Don’t Get Screwed! – A DJs Guide in Dealing with Bad Promoters

Having to deal with unprofessional event coordinators is awful.  You really have to wonder if is ever 100% preventable.  We can do our very best and still run into problematic situations. Sometimes there are red flags, while other times you don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late. My Mom always told me, “When you make a mistake, make sure you learn the lesson.” That my friend is what we are talking about today. How to hammer out details in advance, negotiate and make that paper while keeping your dignity intact. So let’s jump right into it.

The Booking
Anytime someone offers you a gig, STOP yourself from saying yes before you get the information you need. This is your chance to find out what sort of preparation and experience this person has.  You’ll want to ask about the party theme, musical style being booked, and what sort of equipment will be supplied. Is there a set time they’d like you to play and any of the headliners and supporting acts already on the bill? Stuff like the ticket price and venue capacity will also help you figure out a fair price. Lastly and especially if this is a newer promoter, ask them how they will be advertising their event.

Warning Signs
– There is no promise of pay or you are required to sell tickets in order to be paid. Incentives to sell are great, but at the end of the day you need an hourly rate. $50-$100 is not an unreasonable rate for supporting acts or use our Fee Calculator Here.

– If the promoter is in anyway hinting that other DJs are giving them a better deal and/or bringing their own gear. Negotiating a rate is normal but sharing personal details on what others are being paid is totally unprofessional. It’s not your problem if someone is playing for 50 cents an hour and supplying sound. You need to set standards.

– If there is no plan of action in promotions, the event is quickly approaching and no headliner nor other DJs have been confirmed.

– No one has heard of this person, promotional company nor know what they look like. You may have experienced it yourself. You search their profile put no personal photos. Sometimes many friends in common but no one has met them face to face.

– If they expect their talent to bring their own gear, ie. CDJ’s, turntables mixer and sound. It’s not uncommon now days for many DJs to bring their own computer or controller. Industry standards like Technics Turntables, Pioneer CDJ’s and DJM900 mixer are found at many top nightclubs. For one off events, it is the responsibility of an event coordinator to supply gear which often means they are renting and hiring their own sound engineer too.

Note: When asked to bring your own gear (if you feel comfortable bringing) always ask for a rental fee.

When running your own mobile DJ business doing weddings and corporate events this may be a part of your fee and not as uncommon for those artist to bring their own equipment. You may have a sliding scale depending on how many hours you play and some side gigs will supply sound but you need your own equipment. This is why you hammer out details in advance including your fee, to avoid confusion and issues later.

The Negotiation
Once you have enough information you should be able figure out a fair price that works well for both of you. This is a very important time because, even if in the kindness of your heart you think doing a free gig “for the music” is a good idea, often it is not. When people don’t have to pay for something they do not appreciate it as much. Gifts are wonderful from a friend but from the business side of things it can give the impression that you do not value your service. This includes the “nothing to lose” mentality. When event coordinators do not have to worry about paying their talent and equipment fees, there is no risk for them. This usually means that there is no real drive to put work into promoting their event.

Note: Some DJ’s enjoying trading work for work. For example some may trade graphic design or a professional photo shoot for a 3 hour DJ set. Make sure, if you are not getting money, you are negotiating fairly traded work.

Don't Get Screwed by Bad Promoters

Late Red Flags
Sometimes you do not notice the warning signs until it’s too late. Maybe your negotiations went smoothly and this person seemed legit but there were a few things that started to make you wonder about their motives. The following list are signs that you may be in for a nightmare and should enter with caution:

– You are quickly approaching the event date and there is little to no promotion, none or a poorly done flyer.

– You find out or notice they are simply spamming people’s walls and bugging all of your friends. As frustrating as little to no promotion is people don’t enjoy being overwhelmed by annoying emails or Facebook posts.  If the patrons just feel like another number they may be turned off by the event all together.

–  Other signs may be that the promoter is unresponsive and missing in action when you need details or have questions about equipment and ticket sales.

– They don’t show up at their own event. Like I said, too little to late warning signs. But there is good news because you can protect yourself even in these situations.

don't get screwed by bad promoters

Protecting Yourself: Out of Town Bookings
Never, ever confirm nor do an out of town booking without a contract and a 50% deposit in hand. Whether its fee plus flight, or a flat rate just don’t! My friend said it best. “Even if it’s your best friend keep the friendship by signing a contract.” It’s true and it’s saved me a lot of hassle many times. That means if you show up for your gig and the promoter did not supply the proper gear and you were unable to do your set, you still get paid. That also means if they cancel your show 2 days before the event, you still get paid. Why? Because you could have missed out on another booking, you prepared and fulfilled your end of the bargain and deserve to be compensated.

Protecting Yourself: Local Bookings
Only give as much as you are willing to lose. If you are working with a new promoter and you feel confident but know anything could go wrong don’t spend $100 on new music when you might not be seeing that $200 pay cheque. If you are following the steps about getting the details in advance often this prevents you from working with someone that has no clue about what they are doing or trying to scam you. On the slight chance it’s about manipulation and the end of the night rolls around and he/she flakes out, reach out.

Approach it with a firm “benefit of the doubt” attitude, requiring payment and a reasonable due date to pay.

Example Email:

Hello (promoter name),
I require a $200 payment for my services Dec.17 2014 from 7:00pm-11:00pm. As stated in your email I was to be paid in cash at the event however you were not there. I must have the payment by Tuesday Jan.06 2015. You can make a payment by cash or wireless money transfer to this email. (Invoice attached.)

Thank you.
(Name and contact phone number)

Don't get screwed - dealing with bad promoters

Your Responsibilities

As a part of a tightly knit community it can feel important to ensure that other DJ’s do not experience the same unfortunate situations. However, this can be a tricky thing to do while protecting your own image. In particular, situations where you have many respected faces looking up to you, a public slamming can come off extremely unprofessional. Even when you feel totally warranted in your reaction there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You need to ask yourself if you took this gig blindly. If you were taken advantaged of because you did not take the proper steps to protect yourself, complaining about the situation publicly can actually make you look unprofessional. Even though it was wrong what this person did, it’s important to take the lesson from this situation. What were the red flags and what would you have done differently knowing what you know now.
  2. Noting that even when you protect yourself to the best of your abilities some things happen out of your power. This is the time to either take legal actions or learn to let go of the situation all together. If you’ve taken the time to use contracts and secure deposits, you are often protected in taking those steps. If you are well connected it’s easy enough to fire off an email to your close friends to let them know your experience and to protect themselves if they choose to work with them. At the end of the day it’s about teaching your friends how to protect themselves from any potential scam. This guy may have duped you today, but this will eventually happen again with someone else. It won’t however happen to the dj that is taking those additional steps in the first place, or legal steps after the fact.

Ending Notes: Attack The Behaviour Not The Person
In many of these situations there are warning signs. As mentioned above, there are steps you can take to protect yourself in the future. Become more knowledgeable on what you watch out for, how to set yourself up, and share that knowledge. I believe that together we can create a scene where this doesn’t have to happen but we need to learn how to help one another out in ways that improve the quality of our night life. If you decide for whatever reasons the best route is to share the promoters name, understand the repercussions that will come with that and either let it go or do things differently the second time around. In ending this article I ask that you share this with the friends you believe can benefit from this information, so that we can help create the scene we want to thrive in.

Was this article helpful? What mistakes have you made and what did you learn from them?
Other articles you might enjoy: Why The Club Promoter Fails
Top 6 Promoter Pet Peeves

Brand Me Silly a creative marketing workshop with DJs and artists


2 thoughts on “Don’t Get Screwed! – A DJs Guide in Dealing with Bad Promoters

  1. David Michael says:

    Great advice here, Kilma.

    Especially fond of this part:

    “If the promoter in anyway is hinting that other DJs are giving him/her a better deal and bringing their own gear, negotiating a rate is normal but sharing personal details on what others are being paid is totally unprofessional. It’s not your problem if someone is playing for 50 cents an hour and supplying sound. You should set your standards.”

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