Note: This article was originally posted in May 2016. On November 5, 2017 I’ve posted up some updates to some shortcodes that I use that is helping me out more and on November 12, 2017 I’ve added a video on this.
For those that know me, I am an organizing freak, and this extends to how I manage my music collection from proper alphabetization and chronological order of my vinyl and CDs to my digital collection. While I have a great knowledge of music, as a technical person i have a deep appreciation for being able to sift through data quickly and being presented with data that “makes sense”. For years iTunes was at the center of my music management universe, but over the years it has become bloated and even incompatible at times with periodic updates. So how did this DJ learn how to ditch iTunes for music management and not only rely on Serato but actually like it? Read on!
First a primer. I have authored a couple articles on music management, the first being how to leverage iTunes Smart Playlists, the second a “battle” of sorts pitting iTunes vs. Serato to manage music. I relied on iTunes for a long time to manage my music, all the way back to v.1.0 and well prior getting back into professional DJing. I learned to incorporate much of the logic that smart playlists allowed me to create countless little pods of musical treasures. But as soon as I stepped behind my decks again and I started to use Traktor and then Serato I quickly started to see the perils of managing two different platforms for data.
And before someone shouts out that iTunes and Serato both allow you to use iTunes… yes I am aware and I used that capability for a while. But there are some shortcomings of using that integration including slower load times and if you change it in one it does not immediately reflect that change. Try changing say BPM in Serato and then look at it in iTunes. It will not update till the track is loaded. That drove me batty!
I needed something better.
There are a number of DJ applications out there now, but my heart is still with Serato. It’s simplicity works well with my style and while some DJs will debate Scratch Live versus DJ, the good news is this will work in both instances, and actually it should work with any application platform. I also use Jaikoz for OS-X that allowed me to bulk update and move files, allow me to find subgenres, original years for songs (I still had a few that were off). It’s been an invaluable tool to help me make quick work of this.
Tearing The Band-Aid Off
So the very first thing I had to do is go cold turkey off of iTunes. This meant completely abandoning iTunes and use Serato as the sole application. Now I did not go completely insane and just kill my only copy of a structure I spent years and years managing. I made a cloned hard drive as things stood before I pulled the trigger just in case I wanted to come back to where things were. I strongly advise doing this if you “take the plunge”.
A Different Paradigm, Less Is More
As an added bonus to tearing off the proverbial Band-Aid and killing off iTunes, I wanted to make sure that my Serato experience was going to be as quick as possible. This meant removing a massive chunk of my library (about 90%) over to a folder on the hard drive that I don’t manage with Serato. Why would anyone do this? Well bigger libraries slows down Serato considerably and frankly most of the 90% of songs I removed are almost never used at a gig. But I still wanted to make sure they would be available if needed. So placing it in another folder made sense. I can still search, drag, and drop it into Serato as needed.
How did I decide what stays and what goes? It was actually pretty simple. Anything that I had rated in iTunes stayed in my main Serato folder, all else to the other folder. In the end I am normally carrying around 10k – 15k songs in my core library.
Organization Will Set You Free
While my id3 tags were pretty damn impeccable, I knew I would need some additional help to add additional tags (more on that below) and move files to where they needed to go. I decided to create a very simply primary genre folder structure to help add a very basic element of organization at the folder level. All my id3 tags for Genre matches this simple folder structure:
I then use my Grouping id3 tag to store sub-genre information. So for instance I have a genre tag of R&B for Alicia Keys but inside the Grouping field I have additional sub-genre information like Neo Soul, Hip Hop Soul, or whichever fits into that particular song.
So why add this much information? Simple. Information is power. Also see that not only does her work show up but any samples she used are there as well.
Subfolders Are Bad, M’kay?
Since as long as I could remember managing a digital library, I maintained a pretty strict and robust folder structure to manage my music. It would comprise of “Artist = AlbumTrack No. – Track Name.extension”. This is pretty common for a lot of people and it’s how iTunes manages it’s structure. However for Serato the more subfolders there are the more overhead it places on Serato. So in conjunction with the simple folder structure listed above I’ve changed my file naming scheme to “Artist – [Year] Track Name.extension”.
Will this mean massive single folders holding thousands of songs? Yep. But this is how Serato prefers the music to be organized.
Shortcodes, Shortcodes, Shortcodes
One additional field that I use that “breaks the rules” per se is using the composer field as my home for my shortcodes. What’s a shortcode? Well since Serato does not have the logic to be able to organize songs beyond a couple fields of information I have created some shortcodes to allow me to categorize music in ways I didn’t even think of organizing as in iTunes. The key for a good shortcode to work is 1) it has to be usable in your mind and 2) it should not match something that could bring up data you do not want to see. For me this is what I have come up with thus far:
- SRT5, SRT4, SRT3, SRT2. These replace the star ratings that Serato does not have but iTunes does.
- DNC5, DNC4, DNC3, DNC2. These are my dance songs that particular work for weddings.
- C&D5, C&D4, C&D3. C&D2. Cocktail and Dance music. Typically slow-to-medium tempo. Not too crazy for those to dance to.
- CKE. Cake cutting songs.
- LSD. Last dance songs.
- LND. Line dance or other similar types.
- SLW. Slow Songs.
- RMX. Remix versions of songs.
- XPL or CLN. Explicit or Clean tracks. I also color code red v. blue for more visual indicators.
- VNL7, VNL12, VNLLP. Songs I have vinyl equivalents for. Sure helps in planning my vinyl-only sets.
Now you may have noticed that I have some numbers in some of the codes. Let me break this down some:
- SRT is my own personal sorting code. Now what I may love (especially Hip Hop) may not translate well for my weddings.
- DNC are wedding dance songs. Now there can easily be a lot of wedding music that I personally don’t like but will rock a wedding crowd.
- C&D is cocktail and dinner. Again see the rules above for dance.
If you know Serato then you know Serato has Smart Crates, and while it does not hold a candle to iTunes smart playlists, using Smart Crates in conjunction with the Shortcodes gives me a level of organization greater than I originally had. My smart crates are pretty simple and straight forward:
- Decades (1950, 1960, etc). Pretty self explanatory.
- Shortcodes. C&D, DNC etc. Again pretty self explanatory. CKE is Cake songs, LND are line dance songs. Not rated gives me a heads up that I might have missed some songs in my imports.
So How Does This Help Me?
OK so the folder structure is in place, there are no subfolders beyond the main genre, I have loads of shortcodes inserted into my id3 tags. So how does this make my experience better? Let me count the ways:
- Loading up Serato now takes just a couple seconds. When I was using iTunes with Serato it would take 20, 30 or more seconds to load. This becomes critical if Serato has an issue where I need to reboot the laptop and get back to using my decks. While I have emergency playback via my Soundcraft Ui16 I certainly don’t want to be mixing on that for a long time.
- Updating Serato with new files becomes a very simple process. Drag the folder of the latest updates into Serato and it updates that folder’s information in a couple seconds.
- If I need to update a file’s information (say adding a Shortcode, Subgenre, etc) I can do it right in Serato. No fuss, no muss. Changes are immediately realized and i no longer have to worry about keeping two applications in sync.
- Most importantly when trying to find my next song to play I have a lot of options.
- Let’s say I am in a 90s set and want to switch it up to some west coast 90s hip hop. I click on my 1990s Smart Crate which filters out everything but the 90s. Then I can type in West Coast DNC and every wedding dance rated west coast hip hop song from the 90s is right there.
- A particular set is bombing and I want to get people on the dance floor immediately, DNC5 gives me every floor filler that should get the crowd moving.
- Want to slow it up. SLW C&D will give me great slow songs that works in a wedding (by just typing SLW it would also give me break up songs and such which I don’t want). Again with the number rating I can decide to go with the most popular songs or maybe throw up something more unexpected.
One other thing I do to help me out (visually) is that all my explicit tracks I color code red (even though I do have the XPL shortcode as well while clean versions of tracks are blue (even though I have the CLN shortcode). It just gives me a quick piece of mind visually.
Let’s Go To The Video Chuck
As much as breaking this down in to blog form can help people, it’s nice to have some more of this broken down in a vlog. So let’s look at that beautiful bean footage.
You get the idea. Speed, organization, quick access to my library with creating quick filters for music that is smarter than iTunes in the end, if you let it be. What is funny is I was so reliant on iTunes that I kept on snubbing a platform that ended up working better in the end. It just took a leap of faith, a change up in thinking, and a bit of work; but I am much better off in the end for it.
Author Biography: Lou Paris of Paris Creative
Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres. Coincidentally Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background.