Why DJing for Free Is a Bad Idea - DJing Tips

Why DJing for Free Is a Bad Idea

DJing is the best job in the world. You get to play music you love for other people, and seeing them dance to it, smile and enjoy themselves is a huge reward in and of itself. Add to it the sheer glamour of being the “Mr./Ms. DJ”, and getting paid for your work becomes an afterthought at best. So much that you might be willing to play for free just to get another fix of being behind the decks. It all helps your exposure, you tell yourself.

Don’t do it.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that most of us are in DJing for the love of music, dancing or both. But DJing is real work, and it deserves to be paid for. Here are 4 reasons why I believe that you should never DJ for free.

  1. Free work is not appreciated. Dan Kennedy, a marketing guru, likes to say: “Do nothing free.” He doesn’t mean that you should be a selfish bastard demanding payment for every little thing that you do for others. But professionally, you might as well be. You see, work done for free is generally not appreciated and respected, and you are likely to get pushed around much more than when you charge for your services. Dan likes to repeat that the customers who happen to get to his events for free consistently end up being the biggest pain.
  2. DJing for free hurts your self-image. Every time you DJ for free, you tell your inner self that what you do is not good enough to be worth paying for. That impacts your self-confidence, which in turn negatively impacts your performance as a DJ. Don’t position yourself as an amateur, both to yourself and others.
  3. It’s not sustainable. To stay on top of your DJ game, you need to buy music and take care of your gear. All of it costs money, and if you’re not making any money DJing, then it has to come from other sources, e.g. your day job. It’s OK if you perceive DJing as a hobby on the side, but don’t expect any extraordinary results with this kind of attitude.
  4. You hurt other DJs. By playing for free, you contribute to lowering the perceived value of DJing and put additional pressure on other DJs who are charging for what they do. And when DJing doesn’t pay money to anyone, where are the quality music and showmanship going to come from? (See point 3 above.)

Now that we’re clear that DJing for free is not an option, should you always insist on being paid in cash, or getting a free drink or a taxi ride home instead is also OK? I prefer cash, but whatever the case may be, you should always be getting something tangible in exchange for your work.

Beware the Pay to Play

You might think that playing for free is bad enough, but you may actually be offered to pay for a chance to get your foot in the door of the DJ booth. Paying to play comes in many forms – from an actual cash payment to playing an out-of-town gig for free where you have to pay for travel and accommodation yourself. Mixmag has a whole piece on the evils of pay to play, but the bottom line is the same: don’t do it.

To sum up, I can’t think of many situations where it would be OK to play for free, apart from maybe DJing at a family event. Otherwise, DJing for free hurts yourself and others and is a burden to your DJ career. Do us all a favor and stay away from it.

Would you DJ for free? Have you ever been offered to pay to play? Share your stories in the comment section below!

About the Author JM

JM has played open-air gigs, shared the stage with the likes of ATB and had mix albums released commercially. He has been teaching DJing since 2008.

  • Donal Finn says:

    100% true, this advice applies to anything in life. Like the author said it’s not about being selfish, you SHOULD do A LOT of things for free, help people in need, volunteer, give away things you have and aren’t using to people who could, but can’t afford them. Always, ALWAYS look to give, with no thought of return or credit given…EXCEPT in your professional life. The key word here is PROFESSIONAL, that means its the area where YOU make money so you HAVE something to give away. I don’t care if you are the lowliest wanna-be DJ on the planet. If your goal is to be a professional DJ, then you start being a professional DJ NOW! That means you do NOTHING for free, YOU are worth something (And if you don’t believe you are, then go back and practice hard for a year, then you WILL BE, if you won’t do that, do something else, you are wasting your time) YOU have value, and YOU will insist others value you as you deserve to be. Gene Simmons of KISS has a great quote about this stuff “You don’t get the respect or pay you want or deserve, you get what you DEMAND! If you are unable to do that, concentrate on doing what it takes to be IN DEMAND, then your DEMANDS will be met, but if you show others you don’t respect yourself enough to demand fair compensation, don’t think anyone else will” And if anyone tries to pull the “Favor” card on you, remember this: Does the 7-11 owner ask the guy at the counter to do him a “favor” and work for free? No, he doesn’t. Remember, a party is not an essential service, like the fire department. If someone has planned an event they don’t NEED a DJ they WANT a DJ, also, the promoter has planed their event (Even if its a B-day party) because the event will be of benefit to them (The one exception would be a charity event or some other kind of benevolent gathering, where no one is in it for the money but is in it to be of service somehow, go ahead and play this event for free) anyway, this aside 99% of events looking for a DJ are planned for the benefit of the person throwing it. Asking you to play for free is like them saying “I deserve to benefit from my work but you do not deserve to benefit from yours” Its a lot like stealing, asking you to play for free is extremely disrespectful. ALWAYS get paid. I can’t stress this enough.

    • JM says:

      Great point, Donal! It’s interesting that you brought up Gene Simmons – I read his “Sex Money Kiss” a while ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was recommended by Dan Kennedy BTW 🙂

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