Why tagging, intelligent playlists and other features can be worth your time.
you're offered a range of variables.
Yet DJs who go deeper into these programs tend to swear by the benefits. While the time investment can be significant, you tend to get out what you put in. There are no secrets in this world—committed DJs will already know of the features and functions in this article if they're not using them already. What follows are some of the reasons why you might consider (or reconsider) investing more time in exploring and making the most of what is available, hopefully providing new ideas or directions for beginners and experts alike. We'll be using the recently released rekordbox 6 as an example.
The power of tagging and intelligent playlists
Ideally, a DJ has a vision of the next few tracks they are going to play. But things are rarely that simple in practice. Many factors can lead you to question your chosen direction, audience feedback and the creation (or disruption) of a larger musical flow chief among them. Add to this the massive increase in musical choices offered to the digital DJ and you have a considerable chance of being paralysed by an abundance of choice. Then, of course, there is time pressure, leading the stricken DJ to choose a track in the hope that it comes off rather than delivering with confidence.
Consistently dealing with these all-too-common situations to the best of your abilities helps separate the average DJ from the good. While you'd ideally have decided what to play next in your head alone, the act of searching can also lead to more appealing directions than you might have thought of yourself (this benefit is the other side of the coin to a hopeless search through many unsatisfying options). What's more, with a filtering/searching system tuned specifically to your tastes and performance situation, you outsource the mental struggle of having to recall all potential options to something perfectly suited to the task: a computer. Consider it a support system for when you don't know what to play next or you're looking for potential new options you might not have thought of in the moment.
Such a system is only as useful as the variables it offers to filter. Second, it's only useful if it closely mirrors your personal process for making a choice of what to play next. rekordbox does this with a combination of personalised Tags and Intelligent Playlists.
By right-clicking Playlist in the browser/Tree View section and creating a new Intelligent Playlist, you're offered a variety of variables (see above) with which to filter your collection. Importantly, you also have search conditions. This means you can see what a search excludes using the "not equal to" condition, or select a range of time when searching by release date. The usefulness of some of these options aren't always immediately apparent. Using the "Date Added" variable, you can search solely for tracks recently added to your collection or others added so long ago you've forgotten about them entirely. "DJ play count" will show you which tracks you play the most (so you can avoid overplaying them, for instance), or the least (if you specifically want to play more music that audiences haven't heard you play before). And unlike regular playlists, Intelligent Playlists effectively update themselves by automatically adding any newly imported track that fits its conditions.
While searching with one variable at a time like these examples has its uses, the full potential of the system comes in combining parameters. A search could be as specific as: a tech house track over five minutes long released in 1997 that doesn't have vocals, is over 132 BPM, in the key of A# minor, purchased on Bandcamp and so on. When we add the "My Tag" category to these searches, things become even more specific to your personal needs.
While you prepare Intelligent Playlists in rekordbox before your set, My Tags offers an even greater level of personalised filtering that you can search mid-set. Tags applied to a track by default include genre, what rekordbox dubs "components," meaning instrumentation, situation (think time of day and location) and a user-defined category. But within these categories, you're free to apply your own sub-labels. Instead of using components like synth, beat and vocal, you might use emotional terms like "uplifting" and "introspective." Instead of choosing between situations like "peak time" and "main room," you might say "4 AM" and "abandoned building." Most importantly, you can rename the categories themselves as you see fit.
Once you apply the relevant tags to your tracks, you could search for very specific terms—say, sunrise/acid/Amen break/uplifting/swung. Part of the fun is how personalised some people make their tags. Something like shutters open/wiggling/big donk might make perfect sense to some and absolutely none to others. You can develop a system that reflects how you personally think about making musical choices as a DJ.
The labelling process is an admittedly menial and time-consuming task if you already have a decent-sized collection. To look on the bright side, going through all your tracks and thinking, "What genre(s) is this? What is the instrumentation? What is the structure? When might I play this?" and then coming up with your own personal language for it, is a great exercise for thinking about all the possibilities and implications of a given track. In a sense, these are questions that DJs ask themselves, consciously or otherwise, with or without file management software. My Tags and Intelligent Playlists actualise the process.
Auto-looping and hot cue loops
Looping and hot-cueing gives DJs the ability to structure events in their set how they please. Unlike playing records, with these tools digital DJs decide for themselves, for example, when a breakdown begins, how long it lasts and exactly when the drop enters. A combination of the two exists in the hot cue loop function. In rekordbox 6, set your loops at strategic points in the track—intro, breakdown, drop etc—and hit a hot cue button to save. Now when you trigger cue points on a CDJ or controller, you're immediately dropped at that part of the track in an activated loop. While this is a well-known approach, it's worth seeing how far you can push the concept. Try using four decks in Performance Mode and practise a set solely with looped hot cues, mixing and matching breakdowns, grooves and drops from different tracks simultaneously. You might not DJ like this every day, but properly getting to grips with what it can do gives you scope for precisely controlling tension as the moment in a set dictates.
Auto-looping is more of a safety measure. It's most commonly used to automatically loop a portion of a tracks' outro before the tune ends, saving a stressed-out DJ from unnecessarily rushing in a suboptimal track because they've run out of time to make a better selection. As the name suggests, the loop triggers automatically once the playback head reaches the loop point. Hot cue loops in comparison must be triggered manually to activate. Making an automatic loop is simple: set your loop point and save it by pressing Memory, then make sure to click the orange loop symbol next to the timestamp so it turns red. It's a simple function that's easy to overlook.
Auto-looping can also have creative purposes. Some DJs put auto-loops at the beginning of all their tracks, so they can always decide specifically when the intro ends based on the track they're mixing out and how they want to control the energy level. Other options include auto-looping the climactic point of a build-up, which gives the DJ the choice of further extending a dramatic moment.
Loading your preferred CDJ settings
Even professional DJs have been known to plug in their storage device, only to be stumped by the player settings left by the preceding act (we're looking at you, Auto Cue button). In rekordbox's preferences section, select DJ System and My Settings to reveal options that will be automatically loaded into a CDJ when you insert your storage device. This means you can be instantly familiar with the deck's behaviour, ruling out any rude surprises. You can also use colour-coded hot cues and specific brightness levels to personalise a deck's look to your taste, which can be especially useful for recognising your deck during a changeover or back-to-back set.
Touring DJs have for some time been backing up their music collections and rekordbox data to cloud servers. This means that, when you've arrived at a gig only to realise you left all your music at home, you can simply download your files and data onto a new storage device. rekordbox 6 implements cloud storage directly into the programme for the first time, a feature available to customers with a Creative Plan subscription (€9.99 a month until July 13th). At the time of writing, you'll also need to purchase a Dropbox plan with sufficient storage to house your collection. Once you've synchronised your library with the Dropbox application and uploaded your tracks, the uploaded files will download automatically to other computers or mobile devices.
Then you're free to do things like set your loops points while you're on the bus using the rekordbox iOS app. With cloud syncing enabled, you could even plug your phone into a CDJ rather than a traditional storage device. Changes made on your phone to playlists, cue points and so on, will then be reflected across your entire collection. Given how time-intensive organising and preparing your collection for performance can be, having the opportunity to do this on, say, long commutes rather than at home on a computer will be a significant plus for some DJs.