DJ Hot Topics – Should DJs Work for Free?
Should new DJs work for free to gain exposure?
It’s been a controversial topic on social media recently and something we felt the need to comment on.
The DJ industry is extremely competitive, with thousands of DJs fighting for far fewer jobs. Getting a foot in the door is no easy feat and perhaps why this is currently such a hot topic.
I’ve personally worked in the industry for 10 years and it has been my full time job for more than 7 of these, I don’t take this for granted and feel very blessed to make a living from my passion. I’m a resident DJ who works in clubs and bars on a weekly basis rather than a guest DJ who does specialist one off gigs.
Why you should DJ for free to gain exposure!
Firstly, as a new DJ you need to gain confidence in your skills and ensure you’re ready to take the first step into a DJ career. Trying to get a gig before you’re ready could do a lot of harm.
Promoters and managers don’t know how good you are. It doesn’t always translate in a mix and if you don’t have much experience there is no way for them to judge this, other than watching you play live. Therefore in this situation working for free to prove yourself isn’t a bad thing. The promoter has taken a leap of faith and wants to see what you’ve got so give it your absolute best.
You can be the most technically gifted DJ and still be unsuitable for a gig. This is another reason promoters will ask you to do a free set, to ensure you can play to their crowd. Some nights are genre specific, some are student specific and others may require specific skills i.e. microphone skills, open format. For this reason they may want to see you in action. Again this is another circumstance where playing for free is not a bad thing, you would probably not be offered a residency otherwise.
Getting feedback from the person that books you is essential so take their advice on board. If you get offered another set you need to decide if the experience is more important than a wage at this point in your career. Make sure that if you do get invited back and it looks like it could turn into a regular gig you raise the question of a wage. Doing a weekly gig is a job, and a job deserves to be paid accordingly.
That free gig can soon turn into a paid gig. Your foot is now in the door. You have somewhere that other promoters can hear and see you play. Therefore, yes you should do that first gig or two for free in my opinion.
Why you shouldn’t DJ for free to gain exposure!
Going to every promoter and offering to play for free is not the best way to go about getting a gig. By doing this you’re ultimately saying you think you’re skills and time are worth nothing, so the promoter is going to think the same. This works both ways, if a promoter or manager decides to try save some cash and actively goes out looking for DJs who will play for free they’re putting zero value on one of the most important aspects of the night and this night will always fail.
When a promoter does this they also create an undercutting bubble in the industry. A new DJ coming in and playing for free instead of the DJ they have been paying means that the value of the DJ industry goes down. If you feel that you might be getting undercut don’t worry. If you know you’re worth what your charging another venue will snap you up no problem, trust me!
In this instance, working for free might gain you exposure, however it will harm you in the long run.
Work on promoting yourself and showcasing your skills over hassling promotors and offering to play somewhere for free.
Make sure you know you’re worth. You can’t charge a huge wage at the start of your career, build a reputation and build up the wage. If you think a couple of free sets will help you achieve that I don’t see the harm.
One of the first gigs I was offered was to warm up for another DJ at a student night in my hometown. I was only offered a small wage to cover my travel cost. A couple of weeks into the gig the main DJ arrived one evening and was really angry with me, he accused me of trying to steal his gig from him. Little did I know that the management had been discussing moving me to the main set and getting rid of him. In the end I was promoted to the main set and genuinely felt really bad, however I never tried to undercut him, the promoters were just happy with the job I’d been doing and decided to promote me. Actions speak louder then words and rather than nagging them for more time or more money it came naturally.
Seven years later I still work with the same company regularly and continue to have a great working relationship with them.