At the end of the day, no matter what any company tries to sell you, the songs you play make or break the dancefloor. All the cool tricks in the world don't matter if you can't get great songs. So where can you get those hot new tracks every week? Where can you get the special DJ remixes and dance tracks that keep your inspiration fresh and the crowds begging for more? Well, those remain the burning questions in this new era of DJing. The market is certainly growing, as new sites seem to pop up every day offering MP3 sales. There are more excellent shops than I have space to include, but here are a few that really stand out with great tunes and easy-to-use interfaces.
Leave your three-record limits in the dust and dig through the impressive archives of these rapidly expanding stores. They are excellent for exploring the back catalog of your favorite labels. You will find many tracks that are impossible to find on vinyl.
Beatport came out ahead by quickly signing up an extensive list of the electronic-music scene's best labels. Most of the other sites have been playing catch-up ever since. Beatport has a fantastic site interface — with long samples of each song — that is easy to scroll through, just like you are previewing a record. The ability to buy any of the songs in high-quality CD format is also huge for those who won't compromise with MP3.
The downsides are prices as high as $2.50 per song. So if you buy the full EP, that's almost as much as you would have paid for the record. There are also regional restrictions; you can't buy hit records from larger labels in certain areas of the world. For instance, you can't buy “Love Generation” by Bob Sinclair in much of the United States. Bogus!
Bleep is geared toward those in favor of more diverse fare such as IDM, glitch-hop and indie-rock. Bleep has a fantastic collection of obscure and well-known labels from left field. Everyone from Audiomatique to Warp is represented. Here, you can find the more underground deep-house and hip-hop that is hard to find elsewhere. Bleep has an excellent interface that is simple and uncluttered, as well as an easy-to-use audio player.
As for the downsides, Bleep has no genre categorization, so it's just like the old days — you have to really know and search for your favorite artists and labels by name. You can prelisten to the entire song, but it fades out and has to be restarted after 30 seconds.
IN THE MAJORS
The second major task in finding new music in the digital realm is sorting through deep mountains of music. Fortunately, rather than just relying on the recommendations and the taste of a few people who work at a store, you now have millions. Two major retailers have set themselves apart by helping customers help each other. Top 10 charts are useful but don't help you with that special “sound” you are looking for. Instead, try searching iTunes or Amazon.com for a song that fits the style you want to look for. You can do that right in iTunes by clicking on the arrow next to a name in your library. Within that album, you will find a convenient list of albums and songs that other people purchased along with that song. Chances are they are fairly similar. Even better, you can access iMixes through iTunes the same way. Now you have a list of similar songs intelligently grouped by another person. Even if you like only one song on that iMix, click into it, and you now have a new layer of choices. If you click six layers deep, you may just find the perfect track. Remember, you don't have to buy from the site on which you search. Many songs are often placed with several music stores. You might use iTunes for its powerful search engine but buy things on Bleep for a higher-quality MP3.
Although iTunes is a great way to find music for every style, there is a major problem with the music purchased there. It's wrapped in DRM (Digital Rights Management), and no DJ software can play the songs as is. You can burn the songs to CD and play them without restriction on CD players. And you might re-encode them onto your computer without the protection. But this multiple encoding could leave you with a poor file. iTunes sells its songs as 128Kbps AAC files (comparable to a 192Kbps MP3), and for most purposes, that is just barely cutting it for club play. So if you burn it and then re-encode it again, the end result is not bad but certainly not ideal. Fortunately, there is a work-around: Jhymn. If you are still using iTunes 5.0, you can strip the DRM and play the song in your DJ programs as-is. Visit http://hymn-project.org/jhymndoc for more information.
You may also want to check out the following Websites: www.dancetracksdigital.com (great variety, including underground hip-hop and soul), http://music.download.com (including commercial fare from major-label artists) and www.emusic.com (subscription-based iTunes competitor; good variety without DRM).
That should keep you occupied for a few days, but in the meantime, don't forget it's still a great option to purchase records and CDs from traditional retailers. Doing that gets you out of the house, allows you to contribute to your local economy and ensures that any compression done is always done at the highest quality. You are much more likely to remember and play a song that you purchased, recorded and encoded yourself. Then, when that peak moment comes, you won't have to go searching; you will know the perfect track for the job.