What is a DJ Set? What You Didn’t Know

The term “DJ Set” is used a lot in the music industry these days, and if you are an aspiring DJ, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with it. As a former DJ myself, I’m here to enlighten you on what the term “DJ Set” means.

So, what does the term “DJ Set” mean? A “DJ Set” means that the artist playing is not going to play “live”: the DJ will not recreate their music from scratch (whether from analog or digital instruments) but will instead only mix the songs they like on turntables.

In other words, a “DJ Set” is not a live performance- it is simply the DJ playing pre-selected music that they like for people (similar to how radio DJs operate). Like anything, though, there is more than meets the eye, so be sure to read on!

What does a DJ Set Include?

DJ sets may include the artist’s own work, but also usually include tracks from other artists and/or labels that are of a similar musical genre or sound. DJ sets can come from several different sources, such as vinyl, CD, and MP3 files. When I had my radio show in college, I got the majority of my DJ set from iTunes, but also from YouTube. In a broader sense, though, a DJ set may include scratching (Hip Hop/Open Format DJs), but also musical elements created on-the-spot such as using effects and/or samplers in order to add more of a “live” element to the session.

It is important to remember that an artist’s skill as a composer/producer (singer, songwriter, etc.) is often completely different from their skill as a DJ. Very few people are skilled at both, which is why DJs come up with pre-selected music for their gigs. DJ sets certainly do not take away from the experience of the event, however- people would seem to have a good time with pre-selected DJ songs, provided that they are appropriate for the setting, and the DJ looks like they’re into it.

What Makes a DJ Set “Good”?

Just as people have different views of bands and specific songs, what makes a set “good” is entirely up to the individual. Yet, there are some widely accepted standards from which to judge the quality of a DJ set. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The order in which tracks are played
  • How smoothly the DJ transitions from one track to the next
  • Use of effects
  • The addition of other creative elements (such as live instruments, like bongo drums)
  • How well the set “flows” from start to finish
  • The vibe the DJ projects during the performance

Whether or not people look like they’re having a good time at the event is perhaps the most tell-tale sign of whether a set is quality, and if it’s worth going to see the DJ again. It’s important to pay attention to the surroundings as well as the music itself (don’t forget that!).

What Does a DJ Set Represent?

Since DJs often incorporate some of their own music into their DJ sets, DJ sets represent individuality, as it allows them to showcase their style to people, and thus develop a reputation for playing a certain kind of music. However, many DJs take this opportunity to play music outside of the genres they traditionally play, thus allowing the DJ to expand their horizons and show people that they can get away from the type of tunes people know them for. This may even help the DJ attract a wider audience, since playing different types of music from time to time appeals to more people. In other cases, DJ sets represent nothing more than the opportunity to be more expansive in their type of music, as they will often incorporate new tracks into their playlist.

Are DJs Who Create DJ Sets Soloists, or Part of a Group?

Many DJs who create DJ Sets fly solo, as they are trying to gain publicity and make a name for themselves. It’s not uncommon to find DJs who are part of a group, however. This adds an interesting dimension to the mix, as any fame or recognition attributed to the band can often carry over to the DJ, thereby giving the DJ an advantage over the competition they may not have had if they worked alone. Although, the truth is that some do this to attend events they may not have had the opportunity to go to as a band. Theoretically, a DJ who does this on the side may jeopardize their chances of remaining part of the band, depending on how the band feels about this (but that’s a story for another day). When a band member goes solo, they may or may not have the skills to actually DJ, so they opt to create the set instead. Talent is not mandatory for this, as long as the DJ incorporates quality music into their set.

Related Questions

What is the difference between a “DJ Set” and a “Regular Set”?

This question can be tricky to answer, as the difference may vary from person to person. To me, though, a “DJ Set” is a pre-selected set of music that has additional creative elements such as effects and live instruments; whereas a “regular set” is something you might play at a party or wedding with little to no transitions between songs, and no additional elements to enhance the performance.

How do I put together a DJ set?

Everyone needs to start somewhere (Rome wasn’t built in a day). So, if you are a beginner, you need to first consider why you are putting the set together in the first place. Are you trying to promote yourself, or are you just doing it for fun? Who is your target audience? Consider the type of music you like most (house, techno, EDM, etc.), and know your genre well. Listen to popular songs in that genre and become familiar with popular bands who play that type of music. And don’t be afraid to add an unrelated track to your set every now and again- variety keeps things interesting.

From there, put the songs in a certain order, and see how it flows. Knowing the key and BPM of each track will really help in this regard. You may need to do this a few times to get it right, but that’s just part of the process. The first song sets the tone for the rest of the set, so be sure it’s a good one! It’s also important to read up on current trends and what people want to hear- ultimately, you control the set, and if you’re off base, people will lose interest, and it could hurt your reputation.

What makes a DJ set “truly unforgettable”?

First impressions are key, so if you want your set to be one for the ages, be sure to start off with an emotional song that can “tell a story”, as it will capture people’s attention. It’s not enough to simply get their attention, though, so the second song needs be able to keep them interested. Provided you get this down, the rest of the set should be a cakewalk. Just be sure to end with a song that everyone loves, or another emotional track.

As crucial as song selection and the order of songs are to a successful set, you must also remember to try and connect with the crowd right from the get-go, since they will not support you if you can’t keep them hyped. With no support from the crowd, there’s really no show, so this is a no-brainer. Telling short stories of what the song reminds you of or where you first heard it is a good place to start- I often did this on my show, and it certainly helped me connect with my audience (as well as made it more enjoyable).