The ball in your stomach that you feel looking at an empty gig calendar is a hard one to conquer. Even veterans go through droughts. It’s one of the worst feelings as a DJ – right there behind panicking, all out of ideas of what to play in front of an empty dancefloor.
What better way to relieve that pressure than picking up a weekly residency?
So let me tell you a story. A while back while I was going through just such a quiet spell, I received what appeared to be a hot lead through an online booking service. The gig was for a three-hour happy hour, every Wednesday for two months, at a local sports complex. I sent in a bid of $330 after expenses for each night.
A few days later, the client shot me an email. It was rife with disappointing details.
Their budget was actually $225 per night, and now it was for only seven weeks, and 2.5 hours each week, not three. In addition they wanted a different theme each time (meaning more work, of course). On top of this, I realised the timings would be difficult to accommodate with my other commitments.
Yet despite the road bump I was still enticed by the chance of a shiny $1500. Tantalising! (Not to mention the gig would be a great a resume padder.)
OK, I thought, snap out of it. Instead of making this decision on emotion I needed to set some criteria and gather some info. Two conditions came to mind if I was going to pick this up: First, the venue needed to have sound available for me to plug and play (for such a low rate, there was no way I was loading my pair of 60lb JBLs up to the roof of a sports complex in the summer heat), and second, their budget had to rise to my already low bar of $250 per night.
I had my doubts… but decided to call. You never know…
Immediately she picks up, and – after reiterating the event’s logistics – concludes that the budget is tight, yet she’s hoping the recurring nature will compensate for it. It feels almost like an effort to preempt my negotiation. Ultimately, it turns out, there is absolutely no wiggle room.
Yet still, it seemed silly to baulk on such a small difference in fees. I’ve never actually turned down such an opportunity before. It felt wrong. As my old man would say, that’s one more dollar in your pocket. And while you do have to know your absolute bottom price (and mine is $250), there are always the intangibles…
One of those might be the probability of picking up additional gigs there. Another intangible might be whether or not I was going to enjoy the gig. Or how convenient it might be for scheduling or travel. Maybe it would turn out that set-up and tear-down would be a quick joke.
Turns out that she’s not clear on the possibility of more gigs (“could be four, could be 40”), and she’s also not even sure if there are speakers available for use. So really, outside of the resume padder and a bit of fun, it was looking less and less attractive.
Despite setting up a standing meeting the following morning (mainly to buy myself some time), stepping back after I hung up, I realised the opportunity cost was way too high compared to the compensation.
It was a difficult choice, turning down $1500. But it had to be done.
Why I ultimately turned down the gig
It came down to this: For me, time is the most precious resource on the planet. Knowing what your time is worth and sticking to it matters. Many DJs however don’t know what to charge. Yet in my case, based on my experience, offerings and location, I know exactly what to charge for various events that come my way.
And if, like me, you’re generally tight on time, you really do need to assess the “opportunity cost”. Taking such gigs will often hamper your ability to accept higher-paying gigs such as weddings that require greater preparation and coordination.
Now, if you had vast amounts of time on your hands, this very same gig may well have made great sense for you. As a bedroom DJ, you’d take that gig in a heartbeat, right? The intangible for you is the opportunity to play out.
But a DJ more established has to know what they should be paid, and when it’s more worth it to pass on a gig than to eagerly sign up. Saying yes to everything that comes your way once you’re established becomes distracting. As popularised by Marshall Smith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” That’s what I was feeling.
That’s why I said no.
• Dan Moran is a DJ from Norwalk, CT who regularly plays Pop 40 and House at clubs and private parties in the greater New York City area. Find out more about him at DJDanMoran.com.
How do you decide whether a gig is worth it or not? What is your “bottom price”? Will you take some gigs for less than others, and if so, why? Please share your thoughts in the comments.