How do other scenes compensate their DJs?

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How do other scenes compensate their DJs?

#1 Post by huybigshot » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:21 am

This is a sensitive subject for me. Nearly every out-of-town event I've DJed for has compensated me in some way, whether it be gas money or a little stipend to show appreciation. However, my local scene seems to think that DJs should not be compensated for their time and effort. This frustrates me to no end. How do I go about convincing the rest of my oblivious club members that DJs need to be compensated in some way? How do other scene compensate their DJs? I feel as though just letting the DJs into a dance for free is not good enough. Any good DJ knows that if you are DJing an event you are not dancing nearly as much as the regular attendees. Your thoughts?

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#2 Post by lipi » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:30 am

the least-effort approach is to refuse to dj for free. the club will have to find someone who's willing to do it for free, and either that someone will be very good (in which case you just lost your gig) or not good enough (in which case they will appreciate there is a skill/collection/something worth paying for here).

this approach could be seen as rude or confrontational, of course. most people consider lindy hop (or dancing in general) a hobby, not a business.

if there are lots of people who want to dj in your scene, you're much less likely to be able to convince the club they ought to pay you. if there are very few, you stand a better chance.

that said, around here, $50 for a night (three hours) is the going rate for the average dj at a weekly dance. for some special events where you dj only an hour or half an hour, you get to bring one or two guests for free and are not paid. that's pretty consistent throughout the san francisco bay area, i think.

note that some djs are paid considerably more.

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#3 Post by zipthebird » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:55 pm

In our scene, DJ compensation ranges from nothing (not even a thank you), to $20 plus free admission for a guest for DJing a two-hour set, to $50 or so for a 3 hour set.

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#4 Post by dogpossum » Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:54 pm

There are different rates in different cities and with different organisations here in Australia. Same goes for exchanges, etc.

All the regular gigs I do here in Sydney, I get free entry (which is about $6 worth or varies - up to about $35 - for larger local events). Some exchanges don't let their DJs in for free, but they do pay them. Some let them in for free but don't pay them. Some large non-dancing gigs give me a plus-one free entry for my partner (which is good for an expensive gig).
Average pay for regular gigs is $20 per hour, but that can vary - I get $25 for some 1.5 hour gigs, $20 or $30 for others.
Average pay for exchanges is $20 per hour, or $30 per hour, or it can be nothing, or a free entry type deal.
For non-dancer run gigs I've been paid more (though not more than $50 per hour - you need good contacts for that).
I'm increasingly of the opinion that DJing balls with lots of speeches and performances, band-break DJing and fiddling about warrants greater pay. Mostly because you're working heaps more at this type of event, and get much less social dancing in.

Most gigs can be cash in hand, some are invoiced (especially in the case of festivals or state/council funded events). This can cause its own set of problems.

I think that you have to make decisions about what you want out of the gig. Some gigs I do for free because: a) it's for a good cause (eg a charity fundraiser gig), b) it's for a nonprofit organisation just getting started, c) it's an interesting gig and I'll learn something, d) it's for my buddies' event, e) it's a super-fun gig, f) it's a good way of networking with a particular organiser, g) wtf, it's better than watching telly, or h) I just feel like it.
If the working conditions aren't very good (ie it's a particularly shitty venue with shitty sound, the organisers aren't too great, things are really disorganised) or it's a lot of work (like big balls or events) - then I _really_ like to be paid.

If I'm traveling to DJ at an event/exchange, and it's a well established event, I do like free entry + pay. If only because I've organised exchanges before and I know just how small a part of your budget that amount is, and because I'm flying in to town and having to cover those costs as well as the usual expenses of DJing (music, tech, missing out on dancing, etc). My rule with running events is: music first, floors second, other shit third. So I guess I tend to value DJs for what they bring to an event. I think it helps to remember, though, that dancing serves all sorts of social purposes, and that for some people/organisers the meeting-and-mingling-and-making-merry is more valuable than the actual dancing. Hard core social dancing scenes might also value DJing and music more highly than scenes with a greater emphasis on good social interaction and having fun. It helps to know the lay of the land before developing expectations or (goddess forbid) making demands.

But if you're becoming the backbone of a particular event, DJing every week (or every time it's on), and this is only one of many events you DJ, and it's not for charity, then you might have a different approach. Once you're established and an integral part of an event, you're in a better bargaining position. But it's probably worth remembering that while you might _think_ you're an essential component of an event, others might have a very different opinion.

I generally feel that you should pay DJs (and door bitches and everyone else) once your event is financially stable, regardless of their suckitude or awesomeness. It's just part of giving back to your volunteers, even if it's a small amount. When I organise DJs for bigger events I like to give them other free stuff as well if I possibly can - drinks, food, etc. But this isn't always possible. Whatever you plan to do for/with DJs, though, I think you need to be very clear up-front, before the event: "I will pay you X, you will work X hours, you will get in for X. I also require a 'solid lindy' set, and this means 'blahblah'". This means that organisers need to have some sort of clue about how DJing works if they're to get the best from their DJs and event. I do feel, ultimately, that you should plan to pay DJs right from the beginning - a happy DJ does better work and DJ-word-of-mouth is helpful PR for your event.

Having said all that, when I was first starting out, I didn't mind DJing for free because I had no skills. But then, at that point, getting paid was extra important, because I only had a tiny music collection and I really needed the cash to put into music purchasing.

I think things are very different here in Australia than in the USA; DJs aren't flown into town, and pay rates are comparatively low. Ultimately, I think it's a matter of what the local dance market can sustain, and how the scene values different types of labour. I'm always fascinated by the fact that teachers are paid but door bitches are paid nothing at many events, when you can get by without a class before an event, but a door bitch is essential.

My personal rules are: stop doing it when it stops being fun; don't work with people who give you the shits; and most important of all: when DJing's more important than dancing, it's time to move on to a new hobby.

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Re: How do other scenes compensate their DJs?

#5 Post by Haydn » Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:30 am

huybigshot wrote:How do other scene compensate their DJs?
DJs here are paid anything from nothing (free entrance only) to say £50 - £100.

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#6 Post by anton » Sat Aug 29, 2009 4:27 am

Free entrance, a couple of beers and a pizza make me happy. Who said that lindy hop was a healthy business? :wink:

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#7 Post by keither » Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:58 pm

In Austin, the Syndicate pays $15/hour of playtime at the weekly gig. The instructors teaching the intro classes also receive $15/hr. Door staff gets $10/hr.

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Re: How do other scenes compensate their DJs?

#8 Post by CountBasi » Sun Sep 20, 2009 4:33 pm

Haydn wrote:
huybigshot wrote:How do other scene compensate their DJs?
DJs here are paid anything from nothing (free entrance only) to say £50 - £100.
I'm guessing 'Reggie Kray' gets amply compensated. :wink:
It don't matter if your clock is broke - it's the right time somewhere : Slim Gaillard

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#9 Post by Platypus » Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:10 am

Most of our dances are non-profit and run on a shoestring budget. We usually get free entry, a thank you, and occasionally a free drink.
A few years ago, I could drop into a pre-dance advanced class on the nights I DJed at one venue (loved that perk). One venue has a CD music library that can be borrowed to use at that site. For large non-profit events, I have received a gift card, a gift, or food.

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#10 Post by J-h:n » Tue Sep 22, 2009 1:04 pm

Most of our dances are organized by a non-profit swing dance society which actually makes quite a nice profit, thank you very much. To celebrate this, a year ago or so we started to compensate djs the same as instructors: about $15 an hour, which is supposed to be used to hone your skills: it must be spent to that end, i.e. on records, emusic memberships, jazz books, dance camps, etc. Receipts are to be submitted at the end of each term. Do we have the most complicated system or what?

Actually, this is part of an overall attempt to upgrade the status as well as the responsibility of djs, which I strongly believe is a Good Thing.

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#11 Post by djstarr » Tue Sep 22, 2009 2:26 pm

For most venues in Seattle the dj pay rate is $10 to $40 an hour. After 4 years of volunteering for a weekly non-profit club dance I worked on the board for a year, and there were also some other dj's on the board, and we were able to institute a $10/hour rate. The effect is that there are a lot more people interested in dj'ing this venue now which is good.

The venue that pays $40 an hour is very interesting - it's a blues venue; the organizers decided to split the door evenly between the venue owner, the club, the teachers and the dj's. This venue has a ton of competition to dj there.

So bottom line paying the dj's will increase competition, and should increase quality and variety.

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#12 Post by wspeid » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:00 pm

In my small home scene DJ's are officially not paid for anything other than possibly out of town DJ's for the main exchange. However, if they're personal friends with the organizer, he'll sometimes give them a cut of that night's take when nobody is looking. It's a crappy policy because DJ's talk and soon everybody knows who's getting paid and who isn't for the same work.

I could be wrong, but in my travels smaller scenes with limited budgets are more likely to pay out of town DJ's than their locals. I attribute this to professional courtesy from promoters recognizing out of towners have incurred gas expense, etc. Plus, there's a generality in all areas of life that strangers coming from out of town are given "professional" status and privelege over locals who we see every day.

Whether DJ's get paid is also largely dependent on how many people in your area own laptops and are willing to work for free; and are they merely LO's (button pushing Laptop Owners) vs. competent DJ's. The big question is, are your local dancers and promoter willing (able) to pay $ for better music, or not?

Case in point, I DJ'ed locally uncompensated for 2-3 years to get a tiny scene (25 dancers) exposed to actual swing and blues but stopped after the occasional thanks were replaced by new local instructors loudly complaining mid-set about anything older than 1960 and saying they wanted to push people outside their narrow "swing" boxes so they'll dance to anything. Ultimately, a rockabilly guy joined in to do opening sets and was regularly clearing the floor/halving attendance but the organizer thought he was fine. So its tough... how does one react to that?

The question is how much do you feel like giving of yourself or contributing to grow a scene before drawing the line?