Having a residency at a single place is the ideal way to earn and progress your DJ career. You have an ongoing relationship with the venue manager. You know what to expect every time you walk in. You know what the crowd wants and you’re generally clear on the expectations. Having a residency is great, but before committing, make sure you’ve sat down with the manager and received a written and signed verification of the following expectations.
Type of music
Being clear on the type of music you’re expected to play will prevent awkward situations like running out of music, clearing the dance floor or being generally too broad or narrow. Forward a copy of your proposed setlist to the manager for their approval. You could even get them to initial it so they understand that track selection is a matter of taste and that you’re not a magic jukebox.
For a residency, your time slot will generally not be very flexible. You’re getting paid by the hour, but you’ll want to get the times agreed upon up front to avoid last minute changes. For example, it’s common for a manager to call in an hour before you’re supposed to leave to ask if you’re able to rather start two hours later because the place is still ‘warming up’. Inconveniences like this need to be avoided, and you should be able to reply by saying ‘sure, but I’ll have to charge my overtime rate for the first hour.’
Have an hourly fee. Then multiply it by one and a half and you’ve got an overtime rate. Or even double it. Overtime is an absolute privilege and luxury for a venue owner. They don’t need to know that you are free all night. For all they know, you could have another gig that you now have to cancel or postpone. Even if you’re having the best night and are feeling generous, stick to your agreed rates. Make sure the figures are in writing. It’s a really stupid idea to negotiate deals at events, when everyone is high and happy. You might have trouble getting the money after the fun’s over.
If you’re contributing any equipment to the event other than your flash drive, get an equipment damage clause in your contract. The most comprehensive ones even cover stuff like lightning strikes! Events and venues are a hard business to be in, fueled on passion with generally low margins and a high level of emotion involved. Venues will not easily part with cash for reparations if someone simply spills their beer down your sub, or if the building’s power shorts out and blows your motherboard. It’s not always fun getting down to brass tacks, but you need to be firm. Negotiating this terrain will be easier if you show the client your surge-protected multiplugs and guarantee that nobody shall be depositing drinks anywhere in the booth. Acting pro is being pro.
Having a contract is an essential part of being a professional DJ. You probably don’t need one for your mate’s birthday party, but if you’re taking your DJ skills to the bars and clubs, you’ll want your agreement on paper. To protect both you and your client from unexpected twists in the agreement, a good contract is the place to start.
John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ