7 Ways to Stop Being a Freejay & Start Being a DJ

| Read time: 4 mins
beginner gigs howto money wages
Last updated 5 April, 2018

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Freejay
Do you give away the goods too cheap? Learn how to get what you’re worth.

What do you charge for a DJ set? Do you think you get paid enough? Ever wondered how some DJs seem to get all the gigs and all the cash, leaving the rest to scrabble around for the pickings that are left? Worry no more. Here are seven ways to help you land the gigs that actually pay, and to make sure you earn something from your DJing once you have. After all, nobody wants to be a “freejay”… do they?

1. Go for the right gigs

Not all gigs pay. There are DJs playing gigs that’ll never earn them money.

For instance, I DJ in a small bar round the corner from the Digital DJ Tips office. They don’t normally have DJs. I do it to test out new kit in public without the hassle of having to put on a real big show. I get a few beers, and they get a real DJ for a change. Everyone’s happy.

No DJs, only freejays
If they don\’t have DJs, they\’re unlikely to have you as their first AND pay you for the privilege.

But unless it’s a special occasion (and they’ve requested a DJ), they can’t afford to pay me. That’s fine – we both win. But you know what? They gets loads of DJs asking for paid gigs, because they’ve seen me playing there and assume I’m getting paid. And the truth is, these freejays never get a paid gig from that bar!

Rule 1: If you want a gig that pays, get one in a place where DJs are already being paid.

2. Know how much to ask for

You need to know what the venue you’re targeting usually pay for DJs, and what exactly the DJs do for the money. For instance, does the venue have house DJs who play 3 or 4 nights for a set fee? What is that fee? Does the venue book guest DJs and pay them at a different rate to the residents?

Most DJs won’t tell you what they’re paid, but word your questions well and you’ll be surprised what you can find out. (“I wish I could get $500 for three hour’ work,” may get you the response “Nah, I work from 8 till 12 and only get $200!” for instance…)

However you do it, you need to know the range of payment made to DJs at the venue before you ask for your gig. If they’re all freejays, move on.

Rule 2: Know how much the other DJs are getting paid.

3. Find out which person to talk to

If it’s a chain bar and bookings are all done centrally or at a big bar in the chain, you need to know this. Do they use different promoters, or handle all of the bookings themselves? Can you approach those promoters instead of the venue? If bookings are done here, which manager makes them?

Bar staff
Ask the bar staff who handles DJ bookings.

Information is power here, so you’ve got to start asking. Just get chatting to the bar staff or other DJs and you’ll soon find out who to approach.

Rule 3: Make sure you’re negotiating with the person who has the power to say yes.

4. Remember what you’re worth

You love DJing, and because of that, it’s easy to forget the work you’ve put into it. You’ve worshipped music all your life. You’ve collected hundreds of tracks, researched countless other DJs, thought hard about your style and tracked down many hard-to-find tunes to make your set different. You’ve practised for months or years, made mixtapes…

On top of that, you’ve now put the time in to find the right gig, and you already know what they pay. You’ve earned the right to get that payment! Don’t forget this as soon as you open your mouth to ask.

Rule 4: Don’t forget that DJing is a job and people who do jobs get paid.

5. Give more in value than you take in money

So you’ve done the hard part, got a gig. You’re on the road to stopping being a freejay. Well done! Now it’s time to blow everyone away. Turn up early. Play a brilliant set. Bring a lot of people with you (Facebook, Twitter, bribes, hissyfits, just get them down).

Happy DJs make happy crowds.
Happy DJs make for happy crowds… and higher wages.

Make an effort with what you wear. Behave impeccably. Be friendly.

Don’t get irritable with drunks or trainspotters – these guys are buying drinks and paying your wages tonight. Don’t get drunk yourself. In short, give more than you get. This helps safeguard your future earnings.

Rule 5: Deliver the most value you can for the money you are paid.

6. Promote yourself to maximise your cash

Look, a Tuesday night in a sports bar is never going to earn you a lot. But if you’re there, playing, and getting a few dollars and some drinks, that should be only the start of it.

Give out cards with your SoundCloud page on them. Give out CDs. Ask people who talk to you whether they are having parties they need DJs for. I get offered gigs often by people walking up to me when I’m DJing! (This is easier in bars than in clubs as you are more accessible.)

People are much more likely to book you when they know and have heard you.

Rule 6: Your crowd are great potential customers. Make sure they know who you are and can get in touch with you.

7. Make sure you talk to the manager before he goes home

You want to talk to him for two reasons. First, he can give you another booking. Ask how it went for him, listen if he gives you pointers or asks for changes, then confidently make your request. “Same time next Friday?” with a smile will make it easier for him to get carried along and say “yes”!

Second, he is often the only one who can pay you. You don’t want the bar staff to deny all knowledge of your wage at the end of the night because Mr or Miss Manager has taken an early bath. So confirming who’s paying you and when, then grabbing them at the end (or at least before they go), is a smart move.

Rule 7: Know who’s paying you and who can give you another booking, and secure both things before they leave.

Finally…

The genius artist Picasso was once walking through a park when a woman recognised and approached him, and asked if he’d sketch her.

Erm, Picasso, that's rubbish!
Sorry mate, you\’ve got the eyebrows all wrong.

He agreed, and after studying her for a minute, drew her in just one pencil stroke. She was amazed at the picture, and asked how much it was.

“$5000,” said Picasso.

“But it only took you a second to draw it!” she said, flabbergasted.

“Madame,” he responded, “It took my entire life.”

Take a leaf from Picasso’s book when it comes to getting paid. Always try and remember what you’re worth. Don’t be a freejay!

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