DJ contracts are often portrayed as a caricature: one of those stuffy, “grown up” things you need to have, filled with legalese printed in a tiny font. But they’re important, and can make or break your DJing business especially as your experience, team and fees grow.
If you’re new to the industry or you want to start adding a simple written agreement to your negotiations, check out these four reasons why mobile and professional DJs need contracts.
4 Reasons Why DJ Contracts Are Important
1. To make sure the event details and requirements are clear
This is one of the most important functions of DJ contracts because this is where the wedding / function / event / gig specifics are laid out and agreed upon in writing. You can talk and shake hands with your potential client as much as you want, but if it doesn’t appear in a mutually agreed upon document, it doesn’t hold water.
Details such as date, time, and place are specified here, along with your fees, payment terms, and how long you’re supposed to perform for.
Real-world experience: One of my first few wedding DJ gigs involved me taking along a pair of turntables and a sound system to a reception venue out of town. When I got there and had finished setting up, the wedding organiser came up to me, handed me a mic and said “Can you get dressed? The guests are coming in the next 10 minutes – here’s the program flow. Good luck!”
Apparently, I had to be the host during the dinner and reception proper, and also DJ and MC after all that (weddings in my neck of the woods generally have separate talents and separate fees for hosting and DJing). I wasn’t angry, but I did feel like I was taken advantage of because all we agreed on was for me to spin during the afterparty. I could’ve charged more had I known they wanted me to host as well, but alas I didn’t have a contract at all apart from a firm handshake a few weeks prior. Tough (and expensive) lesson learned!
2. To let you collect all of the agreed fees
Speaking of charging more, DJ contracts let you specify your fee details in black and white. These details include how to process a booking which might include making a downpayment to reserve the date, and then a full payment of the balance after your performance.
Most importantly, having a signed contract lets you run after the promoter / event organiser / couple should they fail to pay you the agreed upon balance. It’s added evidence that you can produce to build your case if things get ugly and you need to pursue legal actions.
Real-world experience: I’ve had two bad experiences with poorly organised festivals that didn’t make enough money at the gate. The first time was at a beach festival with a good mix of local and international acts – the promoters prioritised paying the foreign DJs before the local ones, and all we got was less than half of what was promised to us. None of us could do anything about it except complain and agree not to work with them anymore, and they still owe us to this day.
The second time was at a medium-sized two-day event where the organisers had projected to draw a 3000-person crowd. It rained heavily and they ended up having less than 500 attendees all weekend. The big acts who drew up contracts were paid, while everyone else’s fees are still “pending” (including mine) until now.
3. To protect against client cancellations
Stuff happens. Whether it’s a natural disaster or some unforeseen circumstance, cancellations are a fact of life for the gigging DJ. Having a contract lets you spell out to your client what happens in case he or she decides to cancel the event. Your contract should have a set window of time for cancellations without penalty. If the client decides to cancel outside of that window (say within seven days of the event), then you get to keep the deposit payment, and potentially also receive the balance even if you didn’t get to spin. Of course, this should be stated clearly in your contract and explained to your client, preferably in person.
Real-world experience: I was setting up for a wedding gig when the Taal volcano exploded here in The Philippines. Me and my team were 15km from the volcano, so we experienced the eruption, the resulting heavy ashfall, and the absolutely chaotic drive to evacuate the area. The reception was cancelled as a result, but I still got paid in full because we had executed a contract a few months prior. All of the other pro suppliers (expensive catering, staging, LED wall, entertainment) were paid in full, too.
Good thing because the cost to have my pickup repaired after going through something like that almost matched my fees! Thank goodness for insurance (more on that in another article).
4. To protect your gear in case it gets damaged during the event
If you take along your own DJ gear and sound system to shows, your contract can also cover you for equipment damage by rowdy guests, like if someone spills a beer on your gear or someone climbs on top of your DJ booth or speaker poles and breaks something.
You can specify a certain repair expense to be shouldered by your client – I set mine at 70% – though it’s best to stay calm if something like that happens and to have the presence of mind to take photos and even video clips to remind your client about what happened the following day.
Real-world experience: I added this into my contract out of necessity because this sort of thing has happened to me a bunch of times already – mostly if I’m playing for a younger / more “lit” crowd. DJ gear tends to be pretty hardy, but I’ve already lost an older DJ controller to a full pint of beer. I saved the tears for after the gig of course.
Complex, winding DJ contracts aren’t necessary for them to be effective: A simple one that states event details, how long you’ll be spinning for, and how much you’re being paid for your services is a great starting point. And the sooner you start implementing a contract in your negotiation process, the more professional you become, which of course is only a good thing!