If any of you working DJs noticed–and I saw a lot of you in my social media feeds all about the chatter–there were two pieces that spread rapidly this week with opinions on what's really going on with working open format DJs. Both focus on completely different sides of the equation and it's honestly been a challenge for me to wrap my around which one may be the most true and which one is the biggest problem to address. To be completely honest, there are arguments in favor and against both and I felt, as a long time working DJ who's done the open format circuit for a number of years, it made sense to seriously make an attempt to answer the question. Are these DJs really making bank to the point of becoming millionaires because EDM is a wonderful thing or did the thirst from this movement really shut a large portion of this population down with undercutting?
The answer in my opinion is both. After Forbes went in back in August, and Dancing Astronaut followed up on it this week, on how all these open format DJs are seeing their rates rise as much as 30% in the past 12 months because of the EDM boom. That's cool and all, and I'll be the first one to say "good for them," but the primary focus of both pieces was DJ Ruckus, who I literally had never heard of before I read these articles. That's not the biggest issue I have here, because it's obvious with a couple clicks he's putting in work. But it does seem like there's some celebrity status to his gigs. I don't want to overly assume anything, but it feels like there's something in play that's getting his foot in the doors and the press he's receiving. And good for him being associated with this echelon of earnings he now claims to be a part of. Gigging 200 times in 12 months and making around the quoted $30,000 a show the Forbes piece mentioned will definitely help get you to the million dollar club. But anyone looking at DJing as a long term career path needs to know this is nowhere near the norm for open format DJ work, in any market. Also tossing in names like Lil Jon and Jermaine Dupri to further back up these pieces is completely irrelevant to the validity of this "DJ earnings rise" because they were both millionaires before the current boom and can get high dollar gigs strictly off their name recognition and can generally phone in a dj set because "Turn Down For What" and stuff. DJ fees in this realm are getting bloated in some cases... and as much as EDM as a thing has possibly helped open up what DJs are playing (and some of those checkbooks), it's also putting a lot of career-based local and regional DJs on close consistent revenue watch and even some out of business completely.
In another piece that circulated separately this week on DJOYBEAT, traveling open format DJ Danny Clavesilla goes in on the topic of undercutting and how it's terrible for everyone involved. For those that don't know the term and how it relates to DJing, undercutting is when one DJ speaks with the club or promoter to offer their services for less money than what the resident DJ is currently getting paid. As it already immediately comes across as a dick move, it's prevalent in every DJ market. My main issues on this front are that the EDM boom–now more than ever–has made everyone and their mom think they can DJ, and technology has basically distorted everyone's value of how being a DJ is achieved, as well as how easily you can find your way to "superstar status." DJs that have spent years locking down their markets and investing in their careers (easily in the $10,000s in many cases) are getting priced out their residencies for thirst on all levels from the club down to the DJs taking chicken scratch to terribly mix pop and EDM hits for a night, just continuing to devalue the entire movement and the craft as a whole. Say what you want about old crotchety DJs who've been at it for years, but they were making a living at this shit before many of you reading this ever heard the terms EDM or dance music.
My point is this really: don't buy into the idea of instant stardom no matter what you read on the Internet. So many of these top-earning DJs are there because they are chosen to be, for good and bad reasons. Some for talent. Some for connections. Some for both. I don't care who you are, there's no literal light switch you can flip to make this happen overnight. But ultimately buying into the notion of dance music as a whole and adding a good portion of it to your selections as a DJ is really so much fun now, mainly because we've got over 40 years of electronic music to share with crowds. And I know I've definitely taken advantage numerous times of where I can take a crowd in 2014 and that includes the bottle service joints that pay the best. So maybe the solution is to keep it old school by actually learning your music, follow and build with a successful local DJ and just take music in general more seriously as a long term career life decision. You grind for it long enough without fucking people over, this whole thing can be a pretty interesting and enjoyable journey.