Let’s talk about booking rates. Now of course rates will vary by region and that’s actually a great place to start. Why should booking fees vary by region when you’re providing the same service? Well, let’s think about it; if the cost to rent an apartment in NY is $2000 and the cost to rent in Mobile, Alabama is $600, it’s fair to assume that you would get paid more in the place with the higher cost of living. You can also bet that certain markets such as NY have more of a demand for entertainers such as DJs. More people and resources typically mean more events for you to work.
Now that we got that disclaimer out the way, let’s focus on what goes into a booking rate.
A DJ spends thousands of dollars on DJ equipment (DJ controllers, turntables, mixers, mics, etc) and sometimes even more on sound (speakers, cables, etc) and lighting equipment. That equipment needs to be rented by the client and should be included in your rate. Think about showing up to a daily desk job where you have to bring your own desk. You either would find a job with a desk already there or you would charge a lot more for the extra time and effort.
If a DJ is providing sound for a venue, that venue is saving tens of thousands of dollars on having sound purchased and installed. That money should make its way into the pockets of the performers providing that sound, don’t you think? Rental rates for sound equipment depend on what is needed for the respective event. A high school homecoming may require eight 12” speakers and four subwoofers while a pool party may only require two speakers. Each speaker should have a minimum rental rate of $100 and subs should come in at least $50 more.
DJs also need DJ equipment to perform on and that ain’t cheap either. Let’s revisit the work desk example. So you pull up to work and sit down at your shiny desk, but you don’t have a computer to complete any of your tasks. Prior to portable laptops, bulky desktops were often provided by companies for their employees. Even now, many businesses and schools issue work computers because it is a necessary tool. Two turntables and mixer are the tools a DJ needs and that should be included in the booking rate. $100+ should be added depending on the complexity of the DJ rig.
Most occupations pay either a flat rate or an hourly rate; we’re going to focus on an hourly rate. This should be based on experience and should start at $50/hour.
According to the Economic Policy Institute “The median wage in 2019 is $19.33 per hour, which translates into about $40,000 per year for a full-time, full-year worker.” So with the median wage roughly $20/hour, why $50/hour? The 4-hours a DJ may spend at an event is only the tip of the iceberg. You can automatically add an hour each for setup and break down plus another couple hours preparing for the event in addition to actually booking the event with the client. Essentially 8+ hours of work are put in for a 4 hour event and a DJ needs to be paid for all of those hours.
Using this math brings us to a rate of roughly $40/hour. Not to knock other jobs, but DJing is a unique skill that takes hundreds of unpaid practice hours to be successful at. A DJ will make or break the success of an event which means DJs should require a premium rate and $40/hour for a 4 hour event is more of a median instead of a premium.
A newer DJ that is still finding their footing in the events industry may DJ once or twice a week which means each year they have another 50-100 events under their belt. A busy professional DJ can work 5+ times a week, accruing 250+ events each year.
A DJ that has a performed at thousands of events should be paid significantly more per hour than a DJ that has taken on hundreds of events. That could be a 10 year difference in experience, can you imagine making the same hourly rate with no raise after 10 years?
DJs that have completed thousands of events are probably very reliable and in high demand so they should be paid accordingly. Every 200 gigs a DJs price should go up. Most jobs provide a periodic pay raise of 3-5%, once again, DJing is not most jobs. Starting at $50/hour, add 10% ($10-$15) every couple of years.
Sum It Up
A bar/club that has a sound system and DJ equipment already provided should be paying a minimum of $50/hour. If that venue doesn’t have DJ equipment, then $100 should be added on top of that rate. For example, a 4 hour DJ set + DJ equipment should go for $300 minimum. If a venue complains about the rental price of your DJ gear, show them how much it would cost them to purchase it; maybe they will.
The private event space often requires a DJ to provide a sound system. So a 4 hour holiday party with two 12″ PA’s ($200) and two subwoofers ($300) should start at $800. At this point you should be able to do the math on DJ booking rates.
There will always be “X” factors involved such as additional mics, mixing boards, special venue rules, bar percentages, etc that will make the price of a DJ fluctuate. These rates include the time it takes to actually book with a client. If a booking agency or entertainment company is providing you with gigs and/or equipment, you can expect a percentage of the total to go to them. This guide isn’t perfect but it is a good place to start if any questions arise about booking rates for DJs.
How do you determine booking rates? Leave a comment.