Why are there so many amateurs in the DJ Booth?

This all started when in-house promotions were replaced by external promoters.  This has been going on in earnest for probably 10 or 15 years in the club scene. 

Before that, club managers and owners hired DJs directly and paid them to provide music to their crowds.  Even if they were also working with promotional teams and promoters who were paid a percentage of the door, the club hired and employed the DJs.  This not only meant that DJs got paid no matter what the night was like, but also insured that there was someone in the DJ booth with the best interest of the venue in mind, who would play what needed to be played to keep people happy.

The next step in the process saw club owners and mangers hiring promoters, who would bring in their own promotional teams and their own DJs.  This usually meant that the promoter would pay the DJ – and again, usually meant that you were getting paid to play no matter what happened.  Sure it was necessary to chase a few promoters to get your money – but in the end, most DJs got paid for services rendered, whether it was dead that night or not.

The latest version of this is owners and managers cutting promoters out of the equation all together and just hiring DJs to play AND promote.  This breeds the kind of experience gap in the DJ booth that is found in most clubs circa 2009, as it is more important to have a big group of friends – than to know what you are doing in the DJ booth.  Under this new direction, shy DJs, DJs that are new to town, or more established DJs that refuse to play for short money (which usually equals FREE these days – so basically anyone that thinks they should be paid at all fall into this category) are frozen out of most gigs.

Think about it.  Bartenders get paid.  Cleaning staff get paid.  Managers, owners, waitresses, all get paid.  No one would expect a doorman to take less when the night is quiet, or expect the Red Bull Distributor to take a dollar less a can when the club is dead.  DJs on the other hand are expected to come in and perform the same service week in and week out – yet their pay fluctuates based on factors that are usually out of their control.

Leaving this aside for a minute, lets take a look at the economics of the situation so you can how short sighted many of these club owners are.

Depending on the location, size, amenities etc you have in your venue, you are investing anywhere from 50,000 dollars to several millions dollars into your nightclub.  You have a very expensive liquor license, food, liquor, flat screen TV’s, sound and lights, extremely expensive liability insurance, and the list goes on and on.

Yet after putting all that time and money into a club, what do most owners do?  Skimp on one of the most important aspects, the entertainment – often putting their multi-million dollar investment in the hands of an inexperienced, underpaid performer.

I read an analogy once that said, in what alternate universe would you take a million dollar cruise ship full of your most valuable resource, your customers – and then hand the keys over to an 18 year old kid who has no experience, and you are only paying $100 dollars to drive the ship?  Yet this is what club owners do every weekend.  It is mind boggling.

In a world that made sense, owners would spend the money necessary to hire competent professional entertainers – meaning they would be paying them $500 to $1500 a night.  This would in turn shift the entire industry, and make DJing a legitimate career even on the local level.

In the end, DJs did this to themselves, by allowing owners and managers to treat them as second class citizens.  They are so taken by the desire to become “famous” and be the “coolest guy in the room”, that they allow themselves to be treated as disposable commodities, and now nearly every club has trained DJs to expect to work hard all week promoting, work long hours in the booth programming and mixing and dealing with drunk customers etc.  And to top it off, if the night is dead – they have trained them to expect to not get paid.

Such a sad state of affairs, and exactly why many of the most talented DJs in the business no longer gig on a regular basis….and conversely why most clubs have clueless people in the DJ booth.

8 Responses to “Why are there so many amateurs in the DJ Booth?”

  1. Great post Paul. I absolutely agree and have seen this transformation firsthand as early as 2002. It used to be about working together to build something. Now it is all about the numbers. I couldn’t imagine not getting paid for gigs considering what I used to spend on music on a weekly basis. Of course it’s cheaper now, but there are still costs and time involved.

  2. Above statements are really true.
    Personally I accept compensation like free food and drinks for some gigs organised by friends (in a non profitable association).
    Unfortunately, the club owners’ bad mentality is here. Crisis came and now they have no money for DJ and musicians; but they are still open and still expect for parties’ success!

    I have also another comment which can be the topic for another post:
    famous music producers regularly come not for live show but DJ mix. More, only famous producer are demanded in order to ensure the success of a party according to promoters.
    Unfortuantely, good producers are not always good DJ.
    Unfortunately good DJ are not always good producers too.
    But sure, I prefer a golden fingers DJ with great selection and technic than a famous producer mixing like a s*#t (this does not mean I don’t like live music)! This is rare and too many good DJ (not known because they are not famous producers or producers at all) are left out … such a pity for our ears and parties.

  3. Vincent…>I could not agree more.

    Producing and DJing are two different things…and it is rare to find someone that is skilled at both. I have not been impressed with the technical skills of a DJ in YEARS, as most of the big names are total crap behind the decks.

    Even people that were once DJ Gods – like Carl Cox – have now fallen victim to playing cheesy music for popularity sake.

    DJing circa 2010 is nothing but a sad shadow of its former self.

  4. Yes I agree on this last comment and I maybe did not explain myself well enough in my comment before: That is my mistake.

    The example of Carl Cox is very good since I first listen to him in 1993 for the Laurent Garnier’s wake up party at the Rex Club. We cannot compare what he did there and what he is doing now.
    That is business pressure and shift I guess.

    Though producing and DJing are different things.
    however I just feel that in the main parties and festival organised, it seems that nowadays being known for your productions first help you being able to play at such events as DJ. That is not the most suitable configuration to my eyes and participate, for my own point of view, to a certain disappointment in the result. Here again this is business orientation I guess, but I think it does not help DJ (only) in their career.

    Anyway this is not a reason why we listen to crap in all the numerous other parties and in the local scene. For this I was fully agree with you as I mentionned before.

    The communication made and symbiosis created with the crowd through music by DJ seem to be now a forgotten concept.
    But these are achievments and should be recognised. These need effort and should be compensated.
    Not respecting the work of DJ simply broke the spirit and the result of what should be a “party”. It let the door open to people who will do everything for being behind the decks and feel like god of the dancefloor.
    We should not forget that more than a passion, DJ is a real work, a real mission of entertainer and could not be given to anyone at any price. Respetcing DJ is respecting people who will come to listen to him/her.

  5. This is one of the best and most accurate pieces I’ve seen in years! I’ve been at the entertainment business on the better side of 20 years and have seen and been effected by this transformation in many ways; as a DJ and marketing consultant.

  6. Wow Paul!!!! that post is probably the most accurate portrayal of the way the club scene has gone that I’ve ever read!!! Well done

  7. [...] and knows his music so I always appreciate his point of view on our industry. Here’s an interesting post from his website about dj’s wearing a promoters [...]

  8. Paul, just came across your website. looks great. you hit the nail on the head when it comes to commoditization. happens in many industries. I’m making less now as a radio announcer than I did a few years ago, in part because of it. the only answer, I think, is to be so far and away better than the next guy, they have to pay you! keep up the good work !

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