This morning, I wanted to share some thoughts with the readers on not selling yourself short as a DJ. In other words, why you shouldn’t work for next to nothing or free. In creative circles, it seems that people who are creating material: content, design, and even DJs are constantly getting undervalued. How many times has someone asked you to DJ (be it an acquaintance, a venue, company, and the like) and said these words: “We can only afford to pay you this much (insert pittance price here). Such and such said they would do it for x amount.” My response always is this: “Then hire such and such”. In today’s climate, where everyone is a DJ (or thinks they are), we are forced to be put up against a slew of nonprofessional people who will just do the job for drinks. That’s right, next to nothing, and all you can drink. For a person like me who has been DJing for over twenty years in many capacities (college radio, club DJ, touring major label artist, solo artist), it’s about the most insulting thing you can hear. With full understanding of what the bottom line is with a venue (make money), the mentality of some of these cretins that book you are unbelievable. My whole DJ career, I’ve tried to be known for a certain thing. That certain thing was to play good records, make people feel good, dance if they want to, and importantly get exposed to records they otherwise may not have heard before. Gravitating towards 45s (not a groundbreaking format by any means), I always tried to be a bit different and stay in my own lane. Of course I’ve been influenced by some of the elders, but for me, it was about always moving forward with music and trying to discover new records for myself and the people I played for. I am by no stretch a famous DJ. I am a working class record slinger, who has worked as a DJ full time sometimes, other times working other jobs (sometime multiple) to be able to keep doing what I love to do. I’ve done my fair share of events I didn’t want to do, but then I started thinking. Why do I need to be doing things I don’t want to do? Would I rather be playing a really great 45 at a smaller venue for people that appreciate it, or would I rather be playing “Hotline Bling” in a large venue for people who could care less about the music and cared more about ‘the party’. When I stuck to my guns, I feel that I got more respect in the industry and started getting the gigs I wanted. Whether it was some corporate clientt that wanted 45s for an important event, or a new venue that really got it, it started to happen in my favor. I have embraced technology, and hey, Serato is now a staple and necessary evil for certain gigs. Even DJ Premier finally got over his ‘microwave, popcorn’ stage to get with the times. As a DJ, at some point you need to evolve. But what you don’t have to do is sell yourself short. You don’t have to let promoters or venues low ball you by telling you that his cousin’s kid who plays from an iPod will do it for $50 and some drinks. You don’t have to be insulted when someone asks you to do an event, but then tells you there is no equipment, and when your fee goes up, they freak out. I don’t mind bringing equipment, but it’s gonna cost you. At this point, I’d like to think that I paid my dues, and I’m playing venues that are outfitted for DJs and book me on the strength of my reputation. I also don’t need to have Rocco the Neck standing behind me telling me to ‘play something funky they can dance to’ as I’m currently playing James Brown. Those days are long gone. Here’s the bottom line. If you work hard at your craft and put the effort in, stay in your own lane, and are professional, there is a place for you. You need to realize who you are (and who you aren’t), and go for what’s yours. You don’t need to work for free, on spec, or more importantly, have someone undervalue you as a creative artist. One of my favorite quotes, that was forefront on Flea Market Funk for years, and is still something I believe in makes so much sense:
“I say, play your own way. Don’t play what the public wants. You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you’re doing, even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years”- Thelonious Monk
Be you. Do you. Don’t let anyone (venue, promoter, or otherwise) make you feel like you don’t count. If you want to be a public puppet, then that’s your choice. You have the ability to forge your own lane and make something of yourself. It’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality. You may have to make sacrifices, work other jobs to keep it going, but don’t give up your dream. Don’t ever sell yourself short as a DJ. If you’re passionate, professional, and most of all dedicated to this craft, there is a spot for you. It may not come easy, but there are a lot of us have carried so many crates (and still do) plus equipment to gigs very far from home to give people that ‘Oh Shit!’ feeling when the needle drops. I will continue to do it, but not for free. Neither should you. Have some respect for yourself because longevity is the name of the game. These fly by night cats who will just do it for free will be selling their equipment for high end vaporizers when DJing isn’t cool anymore. There are a lot of us out here who will not sell themselves short just to get on. We do our thing, even when others that came after us get more notoriety than we do. Be humble, be gracious, and lastly, just be you. At the end of a long night, you’ll still have your respect.
Although this may not be our industry, it can be applied to DJing. Something to think about: