Digital DJ Tips reader Paul Rayner asks, “What are your thoughts on lower standard DJs who are able to get gigs through selling tickets under a ‘pay to play’ system, against club DJs who genuinely have the talent yet can’t get gigs because they don’t want to be part of it?”
Digital DJ Tips Says:
This is a fairly widespread issue that gigging DJs face. Often referred to as “pay to play” or ticket “scams”, it’s a system that many see as predatory and exploitative, which venues and promoters use to increase crowd attendance.
Here’s the problem: eager DJs play for free, play for very cheap, or sell a quota of ticket sales. They end up getting the gigs because of these, while many talented, hard-working performers are passed on. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to properly vet talent for events, so having enthusiastic newcomers willing to DJ under that system is an increasingly appealing option. In an oversaturated market, there’s no shortage of people signing up for the process.
Promoters work to bring awareness to a venue for events, but those that participate in activities like this take advantage of others to guarantee a minimum attendance. If DJs don’t meet expectations, they hear “you’re not allowed to play”, “no payment tonight”, “we moved your slot”. It’s a numbers-over-quality game, and the rise of undercutting in DJ culture is a vicious cycle, fuelled by clubs, promoters, and new DJs hungry for exposure whatever the cost.
As a result, these gigs seem shady at best. Even if the DJ does what is required, the other side won’t likely hold up their end of the bargain. If the venue books talentless DJs just for the sake of bodies, then they’re the ones hurting their own reputation, and any exposure you receive here won’t likely mean much.
Our view is that a place that supports this style of booking sends a message that they only care about superficial earnings, and not the quality of the event itself. Yet if the patrons have a bad night, do you think they’ll come back? The music, the atmosphere, even the crowd they pull in are expendable in favour of tickets sold and drinks consumed. With competition fierce for the attendance of a discerning public, shouldn’t quality be top of the list?
Yes, exposure is a wonderful thing. But the thing is, DJs deserve to make money. You might be thinking: “Yeah this is great, but what can we do?” Well, places that use these tactics are already having trouble building a loyal following, and that’s not your problem to fix. The best thing we can do as a community is to reject such empty offers, otherwise they’ll continue to grow in popularity.
When faced with a lot of pay to play opportunities, consider throwing your own events and being creative with the gigs you play. Honestly, if you’re talented and put in the hard work, there’s no reason your night can’t be successful. Adopt a little old school rave mentality, differentiate yourself from others, and become the DJ clubs beg to headline…
We shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to DJ for others. When the focus is ticket sales, it’s no longer about the craft. Most importantly, it devalues the entire culture, from seasoned pros to newcomers looking for respect. At a certain point, someone needs to stop playing the game.
Over to you: How do you feel about venues asking DJs to sell tickets for gigs? What can be done to earn them instead of needing to pay? Let us know your thoughts below!