Art of Deejaying, WK 9 – Negotiation Skills

Welcome to SKAH DJ Blog! We will be looking at Negotiation Skills this week.

I once read an article that stated that DJs should not negotiate, as deejaying is not a kidnap or ransom situation. Well, that statement is not totally wrong but it is misleading. If you are not a celebrity DJ or a famous Pro-DJ with a calendar or schedule full of events or if you are not the most sought-after DJ within your space, then please stop dreaming! Probably the writer meant it should be a win-lose situation for the DJ but then, that will still be wrong. How about a win-win situation for both parties? Especially, in light of the very low barrier to entry for deejaying and the newbies willing to accept peanuts for a gig, negotiation skills remain a vital tool for getting rewarding gigs.

Negotiation is a dialogue between two or more people or parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome. This beneficial outcome can be for all of the parties involved, or just for one or some of them (Wikipedia).

It would be better for you to disabuse your mind that negotiation is strictly on monetary terms. Of course for DJs, most negotiations are monetary based. However, it is not limited strictly to monetary terms alone but it includes other issues such as promotions, regular bookings, referrals, terms, conditions, clauses, insurance, cancelation and many others upon which the monetary terms will be built. Well, for small gigs this might not be something to consider, as it might be too much detail for a small gig while for some other clients you do not want to sound too formal. Also, the cost of settling a legal dispute for a small gig will definitely outweigh the worth of the contract itself, so why bother? But then, I will advise you approach issues formally and sign a contract to avoid unnecessary disputes and protect yourself.


The crux of this today’s topic is; how do you charge a fee for your services and how do you negotiate or defend your fee? Here are some of the key elements that should form the basis of your fee:

  1. Where is the venue of the event? Is it in town? Or is it out of town? Is it an indoor event or an outdoor event?
  2. If the event is out of town, then provide for hotel, transportation and out of station expenses/allowance in your fee except if all these will be expressly borne/handled by the client.
  3. What kind of event is it? Is it a private party? Is it a wedding? Is it a rave, festival, concert or comedy show?
  4. How many guests will attend the event? Do you also have to promote the event and bring in guests? Do you have fans that will attend the event because you are deejaying? Is your fee scalable based on gate takings?
  5. Is the venue equipped with pro-audio installation or is the client handling the audio installation for the event? Of course, your fees will vary for each of these options.
  6. How many hours will the event be? What is your standard time? What is your overtime rate?
  7. Are there any pre-event rehearsals? How frequent will the rehearsals be? Do you have to make a mix-tape for certain aspects of the event?
  8. Are you handling visuals? Do you have to setup screens and lights or is the venue equipped with screens and lighting equipment? Is your equipment compatible with the screen and lighting setup?
  9. Yes the client can dictate the genre of music to suit the event but will there also be specific requests or a playlist and several pre-event meetings to agree on the playlist?
  10. Is there a high risk of loss or damage to your equipment due to security issues such as riots or other issues such as rain, fluctuating voltage if the client is providing power?
  11. Payment terms. What percentage of the fee is payable as mobilization and when? When is the balance due?
  12. Some corporate clients might want to see some form of insurance against accidents and injuries such as equipment collapse, which might cause injuries to guests.
  13. What happens if there is a cancellation of the booking/event at the instance of your client? Do you keep the mobilization or refund part?
  14. What happens if you are not able to meet your obligations under the contract, maybe due to health issues, logistics issues or any other unfortunate incidence? Do you refund the mobilization in full?

If you have answers to all these questions/issues listed above, then you should be able to defend your fee intelligently. For bigger gigs, it is advisable to work with a lawyer to draft a standard contract or agreement, which clearly spells out your terms and conditions in light of the issues raised above. Ensure the contract is signed way before the event. If the client prepares the contract, then get your lawyer to review the contract and make amendments where necessary before signing (even the process of making amendment involves negotiation).

Usually, clients just ask how much you charge for your services. Do not be in a hurry to state your fee, as no 2 gigs are the same. Every gig is unique with its own intricacies and drama. Even if the potential client wants a brief conversation, you can offer to call back at a pre-determined time to get details or set up an appointment. This is particularly important if you are not too familiar with the caller. You do not want to go fishing in a stream with a vessel neither will you want to go the ocean in a canoe. You will be full of regrets if you charge a fee without having a clear idea of the gig and the expectations of the client. You also do not want to state a fee that ends the conversation with the potential client from the beginning without being able to explain.

I strongly advise a role-play with a friend acting as a client. Use some of the questions above to form the basis of the discussion, anticipate your client’s response and prepare a counter response. Do this over and over again to prepare for those impatient clients that just want a figure. If you get this right, then the client can even tell from the beginning of the phone conversation that he/she is dealing with a professional and might want to further the discussion. This also builds you communication and presentation skills, which is vital for negotiation. Clients usually want to deal with the most affordable, professional vendor and this includes DJs. That is just the nature of business – to get value for money. This does not mean you should charge less than you should.

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Stay tuned for the next article. Cheers.


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