DJ Mixes in the world of streaming music (and video) — Part 1

As Apple Music and Spotify move to include “DJ Mixes” as part of their music offerings, it’s time to take an in-depth look at how DJs are presented in the world of music streaming and video

Before I dig into how DJs will be represented in the future on Apple Music, Spotify and other streaming services, it’s important to detail what these new initiatives mean for both DJs and listeners. Thanks in advance for reading the up front brief, and the rest of this two part post, which also displays graphic examples of DJ mixes on major streaming services.

The first part of this post explains how Spotify and Apple Music (and Amazon Music and several other music streaming services) are offering DJ mixes as “DJ Mix Albums”, which is a music product quite a bit different than the DJ mixes that are presented on YouTube, Mixcloud and SoundCloud. And this first part explores how a DJ would potentially be able to deliver a DJ Mix to streaming music services, Spotify and Apple Music.

In the second part of this post, I will show how the inclusion of a song in a DJ mix can be measured and tracked. The methods vary depending on whether a song is appearing in a “DJ Mix Album” or within a DJ Mix posted on YouTube, Mixcloud or SoundCloud.

Please reach out with any questions at fsqofficial@gmail.com or comment in the post, or give a Medium clap.

First, an overview of DJ Mixes on streaming services:

  • DJ mixes — a continuous set of songs as mixed by a DJ — have been available on Apple Music and Spotify in the past, but new initiatives from the streaming services, aim to promote them to listeners
  • Apple Music and Spotify have not yet publicly announced how DJs can bring their mixes to the two streaming platforms. Regardless, specific music distributors can handle the delivery of DJ mixes to Apple and Spotify.
  • Apple Music and Spotify’s focus on DJ mixes could make it easier for fans to discover songs that are presented within the DJ mixes.
  • Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music present DJ mixes as essentially “album” playlists, with the DJ being the main artist, and the individual album tracks being the songs presented by the DJ in the mix. Amazon Music has not announced any promotion of DJ mixes.
  • DJs are often also music producers / musicians themselves, and are releasing their own songs. A DJ Mix can consist of a mix of songs only produced by the DJ themselves, or as many artists as the DJ selects for the mix.
  • Listeners can hear the DJ mix as a continuous mix by hitting the first song in the Apple Music, Spotify, or Amazon Music album playlist. Otherwise, a listener only hears the songs they select to play from this “DJ Mix” album playlist. Songs presented in a DJ mix playlist can be played individually and in any order.
  • Important Note: If 5 different DJs include the same song in their individual DJ mixes, the song will now have 6 versions, on Apple Music and Spotify. The first 5 versions all have different time lengths depending on how each of the 5 DJs mixed that song in their own mix. The tempo (beats per minute) and pitch (musical key) of each DJ version of the song may also have been changed from the original version.
  • These individual versions of the same song will all carry the tag (Mixed) to their title, and the cover art of the DJ mix. The 6th version is the original song, which carries the original title, time length, and original artist’s cover art.
FSQ’s Remix of “All Nite All Nite” has three versions on Spotify — the original remix running at six minutes and thirty seconds, then two shorter versions as presented in Spotify DJ mixes by DJ’s Dot and Supertaste, respectively. Both DJs made the mixes on behalf of Kitsune Musique, the record label that holds all the rights to all the songs in the mixes.
  • Because of the presentation scheme of individual songs within DJ mixes on Apple Music and Spotify, and the multiple versions of songs that are created as a result, it could be difficult for listeners to find the original versions.
  • Each individual version of the song receives it’s own ISRC code (recording code) and thus the streaming services treat them as new recordings. If there are 6 versions of a song (5 DJ mix versions of the song plus the original), each individual version receives it’s own stream counts. So, if the original song only gets 10,000 streams, but in a DJ mix the same song is played 100,000 times, the original stream count number remains at 10,000.
  • Mixcloud, SoundCloud, and YouTube (to a lesser extent) remain the easiest way for DJs to legally share their DJ mixes with listeners.
  • DJ mixes can be found on those platforms, but also are widely available as podcasts, and online radio shows (presented both live and recorded for on demand playback).
  • Apple Music for quite some time has offered a music oriented radio network. On this network you will find live and recorded streaming audio programs that carry continuous DJ mixes — mixes that are NOT sliced up into a playlist of individual songs.
  • Some DJs are using podcast distribution tools to get their DJ mixes on to streaming services, like Apple Podcasts. In this manner, the DJ mixes are presented as podcasts, but are exactly the same as a DJ mix upon listening.
  • DJ mixes that are offered as podcasts would need to go through a very complicated licensing process to be legally acceptable, though you will find many podcast platforms with DJ mixes on them.
  • Because of the legalities, Spotify for several years has been kicking off most music only podcasts from their podcast section, including DJ mixes.

Apple Music and Spotify both recently announced they will offer dedicated hubs with full DJ mixes offered by top DJ talent. When I say “top DJ talent”, this is to say that these hubs will not offer DJ mixes uploaded by your friend, or an amateur DJ, at least not yet. Also DJ mixes on Apple Music or Spotify are not new, they have been on the streaming services for quite a while. The new initiatives are just about how the DJ Mixes are being presented and promoted.

A “hub” is really like an isle at the record store, a bunch of music grouped by genre — Rock, R&B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Country — it’s really just a display page on a music streaming service full of similar music. In today’s world of streaming — activities like fitness, studying, chilling — also get hubs for music that would suit those activities. Here are DJ mixes in the world of Apple Music’s hubs.

Apple Music’s genre and activity music hubs, note now the availability of a DJ Mixes hub on Apple Music’s main genre page

At the time of writing this post, Apple Music’s DJ Mixes hub is heavily promoting DJ mixes recorded live at the Arc Music Festival.

The latest DJ mixes on Apple Music’s “DJ Mixes hub”

Spotify’s DJ Mixes hub is not available in the U.S. yet, and kudos to the artist who named themselves “DJ Mixes” because they come up in the search for the hub there.

The artist known as “DJ Mixes” on Spotify

Spotify “DJ Mixes” are available U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand but there is a “DJ Mixes” micro hub available now in the U.S., though it did not appear in my Spotify search for “DJ Mixes”.

I know that most of the readers know what a DJ mix is, but it’s important to define how they are presented on streaming services. A DJ mix is a continuous set of songs as presented by DJ, mixed so that the listener does not hear breaks between songs. If a DJ Mix is produced in a manner where the tempo remains constant between the bridge of two songs, a listener may not even notice the transition from one song into the next one. One would consider a streaming DJ mix to be anywhere from 30 minutes in length up to about 4 hours; the longest DJ sets I’ve seen uploaded to sites like YouTube or SoundCloud are 6 hours, but the upload limit is usually based on file size of the DJ mix, not it’s actual duration.

Mixcloud and SoundCloud are the stalwart platforms for DJs who want to upload a DJ mix and present it to the public. Both of them have the proper rights-holder licenses in place with the record labels, publishers and music industry trade groups, which means most all DJ mixes are acceptable to post and share on those platforms.

YouTube has pretty broad licensing coverage for DJs who want to upload mixes there. You will typically only see an uploaded DJ mix get a copyright strike if it includes major hit songs that have been restricted by the record label or other rights-holder (the artist, their management, publishing company) for use in user generated content. And with YouTube, a DJ mix can have a visual aspect of course (or it can be just the DJ mix audio set to a constant graphic)

A very fun Soul Clap DJ mix to watch and listen to on YouTube

So Mixcloud, SoundCloud, and YouTube allow for DJs to present their mix as continuous, but Apple Music and Spotify do NOT present DJ mixes as a continuous, single audio track. There was a brief time when Spotify allowed for DJ mixes to be presented as a single audio track. You would see for instance, Defected Records, a record label and supplier of DJ mixes to Spotify, with the entire DJ mix cut up, and presented as an album playlist with individual tracks. The last track in the playlist would be the continuous full mix, somewhere from an hour long or up to two hours. While Defected Records DJ mixes remain on Spotify, the continuous mix presented as a single track are now gone from the platform.

Defected Radio’s latest DJ mix from Sam Devine, is presented as an album on Spotify

To have a DJ mix presented as a continuous mix on a streaming service, the DJs would have to license all the audio from the other artists presented in the mix. This won’t be the way DJ mixes offered on Spotify and Apple Music will be presented in the future, but you can find older DJ mix releases like this on their services. For instance, dance duo Soul Clap released their “Watergate 19” DJ mix in partnership with Watergate Records in 2015.

At a run time of 74 minutes, it’s very clear that “Watergate 19” is a DJ mix and not a single song

Watergate Records licensed all of the songs that are included in Soul Clap’s “Watergate 19” mix. Because of this, the mix could be officially released as a single track.

There are DJ mixes on Amazon Music that have the mix presented as a cut up album playlist with an additional “Track 1” that is the continuous mix.

John Modena’s 2009 DJ Mix “in Paradise Ibiza” has an additional track number one that is the entire mix of the “DJ Mix” album

While DJ mixes can be a mix of songs from any and multiple genres of music, in the world of consumer music search, they are most associated with “electronic” or “dance music”. Apple Music and Spotify seem to be prioritizing the promotion of DJ mixes because of the growing listener interest in the overall “dance / electronic” music genre catch all.

Currently behind Spotify and Apple Music with 13% of global streaming music marketshare according to MIDiA Research, Amazon Music is the third largest music streaming service. Amazon has not yet made the leap of connecting the world of “DJ Mixes” to the “Dance / Electronic” genre but a search for “Electronic Music” does return some DJ oriented “radio stations”, like “Electronica”, “Nectar Radio” and “Hotel Poolside.” But these “stations” are not hosted by DJs and are not continuous mixes, instead they are simply curated song playlists.

Amazon search results for “Electronic Music”

If you search for “DJ Mixes” on Amazon Music you’ll find an assortment of results, with the majority of the results being albums that are presented as DJ mixes, just like Spotify and Apple Music present DJ mixes. If you play them from the first track, they will play continuously and uninterrupted as a DJ mix.

Searching for DJ Mixes on Amazon Music returns a variety of results related to the term — including actual mixes presented as songs, specific artists with their own mixes, but nothing consistent

Fundamentally, the presentation of DJ mixes on Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music is wrong. They should be presented as a single piece of audio. DJ mixes are not albums. The upside of slicing these mixes into albums with individual song titles is that listeners can see the songs that are included in a mix.

For the sake of terminology, I’m calling DJ mixes on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music for the rest of this post, “DJ Mix Albums” which is a more accurate term.

Screamingly absent from the recent Apple Music and Spotify announcements promoting DJ mixes, is how any independent artist would distribute a “DJ Mix album” into the platform.

Many independent artists — especially in the world of dance / electronic music — are also DJs and may want to either present their own music as a continuous DJ mix, or add in a mix of other artists and their songs.

Let’s assume that this DJ had cleared all the rights to the songs, had a license to re-distribute them as part of their mix. There’s a simple solution to distributing the “DJ Mix album”. The DJ would slice the up the mix audio into individual songs. The bridges, or “mix portions” between the two songs, would be present in both the end and beginning of each song that’s a part of the mix. There would be that audible overlap of the two songs in each individual song, depending on how the DJ mixed the two songs together. Many DJs do extended mixing where two songs could be overlapping for more than a minute; two, maybe even three minutes of mixing.

The DJ could distribute the “DJ Mix Album” just like any other “Various Artists” compilation album and if it is played from the first track on to the final track, it should sound seamless, and listen back just like a continuous DJ mix. (Note that Spotify has a playback feature called “gapless playback” which allows listeners to automatically overlap songs in a playlist. I use this feature and have it set to 12 seconds — meaning that with 12 seconds left in a song, the next song in the playlist starts. This feature should screw up the way “DJ Mix Albums” are sliced into albums, but the “DJ Mix Albums” I have played on Spotify seem to ignore my gapless playback setting and play properly.)

Independent artists using CD Baby, Distrokid, Tunecore could distribute a “DJ Mix Album” this way, as a compilation with the DJ mix sliced up into songs. The DJ / artist would make sure to properly tag the other artists and song titles (e.g. metadata) included in this compilation album, which is essentially a DJ mix. Sound confusing? This is why I said that presenting DJ mixes as “DJ Mix Albums” on streaming music services is inherently flawed.

There are important questions raised with this distribution method. Do the mixed songs get new ISRC codes? Technically, as the tempo, key and duration of the songs may change in the DJ mix, these are new, distinct recordings and should have their own ISRC code. My music group FSQ produced a collaboration with the Columbian nu-disco group MNKYBSNSS titled “All Nite All Nite” — and the song has several DJ mix “mixed versions” on Spotify and Apple Music, as the song is included in a few “DJ Mix Albums”.

Apple Music metadata for FSQ’s remix for MNKYBSNSS as presented in a Kitsune Musique DJ mix

While I could not find new ISRCs for the DJ mix versions of my song on SoundExchange’s ISRC look up, the website ISRCSearch offers to “Find the ISRC for 90+ million tracks on Spotify.” Indeed, the site showed me the new and distinct ISRCs for the “DJ Mix Album” versions of the song.

The “DJ Mix Album” “mixed versions” of the MNKYBSNSS x FSQ collaboration have their own distinct ISRC codes, as shown by ISRC Search site

The next question is about how to the right supply metadata (album, song and artist information) to a music distributor, in order for an artist / DJ to indicate that they are distributing “a DJ Mix Album” to the music streaming services. To date, I have not seen any major distributor (CD Baby, Tunecore, Distrokid) that services the majority of independent artists, release any guide on how to distribute DJ mixes. There are a few FAQ pages here and there that briefly touch on how to distribute DJ mixes to Spotify and Apple music but they lack critical information.

The absence of information about how to get “a DJ Mix Album” on the major music streaming services today is completely logical. Since a DJ needs have to have rights to all the songs in their mix, opening up to “DJ Mix Album” distribution to independent DJs / artists would be a logistical nightmare since proving those licenses and rights could become unwieldy.

There are a few “artist services” firms / boutique distributors who have something to say about how to get a “DJ Mix Album” on to Spotify and Apple Music (and likely Amazon Music as well). For instance take Cygnus Music’s “DJ Mix” metadata guide:

Artist services firm Create Safe recently mentioned in a music industry Discord that they are delivering DJ mixes to Apple Music and Spotify for their clients.

Beyond getting information on how to distribute DJ mixes, there’s really no reason for Spotify or any other streaming to hide their overall music metadata formatting guidelines.

Spotify does not provide public guidance on how to handle metadata for DJ mixes. This metadata style guide is mainly for music distributors, not artists. I found this old style guide through a web search — it is not current to include DJ mix guidelines.

Leaving education about metadata formatting to the music distributors means artists are reliant the quality of the information their distributor provides.

Spotify has metadata formatting guidelines but they are only shared with music distributors

While Spotify’s music style metadata guide is not publicly available, with a few keystrokes I was able to locate Apple Music’s music metadata style guide, though I am not sure it is meant to be shared with artists.

Now back to the topic, “DJ Mix Albums” and metadata — here’s how Apple Music asks for metadata to be prepared when sending a DJ mix in via a distributor.

DJ Mixes Version Information. DJ Mix albums must include a title version of “DJ Mix” in the album-level version information. Mixed tracks appearing on a DJ Mix must include the title version [Mixed] after all other version information.

The short is answer is most DJs cannot license a set of songs to include in a DJ mix they will distribute to streaming music services. Not yet. But keep reading because recent developments mean it could be possible in the future.

There was a time when Apple Music partnered with a company called Dubset, which through it’s content ID technology called MixBANK, aimed to solve the issue of allowing DJs to have mixes on Apple Music. This initiative didn’t reach the majority of DJs, and Dubset eventually was sold to the content identification company Pex.

Apple Music bought Shazam for $400 million in 2018. Shazam offers both a consumer app and also enterprise level services for the identification of music. With Apple Music’s new DJ mixes initiative, the company is able to clear the DJ mixes of their content partners by identifying the songs in the DJ mixes using the Shazam content ID technology. This speeds up the process in terms of delivering DJ mixes to Apple Music listeners. For instance, mixes recorded live at Chicago’s ARC Music Festival in early September were available on Apple Music just hours after the DJs completed their sets. There’s no lengthy wait on metadata or licensing agreements. The Shazam data helps Apple Music resolve these two areas and quickly release a DJ mix for streaming. However, there is no change in the way DJ mixes are presented on Apple Music — they still appear as “DJ Mix Albums”.

Spotify have their own content identification technologies, some of tech being legacy from their 2014 acquisition of The Echonest. Regardless it remains unclear if Spotify will use content ID to speed up the distribution of DJ mixes to their service.

If Shazam content ID is making it easier for Apple Music to speed up the distribution of DJ mixes, it means in the future the process could be opened wider to independent DJ / artists.

Meanwhile, most independent DJs will have to wait it out to be a part of Apple Music and Spotify’s DJ Mix promotion. Unless a DJ / artist is signed to a record label that is a partner supplier to Apple Music and Spotify, it’s unlikely they will be able to get their “DJ Mix Album” on to the music streaming services. Some of the record labels that are distributing DJ mixes today are Defected Records, Kitsune Musique, !K7 Records, and festivals like ARC Music Festival, Tomorrowland, Hard Festival, and online video outlets like Boiler Room — and I’m sure there are countless others (feel free to comment).

That’s why you see some frustrated DJs distribute their DJ mixes “cloaked as podcasts” to Apple Podcasts to be associated with Apple, though that platform of course isn’t exactly Apple Music. Spotify put an end to this practice removing most all podcasts that carry unlicensed music. Mixcloud, SoundCloud and YouTube again remain the best routes for DJs to share their DJ mixes without licensing headaches.

It seems they do not. I know an artist who had two of their songs included in a recently posted official DJ mix, available on Apple Music and recorded live at Los Angeles’ HARD Festival.

Speaking anonymously, the artist said while they are really happy about the inclusion of their songs, but they got no notification the songs were going to be included or any official request to license them for the Hard Festival “DJ Mix Album”.

Likely Apple Music’s blanket licenses with record labels of all sizes and independent distributors covers this use “DJ Mix Album” use case. Most artists would love for major DJs to play their music, so I doubt Apple Music will run into problems with automatically posting DJ mixes without full clearances but this area of licensing songs for “DJ Mix Albums” remains murky.

While an artist may not get advance notice on their songs being included in DJ mixes, they can track the song inclusion after the fact.

In the second part of this post about “DJ Mixes”, I will demonstrate how the major streaming services track and measure what songs are being streamed within “DJ Mix” albums. (coming soon)

Music Data Pro by Chuck Fishman: in depth about music marketing + data — specifically marketing musical artists on streaming services, streaming + radio.