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How to Perform Electronic Music Live?

The most common question asked by producers in the electronic dance music scene is probably: “How do I bring my music out of the studio into the clubs or on stage?”

In this blog article we will show you four different examples of DJing from basic to advanced and explain how to get your productions from your bedroom to the stages.

Computer and controller

The easiest way, in our opinion, is to use the same computer with which you produced the tracks. This is used as your playback device together with a DJ controller and the appropriate software to run the music from that software. Let’s use the software “Traktor” by Native Instruments and the matching DJ controller “Traktor Kontrol” as an example. All you have to do is install the software for the controller on your computer, let it analyse the tracks and you can start DJing on big stages with the DJ controller. Some very famous DJs who use this kind of DJing are “Zedd” or “Robin Schulz” – before he switched to CDJs from Pioneer. So, with this setup, you have the possibility to go straight from your bedroom to the big stage.

Pioneer CDJs in combination with a Pioneer DJ mixer and the “Rekordbox DJ” software

The slightly more advanced, but still very straightforward alternative is to use so-called CDJs in combination with a Pioneer DJ mixer to play the tracks. CDJs are music players from Pioneer specially developed for DJs, with which songs are controlled via emulated vinyl record player decks. The music is first analysed by the software “Rekordbox DJ”, and a USB stick plugged into the CDJ is used as the playback medium.
Advanced live set based on Pioneer CDJs
This option requires a little more preparation. First, you have to analyse your previously produced or purchased music with the software “Rekordbox DJ”, which was especially made for CDJs, in order to be able to play it correctly on the players. “Rekordbox DJ” offers you the choice of sorting the tracks by genre, BPM (beats per minute) or key, and much more. After your music library has been analysed, the songs must now be transferred to a USB stick and then inserted into a compatible Pioneer CDJ. With the latest Pioneer mixers, it is possible to run 6 of these players at the same time and thus mix different tracks, stems, or loops.

Using “Ableton Push”

Mixing tracks as a DJ and adding effects is a lot of fun, but performing your own music live with controllers, reshaping sounds and loops to create unique versions for each performance – that’s another level. It’s exciting for the artists to create music in the moment, but it is also a kick for the audience to hear familiar songs transform into new tracks they’ve never heard before through variations in arrangement and the use of new effects or sounds. A rather simple way to play productions live is offered by “Ableton Push”, the controller by the manufacturer Ableton which offers a smooth integration into the DAW “Ableton Live”.
Illuminated pad matrix in “Ableton Push”

As the “Live” in the name indicates, Ableton Live was originally designed as an audio sequencer with a focus on live performances. For several years now, “Live” has been offering a range of features such as automatic time-warping, session view and an intuitive interface and is ideal for playing electronic music live.

Using “Push”, you have access to all these features with knobs, an 8×8 drum pad matrix, variously illuminated buttons and a multicolour display. The controller offers you all possibilities to create MIDI patterns on stage, to add harmonies and to adjust effects or to record automations.
There are endless different workflows. In order to keep track of the live set, many artists create stems of their productions in advance and place them into individual clips in the Ableton Live session view, which gives them the ability to use the trigger pads of Push to jump to any point in the song and place filters, EQs or processors of their choice. The big advantage here is that all the features of the DAW are available to you.

The HOFA Topic Course Producing Electronic Music & Hip-Hop, for example, will show you exactly which functions are available here. At HOFA-College you’ll learn which effects you can use to create certain sounds and how to get the most out of your DAW, based on professional music projects. You can then transfer this knowledge one-to-one to the stage – because if you produced your track in Ableton Live, for example, you can use the same effects or tracks as you did in the production process. There are no limits to what you can do, although you should always keep an eye on CPU usage.  
Ableton Live on stage in session view

Software meets hardware

That takes us to the next level of live performance – the integration of different hardware devices. Although often forgotten, it’s important to be aware that working live with a computer always involves a certain risk. Everybody probably knows the situation that the computer breaks down when nothing can go wrong, even though it has always worked beforehand.
In order to reduce the CPU load, but also to expand the live setup, it is ideal to work with external hardware devices such as sequencers, drum machines and synthesizers. However, this is the supreme discipline in live performance and requires a lot of preparation and practice.

At this level there are live acts like “Paul Kalkbrenner”, “Kiasmos” or “Ben Böhmer”. In addition to Ableton Live, their live sets include various effect pedals, analog mixers, synthesizers like the “Korg Minilogue” or the “Roland Juno-60” and much more.

MIDI controller in a live setup
By combining software and analog hardware, you can integrate your equipment from the studio directly, creating a whole new set of creative possibilities for yourself. Plus, you’re no longer completely dependent on the DAW, and performance can continue even if there are any computer problems. These four workflows are just a small selection of the possibilities for bringing your music to the big stage. For example, you can consider connecting even more hardware and combining it with your own light show. It’s a matter of experimenting and finding out which workflow suits you and your music. A perfect live performance must be well prepared and starts already during production. Interesting arrangements, a varied sound design and a balanced mix are the basic requirements to make your productions sound good even on large PA systems. With HOFA-College you will learn to achieve professional results in producing, mixing and mastering and you will receive individual feedback on your productions.

Author

Christoph Thiers
Christoph Thiers
Christoph Thiers has been active in the music industry for over a decade and has worked on hundreds of productions of various genres as recording, mixing and mastering engineer. His track record includes artists such as Die Fantastischen Vier, Sarah Connor, Birdy, Nathan Evans, RAF Camora and Boris Brejcha, as well as numerous awards and chart placements. He is also engaged in new media formats and artist development, acts as a consultant to indie labels, artists and start-ups alike and has been involved in various software developments for professional music production. In recent years, Christoph has specialised in immersive music production and handles Dolby Atmos mixes for international label clients and renowned indie artists.

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