Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To pay or not to pay ...

As a DJ, I've struggled with this whole grey area of payment. Do I set a price and refuse to work if it's not met? Do I accept whatever people choose or decide to give me, and be glad of the opportunity? Or do I try to figure out some other system. As my experience has changed and my expertise grown, this outlook has shifted slightly. As a new DJ, I was happy to play anywhere no matter whether I got paid or not. It was great to be a part of an event and have the opportunity to get my name out there. As a whole, that attitude is still true. If I didn't enjoy DJing, I wouldn't be doing it. It's something I'm passionate about, and I definitely do not do it primarily for the money.

Having said that, here's the catch. I do believe DJs should be getting paid for their time. Most organizers do pay their DJs, but some don't, choosing instead to see free entrance to the event as apt payment. I think on principle, I disagree with this. Unfortunately, I don't think most people realize the amount of time, energy and money that goes into being a DJ. We tend to be misrepresented as people who show up, day of, with our laptops, sit down at a desk and throw on a playlist. Far from it. Some DJs might function that way, but I know many (myself included) that pride themselves on their knowledge of music and skill at moving a dance floor. The sad story is that DJs at their best go unnoticed, because it's not about putting yourself in the limelight, it's about creating an experience for your dancers, and the more you push yourself to recognition, the more you interrupt the dance experience.
But lets break it down a little, and figure out why DJs should be getting paid.

Money: Acquiring music is expensive business. In a time when everyone trades and downloads music for free, it's easy to forget that a lot of DJs still pay for their music, especially when the music we DJ is not widely known or available. Also, while being comped into an event lifts that expense burden, DJs travel extensively to attend the events they are hired for, and rarely are they compensated for their travel expenses. Often, even if DJs get paid, what they are paid doesn't even cover the cost of travel.

Time: When we DJ, we don't show up at the event, throw down our laptop and magically play a great set. Most of us spend hours getting to know our music, researching and finding more great music to play. We put in our time consistently, not just at events. Also, depending on how much I DJ at an event, I tend to dance a lot less.

Effort: Being a good DJ is hard work. It's stressful. Before a set, I am consistently listening to the current DJ in the room, taking note of their style, the direction they are going in, and making sure I know what they played so I don't accidentally repeat songs. This means I don't get to show up late (or right before my set), I pride myself on being on time, being ready to go before it is necessary, and being flexible. If you hire me as a DJ, I see my job as making sure you have a great event with great music. If you need to shuffle me around or call on me in an emergency, I do my best to help you out. My job is to provide you with good music and help you to make your event run smoothly. When I DJ, I do my best to watch the dancefloor, be aware of what's going on and respond accordingly.

For these reasons, I think it is important that DJs start getting paid consistently. I'm not saying break your bank on us. It's not about the money - what I make as a DJ barely reimburses me for travel expenses, let alone the time and money I spend on my music. But that's ok. I do it because I love it. However, not paying your DJs devalues their efforts and expertise, and we feel more like a friend doing you a favor than a legitimate DJ providing a valued service. In the end, this will hurt the organizer most: I am less likely to hold myself to professional standards when I am not being treated as a professional.

I want to make it clear that this is not a black and white opinion. There are many events that I would choose to work for "free" (just getting comped), either because the event is small and doesn't have the resources, or because it is large enough that I don't feel I have the level of experience and reputation to offset the opportunity and exposure that DJing such an event would give me. But I would love it if more people recognized the amount of effort and passion DJs put into their jobs to consistently provide the dance scene with great music.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Dexter and Michelle taught a workshop this past weekend, and it was such a great event. We kicked it off with a House Party, of which I DJed the first couple of hours. The classes were great, and taking them as well as a private with Dexter jumped my dancing (or at least the way I think about my dancing) to the next level. I'm excited to start really working on the things that were brought to my attention. Much of it has to do with using my body fully when I dance, initiating every movement from my core and following through all of my movements.  I hope really working on these concepts will make my dancing much more powerful.

Here is my set from the house party:
-Blues in the Night - Ledisi
-Dr Feelgood - Aretha Franklin
-I'll Be Your Sweet Black Angel - Saffire - the Uppity Blues Women
-Back Back Train - Aerosmith
-Come on in My Kitchen - Porterdavis
-Flesh and Blood - The Waifs
-Hot Potato - Circus Contraption
-How Come My Dog Don't Bark (When You Come Around) - Dr John
-Pussycat Moan - Katie Webster
-Death Came A-Knockin' - Ruthie Foster
-Lord, Don't Move the Mountain - Angela Strehli
-Get Back Temptation - Ollabelle
-2' Left to the Ceiling - Seth Walker
-Black Water - Charlie Musselwhite
-Red Mud - Chris Thomas King
-So Low - Big Bones
-Broken Toy - Jason Ricci & New Blood
-Blues 2.0 - Fruteland Jackson
-Tragic - JJ Grey & Mofro
-Oh Lady Be Good - Ray Brown Trio
-Mo' Better Blues - Gordon Webster Trio
-Black Night - John Lee Hooker
-Six O'Clock Blues - Eric Bibb
-That's Why I'm Crying - Koko Taylor
-In the Morning Blues - Ike & Tina Turner
-Can't Stop Thinking About You - Martin Sexton
-In the Mississippi River - Mavis Staples
-I Idolize You - Lizz Wright
-Sinkin' Soon - Norah Jones
-Summertime - Angelique Kidjo
-Little Wing - Stevie Ray Vaughan