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Live and DJ sets

Hi Daniel! Can you explain the difference between a live and a DJ set? I see a “Live” label on posters and flyers near the artist names quite often, but when they play, I do not really feel the difference.


Peter, the definition of “live” performance is very confusing in electronic dance music, indeed.

A fully live set with everything from beat to leads making on the stage is something that almost never happens when we talking about electronic dance music. Such live show requires very complex and accurate setup, one wrong step could ruin it completely. Thus we may see a real live performance only among non-dance genres of electronic music — it looks more like a classical music concert rather than a party.

Binkbeats Live @ Le Guess Who Festival

So, in dance music, there is a popular belief that the difference between live and DJ sets is in the music you play: if it’s your own music, it’s live, if someone’s else music — DJ set. But here is the problem: many producers these days have their tracks pre-mixed into a single continuous mix, so the only thing they have to do on the stage it’s clicking on the “Play” button in Ableton. And they call “live” sets! Shame, but true. While formally this is a live set (because they’re playing their own music), there is absolutely no “live” component, which brings us to such confusion in terminology.

On the other hand, we have DJs. The skilled ones working like a computer: they “read” and analyze the crowd to guide it through the musical journey. Some DJs even playing several tracks simultaneously and doing a so-called “remixes on-the-fly” — thanks to modern software and advanced hardware, they can focus less on mixing and more on creativity. Either way, such DJs are playing much more “live” sets in terms of real live performance on the stage than musicians with their fake live sets.

Live @ Bülach, Switzerland
Live @ Moscow, Russia

With all of this, I came up to the following: doesn’t matter whose music you’re playing, but how you play — that what determines the difference between live and DJ sets in my opinion.

 530   2015   Advice   DJing

This post is a part of the “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as music production, sound design, performance, management, marketing, and career advice in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions via Google Form.

© Daniel Sokolovskiy, 2021
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