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 does one end up using Serato to manage music? And not only rely on Serato exclusively but actually like it?
First a primer. I have authored a couple of articles on music management, the first being how to organize your iTunes library ane leverage 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 to 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. Then, of course, I had to give Virtual DJ a serious try and that threw things into more chaos in my life.
And before someone shouts out that Virtual 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 or VDJ and then look at it in iTunes. It will not update till the track is loaded. That drove me batty!
I needed something better. I needed to consolidate
Along with using VDJ or Serato, 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. VDJ does give you far more library management tools than Serato does, but also lacks the automation that makes Jaikoz a breeze to use.
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 my DJing platform to manage music. 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”.
Is Less More? Maybe. Sometimes. Maybe Not.
I have juggled with the idea of keeping a lean library and having everything on an internal drive versus just bringing everything on an external. For a couple of years, I went the lean library route, but recently I changed back over to bringing everything. This will increase the loading time of Serato, but since VDJ handles it’s library management differently, it will always load within a second or two.
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. Now when I maintained my lean library I decided to create a very simple 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:
Now this is great for singles, but for carrying my entire library I decided to implement a two-pronged policy. Tracks that are singles stay in this simple root/genre structure, while my full albums go into a more traditional root/artist/album 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 “The Bad”?
Since as long as I could remember managing a digital library, I maintained a pretty strict and robust folder structure in Serato to manage 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 its structure. But for years Serato stated that there should not be many folders and subfolders. This was likely true with Scratch Live, and older 32-bit versions of Serato, but Serato 64-bit seems to handle subfolders without issue. Virtual DJ does not seem to matter much with subfolders other than on recurse scanning which can add a few seconds on libraries over 10k songs.
Shortcodes, Shortcodes, Shortcodes
One additional field that I use is 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 songs you do not want to see. This is my list:
- SRT5, SRT4, SRT3, SRT2. These represent my personal star ratings
- 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.
- 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.
- VNL7, VNL12, VNLLP. Songs I have vinyl equivalents for. Sure helps in planning my vinyl-only sets.
Smart Crates & Filters
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 is line dance songs. Not rated gives me a heads up that I might have missed some songs in my imports.
Now I have observed that in Serato, the more smart crates you have with larger libraries, the longer the load time will be. For instance, with a 68k size library it would initially display tracks on load after 30 seconds but then took another 30 seconds with the smart crates listed above. Removed the smart crates, 30 seconds is all it’s takes to jump in. So if you are managing larger libraries either dump the smart crates or use VDJ who handles larger libraries much easier. Also with the implementation of shortcodes, these smart crates are not really needed beyond a couple of weird combinations.
As for Virtual DJ, they have Filters. They work similar to smart crates but their syntax is a bit more powerful so you can put in more detail in your query
So How Does This ALL Help Me To Manage Music?
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:
- If I need to update a file’s information (say adding a Shortcode, Subgenre, etc) I can do it right in Serato. Changes are immediately realized.
- 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 from the 90s is 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 work at a wedding.
Using Serato or VDJ to manage music? You bet!
You get the idea. Speed, organization, quick access to my library by 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 changeup in thinking, and a bit of work; but I am much better off in the end for it.
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. I also incorporated elements of Virtual DJ into the article on April 15, 2019.