Earn more money as a DJ

June 20, 2023
Written by
Buster Bennett
Earn more money as a DJ

Charging for DJ gigs

One of the most asked questions upon the completion of our courses is 'How much should I charge for a DJ gig?' Well there's no simplistic answer but here are some points you should consider while making up your mind...

Remember your costs

Promoters often seem oblivious to this but it actually costs you to DJ. You have to travel to the gig, you have to invest in training, equipment and music. Are you also providing DJ equipment? If so you should charge extra for that and any associated transport or insurance costs. It's worth noting that mobile DJ's should have public liability insurance so make sure you're covered for every eventuality and get some. If you're looking for good DJ insurance try DJ Guard. Mobile DJ's who are not playing in licensed venues should also be paying a license fee to PRS. Try and calculate exactly how much the gig will cost you so you can make sure you cover the fees at the very least.

Working out your value

You should have a clear idea of what you are worth as a DJ, you can base this on how many years of professional experience you have playing events, your promotional outreach (Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud followers) and your promotional material (photos, videos, released tracks and online mixes). You can compare your rates to other DJ's in your scene but be careful not to undersell yourself. Underselling yourself devalues not just you but the whole industry. Admittedly it's hard sometimes when there are other hobbyist DJ's who are willing to play for free just for fun. You will need to make sure you offer something more valuable to the promoter to get around this.

Don't charge an hourly fee

New DJ's often think that you should charge hourly, while this is suitable for some mobile DJ's this is not the norm for club DJ'ing. Instead you should charge a fee for your set, after all you'll probably only play once that night.

Have a USP

Only dead fish go with the flow, make sure you have a unique selling point which differentiates you from the crowd. The more unique you are the more attention you get, the more followers you get and the more valuable you become to a promoter. You could focus on one particular style of music and try and to become the best in that field but this is a two-edged sword, the more niche you are the less commercially viable you become. Well, that's not always the case, look at Aphex Twin for example, his sound is very niche but its so far out there it's commercially successful. Try to avoid jumping on a bandwagon that's already left, genres come and go in waves and you don't want to be seen as the last on board! It's better to catch an up-wave than a down-wave! USP's can come in all shapes and forms, for example, gimmicks like robot suits, mouse masks etc are clearly working. Visuals play a big role in making a DJ stand out from the crowd so have a unique look and sound and you'll be laughing. You can also add value to your sets by taking your performance to the next level by performing a live act. You can learn how to perform some or all of your set live using a range of electronic instruments.

Use leverage

Once you propose a fee the promoter will normally come back at you with a counter-offer. To help you negotiate a good rate and stand your ground you should have some tools to use as leverage. For example, you could justify your fee or add-on value by including promotion into the booking. Many DJ's will build a mail-out list for promotional purposes (If you're looking for a mail-out provider try Mailchimp). Propose to the promoter that you will issue a mail out for the event to your database and use that to get a bigger fee. Do you have an interview coming up in a magazine, paper or blog? Well if you do why not say you'll name-drop the gig to help them get some free advertising for their event. You may have a radio show planned where you can plug the event as well, all these things add value to your booking.

Are you a DJ or a Promoter?

Often DJ's moan about having to promote a gig, surely that's the promoters job? The reality is that DJ's are expected to be involved in the event promotion at every level. It's beneficial for the event and in turn for your exposure. Make sure you make use of your social media profiles and update your followers on your gig roster. Try using Bands In Town for help announcing gigs as well as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you can prove to the promoter you have a fan base who want to come and see you perform you can command a higher fee.

Playing for exposure

Depending on the type of event, the venue, the promoters behind the night, the day of the week and the slot you have been given (there's a lot of different factors!) playing for exposure can hold infinite value or be absolutely worthless. This is something you will need to make an educated call on. Be wary though, the more you circulate the cheaper you appear, learn to say no and make your shows a special rarity for extra attention.

Deciding on your fee

You need to be clever about this! You don't want to sell yourself short but at the same time, you want to ensure you get the gig. You should try to estimate and balance the takings and the cost of the night to come to a fair fee. Take into consideration the amount the promoter stands to make from the event. If its a 500+ capacity venue, they are charging £25 a ticket, the event is selling well and you are playing alongside 2 other DJ's who are building themselves up you will want to be paid a decent wage and can ask for considerably more than you would if you were heading to a 150 capacity venue charging just £3 on the door. Compare your fees with other DJ's and offer value to the promoter to secure the deal. This is a hard task to master! You will need to be fair but firm.

Embarrassed when it comes to talking about money?

Don't be. Everyone needs to pay the rent! But, if you aren't a natural negotiator it might be better to get someone to talk on your behalf. Most acts don't get offered management until they are already famous but you can always ask a friend to help negotiate as your pseudo manager. Negotiating face-to-face can often be harder as it's easy to be bashful and get pushed over into something you don't really want to do. If this sounds like you make sure you use e-mail for all negotiation of fees. E-mail is more detached from emotion and you can think about everything in your own time before committing with the send button!

Get more value from the promoter

Apart from the exposure of the gig there is value to be sought. Promoters often have contacts which can help accelerate your exposure overall. Perhaps the promoter can't pay you the desired amount, well then how else can they make it up to you? Perhaps they can interview you for their blog or event page, perhaps they can post your top ten or mixtape? Perhaps they can project your logo while you DJ or help you promote your message another way? You can often add more value to your booking just by asking.

Protecting your payment

It's essential to use written agreements to lay out your terms and conditions clearly to avoid any miscommunications. You should also use a tech rider to make sure the promoter is providing you with the correct equipment on the night. It's far too easy to turn up, play your set and end up leaving with less money that you started out with because the promoter laments that they 'didn't make enough money on the door'. Be sure to get written confirmation by email because this way you have solid proof of your agreed fee. If you think it's suitable, and it won't scare them off then arrange a 50% deposit in advance when booking. You should have a cancellation policy to protect yourself in case the promoter cancels the event at short notice, in this case they should lose their deposit. Remember, DJ's often make all their earnings on Friday and Saturday night so if just one of those gigs gets cancelled that's half your weekly earnings gone.

Is the promoter trying to get you to DJ for free?

Sometimes a promoter might want you to play for free. This might be worth your while if you need experience and practice playing for a crowd but if you've been DJing for a long time and it's a full-time job it's not the right thing to do. Say no if you think it's not worth your while. If you play hard to get the chances are they will come back with an offer worth considering or at least they will respect you for not being a push-over! Do the odd free gig if you think you're getting exposure or you just want a fun night out but remember it costs you to DJ. If you're being asked to DJ for free it's also often a sign that you're dealing with a promoter who is new to the game, and therefore probably a lot less organised an unprofessional, working with them could undermine your reputation. Be aware that the reputation of those you work with will rub off on you.

Do you need to sell tickets to play at the gig?

Many events nowadays require the DJ to sell tickets to take part. This business model seems to have popped up over the last ten years as DJing became more popular and competition for gigs intensified. It goes like this, a big club which has multiple rooms allows sub-promoters to come and host the smaller rooms. The sub-promoter gets the benefit of exposure and the link to a reputable club and the club gets the benefit of out-sourcing the promotion of the room and the sales in tickets, all without having to pay anyone! Sales on tickets normally involve a nominal commission depending on the event. If you think it's worth it and the exposure is good this might be a good option for you but in the long term, it won't be sustainable.

Want to make more money from your gigs?

If you want to avoid most of the above and make more money from your gigs you will need to combine your USP with some serious talent, exposure and business savvy. Only the top DJ's get paid sizeable fees and to get there you need dedication, talent, the gift of the gab and a lot of hustlin'! DJing is a super-star economy similar to football, there are many hobbyists doing it on a Saturday and then there's the big league with DJ's walking away with over a million a gig! Aim high and you could reach your goals. It's worth noting that DJ's rarely ever become commercially successful nowadays unless they are also producers with successful releases. Don't expect to get paid enough to sustain a living unless you get serious and get in the studio.

Minimum suggested DJ fees (don't take this too seriously!)

Okay, this is a tough one to write about and a huge generalisation so do take it with a pinch of salt please! We think a suitable minimum standard for clubs/bars to pay DJ's should be 5% of the bar while they play. There are so many variables to consider in this calculation but the bar takings are a good and consistent performance-based fee. For example, if a bar or club takes £3000 on the bar over the course of your 3-hour DJ set then a reasonable fee could be calculated as 5% of that, making £150. Of course, if there are three of you playing one-hour sets then the fee would be split leaving £50 each. Bar takings can vary dramatically, of course, some venues might only pull a £1000 over the bar while others will have no problem hitting the tens of thousands. Remember this is not to be taken too seriously and is intended to inform DJs and promoters what could be a good minimum standard for novice or newbie DJs. Experienced DJ's and artists will expect more.

Join a DJ Agency

Find a local DJ agency in your city (We recommend EPIC. DJ Agency in London) A DJ agency might help you find paid DJ work within your region. Most DJ agencies will source DJs for wedding receptions, birthday parties, corporate events, christmas parties etc. See if there is a DJ agency you can join.

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