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Live Set vs DJ Set (Explained)

If you are even somewhat immersed in the world of DJing and EDM, then you probably have heard of the term “live set” and “DJ set”. To be more specific, many people like to debate which one is the best experience and which DJs have the best live sets, among other things. However, there are also a bunch of fans that do even know what these terms mean! If this is your case, then you are in the right place!

So, what is the difference between the two? The difference between a live set and a DJ set is that in a live set, the DJ is actually making new music on the fly using live DJ gear like a midi controller while in a DJ set, the DJ is simply mixing pre-recorded tracks.

As you probably guessed, more than 90% of the sets a DJ plays are DJ sets, and this has to do with the difficulty associated with playing a decent live set. Many DJs shy away from them because of this and also the fact that you need more equipment like midi controllers, real instruments and more to play a live set, which might not be feasible depending on the DJ in question.

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Anyways, there is a lot of confusion with this topic. Many people think that unless the DJ is using live instrumentation like playing a keyboard, the DJ is playing a Dj set, but that is not true. A live set simply means that the DJ is creating a completely new piece of music that isn’t just a remix of another piece. This might mean using software to add sound effects, drum beats, etc.

If you want to know more about the topic, including the best live set DJs today, please check below!

The Real Difference Between a Live Set and a DJ Set

As I said above, there is a lot of misinformation about this topic. Many people think that a live set means that the DJ is actually mixing different passages live, but this is not the case. A live set means that the DJ is making new music on the fly, using several means.

The DJ could use live instrumentation, for example, a live guitarist or a drummer, and it would be considered a live set. However, the term most commonly means that a DJ is using his laptop, mixer, and a MIDI controller to create completely new music on the fly, adding in sound effects from the mentioned gear.

Because of this, playing a good live set is significantly more difficult than playing a DJ set, and because of this, many DJs abstain from doing so. While DJ sets tend to be almost always played in big events, there are many smaller venues where playing live sets is more common, and there is a small, but a sizable amount of hardcore fans who will only attend these events exclusively.

How to Distinguish a Live Set from a DJ Set

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If you are a new fan and want to learn how to distinguish a live set from a DJ set, then let me tell you that there are several ways to do so, including:

  • Look out for live instrumentation: This is the most obvious way to distinguish a live set from a DJ set. If you see the DJ playing a keyboard, or if there are a guitarist and drummer on stage, then you can safely assume that you are listening to a live set, no matter if the DJ is mixing them with premixed tunes.
  • Live sets tend to be played in smaller, more obscure venues: Another way to know if you are hearing a live set is the venue where the DJ is playing. It’s rather rare for a DJ to play a live set at a big festival. In fact, they tend to do so in more obscure, less mainstream venues. Also, another obvious way to know if you are listening or are going to be listening to a live set is looking at the posters of the event. There should be
  • DJ sets play continuous music: Another way to distinguish a live set from a DJ set is the fact that DJ sets hardly tend to be stopped, playing continuous music until the set ends. This is not as common in live sets, where there is a more traditional stop & go format because of obvious reasons. So if you are at an event and the DJ will stop every few minutes like in a conventional performance, then you probably are listening to a live set.
  • Some DJs tend to be associated with live sets: As I will talk about below, there are several DJs that are known to perform live sets almost exclusively. So if that DJ is playing live, then you can probably assume that you are witnessing a live set.

While there are several other ways to distinguish live sets from DJ sets, these are the main ways that I personally use when I’m listening to a DJ live. As I said above, there are some DJs that play live sets very often or almost exclusively. To learn more about this, check below!

DJs Famous for Playing Live Sets

  • Justice: Another group notorious for playing live sets include Justice, a French group that has been playing for more than 15 years now. The electronic music duo mixes EDM music with other genres, including funk, rock, and even disco. The group is also notable for the sheer amount of equipment used for their live shows, using a myriad of synthesizers, MIDI controllers, and more.
  • Pretty Lights: Just like justice above, Pretty Lights is a DJ that is well known for his eclectic take on electronic music, often incorporating hip hop influenced beats to his sets, among other genres. He is well known for playing live sets rather often, using his MIDI controller to create a sound that distinguishes itself from the conventional EDM being made these days.

More Info

What type of equipment is commonly used in live sets? As you learned from reading above, DJs playing live sets create completely new music, employing several different types of equipment to do so. Among the most common gear used to play a live set, we can mention MIDI controllers, turntables, synthesizers, and Ableton, among other gear. Many also like to incorporate things like drums, vocal, and even some more traditional instruments, like saxophone or violin.

Are live sets common in big EDM festivals? Since EDM festivals are often the events that generate the most revenue among pretty much everyone associated with the show, the people in charge of the events tend to pressure the DJs to stick to DJ sets. This is why live sets are not very common in these big events. Also, one of the other reasons why they are not as common is the fact that DJs playing live sets tend to use a lot of extra gear, which might be too cumbersome to be playing in a big festival. Also, there’s the chance that the event organizers themselves might ban them from the performance.

A Few Essentials and My Recommended DJ Equipment by DJ Ferdi Vol
With so much information on my site I wanted to bring it down to an all in one place where I list my updated personal recommendations for 2021 and popular items that people have used themselves with succes. You can check it all out below.
DJ Essentials
The absolute DJ essentials every beginner has to start with or any advanced DJ has used or is still using.
DJ Controllers
It can be overwhelming to choose the right controller as there are countless things to consider. Having the right experience is key to know what controller someone needs. It's the thing you will use most and you can find the right DJ Controller here.
Better headphones results in better overal audio quality as well as easier beat-matching and comfort while using them on the fly. These best DJ Headphones for 2021 are tested first hand.
DJ Gifts
It can be hard to find the right gift to give a DJ but it's also nice to treat yourself with some DJ gifts that you didn't even know existed.
Ferdi Vol Author
Written by Ferdi Vol
Hi, I am Ferdi Vol and I am a DJ from the Netherlands who has been DJing for over 6 years now. I have always had a passion for music and DJing, so it was only natural that I started my own blog on becoming a better DJ.

I love researching and writing about new and exciting things in the world of mixing, including tutorials, reviews on hardware and software, as well as finding the latest and greatest. My goal is to help people become better DJs by providing them with all the knowledge they need to do just that!
About Ferdi Vol
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