Four Ways Clubs Rip DJs Off

Phil Morse | Read time: 3 mins
business of djing promoting promotion
Last updated 26 November, 2017


Getting paid
It’s sometimes hard to keep in sight what you’re worth, especially in the face of sleazy tricks by insalubrious club operators.

We’re always telling you to get out there and get gigs, but whether you just get a booking at a local bar, lounge or club, or you decide to go all the way and actually put on an event of your own, there are always people out there who won’t play fair when it comes to paying you what was agreed. Let’s get one thing clear here: Running a club is hard work. You have to deal with the rough end of, at times, the law, the local gangsters, licensing, drunken punters, ego-fuelled promoters and DJs, doormen… No wonder some club managers get so frazzled and cynical.

But that doesn’t make it right to play these sneaky tricks on local up-and-coming DJs who want to perform or throw parties in their neighbourhood venues.

Four tricks clubs play on DJs

So if you’re thinking of booking your local club to give you a chance to DJ in front of your friends (good on you!), here’s a few age-old tricks to watch out for..

  1. The magical lowering wage – The classic. “Sorry, we weren’t very busy”. Well, if you as a DJ have been booked to play a DJ set, that’s not your problem. The bar staff will still have been paid, the doormen (if they have them) will still have been paid, you can rest assured the manager will still get paid… so why not you? DJing is NOT free – you spend time learning (time is money), you buy your gear, your tunes, you have to transport yourself and your kit, and you put time, effort and possibly money into promoting yourself. So you taking a “haircut” on your fee is unacceptable.The solution? Get a contract or get paid upfront.
  2. The arbitrary extra costs wheeze – You’ve negotiated a set fee for the night, either for DJing or to rent a venue. So why at the end of the night have extra fees mysteriously appeared before you get your meagre profits? Top candidates are a “catering budget” when all you got was two dishes of crisps, “promotional costs” when all you saw was a scraggy poster in the entrance, and my personal favourite, “light bulbs” (I kid you not) for lights that had blown while our club night was on! (You know who you are, Colin at the Boardwalk…)The solution? Make sure you ask for any costs you’re liable for to be identified upfront, and negotiate them.
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  3. The mysterious expanding guest list – The night seems really busy, you’re DJing away, happily looking forward to getting paid and maybe having a bit of cash left over after costs. Yet when it comes to money counting time, things literally don’t add up. When pushed, the club admits they let a load of people in for free. Friends, or (more likely) doormen’s friends, girls the manager fancies, whoever… that’s money that should be in your pocket.The solution? Always, always have your own person on the door, and count numbers. I prefer running the guest list myself too. It’s hard, but it’s your cash.
  4. The “pay to play” scam – This has another variant, the “sell tickets to play” ruse, and plays hard on enthusiastic young DJs’ wishes to get gigs in public. In both examples, you either pay cash to get a DJ set, or you have to sell 25, 50, 100 tickets for the same. You’re told that if the event is a success, you’ll get paid too. Trouble is, the club and/or promoter already have their money, so chances are nobody will do any work to get anyone else to turn up. Bottom line? You do all the work, and either end with nothing, or worse, out of pocket.The solution? Much, much better to take control of the night yourself and negotiate a flat fee, then work your balls off to make it work. After all, if you can sell 50 tickets, why not sell 100, promote it well, get the same in walk-up, and make a profit on the event? You’ll have a busy club to play in then, too.

What to do if things go wrong…

If things do go wrong for you, my advice is to learn from it, walk away and take the positives. One big positive is to promote yourself at all opportunities (including on the night, gathering email addresses and so on) and so walk alway with a pile of email addresses that are worth money to you in the long run.

Why? The bigger the fan base you can build, the most clout you’ll have in negotiating with owners, managers and promoters, and the less you’ll need any one of them. If you have a crowd you can take with you, you’re in a much stronger position that pay-to-play rookies.

Have you come out on the losing side with club owners or managers? What tricks have you had puled on you? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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