Do DJs pre-record their sets?


You may of read online or in the press that some DJs get accused of pre-recording their DJ sets and simply press play. This is something that I’ve always wondered if it’s true or not and why would certain DJs do this.

Certain DJs do pre-record their DJ sets and play them live, however it’s highly likely that the majority of DJs out there do mix music in their DJ sets without playing a pre-recorded DJ set.

There are some reasons as to why this might happen, so let’s look into them in this article. Maybe it’s for good reason.

Definition of Pre-Recorded DJ Sets

Before we get complicated with the definitions of things, just to be clear pre-recorded means the whole DJ set is manually put together using Ableton for example, or has been mixed by the DJ and recorded.

Whatever method is used, a DJ will have a 60 minute (or more) DJ set recorded as an audio file.

This is not the definition of pre-planned DJ set. A planned DJ set simply means a DJ has prepared a list of songs in sequence order in which they are going to play at a DJ set. This is not the point in question here, and is potentially a different argument to be had altogether.

Reasons why a DJ would pre-record a DJ set and then play live

Technical

Fireworks, lighting and confetti are a few of the things that appear on stage for headliners “DJing” at festivals or their own DJ tours.

I’ve seen online that it’s a possibility that DJs need to help the technical teams to program fireworks, lighting shows etc in time to the music being played.

What this means is that pre-recorded DJ sets can really help the technical teams setting up the theatrics of the stage up. Meaning that the music and fireworks etc will be super in time with eachother.

This makes sense from a staging / theatrical point of view for sure. To me it also makes sense why headline acts opt for this technical solution as it’s going to deliver a “perfect” show which in turn is going to reduce risk of things going wrong.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the best solution.

Timing

Event organisers that have many DJs playing throughout the whole event might require their DJs to time their DJ sets to perfection. Pre-recored DJ sets appears to be a ‘timely’ solution (no pun intended).

This argument or reasoning is poor in my opinion as DJs should be able to mix their music live within an allotted time period. Most DJs are used to mixing music within 60 minutes, that’s a very common time frame to mix within.

Another point to make here is that I found an interesting comment on a subreddit that a DJ called Zedd mixes live but mixes the same exact DJ set in the same way everytime.

So this basically shows you that there’s no need for a pre-recorded DJ set. This technique helps out the technical stage people with their lighting and fireworks etc.

Entertainment

Having a pre-recorded DJ set that a DJ simply hits the play button means that it gives them time do their thing on stage.

For example, cake smash, jump into the crowd, dance on stage or spray the crowd with champagne.

This doesn’t seem like a plausible reason why the whole DJ set should be pre-recorded when performing or entertaining. If DJs playing in front a large crowd in a festival format wanted to entertain properly, then they can simply put on a loop of a track while they are entertaining.

Ego

The stardom of some DJs is unprecedented. The amount of money they’re making is unreal in comparison to money being made decades ago.

Their ego must be getting larger than life, so maybe to those DJs with a big Ego might think ‘why not pre-record a DJ set?’.

Let’s face it, some people that attend the festivals of these superstar DJs might not even know about a pre-recorded DJ set.

So there is an argument to make that when you’re of a superstar status type DJ, then there’s less room for errors, the show needs to be perfect. With so many eyes on your performance, the DJ sets need to be on point. This means that organisers and artists are going to look good, and likely make a load of money year after year from live events.

Self perception is another angle here.

According to an article on the BBC website, Sweedish House Mafia were noted to say that “you press a button, but you’re still performing your art”.

This makes me think that there’s a self perception, potentially Ego too, yes, my point being is that they mentioned “art”.

Do all DJs see themselves as artists? Maybe not pure DJs, more DJ producers that started DJing first and then got into production.

I’d say DJ producers such as Swedish House Mafia that see themselves as artists would act like artists though, and not so much DJs.

Reasons to NOT Pre-Record a DJ Set

  • DJing in its essence is the art of selecting music to get a crowd (audiences) reaction. It’s about matching the mood and vibe to which the people on the dance floor want. This can’t be done at will by pressing play on a pre-recorded DJ set.
  • You would be so bored in the DJ booth if you were at the local club or bar simply standing there while the whole mix was playing to the audience.
  • If you ever needed to actually mix live in front of an audience, how are you going to do that if you only play pre-recorded DJ sets. Where’s the skill in that?

Reasons FOR Pre-Record a DJ Set

  • Playing in front of a massive size crowd, in the thousands, at a highly acclaimed and successful DJing festival or event, such as Creamfields or Tomorrowland.
  • Being asked last minute to step in a play at one of the massive DJ events.
  • Potentially pre-recording part of the DJ set to help reduce the nerves and improve the quality. This can be for newer up-coming DJs experiencing super large festivals for the first time or established DJs that maybe of played 3 gigs in the space of 24 hours in 3 different locations.

1. Process for Creating a Pre-Recorded DJ Set

In this section you’ll see that there’s very different steps to playing live as a DJ. DJs that pre-record their DJ sets may use Ableton or similar DAW software to mix together tracks manually.

If you don’t want to buy a DAW then you can always use Audacity which is free!

In my opinion pre-recorded DJ sets are bit of a back up plan, but can have uses for other areas of DJing as seen below.

DJ uses for pre-recorded sets

  • Playing festivals under high amounts of pressure as an artist
  • Submitting a DJ set for a DJ competition
  • Playing a DJ set on a podcast or radio show

Here’s the process it would take from start to finish.

2. Process for Creating a Pre-Planned DJ Set

The idea of a pre-planned DJ set is to get a setlist together in order on your DJ software. You don’t deviate from the setlist, it is the playlist you will play no matter what.

So much so that there’s a lot of pre-planned that goes into the selection of each track and in the order in which each track is played.

Harmonics and key are likely a huge factor in the order and selection of music in a pre-planned DJ set. There’s usually a reason behind which track follows which in a DJ set anyway, so there’s nothing new here.

Cue points are pre-planned with markers highlighted when to mix in the next track.

Pre-planned DJ sets do have some sort of benefit for certain audiences (ones that don’t care about the DJ techniques, more about the music).

Pre-planned DJ sets are almost like a product in a way, they can be repeated time and time again to be refined to make sure what works amazingly for the best crowd reaction ever.

No pre-planned set is going to work if it’s not refined, otherwise no one will be dancing.

DJ uses for pre-planned sets

  • Playing festivals under high amounts of pressure as an artist
  • Playing regular wedding slots at a particular point in the night.
  • Practicing DJ mix techniques and getting to grips with mix transitions using crossfader, EQs, FX etc. Repetition engrains skills into your subconscious, remember that!

3. Process for DJing Live in Front of a Crowd

The ultimate, the original form of DJing is playing live in front a crowd, selecting tracks at will based on your abilities to read the crowds reaction.

Getting a feel for mood of the crowd and understanding what tracks might be worth playing is a real talent. This talent and experience can certainly be gained over time.

Selecting tracks at will and mixing them require a lot of skill and talent to mix music together, especially for DJs that DJ vinyl, DVS or even just listen when DJing using CDJs (not looking at the tempo dials on the DJ software). Setting cue points and markers can really help.

DJ uses for DJing Live:

  • All audiences could be DJ’ed to live with a DJ simply selecting music.

Final Thoughts

Not one crowd is the same.

Not one DJ set can be catered for all types of events or crowds.

Tailoring and knowing what type DJing that is required is your decision.

At this point in time DJing live is 95% of the time, with pre-planned sets being 4% with 1% pre-recorded.

This is simply my estimation and opinion, but I feel that 95% of DJs out there have talent and want to show this off in their DJ sets.

Related Questions

Do DJs prepare their sets?

Most DJs prepare for DJ sets they are going to play by creating a folders of music. Folders of music can be categorised by genres, decades, tempos, harmonics and rhythms to help them select music based on the crowd at the time of DJing.

Do DJs actually do anything on stage?

DJs use DJ equipment to select the next music track that they are going to play, they use a mixer to beat match one track to another moving the crossfader. EQ knobs and FX are also used for creativeness in mixing and blending music too.

How long do DJ sets last?

DJ sets live usually last around 60 minutes but can last up to 4 or even 6 hours. The event type dictates how long DJ sets are going to be. A club is going to be different to a wedding in terms of how long a DJ set is going to be.

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