How much should DJs charge for their first few DJ gigs? It’s a perennial question asked by almost every fledgling DJ, but unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The following guide should, however, offer some clarity to help you decide.
When you are starting out, do not expect to make much money straight away; most DJs don’t initially make a living just from spinning decks. For the lucky few who succeeded in making it their full-time job, it took them a long time and a lot of hard work to get there. There is no such thing as an overnight success.
Charlie Hedges, House DJ and Kiss FM Breakfast host, got her foot in the door by doing work experience at a radio station when she was 13. This eventually led to paid work.
“They offered me a full-time job which I did whilst also studying for a BA in journalism,” said Hedges. “I started to teach myself to DJ at the studio after work, gradually got my own gigs and it all went from there. Eventually, I was playing clubs and festivals all over the world.”
Starting young seems to be a trend amongst the top DJs. Judge Jules, who had primetime sets on Radio 1 from 1997-2012, began at the age of 16.
“I started out by promoting events in my North London neighbourhood when I was 16; 16 being the time in one’s life when your social circle is at its biggest. It slowly snowballed from there,” said Judge Jules. “I promoted my own events for the following five years, before increasingly being noticed (and booked) by other promoters.”
Key factors influencing how much DJs should charge
How much DJs can charge, or what you’re initially offered, typically depends on the following factors:
• Your reputation and the type of music you play
• Your fan base and social media following, which influences how many people you can bring to the event
• The cost of you turning up and performing
• The club or client’s budget, the size of the event and their ability to pay
• The presence of competitors in your location or market niche
Taking all these factors into account, the figure really could range from next to nothing for a new DJ playing a small bar in a city awash with DJ talent, to charging hundreds or thousands for a wedding gig in a remote location where you’re the only real option. And once you’re a star DJ, six-figure sums aren’t out of the question. See this leaked price list from a leading entertainment agency for a better idea of what the top acts charge.
Let’s break down some of the other contributing factors in more detail.
It is wise to remember that it does actually cost you to DJ. You have to travel to the venue, you have invested in equipment and possibly some training, and you have insurance costs. (Venues are increasingly requiring DJs have Public Liability insurance as a minimum to cover them in the event of accidents involving attendees or private property.)
When you are working out your costs, you’ll need to consider all of the above. If you are using your own equipment, then consider having part of your fee include the cost of hiring out your gear as well as your time and skill.
From paying for free to getting a fee
Many DJs, when they are starting out, may have to do some gigs for free. Hedges explains how she went from free to fee-paying gigs.
“I did several free gigs at the start for sure, you have to. If you do a good job, they will want you back. That’s when you can start getting paid for gigs.”
Judge Jules also encourages fledgling DJs to use free gigs to gain experience, because in his opinion, being a bedroom DJ and understanding what makes a crowd tick are very different things.
Though free gigs are a good way to gain experience and exposure, do not do too many of them – you don’t want yourself or your fellow DJs to be exploited. If a free gig is offered and you don’t think it’s worth it, say no. It’s important that you don’t gain a reputation for being a pushover.
If you already have a following through another medium, then capitalise on this if possible. When lifestyle blogger Millie Cotton decided to branch out into DJing, she utilised the contacts she had already made through her blog It’s a LDN Thing.
“I approached brands I’d worked with through blogging and asked them to keep me in mind if they ever had any events that needed a DJ. I was insanely lucky that Nike hired me to do a seven-week residency in their Chelsea store to begin with.”
Negotiating with promoters and understanding the market rate
To negotiate the best fee, you need to know what your value is and the going rate for the gig.
“Ideally, you want to position yourself so that you can have an agent who does the negotiating for you,” said Judge Jules. However, he knows that when you are starting out this is not always possible. “Until that time, you should ask around other DJs to see what they’re charging, and pitch your price accordingly,” he added.
When it comes to negotiating, Hedges said it’s important to know your bargaining strength and how much the promoter wants you. Holding out for a big fee with a promoter that can easily find another DJ is asking for trouble. Cotton said that when she was scoping out her market, she made the most of her contacts and asked that they charge.
“I have a fair few PR mates who hire DJs for these sorts of things, so I asked them what they thought. I then asked my mates who throw a variety of club nights,” she said.
Flat fee or hourly rate?
A question asked by many new DJs is whether you should ask for a flat fee or set an hourly rate. Judge Jules always recommends charging a flat fee and Luke Hayes from the DJ trio Futuristic Polar Bears agrees. He recommends DJs should charge a flat fee that includes travel, accommodation, booking fee (if done via an agency) and VAT on top.
Hedges, on the other hand, has a more flexible approach. “Everyone works differently,” said the KISS FM DJ, “so discuss this with your management team at the start to decide what you think will work for you.”
How to make sure you get paid
Once you have secured the gig, you need to make sure you get paid. When Judge Jules is not DJing at the world’s best festivals, he moonlights as an entertainment lawyer. He says DJs should sign a contract whenever possible, even if it’s something very basic like setting out your fee, set time and duration, and when you’ll be paid.
He says you shouldn’t accept verbal agreements and should at least make sure all the details are set out at in an email at least. After all, if you don’t have a contract or have your agreement written down, it will be difficult to have any recourse if your fee is not paid.
How to add value to your DJ brand
As you climb the DJ ladder, you’ll need to know how to add value to your brand. One way to do this is to build a large and active social following like Cotton. A social media presence adds value as well as helping to bring in a sizeable paid guest list for club nights. These are key factors that promoters pay attention to.
When coming up with a price, Cotton factors in her collective following on her blog and on social media and uses it as a bargaining chip if she knows it’s of interest to the brand or club. Cotton also tailors her fee to the type of gig and the client’s budget. For example, she expects to be paid a higher fee from a corporate brand than for a club night.
Having a unique selling point is also important, as Hayes pointed out: “If you are in demand, or can offer the club something different, you are standing out from the crowd and look more desirable.”
Hedges agrees: “You’ve got to make sure that you’re worth the promoter’s money. This could be through building your own profile away from the club, releasing your own music or promoting your own mixes. As soon as you start getting your own fan base and bringing your own crowd down to shows, that’s when your value starts to increase.”
How to get better-paid gigs
Once you have gained experience and have made a few contacts, how do you get better-paid gigs? The conventional way is to make your own records or mixtapes and get them in front of people on SoundCloud and Spotify.
For Hayes and his crew at the Futuristic Polar Bears, they believe music production is essential to move forward. “The only way to get recognition as DJs, and to gain fans, is to produce music,” Hayes explained. “The key is to sign to the right labels that can push your music to right blogs and DJs, and spends money on promoting the release!”
But DJing is not just about money, of course. It’s also about passion too, said Hedges:
“My honest advice is to put the money aside in your head and just enjoy doing what you do. It’s an amazing career so have fun doing it as there’s no better feeling than playing to thousands of people.”
About the author
Insure4Music is trusted by thousands of musicians to keep their livelihoods on track when misfortune strikes. DJs, in particular, rely on us to protect them from public liability claims and protect their equipment from theft, loss and damage. Our DJ insurance policyholders and newsletter subscribers speak to us regularly, so we thought we’d compile their insights and those from the wider industry into this handy guide for up-and-coming DJs.