Building a Mobile Library
Since the question of "What music do I need and where do I buy it?" comes up pretty much every couple of days, I figured this thread on how to get your mobile DJ library started and growing successfully would be pretty helpful.
If you're new to DJ'ing or new to mobile work, please read this thread before posting library questions. It'll help. Seriously. As a disclaimer, this thread is focused on the wedding/party/bar mobile, not the EDM scene. The music we're talking about in here is going to be Top 40 for the most part, and the sourcing is going to be mainstream. We're not looking to find the great underground tracks here, this is a track specifically for the mobile party DJ crowd.
"What music do I need for a wedding?"
This is probably the most common question asked about mobile music in this forum. There are a couple of great resources and tips/tricks that work for most mobile DJ's to get your wedding library set.
The Mobile Beat 200 is kind of the gold standard when it comes to common wedding music. Check out www.mobilebeat.com for the most current version of the list. This is a compiled list, not a CD series. Many DJ's use a system called DJIntelligence.com for their websites. DJIntelligence is a database driven booking and request management system targeted to the wedding/corporate party DJ. When DJ's incorporate the system into their webs, they let their customers make requests for their events. These requests are then tallied by DJIntelligence and the top 200 requested songs each year become the Mobile Beat 200. Seeing as thousands of mobile DJ's use the system, the list is pretty solid.
Buy the last few issues of the "Now" series. You can find them online at http://www.nowmusic.com. This is a series (currently about 65 CD's worth in the US) that takes the top tracks in straight single record sales and compiles them onto single CD's of 12-15 tracks. They usually run about $20 a CD, but seeing as 90% of each CD is useful, it's a pretty solid deal. Don't go too far back as a lot of Top 40 is pretty well disposable music that doesn't have great staying power.
Billboard Top Hits CD's are a great way to get the top dozen or so tracks of a year. These can usually be bought at places like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, but Amazon.com frequently has them as well.
"How do I get the really old tracks from the 30's, 40's and 50's?"
Most of these tracks are in fact out on CD and can be bought in large compilations at major retailers. Best thing is that because they're so old, most of them are in the bargain bin and can be often bought for as little as $1.99 a CD. Before you get your hopes up, the quality on these is not usually great. This is because the quality of the original recordings in the 30's, 40's and 50's was usually not very good. There's only so much you can do with a low-quality recording. CD or otherwise will still be low-fi in most cases. Your EQ or a maximizer will help some, but these were cut on old wax and simply aren't that great to begin with.
"Where can I buy entire libraries of music to start my collection?"
JonesTM has a service called GoldDisc at http://www.jonestm.com/golddisc.asp that's a GREAT library program. They offer CD's, WAV's, and even pre-loaded hard drives at prices under $1 per track. This is all licensed music. Jones also produces several subscription services, but we'll get into that later.
Promo Only at www.PromoOnly.com offers back-issue service from when they started in the early 90's. The back issues are usually about $20-25 a CD, and they put out one a month.
Radio Programming and Management (called RPM in the industry) has been around for years and also sells backissues of their weekly and monthly releases on CD. Same idea as Promo Only.
"How do you guys keep up your libraries?"
Most mobile DJ's use a subscription service to keep their music up to date. These come in several forms, but in general it's either weekly or monthly CD's mailed to you. The leading services are:
Promo Only (www.PromoOnly.com) - They sell a monthly CD in a variety of formats. The CD will have about 20 tracks on it, and as of this posting it was $160 a year for the first format and $150 for the second, $140 for the third, etc.... PO comes out every month and will have the top, top tracks on the CD.
Jones TM / Prime Cuts (http://www.tmstudios.com/) - Sells both a weekly and a monthly CD service. The weekly is their flagship product. It's about $575 a year for a weekly CD of about 20 tracks in multiple formats. Prime Cuts is a two-edged sword. You will get the top hits before PO, and you'll generally have ALL of them. Unfortunately, you'll also have a LOT of "filler" tracks - stuff that will likely never hit the Top 40. You'll also get multiple formats which may be of no use to you - contemporary Christian, country, Adult Contemporary ("AC"), etc... If you don't use these tracks, your cost per track goes WAY up. If you do, it's a hell of a deal.
ERG / Nu-Tracks (http://www.ergmusic.com/) is another solid subscription service that's been around for years. I don't have much experience with them personally, but the DJ's that use them all seem pretty happy with them. They do a twice a month CD program for $360 a year, so pricing is on par with the others.
RPM (www.tophitsusa.com) is one of the older subscription services. They sell a weekly service as well as a "recurrents" service. Weekly is like PrimeCuts, Recurrents (which they try to sell you away from) is like PO. Pricing is comparable.
"What about iTunes or Wal-Mart or Napster?"
Generally I discourage these services for DJ use. The tracks are ripped at 128kbs (or sometimes even lower!) which is going to sound pretty poor on a good system. Additionally, most of these services are encoding their music with some form of Digital Rights Management ("DRM") that prevents copying, pirating, etc... of the music. I have no problem with the labels protecting their tracks, but the DRM doesn't work well with most DJ software, makes the tracks read slower on both PC's and some CD decks, and as been rumored to affect the quality of the songs. If you're in a pinch and need a track RIGHT NOW, go for it. If you have the time, go buy the CD down the street at the record shop.
"What about Limewire / Torrent / BearShare / etc...?"
These are illegal services. Your music would be unlicensed and pirated. Do NOT get your music this way. It's illegal, unethical, and frequently flat poor quality. Don't risk your growing business by using pirated tracks.
Hope this helps...
I've also found that if you are just starting, try looking at iTunes Essentials Playlists for a good "must have" list of tracks. Get your songs elsewhere because as stated, iTunes tracks aren't the quality you want for professional use, but for example, the Celebration iTunes Essential Playlist has some of the best "must haves" of all time to please any crowd. They have lists for any type of crowd, era, and genre. A similarly useful source is Timelife and PopCultureMadness.