In this article, I'm going to tell you how I find out about new releases and where I buy my music from. Since I mainly play disco and soulful house, I may not know about specialist stores for trance or hip-hop DJs. Let me know if that's the case – I'll be glad to fill in the gaps.
If you're lucky to have a dance store in your city – an endangered species these days – it's worth dropping by from time to time if only to make friends among the staff. They may have useful connections in the local scene and/or offer worthwhile music suggestions.
A physical store is not as convenient for finding out about new music, though. It's much easier to preview a bunch of tracks in the Internet (see below) than to carry piles of records from the crates to the listening post and back. On the other hand, you might stumble upon a rare gem that you'd probably never come across online.
Juno Records. One of the biggest online dance music retailers, Juno sells vinyl records, CDs and digital downloads (more on that one below). I regularly visit their site to order another batch of records or just to go through the new stuff. I'm also subscribed to Juno's genre newsletter, so I every week, I receive an e-mail listing new disco/funky house releases, complete with instant preview links.
Hard To Find. Initially called Hard To Find Records, this Birmingham-based business is more of a DJ equipment store these days. They continue to sell records and CDs though. I find their catalog not as well structured and easy to browse as Juno's, but sometimes you can find excellent stuff at HTFR.
Chemical Records. Another online store that sells dance vinyl, CDs and digital downloads. Chemical Records is the only store I know of that lists key and BPM information for the records they carry. You can filter tracks by their key and find tunes whose keys are compatible to a given one. Sweet!
Decks Records. A big German store with a large selection of records and a nice little preview player. At Decks Records, you can often find bootlegs and white labels that you won't see in other stores.
GEMM. This one isn't a store but rather a global marketplace for music lovers. You can find the most obscure stuff at GEMM, so there’s a lot of truth to their old slogan: “If you can't find it here, fuggedaboutit!” The sellers at GEMM come in all colors, shapes and sizes, so pay attention to their ratings as well as shipping methods and costs.
Traxsource. A big digital music store that’s largely house-oriented. In addition to the main catalog, Traxsource offers a regularly updated selection of upfront promos. The player is nice, too.
At Traxsource, you can buy tracks in MP3 (192 or 320 kbps) as well as WAV, with WAV being the most expensive option. A release often comes out cheaper than a total of its tracks, as is the case in most other stores.
Juno Download. Juno’s music download arm with a more advanced player and catalog interface geared specifically towards digital downloads. Unlike Traxsource, you can listen to any part of the track, not just one pre-cut sample. Large selection, the tracks are available in MP3 (192 and 320 kbps) and the CD-quality WAV.
Beatport. One of the largest and most widely known digital dance music retailers. Beatport’s signature feature is its new super-convenient HTML5 interface that allows you to browse the catalog while listening to the tracks. Forget about those annoying player pop-ups!
Supported formats include MP3 320 kbit/s, WAV, and, interestingly enough, MP4. The latter format, also used by iTunes, offers comparable sound quality at lower bitrates than MP3, so your tracks will be downloaded a bit faster and will take less space on your hard drive.
Trackitdown. Nice store and all, but seriously, what’s up with those prices? A 320 kbps MP3 costs $2.44 on Trackitdown compared to $1.99 or even $1.49 on Beatport. WAV prices are all right, though.
Trackitdown’s player is strange. It doesn’t create pop-ups, so the playback stumbles as you navigate between pages. It’s the worst of the two approaches, if you ask me.
Tip: Some record labels sell their releases directly and may offer better deals than the major retailers. So if you’re a Defected fan, for example, make sure to drop by their online store from time to time, too.
Discogs. The database of music releases, Discogs offers comprehensive catalog-style information on records, artists and labels that dates back into 1900s. There’s also an online marketplace for those wishing to trade vinyl and CDs.
AllMusic. An online music guide featuring exclusive editorial content such as biographies, reviews and rankings. AllMusic’s database is not complete down to the last release as Discogs, but it’s indispensable if you want to learn more about the artist on that weird 1964 7-inch.