Just a few decades ago, this topic would have a completely different meaning. Back then, people were using cassettes or turntable records, so the main issue was more of physical nature - how to find the room for all of these albums. Today, there are no such problems, as modern computers are capable of saving hundreds of thousands of songs. What was until recently considered as a science fiction is now the everyday reality.
However, we often overlook privileges that we have today. This is because this solution is not the perfect one, as it has issues of its own (although computers have facilitated the process of saving music). It is true that every song within this enormous database can be found with just a few clicks of a mouse, but the problem is - do you know where to look for it?
The computer has “done its job” by saving our songs, but it can’t do the categorization part for us. We have to come up with the most appropriate way to collect our songs, in order to find anyone of them as fast as possible.
This is an important issue both for amateurs and professionals. Nobody wants to spend an eternity trying to find a particular song on his birthday party. This is an everyday example of the importance of proper track categorization. However, there is a certain profession for which the optimal track organisation is of the crucial importance; you guessed it, they are DJs, especially those that have frequent live performances. These people often have to find a particular track within seconds, so a sloppy categorization is not an option for them.
In this article, we will go through a few ways and pieces of advice on how to organise your tracks in a proper and functional way.
The importance of a proper classification
Classification means grouping the elements that have something in common; of course, the criteria for grouping shouldn’t be an irrelevant one, but rather some crucial feature. The great way to illustrate how confusing a bad classification can be is ancient Chinese animal classification that is popularised by Borges. This classification is so confusing it will give you a headache! This is why everyone should invest their time in order to provide a good track classification.
Advice for amateurs
We can define amateurs as those people for whom the music is an important part of life, although they are not professionally involved in it. This distinction between professionals and amateurs is important because advice will vary a little depending on this criterion.
The majority of amateurs often use alphabetical order. Although it is functional when you know what exact artist you want to choose, it can get a little problematic when you know what genre you would listen to, but don’t have any particular artist in mind. For example, if you arrange your folders this way, you may find Metallica next to Melanie Fiona. Obviously, although the first two letters of their names are the same, their music is totally different.
This is also a commonly used solution that has some advantages of its own. This way you will put all of the artists of a particular genre in one folder so you will overcome mentioned alphabetic order issues. If you feel like listening to some blues, you can just open one folder and all of your blues artists will be there.
The problem with this solution is that sometimes it is very hard to make a proper distinction between few genres and to put a band or an artist in the right one. For example, God Is An Astronaut - is it alternative rock, post-rock, space rock? Or Crossover bands, such as Skindred; in order to classify this band, one would have to make reggae/ska/metal folder.
In order to provide the best classification by genres, you can find a list of musical genres online and try to fit your tracks and albums in the most appropriate one.
These two mentioned solutions have their advantages and disadvantages. In order to take the best from both, it seems that a good idea would be to combine them. So, for example, you can organize your folders by genres and alphabetical order (Alternative, Blues, Classical, Country, Dance…), and in every of them do the same things with subgenres; for example, in the file Rock (main genre), there will be folders like Alternative rock, Blues-rock, Country Rock, etc… As the final step, all of the artist and albums in these folders should also be organised in alphabetical order.
Of course, besides these common ways to organise your tracks, you can do it by any other criteria, as long as it works for you.
One of my favourite ways is to classified songs by the period of the day, like Morning songs, Evening songs, Sleeping songs, etc… The other pragmatic method is to do the same thing, only by using specific activities as criteria, such as Riding a Bike, Walking, Driving, Dancing, Meditation, Learning songs… These classifications are very useful when you don’t have time to make a specific list before going for a ride or a walk. This way you can simply choose a folder without having to go through the process of picking song by song.
If you find this method as an interesting one, maybe it would be a good idea to organise your tracks in a way that is mentioned above (genres/alphabetic), and then to copy the particular songs into these folders (Morning, Driving…).
Advice for professionals
People who are professionally involved in music (such as DJs) will probably use different kinds of organisation, as they need it for different purposes. They don’t want to just listen to the music, but they need to use it as a form of tool in order to provide new and interesting mixes.
During his performance, DJ has to find a particular track within seconds, as he can’t allow his audience to be bored. Imagine the same musical fragment repeating for a few minutes while DJ is thinking “Hmm, where did I put it…”
Beside the imperative of efficiency, every DJ also has to find a functional way to organise his tracks. As their purposes are specific, their criteria will probably be different from the amateur’s ones.
DJs are often mixing different songs and styles. It seems that the more the song is changed from the original, the more it will be considered as a successful mix. The legendary Axel Thesleff mix “Bad Karma” can be used as a great example of this. He managed to transform a typical Indian dance song into dark and heavy trap version.
Obviously, the genre is not so important for a DJ, but the tempo of the song is. This is because when one song is fading out, the other that is fading in should have the similar tempo in order to keep the flow of the track going on smoothly. Of course, DJ can change the tempo in any way he wants, but this way the song can easily lose its uniqueness and effect. Although moderate changes in tempo can sometimes lead to a very successful mix (like Robin Schulz Remix of “Prayer in C”), can you imagine Rihanna’s “Love on the brain” going at 100bpm (unlike the original that is 172bpm)?
This is another very specifically aspect of every song. During his performance, if a DJ puts two songs that are in different keys by each other, it will be noticed by the majority of the audience, and they probably won’t be very thrilled about that. Having this in mind, a good idea would be to use this domain as a grouping criterion in order to avoid disharmonic mix, as it can sound very unprofessional.
Of course, it should be mentioned that DJ can combine these principles and pieces of advice so that he would come up with the optimal track organisation. Like in the case of an amateur, the professionals can join two criteria; for example, provide key folders (A, Am, B, Bm, etc…) or tempo (101-120bpm, 121-130bpm) and within them organise tracks in alphabetical order.
Track organisation is often neglected and overlooked domain. However, in the text above, we have seen that this is one of the crucial elements for professionals that can also be very useful for amateurs who just enjoy listening to the music on a regular basis. Providing a proper track categorization can save one’s time and effort, as it will facilitate the process of finding a particular song. Besides this, it will ensure efficiency for DJs that are performing life, as it will help them to stay in key and tempo, but also to find the best track at a given moment.
All in all, the crucial advice is to try different methods and to stick to the one that suits you the best. We are all different, so it is irrational to expect that one advice will be equally useful for everyone. So remember, keep exploring, learning, and rocking.