DJ Life: Dodging and Ducking the Janky Promoters

You haven’t paid your dues in the game until you’ve had you’ve dealt with janky promoters. It isn’t just the new kids they prey on. They come at all levels of the game, no matter where you’re at in your career. I’ve dealt with every shade of promoter from the very solid and honest, to the ones that would boost your decks and pretend the packed house didn’t make any cash. With all that in mind, here are a few helpful hints and some red flags to help you avoid them.

“Bringer” Shows

If a promoter books you and asks how many people you can or are going to bring, this is a definite red flag. You’re the DJ and you are getting booked to do exactly that. You’re NOT the promoter. Your job is to supply and play the music. That’s it, point-blank period. You’re not the soundman, not the door guy, not the promoter. Yes it’s great to have a following and yes it’s great to know that if any promoter does book you there will be a crowd there to see you, but at the end of the day that’s not your job.

It’s a tactic I’ve seen used in a lot of local events. They say if they book you, you need to guarantee 150 people, and then they try to tell you you’re getting paid $200 to play. Well, if the 150 people you bring pay a $10 cover that’s $1500 the promoter sees from the door, and they are trying to bank on you to get them there. Flat out, bringing people is their job, NOT yours. The only way you should even consider that kind of deal, is if you’re getting a bare bones minimum of $2000 to play for the night. If any promoter tells you that you need to bring a guaranteed number of people if they book you, tell them to kick rocks and rip socks.

The DJ Buffet

Another janky tactic is booking four or more DJs to play during a four-hour time slot. It’s totally ridiculous when I see eight DJs playing during a normal four-hour shift, and best believe that shit happens more than you would think. Eight people in a four-hour window means they each get to play 30 minutes. The promoter in turn hopes each DJ will promote that they’re playing, and he’ll get 3x to 7x times the normal promotional exposure. You’ll catch them trying to offer each DJ $50 to play, telling them it’s great pay for an hour’s work, plus “it’ll be fun.” Meanwhile they’re walking out of the door with way more of the money made from the night than they should be.

The Exposure Hustle

Especially when you’re new to the game, there are promoters who will try to get the beginner DJs, and also sometimes even mid-level DJs, to play the opening slots for “exposure.” If any promoter is asking you to play for fun and/or exposure, just run away. Odds are, you’re going to make him money, and best believe he’s not coming up with any of it for you.

Don’t Be A Sucker

A lot promoters will cut corners every chance they are given. If a promoter tells you to do the flyer for the night, he’s really just looking for somebody way more eager than experienced. It’s another thing that is not your job! Some promoters have asked me to DJ the night, bring the people, promote, do the flyer and bring the equipment. It was also the last conversation they ever had with me. Stay away from these amateurs as they are not only doing bad business with you, but they’re also damaging the scene at the end of the day.

The Amazing Disappearing Promoter & His Vanishing Cash

Watch out for parties with multiple promoters involved. A typical move is for one of them to tell you the OTHER promoter is paying you and then split. You’re sitting on empty pockets and no one will take responsibility. Then you’re stuck chasing people down for weeks trying to get your money.

Most promoters cut deals with the venues, getting a part or the whole of the door fees for the evening and in some cases a bar percentage, as well as V.I.P table sales percentages. Don’t fall for the okie-doke that they didn’t make any money that night, that “we can pay you less or pay you later.” That is some complete B.S. If you showed up and did your job as agreed, they need to pay your fee whether no one was there or there were thousands in the building.

It used to kill me when the end of the night came and I’d get asked to take less because they didn’t make as much as they thought! I’ve never had a promoter at the end of the night say “Hey we made way more than we expected. Here’s $500 more than we agreed on.” That does not happen, so do not give in when they try to pay you less.

I know of one particular promoter that runs through DJs like toilet tissue. Every time I know of a DJ working for him I warn them, but they learn the hard way. He does not pay his DJs. Claims to never ever make any money, yet flies to Vegas every other week and posts pictures from the Gucci store and of him buying his new Mercedes at the dealership. His tactic is to tell the DJ that he knows the club was at capacity, but everyone was on the guest list and got in free so he didn’t make anything.

Protect Ya Neck

There are a lot of shady people in this game. Once I negotiated with a promoter I’d worked with for years and gave him a special deal as he was “grandfathered in” due to past history. It came out during conversation with the venue weeks later that he had hit them for double my fee and pocketed half for himself! We haven’t worked together since. I can’t work with someone pulling those kinds of shady moves.

Aside from watching out for the kinds of situations I outlined above, it’s also a very smart move to do a simple artist agreement contract when booking an event. I usually ask for a non-refundable 50% deposit upfront to secure the date. If a promoter is not willing to do this, then it should tell you from the jump they’re not serious.

Keep your eyes open and good luck.


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