Is the ‘promoter DJ’ killing our club scene?

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Back in May, inthemix asked the question, ‘What’s gone wrong with our clubs?’ The response to the five-part feature series provided plenty of food for thought, with ITMers debating the effect of festivals and the decline of weekly clubbing. However, the topic that generated the most passionate responses was the advent of a ‘pay for play’ culture in club-land, with DJs booked not for their abilities but for the length of their guest-list.

The prevailing sentiment in the feedback to our features suggested this trend was breeding good salespeople, not good DJs – which in turn makes our dancefloors less exciting places to be. Is this an indication of a decline in our club culture, or just an unavoidable reaction to these uncertain times?

These questions were again brought to the fore with an inthemix forum thread detailing an email from long-running Sydney trance flagship Sublime to prospective DJs. The email stipulated that each DJ must bring a certain number of paying friends to the club in order to ensure a set.

However, speaking to inthemix for this feature, Home The Venue’s Sophie Page argues that the reaction was disproportionate. “Sublime was hammered on ITM for having quotas, but it was taken somewhat out of context,” she says. “We are all about our DJs promoting the brand, as well as themselves, so we can build something bigger than a local dancefloor. What we did put in place was a bonus pay scheme so we could get some more dollars into their pockets and motivate them to really push themselves further than through a new event on Facebook.”

So, why did these types of schemes become a necessary measure for some clubs? In the opinion of Page (and several other promoters and venue owners we spoke to), there’s just not the same surety of getting loyal heads through the door as there once was. “From our perspective Sublime was a cult; people went there week after week after week becoming part of the furniture,” she asserts of the earlier days. “There are numerous quotes about Sublime being ‘a way of life’. Maybe the drugs were just better then, but there were some patrons who were beyond loyal.”

A by-product of this new climate has been the ‘promoter DJ’; more committed to sending Facebook invites than building a compelling set. Melbourne’s Tyson O’ Brien – who DJs as Generik and runs new weekly night Super Disco – sums up the sentiment of many in the scene. “These kids have never researched labels, tracks, artists,” he tells inthemix. “They simply go to Beatport, download top 10, burn CD, rock out for fame and fortune. It’s all about who has the most Facebook friends and can reach the most potential punters.” When we took the issue to the DJ Booth forum on inthemix, the response was much the same: pulling a crowd has become more important than distinguishing yourself as a selector.

Of course, this chorus of grumbling runs the risk of sounding like a bunch of jaded types refusing to move with the times. However, the long-standing promoters inthemix spoke to believe it’s a genuinely worrying shift for the scene. As Brand Manager for Onelove, John Curtin has seen it first-hand. “Your average 18-year-old wants to play at key Melbourne venues now such as Seven, QBar and Prince,” he says. “Back 10 years ago, these venues had older DJs playing based on their skills. Without saying ‘back in my day’, it used to be a lot more about quality DJs taking patrons on a journey.”

For most DJs doing the rounds of our clubs, it’s often not enough to simply provide your services on the night. A common alternative to the guest-list quota is the ticket allocation. Instead of being paid a fee, DJs are given a bundle of discounted tickets to sell, with the promise they can keep the profits. This then leads to the deluge of Facebook invite-spam that many ITMers attest is the death knell of the local club scene. Is it that unreasonable, though, to expect to DJs to go the extra distance?

“Good DJs are good DJs,” says Darius Bassiray, one half of Rollin Connection, the duo behind respected Melbourne club night Darkbeat. “If they have some promotional ability, then that is an added component to being recognised. We never demand any DJ bring a certain quota to our events – we can’t speak for other promoters, however. Some of the younger kids are more internet savvy, and separate themselves from the rest by their promo appeal – this is great, but if they cannot DJ well, then we do not book them to play for us.”

Chad Gillard of Sydney tastemakers Future Classic has a similar view. “Every promoter hopes that the acts they’re booking will bring in a crowd in support,” he reasons. “It’s a little rough on the DJs, though, to slap them with a required quota. In that type of situation I guess you’d end up with really good salesmen getting to play out the most and the best DJs falling by the wayside.”

So, what has contributed to this new state of affairs in our clubs? Andy Scally, whose Limelite night has been a stalwart of the Perth scene, presents an interesting take on it all. “In the last 12 to 18 months, club-land has suffered from two things: event marketing and the cult of celebrity,” he muses. “It seems sometimes the motivating factor for kids to hit clubs is just to be in the same room as a superstar or because the show has been marketed as a major event. A great example of this is when I hosted will.i.am in October last year – over 1,800 scrambled for tickets to see an artist not known for his DJing at all. Whereas two weeks later, I hosted DJ Hell and was in a world of financial pain with just over 200 payers.”

Sophie Page identifies a similar shift in Sydney: it’s either big internationals or supporting your mates. “These days, perhaps everyone wants to be a groupie, because people are going out to see their friends play rather than seeing – or idolising – a decent local act,” she says. “I’ve heard of some clubs actually kicking people off mid-set because they can’t really DJ, but happily accepting the 40 to 50 people they brought with them. I don’t know why any venue would put someone behind the decks without accepting a demo – it’s mental.”

Of all the identities inthemix interviewed, the general consensus for the future of the club scene was: ‘back to basics’. As Andy Scally puts it: “The up-and-comer must be super keen, but also have the base set of skills needed. They need to listen to the experienced guys and hopefully pick up a couple of tips.” The question remains though: have we gone too far the other way?

Let us know your thoughts on the ‘promoter DJ’ phenomenon in the comments field below. To delve further into the issue, have a read of the extended interviews below with Home The Venue’s Sophie Page, Onelove’s John Curtin and Limelite’s Andy Scally.

> Extended interviews: Sophie Page [Home The Venue]
> Extended interviews: John Curtin [Onelove] and Andy Scally [Limelite]

Comments

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Weqster

Weqster said on the 29th Jul, 2010

Hold up. Electro CREATED the promotional DJ because the music does not rely on skill, cohesion or jounrey - only a limited set of tracks (like rnb) - its essence is exactly the opposite of what a good DJ is. Just look at BusyP, the biggest promoter dj out there.

The scene needs to evolve. No longer are people dedicated to a clubs because so many brands have sold out and introduced music into these clubs purely based on revenue potential. It used to be a solid crew of people who enjoyed a club but then the club saw other clubs having a bit more success (short lived, hindsight is a bitch) with another type of music, and skewed their music policy to that style, even if not completely replacing the style on every day of the week... This attracted people to the venue who the regulars didnt like, and voted with their feet. These people have be forever changed and no longer have faith in the brand, even as they try and regain that lost market which they took for granted before.

The flow on effect is the next generation of punters have been exposed to nothing but crap and have no loyalty because they can goto any club and here crap and get the same buzz..

Lastly, a reflection of this new style of DJ is how little self promotional material is produced these days. Gone are the days of going to club and pickup up a CD from the locals who were playing that night, something you could smash in your car and wet your tastebuds for next week. The effect is, the new clubbers have an expectation of music they are exposed to the most (commerical music) and jaded clubbers who have a more electric taste in music have an expectation of the quality that locals cannot match.

Luke_Electrik

Luke_Electrik said on the 29th Jul, 2010

As much as i enjoy reading these threads its safe to say that this has been going on for a long time. After 10 years Djing myself, I've been on the bad end of the stick, getting knocked back from jobs because "some guy" as organised a night and put himself and his mates on.

Too many times these "Promoter DJs" have let Bedroom DJs fill the booths and destroy what was once the best thing about the week..... the weekend.

Its sad hearing that this is happening all over the country, not just on the GC and Bris where I normally play.

I think the problem here is that there are so many people who want the chance to be famous, go spend hundreds of dollars on decks, investing dollars in Beatport (whatever happened to the goold old vinyl hunt?) and lock themselves in there "bedrooms" gain some knowledge and then think "yeah I can do this, its easy", obviously disregarding the fact that it takes a long time to develop "skill".

Ever since I started way back in 99-2000 I've seen so many 1 year djs hurtle past me (and i know this for a fact) because they know the right people, adding more to the old quote "Its not what you know, but WHO you know". Its this statement that plagues the guys that have been doing this career week in, week out.

Its kinda hard to get ahead when people put numbers before actual skill level.

That being said, thru the years i've played with many well known DJ/acts and been able to rock it with the best, sometimes even do much better. So how come after 10 years i decided to quit (or lay low) ???

DJ Competitions.

This stems from Promoter DJs as well because the fact is the same.

Get people in the club and you get "residency" or whatever it is they offer.

Point-in-fact, just recently I dumbly entered such a competition, not to be "crowed" or to win "awesome new decks" or "cash prises".

But the offer here was:

‎1. " looking for someone new to join our tem!"
2. "a once in a lifetime opportunity for one lucky person out there!"
3. "We are not trying to find the newest upcoming artist, we are trying to find someone that is willing to show us enough talent in the box but also enough ambition to succeed in self-promotion that will n...ot only help them as an artist but also secure them a residencies."

"We are not trying to find the newes...t upcoming artist, we are trying to find someone that is willing to show us enough talent in the box but also enough ambition to succeed in self-promotion that will not only help them as an artist but also secure them a residencies.

This is not a chance to launch your career it’s a chance to join a team that will invest money into you as an artist. We expect all entries to understand that this is not a normal dj comp where you will be crowned. It’s an opportunity for all to showcase what you’re made of and what you can bring to our brand."

Rigged,
Lies,
...only a ploy to get ppl into the club during winter.

No wonder why everyone says the scene is dying.

With offers like "investing in your career" how was I going to pass it up?
So as it goes, I spent alot of my (and others) good hard cash on advertisement, organised my own prizes (photos shoots, personal training sessions etc)
...basically went all out in what they asked. Only spamming on the Thursday of the heats :-)

But on the night a last minute entry, with no promotion, 2 people in the door and subsequently good mates with judges/promotions, gets the spot for the semis. Even when I had brought in the majority of the club, played "the best set of the night" according to everyone asked... :-?

I bet your saying what Im saying right now. "Well your a dickhead for entering a comp anyway".

this is true... but it was in-part my way of gauging just how hollow the whole scene had become.

So I quit.

Whats the point in trying to do what I love to do when shite like this happens year in year out.

Thanks Jack for pointing it out on a more public scale.

Cheers

L

Skirtchaser

Skirtchaser said on the 29th Jul, 2010

1. solution is simple, its up to the club owners/operators to promote their clubs properly! rather than putting on the DJ putting on the night... this never used to happen....clubs need to have promo teams like they used to, some still do...

but there used to be cute promo chix all over the place handing out flyers, getting ppl to clubs , leaving the djs to do their thing....

i agree if you can help the night out great... but the clubs are going to shoot themselves in the foot in the long run because pure promo djs cant keep a night going... there is a hierarchy for a reason...

2. Aussie clubs need to stop being so tight with drinks! the reason house parties rock so hard cause their is tons of booze... and booze @wholesale prices for a club is cheap...

so its always annoying when they give a dj just a handfull of drink tokens... its simple give out free/cheap drinks... ppl are grateful/happy and more importantly drunk... and they will buy more.... party is good, sales are good = win win

3. If clubs dont do this ppl will spend there entertainment dollar elsewhere... why pay for cabs,entry, expenisve drinks, cab home = hundereds of dollars a night and the night could be rubbish... you could fly to another city for a small holliday for that price... so i can understand ppl saving themselves for festivals and holidays...

you should see when i DJ in south Goa ppl can afforfd to drink like a whale if they like, take cabs everywhere , eat at restaurants three times a day, so i can see why ppl save up for party trips like that instead.

4. There could be a return to a new type of even, i know alot of underground warehouse parties are happenin regular n a few places, where ppl cant be fxed with clubs

5. Clubs are really going to have to fight hard to stay relevant ya'll especially because its Australia (via outdoor festivals smell less than clubs)

Aight im off to europe enjoy the cold =p

Skirtchaser

Skirtchaser said on the 29th Jul, 2010

1. solution is simple, its up to the club owners/operators to promote their clubs properly! rather than putting on the DJ putting on the night... this never used to happen....clubs need to have promo teams like they used to, some still do...

but there used to be cute promo chix all over the place handing out flyers, getting ppl to clubs , leaving the djs to do their thing....

i agree if you can help the night out great... but the clubs are going to shoot themselves in the foot in the long run because pure promo djs cant keep a night going... there is a hierarchy for a reason...

2. Aussie clubs need to stop being so tight with drinks! the reason house parties rock so hard cause their is tons of booze... and booze @wholesale prices for a club is cheap...

so its always annoying when they give a dj just a handfull of drink tokens... its simple give out free/cheap drinks... ppl are grateful/happy and more importantly drunk... and they will buy more.... party is good, sales are good = win win

3. If clubs dont do this ppl will spend there entertainment dollar elsewhere... why pay for cabs,entry, expenisve drinks, cab home = hundereds of dollars a night and the night could be rubbish... you could fly to another city for a small holliday for that price... so i can understand ppl saving themselves for festivals and holidays...

you should see when i DJ in south Goa ppl can afforfd to drink like a whale if they like, take cabs everywhere , eat at restaurants three times a day, so i can see why ppl save up for party trips like that instead.

4. There could be a return to a new type of even, i know alot of underground warehouse parties are happenin regular n a few places, where ppl cant be fxed with clubs

5. Clubs are really going to have to fight hard to stay relevant ya'll especially because its Australia (via outdoor festivals smell less than clubs)

Aight im off to europe enjoy the cold =p

Bass_Drop

Bass_Drop said on the 29th Jul, 2010

Has music policy gone out the window in favour of who can pull their mates in? There's only the occasional venue that I would go to see an artist/DJ. I went to the Undertow album launch and it was the first time in a long time that I have been to a hip hop gig.. LOVED IT! happy to pay my $10 even though my name was on the lsit.

Trouble is that many DJ's get their music from the same source. The decline in vinyl has meant that those white label gems have all but gone, although the die hard who has gone digital will spend hours trawling obscure sites and mailing lists to get those "white label" gems.

Back in the 90's, I remember when hard house was order of the day and then The Underground came along and did very well... many other clubs booted out their hard house DJ's and went house. The same happended when breaks came in and also Electro. It seems that trend has crossed over to who has the most friends on facebook?

I went to the secret warehouse party last weekend and it was f*king refreshing.. really enjoyed the music and I hadn't got a clue who was playing..The northern soul was movin!! that's what Sydney needs to get back to.. music that comes from the heart as opposed to what is top of beatport etc..

I run Bass Drop and I am in a lucky position where I can put DJ's on whose music I enjoy! A few have dropped me mixes that I still play on my "generic MP3 player". I have put teh DJ's on gigs and in the same way they made me happy, they made my crowd happy!

Venues have to make money.. simple fact. However, promoters need to be more creative, take time to build a following. Venues need to commit to promoters to allow them time to build a following. However, all club nights, apart from very very few, have a shelf life of 12 - 18 months

I love music as it's such an emotive subject!

DJ_Ange

DJ_Ange said on the 29th Jul, 2010

I think the biggest thing is the fact that music is so freely accessible on the net now. Not in the sense that wannabe DJs can go and just download top 10 tracks off beatport charts and hit the clubs and 'pretend' to be a real DJ but more in the sense that so much more access to what the big name DJs and events are doing all over the world.

Regardless of the growth of social networking and the shift in the majority of people's concerns over money less and less people are going out on a weekly basis usually compelled by the need to save money but the fact that you can see so much more online now (especially with youtube) than you could say 5 years ago reduces people's 'Fear of Missing Out' feeling.

If you didn't get to go to the big events jump on youtube and you can search your favourite DJs and check out their videos or just download the live set. Sure its not the same as being in the club or at the festival but when you're trying to save your money being able to see it online makes people feel like they are missing out less and less.

There is also middle ground for the 'promoter dj' .... simple fact is you need to stand out. 5-10yrs ago less people were wanting/trying to be a DJ. It was a skill far less accessible than it is today. The fact that it is a lot more affordable to buy music (or unfortunately now get it illegally) and equipment (getting a basic setup used off ebay means there are a lot more people with equipment at home with hopes of becoming the next superstar) ..... the massive increase in the number of people wanting to DJ in clubs means you have more people competing for fewer gigs available ..... it almost makes sense that promoters would go down the path of the promoter dj just so you can prove you are 'more than just a dj' ... otherwise why should they put you on over someone else? Its like applying for a job .... you have 2 ppl of the same calibre but one has a degree and one doesn't, you'll take the one with the degree even if both can do the job perfectly.

Its an unfortunate by-product that quality has gone downhill as many promoters are looking at someone's promotional skills BEFORE they look at their ability to DJ. I've always personally believed that you should help any way you can to promote the nights you are being booked for but whenever I'm asked 'how many people can you bring' the only thing I say is that I will do my best to spread the word through all sources of networking but I will not ever guarantee specific numbers. I don't think promoters should expect anything more from DJs other than to show they are working hard to support the night they are booked for.

I have felt the pinch of certain venues/promoters putting so much pressure on me to bring a certain number of people that I had to walk away from certain gigs because of it.

I personally have spent quite a lot of time building up my promotional network and its worked both ways ..... I get promoters contacting me now asking me for help to promote their events but then expect something for nothing .... why should I help promote your event if you aren't considering booking me? ..... I have also felt the problems that have come from 'over-promoting' and it really opened my eyes as to how much you should do to promote the events you are DJ'ing for before it is deemed excessive and can wind up pushing people away and promoters need to consider this too when putting their conditions in place when booking DJs. The over promotion I have done in the past has only ever been driven by the desire not to miss out on the gig just because I didn't get enough people through the door according to the promoter.

There are only so many times DJs mate's will actually show up to their gigs too. If you want to build a new breed of high end quality DJs focusing on people who have a strong guestlist over quality will always lead very quickly to that DJ become a has-been instead of a wannabe.

Sorry massive response here but just my thoughts

neme

neme said on the 29th Jul, 2010

exellent read, took the words out of my mouth. 4 yrs ago i was one of the next big dj's in the sydney harddance scene, back when you had to be good to play because it was very hard to play turntables, 2 yrs on and introduction of the cdj's and now computer programs have open'd the floodgates for any1 to be a dj, now i'm struggling to get sets for the exact same reason, because i'm older and my mates don't go out as much anymore, i'm sick to death of going out and listening to rubbish dj's. and i totally disagree on people now only wanna go watch there mates play rubbish, the reason it seems like that is because club's are supporting the promoter dj and every1 know's it, so what do they do, they pack the dancefloor when there mate is playing not because they think he's a good dj but because they know if they do, the promoter will keep booking him, then when another good dj comes on they pretend to not be into it, get off the dancefloor so it looks like there friend is the better dj, even though they might really be enjoying the next guy's set. the punters are playing promoters for fools and it's working and it's really killed the club scene big time. something has to change. i run a night down the south coast where it's very commercial but we play more underground music and it is the most popular night in town, it's always packed, why you say, because i only book good dj's not guy's who bring a crows, every1 knows they are gonna see good talented dj's and the vibe is unreall, every has an awesome time. poeple are attracted to the atmosphere my night creates not so much the music, and i will say soph, that is what sublime and many other clubs use to be about and are now not. promoter dj's have 100% killed the scene and the art of djing with the help of promoters, and it's a very bad shame. i hope every can work together to erase the problem and i no doubt believe the club scene can go back to the way it was

Coray-Skeptikz

Coray-Skeptikz said on the 1st Aug, 2010

I'm 18 years old, and this weekend coming up i will be playing my first even as a booked dj.
i had entered a competition, and although i didn't win it, i still got booked on my djing ability. or so i hope, and not the fact that im a regular at the club and know alot of the patrons very closely. i pride myself on my djing. my technique, my want to go places and do things in the industry, not on the fact that i could make people money or play what people want me to per say, if im going to play im going to select tracks that represent me as a person, that can portray to the patrons who i am and what djing means to me. ill playing stuff people can relate to yes, but i will play them a mix they may not have necessarily heard before, give the people some variety, make them feel what im feeling up in the booth. aslong as that has been done at the end of my set, then i am happy. i dont facebook spam, i dont do any of that, i let my mates knows that i am playing at an event, and say be nice to see you down there for support. that is about all you can do really. as for promoting, yeah sure ofcourse your going to push an even your playing at if your an up and comer such as myself because you want to get yourself exposed, get your name out there. . but there is a limit to how much of that you can do, pushing to hard will give you a bad rep, in all honesty i think that aslong as your beats are banging, people are loving it, people come day in day out to see you play because they you as a dj not because of any affiliations that they may have with you, who cares if you promote to get more people, just dont let the promoting take over your djing.. thats all i have to say

wheelo007

wheelo007 said on the 2nd Aug, 2010

A certain someone, who will remain nameless, let's call him Mr X Richards, is your perfect example of what's wrong with this industry. Even judging by the douchebaggy photo alone, Mr Dean X has done a great job in representing the problem with modern society. I mean, come on....you look like Ruby Rose for God's sake...

To be honest, there's more to blame than just the promoter/dj for all this. With increase in popularity of the genre, more clubs, events and nights have come into existence. With that comes competition and market saturation. If one club spams the shit out of everyone on Facebook, Twatter, Myspace, etc, then most other clubs will respond in kind, because a club only stays a club when there's money coming in. Hence, you're getting club owners instilling the idea in the heads of all the 17/18 year old promoters that it's the way the industry works nowadays. If this is something they grow up seeing, it becomes the norm.
Clubs and event organisers need to see that if the quality of performers is poor, people won't come back, no matter how much they spam and terrorise. If you provide a good night with good djs, people will come back. I'm still a firm believer in the power of word of mouth.
A promoter is only carrying out the direction of the club owner, so if they were told to start requesting mixes before promising a gig, reducing the amount of spamming and that it's better to have a good reputation than a huge reputation as being a shitbag , they might actually become better promoters, which will leave the djs to focus on providing the punters with an enjoyable night, which they'll tell their friends about and always want to come back for.

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