Negotiating wages and benefits in your career not only helps secure a living but sets standards and requirements for the people you work with. This idea appears to be lost on many artists. All too often people put those requirements aside because it doesn’t feel like work. What many fail to see is how it can negatively affect not only the value others put in them but the quality of their local scene. While disc-jockeys seem to have many more responsibilities now a days, all too often they are not being fairly compensated. With no real risk or obligations set for many of these promoters we find an over-saturated market with a quantity of underwhelming events. These are the 7 reasons I believe you should never do a dj gig for free.
1. Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free?
Are you handing out the goodies for free? For some, djing has turn into the dating world’s faux pas. People become questionable about the product or service they are getting when they get it for so cheap or even free. It’s important to set standards for oneself and that means a reasonable price, with requirements that everyone can be happy with.
2. Hobby vs. Pay Cheque
To you doing a DJ gig might just be this fun thing you do that feels really great. For someone else it’s not just their passion but income. If you lost your job tomorrow because someone was willing to do yours for free or even half the price, what implications would that have on the quality of your life?
3. Quantity vs Quality
When there is an over saturated market of promoters cutting corners wherever they can and artists so desperate to play they will dj for free, everyone misses out. Quality events have less attendance, quality DJs often are missed out on and it brings down the overall experience people have when they go out to these parties.
4. Undercutting Other DJs:
I like to use the example of sweatshops vs. buying local. When clubs can get their DJs for cheap or free they often stop focusing on quality artists. It’s not just a pay cut for you, but for everyone. This often means that you’ve got DJs that may need a bit more time practicing before playing out those headlining slots.
Note: While it’s not uncommon for a newer dj to do a few opening slots in the beginning of their career (year 1) as they get used to playing out live, it’s not good practice when it’s headlining slots with no pay as well.
5. Giving the DJ a bad name
While someone with more experience can create a really great atmosphere noting the settings that they are in, some of the less experienced DJs can create almost an underwhelming or overload of bad choice in music ruining the experience for others. For example: Playing heavy hitters in a lounge environment where people are drinking wine and eating their dinner.
6. Your Value
If someone asks you what your fee is and you low ball it or offer it up for free, they may question your abilities. It’s like the photographer that offers you a ridiculously discounted rate, you may be questioning if they are capable of coming up with a product worth sharing in the first place.
7. No Risk No Gain
Ever hear someone say they are “doing it for the music.” What if you were actually causing more trouble for the “scene?” When there is little to no risk for a promoter there is no real drive to deliver. As talked about in Don’t Get Screwed, when djs don’t establish ground rules some promoters will walk all over them. This may even mean the djs themselves are not putting as much work into their DJ sets or promotion with no promise of pay.
When is it okay?
Sometimes your have to make a mistake in order to learn this answer. For example someone might tell you that it will be great exposure to come out and do a gig for free but fail in doing any real promotion for their event. At the end of the day, there is always a payoff. Even for the dj that does the free gig and no one shows up. To them it’s the chance to practice, put another date on their booked sheet or maybe they got some great networking done and landed paying gigs. At the end of the day you must know your value and what is worth your time. Maybe it’s helping out a friend, maybe it is trading work for work. Anytime you decide to do free work, it’s important to ask yourself, “What’s in it for me? How might it affect me in the future? What impact will it have on my scene?”
Creating The Scene You Want To Be In:
While some people think undercutting djs will get them ahead, in the long run it won’t last. When a group of people stand together and require better treatment it is a very powerful thing. As we don’t have a dj union it’s important that as individuals you set your standards. Sharing that success and knowledge to band together is just as important too. In order to create equal opportunities for all we must be the change we want to see in others. I am a true believer that when we stand together we make an impact.
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