The Live Performance Rant of an Afro Monk

by JM on February 6, 2013

This is an experiment and might even delete this post but I wanted to create a post on one of my random rants today. It’s become common knowledge that if you’re a producer or band that the money to be made is performing live and going on tour. Album sales are low but do provide income none the less. Yet where do all your favorite big name acts make their money? Live shows.

Now that we have this cleared up… You would think that if you’re paying to see someone live you’d get a unique experience versus just hitting play on your media player, right? I don’t know if it’s just me and because I use Ableton to DJ that I’ve become jaded. I can’t tell you how much of a let down it is to see someone use CDJs or even vinyl for that matter today. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE a solid turntablist but if you’re not scratching when playing on vinyl then you’re just I don’t know… Hell why would you even do that when 90% of clubs don’t have solid turntables to use?!

Alright now back to the Ableton thing… Tons of people can bitch and complain about how using laptops or whatever controller isn’t really DJing or whatever they want to say. The fact of the matter is that there’s this program that they’ve made that lets you use all the tools you’ve used to make the fancy music the producer makes LIVE?! Wait what?! You can remix, edit, manipulate, cut up, screw, etc… all with the flick of a button, knob, fader, touch screen, etc… If all this time is put into creating a track or release why isn’t the same amount of effort being done when you’re getting paid to play live. The idea of simply mixing track to track isn’t really that hard, seriously. All you beat matching purist who yell about Sync buttons, Warping, Beat grids, etc… are annoying. The “old school” DJ uses a 3EQ, pitch shifter, and volume faders. There’s nothing special about beat matching and moving the pitch to match the beats. Anyone can be a DJ as we’ve seen with people like Paris Hilton taking it up. Not to discount her at all but it’s something that be learned fairly quickly.

Why am I even writing this? Well because it’s beyond frustrating when you’ve put so much passion and time into a live DJ set where my goal is to create a unique new experience of every track I play with all the things I have available in front of me with Ableton. I may not be considered a producer now but it’s not as if I’ve never made a track before. I spent most of my time in Ableton actually when listening/working on music. My issue is that if I’m not making records on the regular basis but have been using Ableton for a few years now, why don’t these producers who probably have way more experience with modulating sound do it more often live? Don’t even get me started on the fools who play pre-recorded sets and simply just add filters or random efx here and there to make it seem like they are mixing. I’ve seen many producers play in arrangement mode and it baffles me. How can you justify doing that at all?! Oh you made the music and that allows you to just be lazy since all the work was done in your studio? Come on! If you’ve taken the time to master your craft creating music in FL Studio, Pro Tools, Logic, etc… trust me it’s not hard to pick up on how to use Ableton. Even someone who isn’t an experienced producers can pick up Ableton for DJing and create something different when I play others music. Why can’t you do it with your own?!

I also have heard people say that if you’re playing to a MASSIVE crowd it should be PERFECT and don’t want any issues and that’s why they don’t mix live or try remixing live. Something tells me that if your music is that good to be playing at that level of a crowd they’ll appreciate you’re actually doing something up there. I use to think to myself oh man this might not sound perfect or be super weird but it shows that I’m actually doing something up there and not just hitting play. It’s LIVE and I hope people understand that you’re taking a risk doing something that might actually take some practice, skill, talent, etc… to do these things vs the guy after you just mixing track to track. In a way I think those people who use CDJs and Vinyl are the ones who fall into the category of people who “just hit play”. You dance around and let the track play the same way it would just like it sounded on the album or release. There’s no unique experience in that other than just selecting tracks. Now on the other side of the coin there are fools who are even insane enough to simply have about 10 tracks up in Ableton and just move between channel 1 and 2 with their crossfader. Now that’s just ridiculous. You give laptop DJs a bad name as well as Ableton users.

I will say that this is a very exaggerated opinion of mine but there’s a lot of truth in this, more than you think. Majority of people simply just go to hear music live to dance, party, rage, etc… but if you’re going for the music and in it for the music there are some things that you just can’t help but notice sometimes. Sure I’ve taken a stab at producers and DJs in the post and that’s not to say there aren’t people out there who perform their heart out. There are many, trust me. Go watch Shigeto, Mux Mool, NastyNasty, Project Aspect, etc… The complexity and skill level varies more than you think in the live performance aspect. I just come from the school of thought that things should be done with serious passion especially if you’re playing live for a group of people. Unfortunately most people aren’t that big into that and just want to hear music played no matter what the medium is. After all it’s all about having fun at the end of the day.

I’m not trying to say that using Ableton is superior to CDJs, turntables, etc… I’m just saying that there should be more time and passion put into live sets from producers and DJs. If the money is in that don’t start thinking what type of stage, lights, lasers, etc… you have when you show up before you’ve considered spending a good amount of time into a unique experience when you’re playing the music live. Now imagine if all those things you can do to manipulate the sound are mapped to your stage… Now that’s what I’d love to see more. This is not to say that it’s not done by some but I think this topic deserves some more light in the industry.

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  • February 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Very good post! More like this!

  • February 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    No matter what the medium is, there will always be those who have it mastered, and those who are doing the bare minimum. It’s a lot more than just pushing play when you’ve got 3-4 tracks going at the same time, adjusting 3-4 different EQ knobs with 2 hands, and controlling the levels to such a point where you’re crafting the sounds to flow from song to song and not notice when/where/or what just happened when you listen to it. But alas, there are a lot of people around who just do the bare minimum, not because that’s all they are capable of achieving, but because they dont want to put 110% into it. Good read though, got some good points going on in there.

  • Tim green
    February 7, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Yo Afro Monk,
    Yo totally solid post. It’s called Evolution! Although everyone is entitled to their own preference and opinion…….How you can you not be at least excited about the passion of ease of artistic conveyance, brought about by such new technologies. A long time ago I said the point is to convey/apethize(sp)(word) lol ….a feeling, inflection, perspective, idea. Once that is done. Your like h*** s**** “You get it. You feel, it you understand, or you at least felt what I had to say through my medium. And props to the people who can do that.

  • March 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Love this post

    Great read with a lot of good points, I’m a DJ but am also someone who uses abelton for production and given time will develop my sound to a point where going live is the only option.

    DJing well in itself is a skill and as you’ve pointed out if you’re not going to use all the tools at you’re disposal then there’s a limit to what you can do. Using effects, faders etc is just as important as general mixing and the real skill lies in using those tools effectively something not everyone can do.


  • Katzrow
    March 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Let me preempt by saying that we share many of the same opinions on music/the industry, but I’m wondering…do you draw a distinction between DJing and live performance? So while I agree that the technical components of a detailed Ableton set (performance) may outnumber those involved in a set done in Serato (say, simply mixing between two channels, two sets of EQs, and a crossfader), in my opinion, the distinction lies in the improvisation. Now, I’m not saying that Ableton users are devoid of improvisation, but to your comment about Serato/CDJ users being the ones that are primarily the ones “just pressing play,” those arguably basic mixing abilities are (ideally) superimposed on top of greater, more complex musical knowledge regarding track selection, reading the crowd, and just going in at the right time. Maybe I’m mistaken, but from my experience, Ableton users generally put in much more work prior to a performance, and in effect, give a PERFORMANCE, showcasing all the work and talent that went into a PARTICULAR set. Now, that’s opposed to say, a Serato user who plans nothing but comes prepared with a large library through which he can search for and select the proper tracks at the right time. Maybe I can use the analogy that, in my mind, giving a live performance (crazy detailed ableton set) is like playing a digital instrument, whereas as DJing is more of a curation, the ability to create a musical experience, in realtime, that’s unique to a specific situation. I guess what I’m really wondering is, despite all the awesome things Ableton makes possible, do you (ableton users in general) really USUALLY have enough warped tracks to freestyle (casually mix on the fly)? If that’s not the case, then should be make a distinction between live performance and DJing? Hope I articulated this well enough and would like to know others’ thoughts on the subject

    P.S. I’m basing my thoughts, understanding of Ableton sets simply on personal experience (exposure to others people’s utilization of the program). I personally do not use it/know what’s fully possible.

    • March 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      I COMPLETELY am 100% behind you on your views.

      If you were to ask me how many tracks I have infront of me when I’m in that particular project. I’ll have usually between 500-700 tracks in front of me and I’m cueing the track with my headphones. So yes I take PRIDE in the fact that it’s about reading the crowd or completely expressing yourself in that moment of time. It’s fun 😉

      Ableton allows me to manipulate and play with all those tracks on the fly with my controller (as an instrument?) =D

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