There’s a debate raging across the interwebs at the moment. It’s not a new one, but one that’s come into the spotlight once again in no small part thanks to a Facebook group called ‘The Identification Of Music’. The 24,000+ strong community is a place where people upload videos of tracks they’ve heard in clubs or post mixes containing a track that they want to know the name of. Responding with ‘Darude – Sandstorm’ is an internal meme.
Sounds pretty harmless, right? Or maybe even beneficial to all concerned? The DJ gets props for unearthing or showcasing a quality track; the label and artist benefit from the exposure and possibly sales; the event in question might get some interest; and the fans get to be able to source the track in question and listen to it as much as they want.
Not everyone sees it that way, though. There are two main criticisms of groups like this, the ubiquitous Shazam and the ever-increasing trend of people endlessly asking for tracks to be IDed. Firstly, that they engender a lazy approach to tune sourcing by DJs (of all levels) and secondly that the resulting demystification is a bad thing.
There’s no denying that if you exclusively source your music by Shazaming and IDing other people’s sets, you’re doing yourself and others a disservice. Aside from the fact that letting others do all the hard work for you is not exactly cool, it could also limit your horizons and result in you playing a load of tracks that are already getting heavily rinsed by others. This is particularly pertinent if you play a very specific style of music. However, if it’s a tool you use alongside your own efforts—record shopping online or in-store, scouring SoundCloud, getting music from producer friends, creating your own music—it shouldn’t be an issue for your sound as a DJ.
Good selectors have always sourced music from any and every avenue possible, including being influenced by each other’s sets. Sure, Shazam and the internet have made finding out who’s playing what infinitely easier, but it’s not like people haven’t been clamouring to find out the names of tracks played by DJs for decades and spreading this information by word-of-mouth. I remember interviewing Richie Hawtin back in 2009 when already then he was making the case that DJing is not so much about having that elusive, exclusive track or promo for months before everyone else anymore; it’s increasingly about how you put it all together, how you present it.
You may or may not agree with that statement, but the fact of the matter is that the times have changed and people aren’t going to stop IDing tracks any time soon. If you’re a DJ, the question is: what are you going to do about it? Will it force you to dig even deeper and harder for lesser-known tracks? Will you play a faint Shazam-baffling white noise over all your tracks to reduce the likelihood of getting IDed? Or maybe you’ll just carry on regardless and just worry about the people in front of you while you’re playing?
As a DJ, I have a foot on both sides of the fence here. Generally, I’m in favour of letting people know what’s what and giving artists the props they deserve. However, I can’t deny that I definitely get a buzz from finding old, lesser-known vinyl gems which have no digital fingerprint and therefore are harder to identify. And I can’t deny that there have been a handful of ‘ID?’ comments on my mixes that I have chosen not to respond to as a result. I came up in a time when the mystery surrounding certain tracks, artists and labels was still part of the magic of the whole experience. I would pore over the Essential Mix listings and charts in Mixmag and MUZIK, study the credits on records, scribble down names of tracks from specialist radio shows and navigate hefty stacks of records in search of some new and exciting gems. I miss that heightened sense of adventure, but there’s not much that can be done to bring back that mystique—save for artists protecting their identity or pressing records with little or no information attached. For better or for worse, we are long past the point where this was the status quo.
As a producer and a label owner, I hugely appreciate people wanting to find out about my music and our releases. It’s incredibly hard to make any money (or avoid losing money) as either of these, and any way people can be turned on to what we do is good in my book. In 2012, Shazam was already generating $300 million a year in revenue for iTunes and Amazon from its tags. “That’s growing [in] triple digits, so it’s going to be double that every year” said then-executive vice president, David Jones. Yes, only a fraction of that will be going to dance labels and artists, but I have no doubt it’s a significant figure that goes a long way to bolstering many small dance music endeavours (n.b. It’s worth noting that my label Monologues Records’ biggest download source is iTunes; not Beatport, and I’m sure it’s the same for many others). It would be great if Shazam let labels choose which stores their releases pushed to, but that’s a story for another day.
It’s also worth remembering that if a hot track spread like wildfire in the heyday of vinyl, it could sell upwards of 50,000 copies. Many of the tracks that get IDed are 100-500 copy vinyl presses that end up being hoarded for extortionate amounts of money by Discogs sellers, thus restricting the supply even further and ensuring that in reality that track isn’t going to get as rinsed as some might worry it might. And I’m not yet worried about a future of crowd-sourced, algorithmically-controlled DJ sets any time soon (although I’m sure our lizard/robot overlords will eventually make it happen).
If you’re a DJ and your whole business model is extracting value from playing other people’s records—which they usually make little or no money from the sale of—I’m not sure you can be too precious about trying to protect the identity of your tracks. Not every good producer is lucky enough to get lots of gigs off the back of what they do. Having their music promoted by prominent DJs can be a huge boon and can help an artist to breakthrough in a big way.
I say all this appreciating the fact that yes, it can get a bit tiresome when every single track is being analysed and hunted down, and that a dancefloor full of people doing the Shazam shuffle is not great for a DJ. But if they’re appreciating what you’re doing and hungry to discover more music and artists and labels, I don’t see that as anything but positive when all is weighed up. Just be polite when you do it. ‘Please’ goes a long way. ‘ID?’ does not. And click ‘show more’ on SoundCloud before you ask me for an ID…
When all’s said and done, DJing is supposed to be about sharing music; not hoarding it.