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The Changing Dance Music Economy: Examining the Risks and Rewards of Rising DJ Fees

todayJune 8, 2023 12

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The Changing Dance Music Economy: Examining the Risks and Rewards of Rising DJ Fees

DJs, agents, and promoters from all corners of the world are sharing their perspectives on a crucial aspect of the industry. The dance music economy has experienced a post-lockdown boom, leading to a significant surge in artists’ booking fees. However, amidst this transformation, some local promoters are feeling the pressure, raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of this new reality.

The revival of clubbing and the broader live music sector has created a higher demand for artists, resulting in a noticeable increase in booking fees across the industry. While it may seem reasonable for artists to receive higher pay, especially after enduring years of lockdowns, dancing bans, and rising living costs, the benefits of this surge tend to disproportionately favor well-established names and major agencies. On the flip side, smaller clubs and promoters, particularly outside Western Europe, Australia, and the US, are struggling to keep up.

In the Czech Republic, where the economy has been significantly disrupted by the war in Ukraine, venues are operating on precarious budgets. Sanjin Nesimi, co-founder and head booker of Prague club Ankali, has had to adopt a more assertive negotiation approach with agents to ensure the club’s survival due to rampant inflation, high energy costs, and a decline in local attendance. Nesimi emphasizes the need for a better balance between local and international fees and sets a limit to the club’s artist fees.

The rising booking fees can be attributed to various social and economic factors, including inflation, economic instability, and increasing flight costs, which show no signs of abating. These ripple effects pose a threat to the growth and diversity of emerging music scenes. Additionally, the normalization of exorbitant fees is fueled by the expanding festival market and the emergence of new high-income markets like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, particularly during the summer season.

Miguel Lega, founder and creative director of Bogotá’s AMB agency and The Hindie Corporation, highlights the impact of the festival factor, which agents gradually become accustomed to when it comes to high fees. As booking fees rise, promoters face the difficult choice of either raising ticket prices or absorbing the costs themselves. In regions with weaker currencies and outside the wealthiest parts of the world, this becomes particularly challenging.

Exchange rate fluctuations pose a long-standing concern in countries like Colombia, where the peso has devalued significantly against the US dollar, resulting in a substantial premium on top of rising booking costs. While economic pressures and agents maximizing returns for their clients are expected in any industry under market capitalism, the situation becomes more complex within the underground dance music culture, where agencies, artists, and promoters often emphasize a community-oriented ethos.

The perception of the techno and house music industry as underground is being challenged, as it risks resembling the instant gratification-oriented EDM scene, according to Lega. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the industry’s need to sustain itself economically. Nesimi questions whether the state of constant growth is truly beneficial for the broader scene, emphasizing the enormous differences in fees that do not align with the values on which the underground scene should stand.

Certain established agencies hold considerable power in the international tour sector, leveraging bidding wars and extensive artist rosters to manipulate prices in their favor. Some promoters claim that not all agents are transparent with their clients, prioritizing premium fees over career development opportunities. However, it is important to note that not all agents operate in the same manner. Some are receptive to offers that consider local market conditions and long-term development potential.

Promoters have had to adapt their strategies to navigate this new reality while maintaining accessible events, ensuring the sustainability of their organizations, and curating exciting lineups. Some focus on growing their local underground culture, investing in strong residents and up-and-coming international artists, and building trust with agents. Local artists and crews often play a significant role in attracting people to clubs, according to Nesimi.

To appeal to the new generation of ravers who discovered dance music during the pandemic, some bookers have shifted their attention to new sounds and artists. However, relying solely on momentary hype carries risks. Lega emphasizes the importance of inclusivity and education when engaging with younger crowds and believes that viewing the industry as a diverse ecosystem that moves in cycles is vital for longevity.

Smaller promoters might find part of the solution in increased communication and coordination, fostering a level playing field in line with the communal ethics shared by many underground collectives. Mathieu Constance, a talent booker for Courage! and Multicolore, suggests that open and public dialogue is necessary to counteract the gatekeepers and their secretive practices, as more promoters come forward to share their knowledge and experiences regarding the “back-end” of the industry.

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Written by: AIT

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