How do DJs earn millions of dollars?
August 28, 2015 6:03 PM   Subscribe

What do super successful DJs actually do? How do people like Calvin Harris earn millions of dollars?

I just read that Calvin Harris earned tens of millions of dollars last year. In my day, a DJ played the music of other artists. So how do DJs earn so much money nowadays if they are playing the music of other artists?

I feel old for asking this question.
posted by Triumphant Muzak to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here is an article in Forbes that answers your question. In short, clubs will pay a lot for a guy like Calvin Harris (in this case, up to $300,000).
posted by ssg at 6:13 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, depending on the style of the individual DJ, there is a fine line between "playing other people's music" and "creating entirely new music live using other people's music as your instrument."
posted by 256 at 6:48 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Forbes article mentions this, but to emphasize it here, Calvin Harris is also a producer and a songwriter, meaning he writes, arranges, and records his own songs. Like a lot of pop musicians, he earns a lot more money touring than from his records. DJing is a skill (as bad DJing will make very clear very quickly) and I'm sure he's good at it or else people wouldn't pay to see him, but I think part of the reason he's so massively in-demand has more to do with his pop hits (often collaborating with high-profile people like Rihanna) than the kind of virtuosity you'd see in Kid Koala (or, say, someone like Araabmusik).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:12 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

1) Being a good DJ is on par with being a good performer, of any type. Be it singer, guitarist, or actor, a good performance is something the masses have always been willing to pay to see.

2) A good DJ set has every chance for sublimity as any other performance. Often times, because of the minimal, repetetive nature of the music and performance, when it is sublime it is fucking amazing.

3) Wealthy (including middle class) people desire a relatable, consistent, sublime performance, and few arts can meet this design criteria as well as a house/trap/jungle/IDM DJ.

4) Therefore, a good DJ has tremendous market value. These DJs are not idiots, and they charge relative market prices.

tl;dr: this is literally where art meets capitalism.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:18 AM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Calvin Harris is a poor example for this question, he is an musician who creates music the same way pretty much any other modern musician does (he ALSO does DJ, where he performs on a spectrum from playing his own music, creating new music live, and playing other produced tracks like a traditional DJ).

Harris makes money like any other musician.

A more traditional DJ, say Tiesto, makes nearly all their money from mostly playing other's tracks live with some creation of new music live from other's music.

Tiesto makes hundreds of thousands for a big live Vegas gig.
posted by Cosine at 11:07 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are some incredibly skilled DJs but guys like Calvin Harris are not necessarily popular for being skilled DJs but for having big pop/club hits associated with their name. I think there once was (and still is on a local scale) a bit more of a separation between specialized DJs and specialized producers, but now the money is all in performance and the marketing focuses on brand-name performers who come with their own repertoire of original music. Think Skrillex - his popularity came from what he did musically and if you look at his early performances he pretty clearly was still learning to DJ. This is so much the paradigm that there is a whole covert industry of ghost producers who make tracks to sell the rights to DJs who want a hit song but don't really know how to make it themselves. Tiesto is an interesting name to bring up here because he's not just known as a DJ but for various tracks released as original Tiesto material. However he is open about the fact that he is primarily a DJ with silent partners who handle most of the studio side.
posted by atoxyl at 1:15 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

(he ALSO does DJ, where he performs on a spectrum from playing his own music, creating new music live, and playing other produced tracks like a traditional DJ)

Just to add to this, you can find examples of his recent DJ sets online (e.g.) if you want to get a sense for what people are paying for. He is sometimes playing music that's not his but iirc that live set struck me as mostly his stuff mixed with filler, and he's going to a lot of effort to engage the crowd in the way a live performer of any musical genre would. The crowd seems pretty into it, so whether you personally think it deserves a ton of money or not, I bet it is well worth it for the venue.
posted by advil at 2:11 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

In addition to what's already been mentioned, it's name recognition. Harris (and other DJs on that level) fill rooms for the same reason Madonna does.

Also, Tiesto has released a lot of original albums.

"creating entirely new music live using other people's music as your instrument ."

I could watch Kid Koala's hands all day
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on August 30, 2015

« Older Please tell me more about the homeowners insurance...   |   Do you trigger warning? Would you want one? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.