Just like any creative vocation, DJs are in a constant battle to justify to people from every corner, that they should be paid for their work. From promoters thinking they can string along any number of young kids who just want time in the booth, to other DJs happy to show up and play a few tracks for free, it’s undeniable that competition has made it easy to find someone who’ll do it for, at most, a few pints.
The fallacy we come across over and over is “you’re already doing something you enjoy, isn’t money just a bonus?”, and it gets into the collective heads of the industry. It needs to stop. If you’re DJing for someone making money from your performance, you should get paid.
Do you think all those top DJ/producers make their money from selling music? Not a chance. There’s no money in producing. They make a living from playing their own and other artists’ music to crowds of people (and possibly running record labels).
WHY YOU SHOULD BE PAID
The first and most important reason is that you’re taking time out to perform a task for someone else. At its most basic, work is about being recompensed for your time. And that’s not even taking account of all the other factors: All the time and money spent digging for your carefully crafted music collection; all the time and money spent on equipment; all the time spent practicing, learning, organising. These all have value. To you, and to your client (the club/bar, promoter, happy couple, hairdressers, department store, etc.).
There’s also the fact that payment changes the expectations of the relationship. It adds professionalism. It adds value. And it creates a better contract between you and the client. Once money is involved, you’ll push yourself harder to impress, and to improve.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME :
The first hurdle any aspiring DJ has is the concept that not only what they do has value, but that they deserve the value they’re given. To some degree or another, everyone has that feeling that they somehow got to where they are through fluke, and that they don’t really belong and will get found out. This is called imposter syndrome.
And it can be a constant battle to overcome. But we’re also constantly having to battle with the Dunning-Kruger effect: usually people who seem to be doing well despite their seemingly remedial ability, who fail upwards without realising their skill level, usually through sheer shameless force of will.
But getting past this is a long game. Imposters will be found out, and they’ll slowly erode their own reputations. If you’re serious about your craft, you’ll be happy to play this out. Over time, your professionalism and reputation will carry more weight, and even the duckers and divers will appreciate your input.
WHY WORKING FOR FREE HURTS EVERYONE :
Offering valuable services for free lowers the bar for expectation, regardless of the quality offered.
There are plenty of examples of this in other industries. “A woman who runs a business making handmade baby clothes. It takes time, skill, and materials. As such, they’re well made, unique, and the very definition of premium. But the industry is riddled with competition that treats it as a hobby, undercutting prices by a huge margin because they “can just do this in my spare time”. Shoppers see this price disparity and inevitably go with the cheaper option, thus normalising prices at an unsustainable level.”
Another great example of this is the photography industry, where even with a value that can immediately be seen via the images themselves, there is a continual battle to justify price. Even after it gets broken down in both practical and abstract ways.
That’s not to say that everyone should be charging the same, or that every DJ has the same value. A wedding DJ should probably charge more than a resident down at the local bar, even if due to the fact they need and use more equipment and have a more varied music library. If you’re becoming better known in your area, your value inevitably goes up. But nobody should be out of pocket after spinning tunes somewhere that has gained something from your performance, be it money from a crowd of drinkers, or a promoter selling out a venue full of ravers.
If everyone respects the industry we’re in, then everyone wins.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The most important (and hardest) thing is to be consistent. Both with your own standards, and among other DJs. Work to promote fair pay, even when you’re drowning in chances.
One paid gig is worth many more unpaid ones. Not only do you get the money, but you also have said gig added to your CV, which works much more in your favour than “Playing in ten house parties”.
Create your own opportunities by running your own night and you’ll always have work, and it’ll open you up your local scene much faster than trying to get your foot in the door as a DJ. No, you won’t get paid, as such, for spinning tunes, but it’s then up to you to make the night successful and pull a profit as a promoter.
Since we’re out in fantasy land, unionising the DJ industry is an option. Other arts sectors already have this, including musicians, with the Screen Actors Guild being a highly successful example. In fact, the Guild is so influential, you basically can’t get work in Hollywood unless you’re a member, including credited cameos.
Finally, we can all up our game, be professional, and stick together. The bottom line is that with hard work and professionalism, we can beat the grifters of the DJ world.