You see it often right? On flyers for festivals or clubs an artist’s name and then the term “DJ Set”. But that can actually mean different things in different contexts. So, what does DJ set mean when it appears under an artist’s name?
“DJ Set” is usually specified when the artist is more known for being a live performer. They normally perform with instruments, or as part of a band for example. When they are listed as doing a DJ set it means they will be performing solo, without instruments and (probably) playing other people’s music rather than their own.
There are some good artists that can be used to explain this further.
An example of this would be Jamie XX from the band The XX. He often performs DJ sets under the name Jamie XX and his listing on the bill will include the term DJ set to avoid any confusion.
The last thing a promoter wants are people buying tickets and showing up expecting to see the full XX band.
That will just lead to people not enjoying themselves, complaining and possibly giving the night or festival a bad rep. Simply because they were expecting to see something else.
Chase & Status
In the dance music world, a good example of this is Chase & Status. What does DJ set mean for them? and why is it always specified with them?
They actually started purely as DJs but then they exploded in popularity. This allowed them to expand into live performances that included a drummer while they played guitars and synthesizers on stage.
Because it is still the two of them means the name Chase & Status doesn’t change depending on their performance.
So it depends on what type of show they are going to be doing. If they have the drummer with them, or whether it is just C&S themselves, it needs to be clarified. And this is why you will always see “DJ set” or “live” specified under Chase and Status’ (see the examples below).
There are many reasons why artists will perform DJ sets instead of with their live band.
It is very expensive for a full band to travel and tour together and promoters often cannot afford it. This is the main reason you’ll get individual artists from a band. Think of it this way, you still get the name (i.e the XX) at a quarter of the price.
Alternatively, the artists themselves may just enjoy DJing as is the case with Jamie XX or Win Butler from Arcade Fire.
Bands Who DJ
What does a DJ set mean to artists that normally perform in bands?
Performing DJ sets for artists normally in bands is a great way for them to do something different. To show other types of music they are into, plus get involved in different sections of the music industry.
A DJ set by definition is any performance by a DJ (Disk Jockey). Normally they will be performing for an hour or two using tracks they have compiled into their library.
They will mix these tracks together using mixing and blending techniques to control the flow. Hoping to keep the crowd dancing for the entire duration of their set.
What they aim to achieve with their DJ set will vary depending on the situation. What the event is, what the venue is, or if it’s a festival, etc.
A DJ set in a bar, for example, is very different from performing as a festival headliner.
DJing in Context
The headliner’s job is to deliver the highest energy and get the crowd jumping so they leave on a high.
Whereas someone DJing in a bar, their job is to, essentially, provide good background music. To create an ambiance for people there to hang out with their friends and enjoy a conversation.
Therefore it is not the bar DJ’s job necessarily to get people up and dancing. Although of course, some bars will have a dance floor. If you interested in becoming a bar, or club DJ, then check our specially selected equipment, you can see our decks here, and recommended mixer here.
What does DJ set mean to an organizer?
“DJ set” can refer to a period of time. So you will often hear promoters say “Your DJ set is at 9 p.m” or “Your DJ set will last 2 hours”.
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What Does “DJ Set” Mean? Not always performing in front of a crowd…
A “DJ set” also doesn’t need to refer to performing in front of a crowd. Streaming a DJ set online or on podcasts qualifies, even a pre-recorded mix still counts as a “DJ set”.
So, as a general rule, if you see “DJ set” listed somewhere it means this; The artist is mixing pre-recorded music using decks, turntables or controllers. The music could be their’s, someone else’s, or both.
Something billed as “live” generally involves instruments played in front of you.
Although of course a lot of artists do a bit of both.
Some DJs will also have instruments alongside their decks (see our recommended decks here). This lets them play certain parts live while also DJing pre-recorded songs.
DJ Sets Can Be More Freestyle
The amount of planning is another difference between a DJ and a live set. When performing live, or as part of a band, the song list would generally be agreed and rehearsed beforehand.
This allows both the band and their roadies to know when to set up equipment or when to bring on certain instruments. Like when you see roadies run on stage and give a performer a guitar at certain times.
This is because the songs are pre-arranged before the gig.
Live sets tend to always be pre-planned and rehearsed in this manner. Mainly because it is very difficult to create genuinely good music during improv, especially in front of a crowd.
Very few bands are capable of doing this.
One of the only groups that do this successfully is a band called The Bays. Their tagline is “never rehearse, never record”. That means the only time that they play together is when they get on stage and improvise. (Side note – it is the drummer from the Bays that plays live with Chase and Status).
DJ sets, however, allow much more freedom. A good DJ will choose songs on the fly depending on the crowd’s mood. If they are reacting to certain tracks and genres then the DJ can build on that.
As long as a DJ has practiced mixing enough then they are not at all limited in their choice of tracks.
In fact, you can play and mix tracks that you have literally never heard before.
I have done this myself on occasion…
One of My Favorite DJ Memories
I was once asked to cover a drum & bass room but had none of my records so I was playing out of my friend’s record bag. Although I knew some of the tracks there was a lot that I didn’t recognize.
While one track was playing I was able to pull out tracks and preview them in the headphones. If it worked with the current track then it got played. If it didn’t then I previewed more vinyl until I found one.
Although this may sound difficult, it actually makes for an extremely fun gig.
If you don’t know the tracks then you are forced to go with the flow. This takes a lot of the pressure off. You just have to trust that your skills are good enough to be able to mix the music that is in front of you.
That gig is actually one of the fondest memories I have of DJing solo.
What Is a “Live” DJ Set Then?
You may also find mixes online that have been titled as live DJ set.
This means a mix was recorded as the DJ was performing in front of an audience. Either at a festival or a club for example.
Adam Beyer’s Drumcode is a good example here. They record all his shows and this gives them a steady stream of content to release.
The regular podcasts include details of where the set was recorded.
A mix recorded at home would not be titled “live” DJ mix or “live” DJ set.
What Does DJ Set Mean in Terms of Art?
Both live performances and DJ sets are forms of art. Simple as.
It is worth noting that both live performances and DJ sets are both very different and deserve respect as art forms in their own right.
One is not better than the other.
Some people prefer seeing live music performed by a band. While others much prefer going and dancing to a DJ performing a set of mixed tracks.
Both take complementary, yet very different skills. Not to mention the hours of practice perfecting the techniques in order to perform competently and keep a crowd happy.
What does DJ set mean when it’s also listed next to a “Live Set”?
It means you’re in for a truly special night that’s what…. As there are some bands that are super competent in both areas.
I once went to a night hosted by Soulwax where they performed as a four-piece band first and were amazing. Straight afterward the two brothers (David & Stephen Dewaele) performed a DJ set as 2manyDJs.
This added a new dimension to seeing them as they expressed their entire range of musical interests. Also, because the same people had built up the music all evening, then the energy was unlike any other I have ever experienced.
Frequently Asked Questions: What Does DJ Set Mean
How long is a DJ set?
The answer to this varies depending on the event and its requirements. While they used to be longer (Djs often used to play the whole night), the average DJ set these days is an hour long. If you see a lineup packed with several big names then it’s a safe bet they will play for an hour each. However, if there is only one big name supported by local DJs then chances are they will be playing for 2 hours.
Occasionally Djs will play longer but you will normally see this listed i.e “special 4-hour set”. There are even DJs that are known to play for longer. DJ Scruff, for example, will often only book a gig if he can play the whole evening, often 6 or more hours. John “00” Fleming is also known to marathon 8-hour sets.
If you want to know how long a specific DJ is playing for you can often message the promoter and ask for the running times. However, some promoters don’t like sharing these ahead of an event as it encourages people to show up just in time for the main act.
How many songs are in a DJ set per hour?
This depends on a DJ’s style and how quickly they mix. 20 songs per hour is a base to work from as it assumes tracks are played for 3minutes each. Which is fairly standard for a commercial track, although electronic music tracks can run for longer. Therefore it is also reasonable to hear between 10-15 tracks during an hour mix.
Things can also go the other way. The classic “Dirtchamber Sessions” mixtape by Liam Howlet of the prodigy includes 48 tracks in only 51 minutes. You will most likely hear this type of fast mixing by accomplished turntablists that are able to scratch tracks in and out of each other.
Is a DJ live music?
However, many producer DJs will often have additional instruments alongside their decks, like a synth for example. This allows them to play along and add instrumentation to the tracks they are playing. Doing so would mean their set is more of a hybrid as it will contain live elements. This is why you will often see an artist’s name with the clarification of whether the set is “live” or a “DJ set”.