For most of the plugged-in population, itunes (host to 28,000,000+ songs) is a one stop shop for all their music needs. For the rest of us music addicted connoisseurs, there is no single source for music nor are there ever enough tools for building the perfect collection.
The following is a series of tips for those that are either not content with a single source for music, or for those looking for a way to use the tools they have more effectively. Hard core modern day collectors will find no surprises here, but there was a time when even they weren’t so savvy.
This online store needs no introduction, nor will I spend time promoting it. I will point out that while it is filled with artists whose record labels pay more to have their artists featured on the splash page, there is an incredible amount of music buried in itunes that will never make the “Top” lists. Try a key word search (i.e.. best of jazz…or electro…or punk funk…) and wade through the results. You may be surprised at what you find. Not only will you pick up some great music, but it will be apparent that itunes is host to thousands of bands and musicians that may never be considered rockstars, create music worth listening too regardless. Pay special attention to the ultimate itunes loophole, tribute albums. While it is illegal to sell music containing copyrighted samples without the artist’s express permission, there are hundreds of releases loaded under the guise of a tribute. Did someone say Daft Punk remixes? I do want to warn the fledgling digital DJs that the default file format for itunes is an encoded AAC file which is not read by all vinyl emulation softwares. Make sure to adjust your download file type to MP3s.
Independent Record Labels Online
Long gone are the days when record companies required a distributor to move their physical product. Ones and zeroes take up far less space, and there is no monopoly. Many labels now hock their wares directly from their home pages, in addition to clearing houses like itunes, Beatport.com & Whatpeopleplay.com.
For a start, check out the list of EDM labels on Resident Advisor.
You can skip the record labels altogether and reach the artists through Bandcamp.com. This is a hosting platform for artists to share their music and merchandise. Bandcamp takes a small cut from the artists for the service, but insures reliable downloads and allows artists to maintain creative control. Unlike itunes, there is no apparent hierarchy here. Artists all have the same deal. The site regularly lists their favorite artists, but the picks are not financially motivated.
Movie and Television Show Soundtracks
There is a world of talented music consultants out there whose job it is to sift through thousands of great songs in order to find songs that will complement the scenes of great television shows and movies. Let them be a helpful filter. I was fortunate to have discovered the Austin Hip Hop group ‘Honey Claws’ when I heard their track “Digital Animal” on an episode of my favorite show, Breaking Bad. Even my own brother, whose musical tastes are questionable at best, discovered Massive Attack via ‘The Matrix’ film. Thank goodness for soundtracks.
Rather than buy your music, these days you can simply subscribe to a digital service that will pipe in all of the hits all of the time. Services like Spotify have almost made owning music obsolete. Why buy it when you can lease it for pennies? This is basically worthless for DJs, but not everyone is looking to be the next Carl Cox.
If you are fortunate to own a smart phone, then you know just how amazing app technology is. Shazam is an app which can listen to a song in real time and determine it’s origin. I honestly feel silly standing in the middle of department store holding my phone up to one of the ceiling speakers, but I have managed to find a world of great tracks with this magical tool despite how silly I look while doing it. You will too.
Originally a term train enthusiasts who, in their spare time, tracked the movements of different railway lines. Trainspotting is also used in the DJ community for looking over a DJs shoulder while he is playing to get a glimpse of the label on the record he is playing or, nowadays, peek his computer screen. I recently played a party with a friend downtown who bounced into the booth after I dropped one of my favorite new tracks so he could surreptitiously snap a shot of my computer screen with his smartphone before I knew what he was doing. Never one to be overly protective of my collection, I let it slide, but not every DJ is as forgiving. Do be careful.
There are thousands, possibly millions of music blogs out there not only shedding light on great new music, but often giving it away for free. I have entire crates in my library labeled after blogs where I regularly find music. Be aware that in an effort to keep downloads speedy and save virtual space, the music offered by blogs is often at a lower bit rate. The quality may be great for your mobile mp3 device, but not so hot on the big club speakers. You have been warned.
Flea Markets, Record Fairs & Sidewalk Sales
Entire collections are dismantled, bought, and sold every day at flea markets, record fairs or sidewalk sales. I personally received citation one hot summer day in Williamsburg while hocking some of my old CDs on the sidewalk for not obtaining the proper city license. Fortunately I was let off on a technicality. I applaud those who continue to roll the dice. Some artists may scoff at my endorsement of buying second hand music from these street vendors whose profits will never enter the musician’s bank accounts, but, if it wasn’t for them, I may not have heard of their music in the first place. Or bought their “best of” legitimately the very next week. This search method is also a great way to meet other music enthusiasts, trade hot spots, and it is more fun then staring at a computer screen for hours at a time.
Physical Record Stores
Yes, believe it or not there are still a few remaining physical record stores in the world. However, they may not last long. If we are going to keep a vintage form of music collecting alive, you will have to leave your laptop and take a walk. Aside from the satisfaction of getting more than some binary code for you money (think album art and liner notes), record stores are run by walking music encyclopedias. For an addict like myself, they are essentially drug dealers pushing the latest high. The best of them will remember your taste, and make an art out of helping you spend your hard earned cash for you in a way that will make you smile.
The Public Library
For most, it is hard to remember the last time you visited the public library willingly. However, now that records, tapes and CDs are becoming obsolete mediums, public libraries are filled with music. Best of all, it’s free, provided you don’t return what you borrow late.