Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Rise Of The £50 DJ & Those Who Undercut

Technology has no doubt made our working lives a lot easier. We no longer have to haul crates of records to a gig anymore, and we can carry tens of thousands of songs with us on a laptop. In some ways it's a blessing...But I'll be real honest with you. The DJ game is pretty fucked up right now.

As all this technology and music is widely available, it means that any Tom Dick and Harry can become a fucking DJ. Once they've gone out and purchased a Serato/Traktor box and a laptop, and downloaded the Top 100 songs on Beatport or iTunes, they then automatically assume that they are ready to play out. As a result, standards are slipping. Before, we used to practise our mixing skills in order to make sure we were competent enough to perform in public. Nowadays, kids don't want to put the effort in. They don't want to practise. They don't want to learn how to put a coherent set together. They want to be able to start playing at clubs within a week of buying their first set up.

The number of DJs today are increasing at an alarming rate, and because they're all fighting for a spot to play out, and to prove their [lack of] skill, they are all willing to play for a cheap as possible, or even worse, undercut other DJs to get that gig.

Now, undercutting isn't new. It's existed for years, and is present in all other professions. But it really is at an all time high right now within the nightclub industry.

Not only do I find it morally wrong to use snake-like tactics to grab someone else's spot, I must ask you this. Do you not realise that by undercutting everyone and being happy to play for peanuts, you are in fact helping to drive prices down worldwide?

As I mentioned in my last post, you're only playing yourself if you are willing to DJ for £50; even if you are doing more than one night a week.


Now kids, you might think you're living the life by doing loads of gigs because you've undercut everyone, but let's do some simple maths and break it all down.

Let's say for instance, that you play up to 5 nights a week, from 10pm-3am (average nightclub opening times) for 50 quid a night. That's £250 gross income for 25 hours. You'll most likely leave for work about an hour before you're due to play, and will probably get home an hour later after you finish for the night. That's another 10 hours per week added on to your total.

You might spend a few hours a week getting new music, updating your social networks, etc. Let's say that takes around another 7 hours per week on average (1 hour per day). That's already 42 hours' worth of work per week for £250.

Now let's deduct the costs.

If you drive to most of your gigs, you'll no doubt have to fill up on petrol or diesel. The average person spends about £25 on petrol, so let's say for argument's sake that you spend £50, which also includes any car park fees that you might incur.

Unless you play really shitty YouTube rips in the club, you most likely buy your music via Beatport or iTunes, or a pay a subscription to an online record pool. £10 per week, maybe?

You might even fork out for food and drinks (depending on whether you get a bar tab thrown in), which might set you back another £10 per week, depending on how much you drink.

So with all those costs deducted, you work a 42 hour week for £180.

Divide £180 by 42 hours, and you get £4.29 per hour. Congratulations, you've just earned less than minimum wage! How stupid do you feel now?

Remember that DJ-ing can have its dry periods, so even if you are undercutting everyone to get work, you're not always going to have a regular income…

If you're one of those DJs who holds down a full time job however, and merely does this as a hobby, it's still no excuse to play for chump change. If you don't value your worth as a DJ, or aren't willing to take it seriously, then please stick to making mixtapes in your bedroom or playing on an internet radio station. Do not venture into our line of business, undercut those who do this as a career and fuck up their money. Not only will it hinder you from upping your fee later down the line, you could also earn the reputation as a snake within the DJ community, and even end up on the receiving end of a beat down. Trust me, I saw it happen to someone. It wasn't pretty, but that guy certainly learnt his lesson.

I propose that all new DJs must complete some kind of test or achieve some kind of legit qualification similar to tradesman, in order to go out and get legitimate work. That way, it'll separate the time wasters from those who want to succeed and build a career.

Overall, I know that as DJs, we are technically selling a service to venues and promoters. But please remember this - Cheaper does not always mean better. You get what you pay for.

Next time, I'll be addressing the issue of ticket selling bookings, and idiot promoters who expect you to play for free, seeing as they too are equally to blame for this current culture of £50 DJs.

Take care, and remember not to take any requests, even if they think "everyone will dance to it".


  1. Perfectly said, and is the same with actors who do free gigs etc..muppets really.

  2. I'm not sure what planet you're living on to advocate that £250 is a reasonable fee to DJ, unless you're playing to at least a thousand+ size venue - generally found in larger cities.

    Obviously, fees are often reflective of the promoter and 'talent' being acquired, but there are hobbyists and 'part timers' who still get a kick out of DJing for a few drinks and a token amount of money.

    I'm not sure how long you've been DJing, or whether you've experienced DJing in smaller towns out of necessity - but the £250 fee is make believe.

    I've DJed for peanuts and not minded - I'll do the odd charity event - and whilst it's important not to diminish the value of the DJ, the main issue lies with the promoters.

    In these times of austerity, if there are no other offers on the table, DJs will concede and take a lower fee. Who are you to blame them for that? It is their perrogative to take it and do as they wish.

    Poor DJs and bedroom DJs soon get weeded out - more often then not, they cannot read an audience, don't have the breadth of knowledge of a musical back catalogue and are inept at the mixing.

    I've been DJing for over 15 years now, from pubs, strip clubs, large clubs, support tour DJ and major festivals. (not gonna name drop here). All of that wasn't built up from being a snooty bastard and refusing to DJ for nothing in the first place.

    We all start from somewhere. Quit with the elitism.

    1. Thanks for your comments guys.

      Neil - where have I stated that £250 is a reasonable fee for a local gig? I was talking about a weekly gross income...

      Correct, poor DJs will get weeded out, but the point I'm trying to make is that people need to know their worth, especially if you're making a career of this.

      It's funny how people are quick to diminish DJs, call us "elitist" and remind us that we're supposed to be doing this for enjoyment, yet overlook other creative roles such as session musicians, graphic designers, photographers, etc, who all suffer a similar dilemma.

      As for myself - I have also been dj-ing for over 15 years. Held down a radio show on a major UK station for a few years, put out a few records, played in well over 10 countries, and am still very active today. Who I am is irrelevant though, but I do speak for a large number of DJs who share the same frustrations.

      I too started from somewhere, but I learnt very early on not to undervalue myself and my craft.

    2. elitism? not sure about that, what town/small village do you come from?

      In B'ham anyway thats an expected fee at a decent club for just an hour, and sometimes more depending on the night. Totally agree with a lot of your points though, and I don't think virtualDJ really helps, kids think they can mix tracks when they haven't even heard of beat matching! There was a big debate in my town about some DJs playing free sets and pissed a lot of people off, especially those that do it full time and make a living from it, and then when new promoters pop up they try and lowball DJs, who might agree just to help out, which then effectively ruins the entire night.

      As regards your comment towards other creative roles, I honestly think graphic designers get it the worst, especially people who think they can get away with having flyers and posters designed for absolutely fuck all! But that's another matter....

    3. Thanks for your comment Stuart.

      I think Virtual DJ has definitely been a factor in the rise of cheap DJs. My experience with the Birmingham club scene has been pretty good so far. I'm from the south of England, so I can't really comment too much as I don't hold down a weekly spot in those parts.

      I have a number of friends who are graphic designers and yes, promoters definitely try and take the piss! It doesn't help either that kids can download a cracked copy of Illustrator, and that a lot of nightclubs pretty much use the same generic stock images and fonts. I might get one of them to start a blog, haha!

      Thanks for reading the blog.

  3. I run an entertainment agency and 210-250 to a DJ is the norm in my experience
    Enjoyed your artical

  4. I haven't spun in public for about 15 years now but back when I decided to quit you got paid what you got paid. If you didn't like it you could either bugger off somewhere else or don't get paid & don't play out anywhere. Tough!

    Even when I started in 1988 there were always the Dave Doubledecks types who'd stand there playing whatever they wanted whether the crowd liked it or not, whether it sounded good or not, and frankly the majority of their attempts at mixing were HORRENDOUS. I remember one pub in my hometown which had singularly the worst DJ I've ever had the misfortune to hear. Imagine Tori Amos' Professional Widow, with Everything But The Girl - Missing over the top of it for the whole length of the song but without ever adjusting the pitch or position of either track. Yeah? Abysmal.

    I think there've always been people who thought they were God's gift to music, willing to undercut anybody & didn't give a flying fack whose face they stamped on to get ahead. People who wouldn't be able to hear a sound system in pain, red-lining everything until woofers pushed their cones past their excursion limits ..

    This isn't a new thing. That a number of promoters are opportunist lazy money grabbers is hardly a new idea either.

    If you're a small-time DJ in a small town the very best you can hope to haul in for a WHOLE NIGHT (never mind an hour) is, and has been for a long time, around 50 quid. Because no matter how good you are, yes there are plenty of other schmucks willing to do it for that or less.

    Venue owners want it all ways. They want to keep the bar take & the door take. Promoters want their slice of the wedge too. After everybody out to make a buck has taken their cut, it's time to pay people out of what's left... and you're gonna have to be lucky that's anything to write home about these days.

    If you're not in the fortunate position to be able to command higher fees (whether that's by reputation or some kind of fluke) you're not really in a place where you can dictate any terms.

    Do you spin for fun? Are you looking to get rich & be the next Oakenfold? Me? I was always happy if I broke even with a bit left over.. until I'd met one too many idiot drunks.. but that's a whole other sorry story.

  5. Well said,

    I do think the new bread of DJ's should earn their stripes in some way or form. To play for peanuts is a joke considering the breakdown you gave.

    A true DJ would spend the time and effort ensuring their set will go down a treat.

    Lots of valid points.

    Long live the Real DJ's

    1. Thanks for reading!

      I think with regard to earning stripes this can be done in a few ways. I feel inclined to run a "how to" section on the blog in the near future. Hopefully it'll encourage people to take DJ-ing more seriously.

  6. Thanks for commenting about this...it has been a big problem here on my island & is getting worst...Laptop DJ's & young kids not putting in the work, and all the other things you summarised...it's getting hard to keep the faith, do your best, put out great sets & earn the respect...I hope to bring change & teach the guys who really wants to learn DJ'ing 101...thanks for your article...keep it coming!!!-DJ Medusa, Aruba.

  7. I don t think djs are to blame, even the worst ones. I think promoters are to blame. They are the ones pulling the strings, aren't they?
    Isn't it their job to recognise a good dj from a fake?
    Part of the problem is that some promoters are happy to pay crap djs peanuts, so they can make maximum profit out of them, simple!
    Escuse the parallel, but for me, the dj game is becoming like the football industry!!!!
    Everybody can kick a ball, right? Well, everybody can pretend to be a dj too.
    Like in football, in the dj world nowadays, competition is fierce, if you want to get good money.
    You have the A league, with all the international stars and glamour.
    Then the B league with seriously good and pro djs, then the rest becomes increasingly mediocre with increasingly less money involved.
    Now, lower leagues promoters will go towards lower leagues djs, that seems logical to me,
    either by lack of funds or pure amateurism.
    It's down to the individual to work hard enough to make himself/herself eligible by professional promoters who are ready to give respectable money to respectable djs.

  8. And what about the promoters that book these djs? Bar managers who want to save a quick buck to book these djs?

    If I dont have a work permit and a greedy employer gives me a job for peanuts who gets fined?

    As much as these djs are to blame there is a bigger picture to all of this.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I'll be addressing the issue with promoters and club managers next time.

  9. I'd say this is slowly becoming a worldwide (or at least "Europe-wide" phenomenon).
    When you pay peanuts to DJs, you slowly force out the really good professional DJs, who cannot afford to DJ at those prices, as they have bills to pay (and other expenses). Instead you get monkeys, who cannot mix, or read the crowd or play the right tracks at the right time.

    And these lowballing DJs can, and will, hurt the reputation of your club! If the word goes around the town that your club looks nice, but the DJ is shit, then people will go elsewhere. It happened in my hometown, Turku (3rd biggest city in Finland). Years of undercutting and bad promoters all but destroyed the big clubs, until only one survived and has been raking in profits by having consistently good DJs (or even average guys, who just KNOW ho to play).

    A lot of promoters or club owners just DON'T get it, how much of a difference a solid good DJ, who costs 200€ + a night can make. On the long run. It is an INVESTMENT. But you have to support it with good promotion, bartenders, bouncers and such. When things go bad, they also have to know, who/what to blame (NOT ALWAYS the DJ or the MUSIC) and how to fix it...

    But yeah, 200€ should be the minimum fee, if you have a DJ. If he sucks at that price, replace him/her.

  10. Djs are now PAYING to do gigs

  11. As a DJ, musician and nightclub manager I understand all sides of the issue. The plain fact is that club owners simply want people at their club, sometimes an established more expensive DJ can meet those needs more effectively, sometimes a hobbyist can meet those needs quite well. The truth is that 'skills' are less desired by club owners and managers and networking/marketing are much more desirable. If a quality and more expensive DJ doesn't have a built in audience to pack a club, why would a club owner take the risk, when they can pay a couple of local 'club kids' at $50 for the night, who pretend to spin, but pack the place out with young, energetic vibrant club kids who spend money? It's a tough balance. When I was booking live music, I didn't even listen to demos, I gave all new bands a Thursday slot, if they brought out a ton of people, they moved to Friday/Saturday, my personal opinion of their music or their abilities was moot, it's a business. Certainly some clubs thrive off of the quality of their entertainment, if that's their market approach, but tons of venues just want music people will dance to and keep them there to spend money.

    1. Let me also add, I'm currently between jobs and I would have no issues making $50 for four hours of Dj'ing, not because I'm interested in undercutting but I'm intersted making some money, it would be great to find the $200 a night gig, but for the time being, $50 would go a long ways to helping me through this phase of unemployment.

    2. Venues need to understand though that if they're happy to put on less-quality acts/events, they can in turn damage their reputation. The latest post deals with that issue. I've seen many venues come and go because of this..

      Regarding undercutting, how would you feel though (in theory) if I were to come to your place of work and offer to do your job as a manager for much less, get the job and subsequently leave you out of work?

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  15. £50 for a couple hours work is more than I earn for my day job. So I take it as regular generic work. As I have learnt over 2 decades of working the niche sub genre bookings are often short lived as scenes change ever more rapidly. I could probably write an equally long article about why sometimes depending on the maths you should take that £50'.

  16. £50 for a couple hours work is more than I earn for my day job. So I take it as regular generic work. As I have learnt over 2 decades of working the niche sub genre bookings are often short lived as scenes change ever more rapidly. I could probably write an equally long article about why sometimes depending on the maths you should take that £50'.

  17. As a singer/songwriter who has been in the entertainment business for years, I agree that DJs, musicians and all artists should be paid a fair wage. Before I moved to Los Angeles, I never heard of "showcase" (performing for free in a club). Some even want you to sell tickets to your friends and give 100% of sales to owner. I did it one time and felt like a used fool afterwards. I'm not judging those that work for free or minimum wage, because we all have free will. But if you value your art others will too and they will pay you a fair wage. One Love... Aria √Član

  18. I simply wouldn't leave the house for 50 quid. My time with my family is worth more than that to me. If I'm going out to earn then that's exactly what I'm doing. I do think it's ok to do a few warm up gigs for free/ token payment to get yourself into the game, but pretty quickly you need to start valuing yourself.

  19. i used to dj vinyl in the 90s and 00s and there were loads of compitent dj's who'd learned on shitty vestax clones who would play for free... it's not something new.

  20. This is obviously written by a DJ who has never made music themselves, a human jukebox as I like to call them, that has no more to offer than playing other peoples music. I'm also assuming they were on "Pirate radio" Paying (not being paid) a drug dealer to play on their illegal setup. Don't get me wrong I myself was on many stations, using it as a tool to promote my music and that definately was a useful stepping stone to the career I now have. The point im trying to make is that just being on a pirate radio station and being able to mix on vinyl does not mean you are superior to anyone else therefore why should you command a superior fee. I met so many dickheads who thought they were special and im glad that finally technology has enabled people to realise that in fact anyone can be a DJ. The "DJ" scene was dominated in the early years buy the guys who could afford to buy the latest vinyl,thus pushing out the equally talented but less wealthy kids and even more to the point, music production was an expensive hobby but now we live in an age where the technology is available for a reasonable price in comparison to the equipment of yester year, thus enabling the talented to shine, not the wealthy. That being said I do agree that a lot of people dont put time and effort into their set, but if any promoter books a non producing Dj that doesnt even have a good set then im pretty sure they are gonna have a real shitty show and if they are just a DJ then who are they actually bringing to your show, what is their pull. If anything, guys playing for such a low fee is a good thing as it will eventually flush out the "beat matchers" and help the actual producers to perform and make some money from their music that is probably downloaded for free by the other guys.

  21. No mention of people wanting to Dj because it's their passion and a way to connect with people. That's a shame because you can't really put a price on that even if you are doing it as a hobby ot trying to make a career. Controlling the crowd through the music you play is a ritual. The money is a bonus not a prerequisite. And even IF you are playing all the top 100 from beatport it doesn't matter. It's not what you play it's how you play it, when you play it. You can play the same song 10 times in different mixes accomplishing it never sounding the same. Anyway, great article. Peace and love to you all.

  22. coming from a dj in the states i feel your pain bad.people very little understand what us dj go through to have a sucessful evening in a club wedding or private venue.the work of organizing the music and meeting with people standing on your feet for 4 to 8 hours or more plus dont realize how much the dj equipment is from amps speakers and laptops as such.and some people want you dj for free or tell you their gonna pay you.i demand to be paid decently for my passion and for how hard i please people.

  23. Excellent points made by everyone and I can relate to to so many of them.
    I realise that the initial article was written 5 years ago and monetary value will differ 5 years on but the issue is still there.
    From bedroom dj to local bars and clubs I found the best money is being a mobile dj. The downside is I have to bring and setup all the equipment required rather than just connecting into the club's system.

    I now run a successful mobile dj business and I employee a dj to work for me at busy times such as wedding season (may-september) and christmas (december)
    A typical saturday night rate for 5 hours starts from £150 upwards.
    Now going back to the original post...

    Out of that £150 the business needs to take a profit (to pay for repairs, replacement equipment, upgrades, to buy music, to pay for the relevant licenses to play music, insurances to cover equipment and dj. Employer liability insurance for the dj I employ... to name a few)

    Then the wage I pay myself I have to deduct income tax and national insurance contributions. To leave a net figure.

    After the above deductions I am left with approx £90 for 5 hours work.
    This does not take into consideration fuel for the van, tax/insurance on the van as well as maintenance/upkeep.

    I may have one or two gigs a week, or i may have none at all.

    In 2017 that is not enough to live off so I work a 42 hour day job to pay my bills.

    Being full legitimate, registered and running my business legally... how can I compete with a dj that will dj for £50 or even £100?
    It doesn't pay me to leave the house :(

  24. Very well said Frustrated DJ. I started my craft in my our basement when I was 9 yrs old, with a bunch of friends trying to select and mix tunes on Belt Driven Turn-Tables, with tunes played on the Radio. And had three or more friends lined up waiting for you to mess-up so they can jump on the decks, anyway bla, bla, bla. To keep it short, though I was a part-time DJ/ Promoter in B/ Mouth, I took it very seriously, as a result, I played in all the Big clubs in the town and along side Big names like Tim Westwood, Trevor Nelson,Tha Firing Squad, and The Dream Team. Not to mention K1 Radio. I say all this to say, just keeping it 100, I totally AGREE with Frustrated DJ.

    Just like the Industrial Revolution which lasted from 1760 to 1850 which took the jobs of tens of thousands in the UK some centuries ago, the Dj industry has been going through its own revolution since the advent of CD's, which was exacerbated by the advancement in digital download and playback technology.

    One tool that REAL skillful Djs have at their disposal, and are yet to exploit, is to UNITE, and start PROMOTING their own events and ONLY HIRE skilled Djs recognised in the Dj community for their skills as a WORTHY Dj.

    RESPECT if you have BEAR DJ SKILLS if you don't well, it will all come out in the wash.

    Peace out,


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