What Are DJ Sets Compared to Live Sets?


If you’re new to DJing or just becoming more aware of the terminology in the music scene then you’re in the right place. As time goes on there are more terms that seem to pop up and there are equally plenty of legacy musical terminology to understand too.

What are DJ Sets?

A DJ set is a given time period in which a DJ selects a particular list or “set” of music to mix and beat match together. Usually DJs pick one genre of music but some DJs play multiple genres in a set. DJ sets are typically 1 or 2 hours long, but are known to last up to 6 hours long.

When I was starting out DJing I did know what a DJ set was. All I knew was that I wanted turntables and a mixer because it looked cool as anything! Let’s look into what defines a DJ set and make some comparisons too.

DJ Sets

A DJ performs a “set” which consists of playing pre-recorded music that has been mixed and mastered professionally. A set contains multiple pieces of music derived from a particular genre.

Genres of DJ sets can range from Techno, House, Drum and Bass, Hip Hop, Big Beat, Garage or Trance. The common theme with DJs playing a particular genre is the tempo which enables DJs to beat match the music. Beat matching music gives a blend of music over a given period of time providing the audience an experience.

Time periods of DJ sets can vary. The most common DJ set in a club is a 1 hour DJ set, sometimes highlighted on an event flier as a “2 hour set“. Event fliers usually state the “line up” of DJs that are playing gigs. The assumption is that each set is 1 hour long unless otherwise stated.

DJs at certain events such as bars or festivals, even events that they are putting on themselves, might DJ for extended periods of time. The longest Drum and Bass set that I’ve heard of is DJ Marky mixing for up to 6 hours (without a toilet break, now that’s impressive!).

Sometimes when DJs play out live they record their DJ sets and put the recorded audio onto the internet. Here are you can generally figure out which tracks were within the DJ set. This can help you pick out music that you like and incorporate this into your DJ sets.

Examples

Fatboy Slim is a DJ and you can watch a great DJ set that he is playing here in the 360i in Brighton. You will see that he is DJing with pre-recorded music, mixing and building / releasing tension of those music tracks throughout the DJ set.

Live Sets

Live sets can be found more commonly in recent times. Unlike playing pre-recorded music in a DJ set, live sets are slightly different in nature. The DJ or artist plays individual musical elements live by activating sections of musical samples.

This is achieved by using drum pads, performance pads and keyboards for example Ableton’s Novation Launch Pad. This is quite a common performance pad that you will see in live sets because it links up to a music production software called Ableton Live.

In Ableton Live 10, it’s possible to activate individual musical samples that help build up to a track. It’s equally as possible to de-activate specific samples to then build up to mixing and activating another piece of music.

Each individual piece of music might consist of a drum beat, piano/rhodes, bassline and vocals.

Some artists have pre-recorded tracks but then sing live into a sampler and loop the sample to form part of the track. This is quite impressive to watch and shows off musical talent in a live setting.

The main difference between a live set and a DJ set is that a live set is more fluid and creative due to a lot more separate musical elements are being activated. The music is technically not whole pre-recorded music tracks, but individual elements of songs are being activated. It’s sort of like a band playing but being conducted by one person activating samples, with some live piano and maybe singing in there too.

Examples

Check out FKJ live, he demonstrates this live aspect really well. You can see the looping that he does with his own vocals and also plays along with musical instruments such as bass and piano. Check out the crazy setting too.

Another example that’s really great to watch is Christiaan Loffler, he plays various samples and musical elements to perform one amazing live set. Plus he has some keyboard and sampler action in there too. He actually explains his set up towards the end of the recording of this YouTube video too. The scenery is pretty epic which goes without saying, thank you Cercle!

Related Questions

What is the difference between a DJ and a selector?

There is no difference between DJ and a Selector, they mean the same things as both define someone who selects different music tracks to blend together in a mix. A ‘selector’ is a term used in the Reggae genre to reference a DJ.

What makes a great DJ set?

A great DJ set consists of music that can create an atmosphere in which the crowd are happy socialising to and are dancing to. A great DJ is capable of building tension and suspense at the right time in a DJ set, and is equally good at releasing the tension.

Do DJs actually mix live?

DJs do mix live as you can sometimes hear mixes that aren’t perfect, especially DJs that are using CDJs or record vinyl turntables (possibly with DVS functionality too). DJ software is making it easier for DJs to beat match more accurately due to seeing the beats and tempo on the screen.

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