Does mixing live affect your reputation as an artist?
The debate about live mixing vs pre-recorded sets is one that has lasted throughout the dance music industry’s lifetime. Without a definitive answer, this is a debate that can often spark strong opinions within the artist community, as well as the fan community. There are many who argue firmly that artists must mix live in order to be considered legitimate, but this opinion is held by the minority. In previous articles we’ve looked at the pros and cons of using a ghost producer, the way the industry views those who don’t produce their own music, and how using ghost producers can affect your career. But in this article, we’ll instead focus on the art of mixing and just how important it is to mix live.
In the past, mixing was a huge aspect of an artist’s career. Previously, you could succeed based on your ability to perform live. In the current climate, it is also compulsory to have a vast discography of your own releases in order to further your career as a performing DJ. Artists who predominantly DJ rather than produce are few and far between, but some great examples are Carl Cox and Andy C. Both of these artists have built a reputation for their live performances rather than their own production skills, but have started to release tracks more often in recent years. With production now such a huge aspect of becoming a successful DJ, is live mixing really a necessity?
Firstly, artists are protected by the knowledge that barely anybody will know if a set is not performed live. The risks of being found out revolve around livestream footage, eagle eyed fans, festival employees, and fellow artists. It is possible to disguise the fact that you’re not mixing while on a livestream, providing that the cameraman doesn’t focus closely on what you’re doing. Fans are unlikely to spot whether or not you’re mixing while they’re enjoying the show, even if they are in the front row. It is unlikely that the majority of artists will tell anyone whether you mix or not, in fact they’ll be focusing on their own career. Lastly, it’s very unlikely that festival employees will spread word of your lack of live mixing. For these reasons, getting caught is incredibly unlikely, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-recorded sets are an obvious option.
The fact is that once you are found out, it could destroy your image in the eyes of many. A great example is Steve Angello, who was falsely accused of faking his live mixes when people noted that he wasn’t wearing headphones during his performances. In order to rectify the situation, he recorded a livestream from his position on stage at his next performance following the backlash. The result was that his reputation was repaired. But as this happened years ago, it begs the question whether the reaction would be the same in 2019.
Like ghost producing, faking live mixing has become less of a taboo subject in recent years. Many festival attendees simply want to enjoy themselves, whether the sets are live or not. Others feel that they cannot support an artist that fakes anything from producing to performing. Many argue that a performance is a performance, regardless of how this performance is achieved, whether it was recorded a week ago or has been put together in the moment.
A great advocate for live performing is Laidback Luke, who regularly discusses the topic of pre-recorded sets on his vlogs and through his social media channels. He believes strongly that a DJ is not a DJ without performing live, which is a viewpoint that is shared by the vast majority. He argues that the art of being a DJ should be preserved, something that is lost on many supporters of the scene.
Another side of the debate is set pre-planning, which is somewhere in the middle of live performing and pre-recorded sets. A pre-planned set is simply a set that has been chosen in advance, but is mixed completely live. In one of Laidback Luke’s vlogs he is joined by fellow Dutch DJ Afrojack who argues that pre-planning sets is necessary when you’re performing at a major festival. Many artists fluctuate between live performing and pre-planning their sets depending on where the performance is. As Afrojack states, if you’re seeing a major artist at the mainstage you have expectations about hearing certain hits. His argument is that if he doesn’t pre-plan he will likely forget to play some of the tracks he should in order to cater to the crowd.
Although the debate rages on, it has been stated by multiple artists that pre-recorded sets are actually incredibly rare. Certain artists have also stated that mixing live is not difficult and therefore shouldn’t be avoided. When listening to live sets it is often possible to hear minor hiccups that prove that a set is completely live. This is the case with many of the top artists in the scene, giving weight to the statement that pre-recorded sets are rare.
If you do decide that you need to pre-record your sets, it is important to make sure that you keep this under wraps as knowledge of this fact could damage your image. While it is easier to pre-record, consider the fact that mixing live gives an extra level of authenticity to your performances and makes what you deliver on the stage even more raw. By reacting to the crowd’s response you will also undoubtedly be able to select tracks more effectively and create a better result overall. Plus, you can rest easy knowing that you won’t be judged by your fellow artists or your fans.