DJs – Make Your New Year’s Resolution Performing with Live Musicians

Thanks, 2022, it’s been… Weird.

The first (almost) full year with no Covid lockdowns. A full-blown summer of festivals, clubbing, and partying. And with that comes a full promo and PR calendar, bursting with the creativity that was finally tapped after literally years of being unable to perform, or to express our innermost musical musings.

It hasn’t all been good.

Some artists haven’t been able to return. Without the funds from performing or being able to enter the studio, too many acts have made the heartbreaking decision to throw in the towel. Venues have closed, tour families have been broken up – as it stands, culture and the arts are at a very difficult point.

We’ve lost count of how many prime ministers, chancellors and culture secretaries we’ve had this year. We’re still all grappling with the never-ending escalation of practically every household (and business) expense. And around the world, violence is still being pushed as the answer; in the places you know about, and many, many more that don’t make the news. All the while, we’ve been repeatedly reminded (usually very uncomfortably) about our planet’s rapidly-accelerated mortality.

But 2023 brings signs of hope. Great big heaping piles of hope, actually. US scientists have made the first step to making unlimited clean energy. The tiniest, most fragile seedlings of peace are being nurtured in war-torn Ukraine. And, while we might not all like it, and the outlook’s still looking pretty expensive for everyone, the UK’s wacky government has at least settled to a functioning form.

Things are looking hopeful in music, too. New and established acts are growing in confidence, and so tours are getting booked and sold out. Everybody’s seemingly going for it. Even Backstreet’s back – we really should’ve seen that one coming.

DJs Performing with Live Musicians

So, if you’re an EDM producer who also works as a performing DJ, you’re probably going to want to throw your hat into the ring, too. And so you should – because the world needs more music and good times than ever before. But if you’re going to do it, do it right. Make it big, loud, unforgettable – and spectacular. It’s time to branch out of the homemade beats, and get into the (sometimes scary) world of live performance, with other musicians…

The challenges of performing with live musicians

There’s no way of sugar coating this: some musicians who claim to have live performing experience just simply will not be a good fit for a DJ.

That’s because, while they might have played in some bands or done a few stints in the pit at the theatre, they won’t be able to improvise, play without sheet music, or play to a metronome.

The first challenge is finding players who can improvise tastefully, play to a defined tempo, and are willing or able to transpose parts to their instrument, on the fly.

The second challenge is figuring out what the instrumental arrangement is. The most successful EDM/live crossovers that most people have heard of are acts like Pendulum and The Prodigy, who almost always have full bands when performing live.

Other EDM acts to go down the full band route, at least for a period, include Empire of the Sun, Disclosure, and Chainsmokers – to name but a few.

More often, in clubs and at festivals, we’ve seen DJs paired with plenty of single musicians; 

  • Saxophonists
  • Drummers
  • Bassists
  • Guitarists
  • Percussionists
  • Vocalists

 

Sometimes, it works – and other times, it’s grating, jarring, even annoying. Players have to know when to STOP. Often, when there’s just one, they don’t know when to let it breathe, and the experience becomes “unspecial”. After all, a light is only useful if you can switch it off.

Pick elements that work together well, or musicians who have worked together before – and who know the score with “filling dead air”.

If you can only have one, we’d say pick a good drummer. This person will be your bedrock, and the computer that drives everything else. The energy of a live drum kit is impossible to match in any other way. They will be able to complement percussion and hit triggers, too.

The best small-scale stuff we’ve seen has always had a good drummer at the heart, with maybe one or two instrumentalists on top. Minimal, but incredibly powerful.

Build backwards from the backbeat; bass, keyboards, brass, strings, guitars, vocalists – whatever else you might need to complete the sonic spectrum.

And that leads us to the last challenge, which is technical; how do you get everyone playing in time to your track? The short answer is monitoring. The long answer is; you need a mobile, multi-output beat making machine. Luckily, most EDM producers and DJs have laptops for this very job – but getting a click track into everyone’s ears might not always be feasible. That’s the beauty of starting with a drummer; because if you can, at a minimum, get the timekeeping to their ears, they’ll feed it to everyone else. All they have to do is keep up.

This all sounds like a lot, right? You’re basically forming a band here, with all that implies; auditioning, rehearsing, managing… Will it be worth it?

Oh yes. Yes it will.

The benefits: huge energy, a real spectacle – and an “edge”

If you’ve ever seen a live EDM act with a full or partial band, you’ll already be sold. It is an unmatched experience. But, just in case you need convincing, here’s what it can do for a live DJ’s career prospects.

You’ll stand out a mile from other EDM artists and producers

Suddenly, you’re not a run-of-the-mill DJ – you’re a proper act. Your music literally comes to life. Spectators can respond, and so can performers. There is an infinite loop of energy from band to crowd, from crowd to band… And it’s happening in a format that nobody else can provide.

EDM is art: painted in MIDI, programmed into drum machines, chopped and diced in Ableton – then served to ears as a finished recording. Taking that out into public is a little like hanging a painting in a gallery. It’s a one-way experience. And this is how the majority of DJs do it. But by turning it into a collective, performative event, it becomes more than a display. It becomes unmissable, unforgettable – and it could land you a career-defining moment.

Musical collaboration and PR-able moments

Collaboration is always good for musicians – whether they’re DJs, producers, instrumentalists, singers… You’ll be networking with other working musicians, and opening your music (and yourself) up to new audiences. EDM is easily one of the most collaborative genres on the mainstream industrial scale, so start making that true at the grassroots, too.

All of this activity gives PRs a lot to work with, too; more audiences, more stories, more music, more attention-grabbing headlines, more social media footage… Becoming a spectacle that everyone wants to record and share plays a big part in that.

But working with live players can do more besides channel your career. It can change the way you think about music production and your process.

Musical growth – evolving your sound beyond “beats”

Creatives go through phases. These are always periods of growth, and sometimes, growth is painful. Artists develop constantly, and when you’ve changed your creative process to include others, that change can be profound. You absolutely will learn new things. You will have a perspective change, an emotional shift, and a voyage of discovery rooted in your decision to play with others. And they will have that experience, too.

You’ll form a collective, with a signature sound, that you orchestrated. But that initial vision will inevitably evolve – and most of the time, it becomes something bigger than you could have ever imagined; richer and more vivid, utterly unique.

There will not be a single EDM producer or DJ who’ll be able to do what you do. And whether or not you continue to partner with live players, the experience of doing so will change your musical process for the better.

We guarantee it.

PR for DJs and EDM Producers

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