What does crate digging look like today, exactly?
August 18, 2020 7:41 PM   Subscribe

There are a lot of artists who curate more music than they create, and are unusually prolific with mixtapes and DJ sets. What techniques/routines/sources do they use to find and sort through new (to them) music?

I listen to a lot of long DJ mixes these days (like: Radio 1 Essential Mix, Mixmag, Beats in Space, Solid Steel Radio, tons of stuff on Soundcloud and YouTube) and I am frequently impressed by how prolific some artists/DJs are. They clearly spend a ton of time trawling through obscure music to find material for their sets... but what exactly does that look like in the internet age? Have any professional DJs written about the work that goes into finding music?

I have this image in my head of crate diggers in record stores, but I suspect that’s largely been superseded by the internet. Please correct me if that’s wrong!
posted by ripley_ to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It’s certainly a combination of real crate digging and YouTube rabbit holes, but most of those folks are driven by finding things that are relatively unknown, and really finding it. There’s still some prestige among that crowd of finding the physical media of it exists.. I know a crate digger/DJ who listens to lots of varied stuff (Lots of soul, lots of disco, lots of African rock and psych), but buys A LOT of records without even listening to them. He spends most evenings listening to records that are mostly bad, to find maybe one song on an album that’s just so good. I asked and he said his ratio is about one song for every ten or twelve records he listens to. In the before times he would go on vacations to areas he wanted to buy records.

He will totally go one YouTube dives, but usually as research for what labels to look out for or to familiarize himself with weird corners of a genre he’s not super familiar with.

And I don’t have any hard data on this, but I’m assuming most of these folks are the individuals who are stocking record stores with their castoffs. At my local record store I see some vendors who I’m blown away by the fact they’re selling certain records at all, which means they already have a copy (a better copy!).
posted by furnace.heart at 7:59 PM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I still work the used vinyl stores. Sloppy responses to covid-19 has me avoiding a few of my regulars but, in general, I do what I always have -- occasional visits to various stores. I start with the latest USED arrivals and work randomly from there. You never know what you're going to find.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 PM on August 18, 2020

The digital equivalent of record bins are individual artist pages on Soundcloud/Bandcamp/Spotify. Many of these pages will only have a few dozen plays, or are very localized to a specific geographic scene. During one of the recent Bandcamp charity days Four Tet posted a good list of things he found, I would guess that's probably somewhat representative of his process for sourcing DJ mix tracks.
posted by JZig at 12:45 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’ve been listening to a lot of mixes over. At NTS.live, and one thing you’ll often see in their chat is people asking what track the host is currently playing. Then either the host replies or another person in the chat will reply with the answer. This has been such a mainstay over here that now if you pay for an account, you can see the track titles appear in a special window as the host plays them. They also keep every show for on-demand listening, and the host will include the track list 99% of the time.

This is all to say that I do think there is a lot of cross pollination and sharing happening — other DJs will use discoveries from that service as a jumping off point to find other tracks and artists they’ve never heard, share with others, and so on. So it isn’t all digging, really. Sometimes it’s just something they heard via another DJ.
posted by summerteeth at 5:12 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

A sound designer/composer that I respect uses Spotify in sort of this way. They have an account just for discovery and use it as follows:
1. Play known music and favorite songs like they are curating a DJ set- only picking songs and artists that are appropriate to their taste.
2. After a bit of this, they check the auto generated playlists that Spotify comes up with in particular weekly new music.
3. Good tracks from the auto generated playlists get added in to the selections as in #1!above.
4. Repeat!

I learned this when we were working together on a project and I suggested listening to some period-appropriate music. I pulled it up on Spotify and asked if they could do the same - the response was no, as they did not want to mess up the algorithm.
posted by sol at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's a great explanation from the creator the MyAnalogJournal YouTube channel.
posted by conrad53 at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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