Realizing the Difference Between DJ Sets and Live PA

I have a lot of shows coming up in the Middle TN area. I love to play live. It’s one of the more cathartic things I do in life as an artist. I recently found out that I will be a part of Mashville in August. Mashville is the monthly DJ party here in Nashville where the best DJs play hip-hop, electronic, dubstep, and whatever other music they want. It’s always an honor to play. Here are some pictures from the last time I played Mashville.

Quiet Entertainer - Live at Limelight (Mashville)

Something odd happened at the last Mashville show. I had some fans come out to see me. After my set, they were all disappointed. One of them had brought her friends. She said, “Well I told them how awesome you were and that you had such a crazy energetic live show. But when we saw you, you were just playing records.” I was kind of taken aback. Did she not know that I was killing it? But then, I realized the problem. Normally, I don’t just DJ with records. My live show has developed into a unique blend of music, crowd engagement and performance art.

Quiet Entertainer - Live at The Basement 06/02/09

I recently learned of a term and genre for this called Live PA. The PA part stands for “Performing Artist.” This Live PA term is used to describe producers who recreate their studio environment while performing their tracks live. Usually, this is different from a typical DJ set where a DJ will play mix tracks that he might not have created himself. I do think that you can be both. Perhaps, the best DJs and Live PA artists are both. The Live PA forum states, “The “real” Live P.A.s take it further by recreating their studio sound live and have the expressive capability to improvise and change the music on the fly, because all of their instruments are right there with them on-stage.” Later, they go on to say, “…many of us grew up going to and playing in rock, jazz, and classical bands and concerts, where musicians play instruments live and put on a show for the audience. Some Live P.A.s also DJ, and some DJs also do a Live P.A., so the two performance methods go hand-in-hand for some musicians, while other more traditional musicians wouldn’t want to be caught dead behind turntables – it all depends on the person. ”
Check out Divinci of Solillaquists Of Sound

My goal as an artist and as a performer is to grow in the DJ world and the Live PA world. My favorite DJ, DJ Shadow, seems to move effortlessly between these two distinctions. For instance if you have his In Tune and On Time DVD/CD, you can see that he has lots of turntables, samplers, midi controllers; plus, he’s remixing it all live to create something completely different from the studio creation. Somehow I think this is what DJs can and should do anyway. However if you then listen to a Shadow mix such as this next one, you’ll note that he performs tracks of his own plus some other ones.
DJ Shadow In Los Angeles 10.31.09- Snippet by djshadow

Anyway! To avoid future disappointments, I will try and communicate what kind of set I will be doing. Either a Live set or a DJ set. If you see my name on a flyer with no distinction, it’s probably a live set. For instance here:


But if you see it and it says DJ set, well then obviously:


Eventually, I hope to grow to the point where this type of distinction isn’t necessary. At the same time, it’s kind of a fun problem to have. Would you rather watch a DJ set? or a Live PA set? You have any stories or comparisons? Let me know in the comments.

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About the Author Quiet Entertainer

Quiet Entertainer (that's me) is a DJ/Producer that blends ambient electronica with hip-hop. I'm based in Nashville, TN.

  • Mr. Tunes says:

    Yes always a tough debate, but a good one to have. I think the goal is to always blend the two worlds where you have the entertainment of a live show but the energy of a dj set

    • I think you’re spot on. So, this has been an eye opener and a wake-up call for me not to leave fans disappointed with my set. A lesson in humility but an opportunity to improve. Thanks for checking in over here!

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  • Jeff Dolan says:

    Great distinction that I hadn’t noticed before between the two types of sets.

    You definitely learned a lesson in changing your product. Personally, I like seeing your mixed set. I can hear music at home, but when I go out, I want to experience something beyond just the hearing, and I think you really engaged with the audience well in your Live PA set.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Cool stuff man, I love learning more about this kinda stuff cause it’s not really my thing. The more I understand the more I become interested.

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