Spoiler: If you’re looking for the quickest and most effective answer to the question in the title, check out Soundeo. You’re welcome. (Then you should come back, scroll down, and check out how I actually use Soundeo)
It feels like I’ve had a sort of lifelong quest to find great music. When I started DJing two and a half years ago, this quest became more difficult. It was no longer enough to get a track that sounded ok. I needed high quality versions of tracks, and I needed a large number of tracks to build a substantial collection of awesome music to play from.
It’s perhaps worth noting that I probably don’t play music like most DJs do. I have no interest in playing all the latest club hits. I want each mix to be a totally unique journey of discovery through a bunch of new and awesome tracks that I haven’t played before. If I was playing in clubs more there would probably be some popular and beloved tracks that I’d rely on more and play more often, but as I don’t, for me, every mix needs to stand by itself, be full of only amazing tracks, and pretty much almost never repeat a track that I’ve played before (unless it’s a deliberate replay of tracks I’ve already played, like my 6-hour mix #100). I don’t care about playing the tracks that are really popular right now. Maybe I will play one of those tracks sometime, but it is just as likely to happen the week it comes out as years later.
In order to be able to do this, I need a fairly vast collection to navigate. Some DJs are ok with having a couple hundred active tracks and occasionally renewing this. I currently have about 3000 tracks to pick from, of which I’ve so far played about 1100 across 100 mixes (there were some repetitions near the beginning).
This monster collection is categorised to make sense (I’ll cover that in a later article, maybe) and fed regularly with new music (these days there’s an injection of 100+ tracks every few weeks). Every tracks is carefully auditioned before I add it to my collection – I reject about 9 out of every 10 tracks I listen to. Even if it’s a nice track, if it’s not distinctive and interesting, it’s not getting in. Well, most of the time. I’m only human.
So how the hell do I find over a thousand tracks to listen to every few weeks, to enable that 100+ selection to happen? There have been a few approaches over the years, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
First, this is the most obvious legitimate source. It’s been around for a while. And it basically sucks.
The main advantage of these sites is they are pretty thorough about cataloguing everything that comes out and enabling you to track your favourite artists and labels. The main downside is you will pay through the nose for every single download – up to over $3 per track for fresh new releases. At a thousand tracks a month this is not sustainable.
But Dan, you should only download the 100 tracks that you actually want to add to your collection!
First of all, that would still be hundreds of dollars on music every single month. Secondly, the listening method available on these sites is via 2 minute extracts. That might be alright when you’re selecting a 3-4 minute pop song that’s essentially flat in terms of its energy and progression. You’ll get enough out of that 2 minutes to know the track pretty well. When it comes to 8-12 minute progressive house tracks, 2 minutes typically focuses on just a few beats before the drop, the drop itself, and then a few beats after. It’s rarely enough to get a good sense of the track. Some tracks have an awesome drop but a boring progression outside of that drop. I would rather kick myself than end up splurging $3.59 on such a track! To be able to select a track in the genres I like, I need to be able to listen to the whole thing. Sometimes 2-3 minutes is enough, but it’s the 2-3 minutes at the very beginning that are most telling about whether this will be an awesome track, not the drop.
Another problem is that most of those sites are very mobile unfriendly. I do most of my work on an iPhone and iPad Pro. Using those sites to try to listen to 1000 tracks a month from iOS is… well, don’t. Seriously. Quit music instead.
Yes, it’s not legal. But it’s cheap. It’s not free, mind you. If you want to set up a proper pipeline of downloads, one that can feed a thousand-tracks-a-month listening habit, you’re probably going to need to pay for a hosted torrentbox. I recommend someone like https://bytesized-hosting.com/ . It’ll cost you some money every month. I’d rather have paid that to the artists, but given the awfulness of the mainstream sites (described above), I had to fall back on this for a while.
The biggest downside of this approach is, it’s quite difficult to get a good variety of music from BT. There are some private communities that trade vast amounts of music but they generally aren’t as thorough at grabbing everything as, say Beatport is. And when they are quite thorough, they aren’t so good at offering ways to filter the tsunami of new music that’s released every single week. So you’d need to find a torrenting community that happens to love exactly your kind of music and is maniacal at grabbing everything in that genre. And you still need to pay for that torrentbox. And be a filthy thief who doesn’t pay the starving artists you love (and unlike Taylor Swift, someone like Robert R. Hardy or Cid Inc probably needs the revenue to be able to keep on making tracks!)…
Once you’ve downloaded the music, you still have to filter it – decide what it is you’re going to add to your collection. I currently use the Dropbox app for that. I listen to stuff in one folder and move it into a subfolder if I like it, or delete it if I don’t. It’s not perfect but it does the job on both iPad Pro and iOS (and probably Android, MacOS and Windows).
The biggest downside I found to this was that because of the lack of ability to filter, to follow specific labels and artists and remixers, and because genre basically doesn’t mean anything as a selection criterion, my listening queue ends up filled with masses of stuff I will never ever want to play. That has a more perverse effect too: it means that when a track that’s sort of in the right genre finally plays, I’m more likely to add it to my collection just because it’s in the right genre, because I’ve just listened to 15 happy hardcore, hard techno and psy trance tracks in a row, and so my ear has become desperate for the right kind of sound. So this leads to adding mediocre tracks to my collection, which leads to me playing those mediocre tracks in my set some day. Not good.
Yes, Youtube is in face a source for discovering and downloading music. The “Related videos” feature is actually pretty neat to discover new tracks and artists, and if you stick to HD quality videos the sound quality is not awful. It’s not great either, but it’s certainly good enough for a podcast, and, unless you’re playing at Ministry Of Sound or somewhere with a ridiculously good sound system, probably most people won’t hear the difference. With an app like MediaHuman’s Youtube To Mp3, you can quite efficiently end up with a fair few tracks worth having, in a few hours of browsing youtube. You can also do various bits of monkeying around on iOS with apps like Workflow to get a youtube browsing-and-downloading workflow sort of working on an iPad or iPhone.
But at the end of the day the quality is fairly low. And it’s still pretty bad at actually keeping track of what the hell is going on in the world of music, so you’re relying on Youtube’s discovery algorithm to keep your collection fed and watered. Which… doesn’t quite feel comfortable… to me… (and you’re still not paying artists)
There are a whole bunch of DJ Pools out there. The idea is solid: you pay a subscription fee (usually fairly substantial as it’s aimed at professional DJs) and get access to the latest tracks released in a selection of genres, all in high quality.
That sounds great in theory, and I spent ages trying to find a decent release pool, and my conclusion was that all the ones I could find sucked. They mostly catered to the RnB/Rap/Pop/WhateverCrapOfTheDay and were great if you wanted something that would make you aware of the latest remix of Rihanna, but totally useless for the kind of music I like to play.
Until I discovered ReleasePromo, which deserves a section of its own…
ReleasePromo is a DJ release pool that focuses on a number of labels that basically produce only music I like. If you don’t like the music I like, ReleasePromo is utterly useless to you. But it happened to hit exactly my sweet spot (though I sometimes wished it had more harder dance stuff like the tracks typically released on Bedrock, and also more downtempo electronica).
Every week, ReleasePromo releases hundreds of new tracks, pre-release (i.e. before they’re even available on Beatport et al), ready to download right away, with no cap. The cost is a fairly robust $59 a month, but it was worth it for me since it transformed my mixes through and through, finally giving me access to a flood of awesome new music to listen to regularly. This enabled me to become way more picky, thus improving my mixes overall. It also made my mixes a little bit more consistent, since previously I was starved of melodic-but-dark progressive house tracks like those ReleasePromo specialises in. Never again!
I stuck with ReleasePromo as my main source of tracks for over a year, only letting it go when I discovered Soundeo. At one point, I added BitTorrent back in to inject some variety, but the bulk of my tracks came from ReleasePromo for that time. It helped shape my taste, helped me to discover lots of cool lesser known artists and labels in my favourite genre. If you can find something like ReleasePromo in your genre, it’s well worth the investment to hang around there for a while and discover all those new sources of music. And as a bonus, ReleasePromo (after a bit of nudging) supported playback on iPad Pro, so I could select tracks on my iPad Pro while on the move and download them at home.
Soundeo (and Trackhunter)
Oh boy. Basically, Soundeo‘s model is they “buy” a fixed number of tracks each day, from the labels, depending on what’s been upvoted the most. Those track are then available for “free” download by Soundeo members (up to a max number of tracks per day depending on your monthly fee). Make no mistake, though: this still results in a very broad selection of tracks, including a lot of obscure stuff. It does mean that the most popular tracks are also available in short order. When Bedrock releases something new, for example, it’s available on Soundeo within a couple of days.
What makes Soundeo shine compared to ReleasePromo is that, armed with the knowledge of which artists and labels I want to follow, I’ve been able to set up a vast follow list that makes sure that whenever, say, Michael Mayer or Henry Saiz or Guy J or whichever other artist has impressed me with their production skills, whenever they release something new, or whenever a label that regularly released good stuff on ReleasePromo does so, it appears in my “followed” screen.
The next step is to basically favourite almost all that stuff (minus the “best of” re-releases, because otherwise I’ll go nuts), and patiently upvote things in my favourites every day, and over time, tracks become available, I download them, and then start filtering them with the Dropbox app.
Another thing that’s been possible with Soundeo is, whenever I’ve discovered a new artist I really like, to dig through their past releases, many of which might be available for immediate download, and just gorge on them. Yum.
In the two very busy months since I’ve discovered Soundeo I’ve ended up adding about 400 tracks to my collection (and downloaded many more than that which never made it to my precious). And there’s always more coming out that I can add to my listening queue (currently about 390 tracks long), so there’s always new stuff to listen to. And whilst there is the odd off-genre track in there, about 95% of the tracks I download are what I want to be downloading. And yet the selection is way broader than ReleasePromo, whilst having way more cohesion than I ever achieved with BitTorrent. WIN!
So the net effect is that my pickiness has improved across multiple genres right now, whilst the amount of tracks being added to my collection has grown substantially. More, better tracks. What more can we ask for?
You haven’t mentioned Trackhunter yet
Yes, ok. So the thing we can still ask for is ever more efficiency. So, Trackhunter is a cool tool that runs on iOS, Mac and Windows, and which integrates with all the music sources (Soundeo included) to enable you to really quickly and efficiently listen to everything that’s being released anywhere, without repetition of tracks, and select the ones you actually want to buy.
Most of the tracks will end up being on Soundeo already anyway. Those that aren’t, it suggests buying them on Beatport and the like, and finds you the cheapest place to do so. I originally discovered Trackhunter before Soundeo, and then I found out about Soundeo and my mind was blown.
Trackhunter is not entirely ready yet – I think it needs a bit more work, particularly in the part that manages the concept of followed labels and artists, and the ability to automatically load up tracks in Soundeo even when they’re not yet available on Soundeo, and then it might become a total replacement to Soundeo’s follow list – one that will be vastly more efficient to do a first pass through new releases.
But the author is responsive and determined, and I’m certainly crossing my fingers that he gets there in terms of making Trackhunter the de facto ideal entry point to do your first-pass track selection (and who knows, with a bit of dropbox integration perhaps it can be used for the filtering too!).
Did you just write almost 2500 words on how to download new tracks, on Christmas day?