazam can’t id it for me and I have no frame of reference (like, I don’t even recognize the acapella artist or whatever) I take it as a sign that I’m not meant to have it.

  • Christopher Allen

    There’s about 10-20 remixes daily of a popular song. Chances are the ones by bigger artists will be found regardless so why be discreet. This reminds me of the sports analogy about the other team having all your plays but they still have to be able to stop it. Someone else can have all your tracks but their timing skill and play order aren’t gonna be the same as yours. Let’s face it. Most club DJ’s today are too lazy for new music anyway by here are a couple plAces I go to where I’ve literally n noticed them playing the same songs in true same order as if it’s been pre recorded. In one case I even saw that was the case

  • drizden

    Don’t get attached to Tracks. Let them have the track everytime. It keeps you motivated to find new tracks. It’s only a track.

    • Alan May

      Yes, but some tracks are quite exceptional. I’ve only Shazamed ones that I really like. And I’m fairly picky with my tracks.

      • thismeanswar

        Indeed, and those tracks are made by quite exceptional producers who deserve the credit.