There’s no denying that today there are many websites earning money through clicks and shares instead of the value of content being digested by readers. In fact it is even happening in the electronic music industry, where sensationalistic headlines are used to blow up stories of little content or use. On top of that, thanks to technology there are now Autobots that stand in for readers and listeners and control the business of the internet. Can we say the same is happening with creative minds? No. There is hope yet for creatives in spite of modern technology.
A recent article from Jon Westenberg discusses how creative people, or “creatives”, have been screwed over by the online society. His definition of “creatives” are the musicians, the artists, the writers and other people who make stuff for a living. In this article, Westenberg says “bloggers and writers must never try to get paid. Once you try and get paid everyone thinks you’ve sold out.” He goes on to explain that this philosophy also touches on other types of artists, musicians, filmmakers, and journalists.
He explains that being creative cannot be your main job anymore, but just a sideline gig in today’s age of where, due to the internet, people want more free stuff and refuse to pay to read or listen to the work of creatives. Westenberg claims: “People don’t want to pay for content. They want to consume it for free, or monetize it for themselves.” People nowadays have this sense of entitlement that comes from having everything at their fingertips through the internet, causing respect for creative work to disappear. They see creativity as a hobby and not real work.
Many people will read his article and some will certainly be disheartened. Seeing oneself as a victim is never helpful no matter what the cause. Creative people are not victims because they are still here. They should still strive for fair pay and just treatment from businesses. Musicxtechxfuture advises “I’m very strategic about when I write for free and when I don’t. Some sites help me reach new audiences that wouldn’t otherwise encounter my writing. Some don’t. Some benefit from the visibility I can give them, and for some, that doesn’t matter. Sometimes I’m just really busy and can’t afford to spend my time on unpaid writing.” This is a good mindset to have for creatives. Set boundaries when to do your work for free and when to charge people for it.
Musicxtechxfuture mentions another important tip for creatives regarding charging money for their work “It’s about managing expectations, clearly explaining yourself, and simply getting comfortable with asking for something.” Creative work may have been limited due to mobile payments, online subscriptions, and crowdfunding, but there are still platforms out there to help creatives earn money. Peter Shallard confirms that “Creative entrepreneurs need a boot camp in transforming their creative endeavors into a commercially viable enterprise.” This means creatives only have to figure out how to sell their work without selling out. At the heart of it, the problem is not monetary. The problem in this new tech-savvy world is having so many creative people and too much of the same work being sold/done/published. People want something new, something fresh. People are willing to shell out more for imagination. As long as creatives can find a way to get the masses attention regarding their work, they can charge people for it and people won’t complain. Much.
When all is said or done, this very same frame of mind applies to electronic music producers and DJs. There is no right or wrong answer to the age-old industry question of whether a DJ should get paid for his gig or not. Sure, in theory all work should be paid, but in the business world we often see the need for internships and apprenticeships too, often used as a stepping stone to graduate a person into paid work field. Similarly, it is entirely possible that early on in your career you will do what’s necessary to get your name and music out there, to gain the trust and respect of promoters and venue owners who have a plethora of choices and requests for that very same 10-11pm opening slot in the side room. That doesn’t mean that your work isn’t valued, it just means that it’s on you to prove that your talent is worth the paid gig you’re asking for, something you will achieve by showcasing your talent and marketing yourself adequately. We have already explored how there’s a definitely and visible positive correlation between the proper use of social media and both record sales and the development and exposure of talented producers and DJs.
Trax Couture label founder, party curator, producer and DJ Rushmore explains his philosophy and experience on the matter, “I got paid from the beginning but just not all the time, it also depends on the type of gig. But you generally have to do your fair share of proving yourself. Anyone and everyone is DJ now so you have to earn your stripes so to speak, and prove why you’re better than the next man, which encourages healthy competition.”
Certainly, electronic music artists are creative, and certainly electronic music artists have to remember that they will begin as independent artists. As Musicxtechxfuture further explains “Indie artists are more likely to have more engaged fans, and if they devise a smart strategy they can monetize more than just 1% of them.” This leads to the meat of the argument. Part of being creative is learning how to market your work successfully. According to creativefreedomguide.com there are simple steps to this: make the right kind of products, connect with the right people, learn how to sell your work and make it sustainable. You must also know when and how to use a platform and know when to turn your back on a platform. Make sure you’re in direct touch with your audience, so you can bring them with you when you move away from a platform.
Manchester DJ Murkage Dave also agrees that there is no clear-cut answer to the problem, preferring to view it on a case-by-case scenario, “There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to getting paid in the early days. I would say weigh it up on a show by show basis. You’ve got to think about what opportunities each booking presents versus the effort involved and service provided. it also depends on the scene you’re in, pay attention to the unwritten rules but don’t be afraid to bend them a bit if you think it makes sense for you in the long term.”
Creatives need to develop strategies to help them sell themselves and their work. Creative people being creative tend to be more emotional and should avoid falling into despair. They should focus instead on how to make their work reach more people and influence more people so that their work pays off. Being a producer and/or DJ is a long-term game, one that must be played right and smart from the get-go. Paying for gigs is one thing, but using a free platform to hone in your DJ skills in front of a crowd, to network and to establish a name for yourself in the over-saturated market where everyone seems to be a DJ/producer like you can actually be a smart move for your young and growing career.
It’s easy to scoff at the idea of an unpaid gig, and more power to you if you’re able to avoid that step and jump straight into being adequately paid for your gigs. Memes and other posts on social media have in the past painted promoters as greedy shadows lurking in the back, refusing to pay DJs while racking up a ton of cash from sold-out club nights. There is no need to explain how that is unlikely to be the truth on the vast majority of cases, but it remains important to underscore the vitality of a DJ’s job during any electronic music events. Supply and demand is a real issue here. With so many digital DJs now pining for the opportunity to perform at any given venue or nightclub, it makes sense that venues, being the businesses that they are, ask for the most value and quality from the person who is willing to work for the least amount of money. This is standard business practice across the free-market world, right? It also makes sense to imagine that they are giving up-and-coming fresh artists a platform often based on a recommendation or a SoundCloud listen or two. In order to get the job you need experience, but you need experience to get the job, so it is down to every single artist to figure out how to gain the experience on their own in order to ensure they get paid for every gig they perform, including the first ones at their local nightclub. Some choose to gain that experience throwing their own events, playing for private parties, house parties and like. Others think it’s entirely okay to be given the chance to showcase their music and skills without being paid, considering it as an opportunity to get booked again in the future.
Marcel Vogel, known for his house-infused disco sets, is yet another established DJ who finds his answer to the question at hand to be somewhere in the middle, “First of all, DJing out is practice. It’s exposure for you and you are exposed to a crowd. You can’t learn DJing at home in your bedroom. You learn your music and your technique but reading a crowd and vibing with them is something you learn on the dance floor and in the booth. Real DJ’s play to satisfy their hearts, to feel at unity with the dance floor, to get a buzz. Life circumstances just make it so that we need to get paid. If it’s for friends or a small intimate crowd and I can afford to play for free, I don’t mind. I don’t DJ for the money, I do it because I genuinely enjoy banging the box. But, I am not a sucker. Don’t let yourself being exploited. You are becoming a commodity that’s generating income for a lot of people. And the higher your value the more money you should get as a result of that.”
There is no right or wrong answer here, but just a matter of opinions. With that said, there is still hope for you in today’s internet-crazed age, both as a producer and as a DJ. Every gig you play must serve a purpose, and maybe it is ok if sometimes that purpose isn’t pure hard cash, as long as it’s all a calculated effort to learn your craft and get your name where it deserves to be. If this is an approach you agree with, it’s also important to not overdo it with this approach, as playing for free can be justified only to a certain extent before you’re actually being taken advantage of and devaluing your artistry.
As a producer it’s also key to remember that although record sales aren’t the money-making avenue it once used to be, you can utilize online streaming tools such as Spotify or SoundCloud to advance your career and rake in cash down the road.
Check out our Artist Resources section for more tips and advice aimed at helping you, the artist in the electronic music industry, succeed.
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Cover Photo by Gavin Whitner