Over To You: How Do I Perform My Music Without Looking Boring?

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ableton live dj/producer performing stage presence
Last updated 6 November, 2017

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Ableton Live
Is bringing a whole Ableton Live set-up to the DJ booth really the best way to perform your own music?

One of our long-time subscribers Rob H writes: “Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few live sets, mostly on Ableton. The music played in these was fine, quite often great! However I’ve been left unsatisfied with the producer/DJ’s performance. They are mostly static with the age-old laptop DJ ‘stare of blankness’, pressing a button or two every few minutes.

“Of course it’s a common problem with laptop-based performance anyway, but it strikes me as doubly boring when there’s literally nothing for the DJ to do and no movement behind the decks. Even if the performer is ‘in the groove’ and bobbing away, I’m still left bored. This is less evident with more traditional types of DJing as you have no choice but to move to access, cue and effectively play your chosen format.

“During the past year I’ve focused on producing my own material. I now believe I have enough material to start considering live performance, but I don’t want to be a boring DJ. The visual kinetics of a performer is very important, but it’s even more important to me these days to not be a cliche; as an underground music guy I simply will not throw cake or wear a mask. What can I/we do to be spice up our live performances?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

The thing is, there’s a difference here between producing and DJing. Producing is making music. Even the best producers admit that if they’re only there to play the music they’ve made as a set on stage, it’s pressing the odd button – if that. After all, the music is all finished. Anything they “do” is usually completely artificial. At the very most, all they really have to do is sequence stuff, and that’s it: Throw in a video screen or a few pyrotechnics, and it’s job done.

Except… as you identify, this isn’t DJing. DJing is taking finished tunes and, well, DJing with them! Choosing the right song for right now. Changing your plans at the last minute because you suddenly just know what the crowd wants next – and it ain’t what you were planning. Turning everything off to make a point. Changing genre mid-set just for kicks. Scratching, looping, sampling. And yes, jumping around and shouting if it floats your boat – because at the end of the day, DJing is about a transference of emotion from DJ to crowd… and if you look (or worse, are) bored, they sure as hell are gonna be bored too!

So how is the modern DJ/producer to do that? Well, that’s why this is an “over to you”, because I’d love to hear what our readers think… but for me, a DJ/producer should have his or her own tracks in a DJ set along with lots of favourites from the people who influence them and also current beats they love, and damned well DJ with them! Use two decks and a mixer and forget all the production stuff – leave it in the studio. Instead, damned well squeeze ever last ounce out of that music. Separate the skills. DJ.

What do you think? Should DJs be DJs and producers be producers? How should DJ/producers perform their own material without getting “Ableton Face”? Please share your thoughts in the comments…

The Complete DJ