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The Secret DJ: "‘Paying to play’ is a genuine threat to dance music culture"

"It’s pernicious, and it’s widespread," says our mystery spinner

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Tiago Majuelos
  • 13 April 2018
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In Ibiza and beyond you’ll now find very, very large clubs (as well as very cool small ones) that refuse to pay a DJ’s travel costs, or offer a fee so low you’d be staggered. This effectively prices out the less privileged, who can’t afford to finance their own trips while they try to make their name. Yet at these same venues you’d be shocked at the money being shovelled across the bars and box offices, while simultaneously, the DJs don’t get paid at all.

The fact is, if it costs you in any way to play your music, you are paying to perform. But at clubs, why is it only the DJs who are expected to work for nothing? Do the bar staff slog all night in exchange for bartending profile-building? Do security people stand in the cold and deal with stupidity and violence for the appreciation of their peers? Mmm, can’t wait to feed the kids a tasty and nutritious exposure sandwich for their school lunch.

“DJs who give themselves a leg-up make the business harder for those around them”

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As in the rest of society, from Cineworld to Uber to Sports Direct, someone very rich is making an awful lot of money while simultaneously saying that they “can’t afford” to pay anyone properly. And given this landscape, why not pay to play? After all, the law of supply and demand is heavily in favour of venues, promoters and industry. If you’re an up-and-coming DJ there’s now constant pressure from people lining up behind you who are willing to do it cheaper, and behind them are some who’ll work for free – and clambering over everyone are the queue-jumpers willing and able to pay top dollar for time in the booth.

It’s pernicious, and it’s widespread. Don’t get me started on the booth-blockers who offer ‘services as a DJ’ in order to swing a discount on their yearly holiday, or to get access to a festival. All too often these are dad-rockers with nice jobs and houses who ‘do a bit of DJing’ on the side.

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