DJs – Stop playing for free !

This is a photo posted on Facebook that created a fair bit of discussion. Respect to Marc Atkins for the original post.

I disagree wholeheartedly with the sweeping argument that DJs should not play for free. It is too much of a general statement.

A few months ago I had a lengthy discussion on a large website. I’m not even sure if I covered this in a blog of my own before ! Anyway… the debate was regarding journalists/artists/musicians etc working for free and the people just couldn’t understand my point of view that, if it is mutually beneficial, of course it makes sense to work for free.

This does not mean that promoters can compromise the quality of DJs they are booking in favour of a smaller budget or indeed CHARGE DJs to play at their venues, that obviously is lazy and questionable. At the same time, I also see nothing wrong with giving an up-and-coming DJ an opportunity to play at an event if they can sell tickets and bring a crowd. That’s just good marketing, no ? Again, this only stands if the DJ is of a decent quality and the music is in line with the brand’s identity.

When I started out I was able to play at several of the UK’s biggest clubs because I approached THEM and offered to bring coach loads of people if I could get a slot in the back room, or a warm up set – whatever the time ! I got to play at ALL of the ‘Super Clubs’ and that attitude got me an 18 month residency at one of London’s biggest events at the time (Mud Club – Bagley’s*) because I was able to prove myself once I got my foot in the door. That and possibly the 250 people I took with me on 5 coaches from Birmingham ! The residency was not dependant on me bringing any more people again, just to be clear.

I have been around a long time. I’ve watched people happily play for free (yes for myself as well, I have no shame in admitting that many DJs play at some of my events for free and I have my reasons for that which I won’t try to defend), I’ve then watched the same DJs get a little exposure and suddenly start asking to get paid because they think they are worth it. Define “worth it” !

The same applies to vocalists and producers. Eager to sing/remix for free at the start of their careers, then all of a sudden demanding (relatively) ridiculous fees to even lay a beat or one vocal line on a track. Needless to say the ones that are justified in their demands continue to do well, the others (of which there are many) fall by the wayside in a pool of delusion and self-pity. Who is to say what is right and wrong ?

Why do these people start out making / playing music ? For the love, right ? So when does this all of a sudden turn into them feeling they should get paid for their time when really, in the cold light of day and in a business model of any common sense, they just really aren’t worth anything ? Wow, I just read that back and it sounds a lot nastier and more harsh than the intended delivery but I’ll leave it there.

Many years ago I used to attend WMC in Miami. I gladly played at several huge events, warming up for my heroes, on line-ups many can only dream of. Most of these events, in fact 99% of them, I played for free. I’m sure it’s still the same now on the soulful house circuit out there and I’d hazard a guess that some of the parties in ADE operate the same way. If there is no budget and no one is taken advantage of (i.e the promoter earns thousands and the DJs that actually put on the show don’t get a penny) then I believe this to be acceptable. It’s a win-win scenario where everyone benefits from being involved, no ?

I could go on and on, anyway – here’s the thread off my own wall, be sure to click back to the original photo from Marc as well to see some other good arguments.

*I have to give credit to my mate Alex who made the introduction back in the 90s to Colin at Bagley’s.

Enjoy that ?

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