do DJs get paid too much?
the cat wants to DJs get paid too much?
do DJs get paid too much?
the cat wants to DJs get paid too much?

Last night a DJ saved my life (or did they?)

Here’s a strange thing.

In a time when bands get paid little for playing live, have their music downloaded for free from the internet and are struggling to survive, a bloke (an it’s nearly always blokes) is getting paid through the roof to play bits of music made by someone else.

I guess that’s capitalism for you and a case of supply and demand and there is a great skill for a great DJ…people like Mike Pickering and to a certain extent Graeme Park in Manchester started a youthquake when they were the first to play acid house records at the Hacienda, people like Greg Wilson who was ground breaking in turning people onto electro in Manchester, people like Andy Weatherall not only consistently play great sets of tunes that push forward the boundaries but also went and made ground breaking records like Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’. Jimmy Saville, who invented the modern DJ, created whole scene around the disc jockey in Manchester in the sixties.

Hip hop DJs who scratch the records and play the breakbeats are stunning and a whole host of great DJs have earned their space in pop culture… I guess what we are talking about are the ‘wedding DJs’ the chancers who play the same old hits and coast under the banner of somehow being hip.

There is a certain skill to pushing the ebb and flow of the dancefloor but there are also a lot of chancers who play the same old hits over and over again and they are not even their hits!

Bands consistently get slated for relying on the past, touring with greatest hits sets but no-one ever seems to mention the DJs that do the same and it’s not even their hits that they are playing and most of the time without any skill or effort to mix the tracks- just a lazy slapping on of the Jackson 5 by the wedding DJ. Of course if they pack a venue out they should get paid accordingly….but what do you think? do you think that apart from the elite who really change youth culture or the DJ’s who create amazing music of their own the rest of them are pretty lucky? do you think the DJ is the prime mover of pop culture in the 21st century? or that the DJ is pushing the culture forward or that there is a clutch of innovators and loads of followers or do you think fair enough?

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. “If they pack a venue out they should get paid accordingly” says it all. DJs should get rewarded for attracting and entertaining an audience. Same way bands do, or stand-up comedians, or whatever.

    You say “bands get paid little to play live”, which might be true with unknown bands but it’s always been like that. Why would a band who can’t pull a dozen people get well paid? Venues aren’t charities, they’re businesses. If a promoter sees some real potential in a band they might take a loss a few times in order to build a relationship with that act, but otherwise bands need a reality check.

    But anyway big bands get paid more now than ever. In fact, isn’t the bigger story that most “rock” bands make money touring now – which they never used to be able to. That playing live (with the increased number of festivals) is a bigger source of income than sales of music?

    Contrary to your headline, most DJs actually don’t get paid very much at all. I could give you countless examples of people who play for free because they love it; many play for just a few quid because that’s all the bar/club owner can afford out of their takings. There are DJs I know in cafe bars who get paid in beer and/or food. The ones who pull a big crowd get paid accordingly.

    Most DJs start off being paid nothing or very little, but if over a year or two or three (or, in my case, four) they build a reputation and an audience their fees go up. Same with bands, same with writers, or comedians, or performance poets etc etc.

  2. Speaking as someone who has dj’ed for a few gigs in a very amateur fashion, surely its just a matter of scale…..the people were there to see the bands, not really to hear what I was playing. I hope they enjoyed the sounds too, but I’m pretty much a side-show. However if you’re a bit more high profile and you’re names at the top fo the bill djing surely you deserve your cut?

    Anyway I love doing the gigs and do them for nothing myself and the best reward is seeing people have a good time and coming up and telling you they love a certain record you played. Sorry I’ve drifted off the point here but heyho in a nutshell I don’t begrudge anyone earning a living out of playing records, I would if I could for sure.

  3. I agree with the blog- whilst it acknowledges that the real innovators have a great art to what they do it questions the over paid end of the DJ world.

    Here in Manchester there’s lots of controversy about peter Hook playing his old Jy Division songs but no-one questions all those endless back to the 80’s or back to the 90’s or back to the Hacienda DJ nights.

  4. As with any job, if you do it well you move up the ranks and get a pay rise. A good DJ has the ability to de-stress the ‘day jobbers’ and inspire a sense of unity and connection to celebration.

    Many a time I’ve pitched up in a club, completely fucked up and tormented from the things I’ve seen, done and felt as a theatre recovery nurse. At these times the DJ has been instrumental in helping me shake off the very real downside of life and remember the beauty of it: the wonderland of music, the energy, the unity, the joy of health and quality of life, fun.

    Please don’t hang the DJ, because for some, sometimes, it’s an emergency service!

  5. summed up perfectly Dave.
    Curious to know what part Dj’s played in the Punk scene around the North West John – can you remember any names ? Can’t remember any from Belfast apart from Terri Hooley playing reggae…

  6. […] night a DJ ruined my life… By Andy Barding on Sep 05, 2011 in Blogs, Featured Louder Than War’s lively discussion on the role of the DJ has reminded me of A GREAT EVENT. I speak of a very short DJ set by Brakes frontman Eamon Hamilton […]

  7. I think some can for sure be overpaid. If all you do is sit down all night and press buttons without engaging with the guests, you don’t deserve the tables! Or the money! But if provide real value, thats a different story.. and its where the money is too. The value you deliver your clients is what they pay for.


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