How to find song keys for better DJ setsA review of getsongkey.com
There are plenty of great ways to make your DJ sets more creative. In fact we’ve outlined a number of them in our Advanced DJ Techniques article.
One of which, and potentially our favourite, is mixing in key.
In order to mix in key or travel up and down the keys of songs that compliment each other you first need to know the key of your chosen tracks. Getting accurate key information for your music library is absolutely critical
We were recently contacted by the makers of a web based key finding service called getsongkey.com and were invited to conduct an in-depth sponsored review and find out exactly whats on offer, plus how it can help you find the keys of your favourite songs.
I’ll be covering not only how the site works but how YOU can apply this information to your DJ sets, your daily playlists and even your exercise workouts.
Full disclosure: This review was sponsored by getsongkey.com but all opinions are proudly my own.
So lets get started.
Back in the days of Vinyl and CD mixing the most important aspect of DJing was beat-matching. Its still an important skill to have today and we’ve written a detailed article on why you should still learn to beatmatch. Back then there was no option but to affect the key of your track as you increased or decreased the tempo to match the beat of another track. This made key matching almost impossible.
But with the advent of digital DJ controllers and powerful computer hardware its now possible to lock the key of a song while adjusting the tempo.
This means its possible to create DJ sets where the key of each song matches and the melodies, bass-lines and even vocals all compliment each other.
Not only that but you can match other keys to your current track where they compliment each other. Creating amazing new soundscapes and creative mixing opportunities.
Key mixing really is the future of DJing.
But all of this means nothing if you don’t know what key your songs are in. That’s where services like getsonkey.com come in. So lets take a look at how the site works and we can make use of it for DJ sets.
The premise is pretty simple. You want to know the key of a song? Just search for it on the site and you’ll instantly be presented with all the info you need. There’s a large search box right at the top of every page where you can specify whether its song name, artist or entire album you’re looking for.
The site is primarily aimed at the more mainstream artists which stands to reason, they are more well known and thus more likely to be searched for. More searches equals more visitors which in turn helps monetise the service and keep it free for us to use. So you’ll see numerous areas of the site listing will known pop songs and mainstream dance music.
There are plenty of ways in which getsongkey.com displays their huge database of song information. Some useful charts too with the “Top Hits” chart updated from the Spotify daily chart. The big difference being the key information available right there for each song.
The execution is simple, offer multiple ways to search and browse their catalogue of key data to find which songs will compliment each other. So its time to find out more.
I’m a sucker for some statistics and in this case it also can tell you just how useful getsongkey.com may actually be for you.
The site was launched in November of 2019 and in that short time they’ve managed to analyse the keys of nearly 7 million songs. That’s a whopping 230,000 artists and over 565,000 albums. So there’s plenty to choose from when browsing their database.
This is especially apparent when browsing by key rather than by artist or chart.You’ll find the “by music key” menu option in the “Browse” menu and its probably the one area of the site I visited the most when using it.
From there you can select a key and then select a specific genre too. Its amazing to see just what famous songs are in a matching key. Here’s a great example of electronic songs in the key of C.
I spoke to Joe Flanagan at GetSongKey to understand more about how they’ve made this free service possible.
“We rely on musicbrainz.org for artist entries and do not list artists who did not release an EP yet. We get the audio information thanks to multiple dedicated tools including a chrome extension YouTube video sources or user submitted entries.”
So they’re adding more tracks all the time and making sure that established artists are included too. While 7 million songs sounds a lot there’s a way to go before we can call the database “comprehensive” but its surely getting there. Spotify currently has around 50 million songs so you can see how big a tasks this is.
Joe also told me they’re working on some impressive AI software to take over the categorisation and addition of more songs so we can expect their database size to grow rapidly once thats up and running.
Its clear to see how the service works and how many songs are in there. Now its time to put it to action and actually build a playlist we can use in a set.
You can of course take your time searching for songs you know you want to include, or explore the genres through the menu options in the header.
If you’re a wedding DJ or tend to play more mainstream pop songs at your gigs then I found a number of ways that worked best for me.
I created a list of artists I wanted to include during my set. For weddings I always recommend asking the bride and groom to be for a list of preferred music, this helps gauge what kind of thing they’re in to and you can make sure to play songs they love. So finding other songs by those artists is always a good idea too.
I’d recommend analysing which genres are best to play too so your clients get the types of music they want.
Once I had a comprehensive list of artists and genres I wanted to find as many songs in matching keys as possible, in order to create a playlist that I knew would sound amazing.
Now to find the keys of the songs I can play.
I started by visiting the genre section as I knew most of my artists were in a similar genre like Pop. Clicking there gives me a colourful view of artist photos. It lists currently “hot” artists presumably based on Spotify recommendations. A few of the artists I wanted were right in that list so its easy to jump to their songs.
The great thing about browsing this way is that you get a clear list of the most popular songs by that artist. If you’re playing mainstream music this is perfect because its highly likely you’ll want a handful of these so you don’t need to go searching for each. If your client has made a request for certain artists it’ll be quick and simple to get all the info you need right here.
Clicking on a song gives you even more details and an interesting “Profile” section which has been created using getsongkey.com’s very own algorithm to give you some unusual stats like “Danceability” and “Energy“. These can be surprisingly useful if you’re trying to create a set list for a specific part of your evening. Maybe you want background music where danceability is low or a peak time slot where energy should always be high.
The only thing missing here is the ability to filter songs by key and profile. It would be greta to be able to find songs in a key or complimenting keys that had a “Danceability” score higher than 75 in order to create a playlist I know people will want to dance to and will sound amazing.
Drilling down in to albums also gives you a very interesting pie chart of exactly what keys songs are in on the album. Rooty from Basement Jaxx is a great example of this. Showing me how many tracks of each key are available and also showing how many are in a major key.
While the songs are colour coded for different keys it would be nice to be able to quickly sort by key to quickly see which may compliment each other or are in the same key.
So browsing around the site and drilling down in to artists, albums and songs is relatively easy. But how does this help DJs actually create the perfect DJ set? I wanted to put it to the test to create a truly incredible harmonically awesome DJ set for an upcoming gig.
Harmonic Mixing Tool
One method of creating the perfect set list is by going to the “Harmonic Mixing” menu option in the “Activity” menu. This is an area specifically designed for DJs to quickly put together lists of tracks with advanced filters. Reducing the need to click in and out of multiple sections of the site.
I use the Traktor DJ software from Native Instruments which uses its own “Open Key” wheel for displaying they key of songs. Thankfully Get Song Key have integrated this key notation in to their database so I can easily sort by key.
To start with I kept it simple and searched for pop genre in 2018 and newer. Sorting by top songs as random produces some not unsurprisingly random results you probably don’t want. Remember the source is Spotify which, while having some great top songs also has a lot of weird and eclectic stuff too!
You are rather limited in search functionality here, only being able to select a specific BPM which as any DJ knows only needs to be within a range rather than exact for every track. After all we DJs are beat matching (or should be!) our tracks anyway.
Click “Get Songs“, wait a few moments while it checks Spotify and you’ll soon get a set list of what it thinks are complimenting songs on your selected key and neighbouring keys that will work with it.
The results are somewhat eclectic even for a very mainstream genre like pop so there’s a few methods I used to get something more akin to what I was hoping for.
Set your playlist duration to something larger than what you actually want. So if you want 60 minutes try entering 120 or 240 minutes. This will give you a longer list you can then browse through and select from in a more manual fashion. Its unlikely you’ll agree with the setlist on the first try so this reduces the need to go back and keep filtering.
Adjust the tempo by a few BPM to get a broader range of tracks. You’ll need to conduct multiple searches to do this but merging 2 or 3 or more sets together can give you a better range of results.
My personal preference for searching was by genre as I found the journey through the pages offered more inspiration and lead me down interesting paths and to tracks I hadn’t considered.
Starting with a genre like Electronic gave me multiple starting points for my mainstream set. Clicking on “Calvin Harris” gave me the idea to start with the key of G for the track “Feels So Close” On the Open Key wheel in Traktor this is 2d so I know that other 2d songs will work with it along with 1d, 3d and 2m.
Scrolling down to the “Similar artists” section is the best way to jump on to new artists that are likely to compliment the sound you’re currently browsing.
It would have been nice to see all songs in the same key by one artist but since I was keen to mix it up and not have too many by the same artist it wasn’t too much of an issue.
I copied and pasted the artist name and song title to a spreadsheet i’d made, quickly building up a list of songs I knew worked together.
I used the “Popular songs in the key of…” link which can be found when clicking on any song was quite useful too, quickly giving me a list of tracks I might want to consider.
Browsing the site is much like wikipedia or YouTube where you started off with one intention but found yourself an hour later down a rabbit-hole of links. This is often the sign of a good and very large tree of data where each page leads on to something of interest.
In fact in my search for complimenting songs this was actually one of the most useful feature. I found myself jumping from one artist to another through related artists, multiple albums and also songs in the same key. Rather than sticking to one method of browsing.
The site became more of an inspiration generator than a simple reference library musical keys. Something I wasn’t expecting.
Collecting playlist data
There’s a couple of methods that might work best for you when trying to create the ultimate playlist with complimenting keys. It really depends on what your setup is.
I know from speaking to many colleagues that DJ-ing with a streaming service is becoming ever more popular. Some manufacturers are integrating Spotify in to their DJ hardware and software. So if this is your preferred method of music library Get Song Key is a great fit.
Because the site uses Spotify as its music source you’re likely to find many of the same artists in its database, as the charts come straight from Spotify’s own you may find this the easiest place to get the latest song key information.
Personally I use Traktor DJ software and hardware from Native Instruments which doesn’t have streaming services integrated (at this time). So my method of creating a playlist was a little more manual.
Here’s my process:-
- Open up a spreadsheet app (or Google Sheets)
- Name it with your preferred key
- Browse Get Song Key for songs in that match the key or neighbouring complimentary keys
- Add the data to columns in your sheet for song duration, key, artist name and song title. You could copy and paste the text right off the site.
- Keep adding songs until you have a total duration long enough for your set
- Add a few extra songs so you have a few as backup.
- You can sort the songs by each column to see how many you have by an artist or specific key.
Once you have this list you can check your music library for those songs. This really is better suited to mainstream music DJs like Wedding and Party DJs who have a mobile DJ business or maybe play a bar or mainstream club.
Considering how young Get Song Key is the amount of songs already analysed to an impressive degree is commendable and growing every day. While its content is definitely more mainstream music albeit an eclectic collection of genres, there’s plenty in here to browse around and create DJ sets that are sonically amazing.
Above all the site offers a source of inspiration, leading you down multiple paths connecting songs together by their key and complimenting neighbour keys. This makes it unique online and I spent plenty of time disappearing down paths deep in to the site’s database finding songs I’d forgotten about or inspiring ideas for playlists that caught my imagination.
Ideas for improvements
Its early days for the site but one thing it could really do with is a way to make lists of songs right there on the site. A registration system so I can log in and “favourite” any songs I liked. Maybe in to multiple playlists I can save on the site. This would allow me to click on an “add to collection” button and quickly build up my playlist of tracks that work well together.
Then it just needs an easy way to export that playlist, maybe as a spreadsheet, a text file or a playlist file that could easily be imported in to DJ software.
With those kinds of features it would be a formidable tool for DJs to easily browse and create multiple playlists for different occasions and gigs.
I’d also like to see better filtering options that allow for wider ranges of BPMs on the harmonic mixing page. It would return more results and be a lot more useful in my opinion.
Regardless there’s so many ways to browse the catalogue that its easy and quick to get lots of inspiring ideas. That’s what made the site compelling. More an ideas factory than just a library of information.
A note on DJ Software and key analysing
I know some of you are probably saying “My DJ software already analyses keys in songs so why would I use this?” and its a valid question I asked this myself.
There’s a few issues with key analysis in DJ software’s music libraries.
Its not designed to provide inspiration, the software merely lets you group songs by key and in more modern software like Traktor it allows you to see complimentary keys of songs with colour coding. It wont help you make a playlist of songs, you’ll need to do that all by your self.
You can sort the key column but if you have a lot of tracks of the same key you wont see complimenting keys nearby.
It also wont let you group by artist and key. you’d need to manually create multiple playlists to do this which is time consuming and not intuitive.
Get Song Key fills the gap that DJ software can’t provide. I found much more inspiration using the website compared to trawling through my libraries by genre, or grouped by key or artist.
As a comparison I attempted to make a playlist with my DJ software too see how easy and how long it would take. The results were very different. It took much longer with a much less satisfactory result to create a playlist with my own software. I was surprised by this as logically you’d think having key data locally would make things quick and simple.
It was quite the opposite, Get Song Key shines by relating artists together, giving you multiple options on every suggestions with even more jumping off points to inspire you.
No software for DJs currently does that, and this was the biggest winner with Get Song Key for me.
Would we recommend using GetSongKey.com?
Yes definitely! The service is entirely free and very useful for mainstream DJs. There’s a few features and refinements we’d love to see but its already proving to be a useful tool in creating memorable and audibly interesting playlists. It can only get better!
Check out www.getsongkey.com for free and see what audibly excellent playlists you can create.