The Rising Costs of DJ Life
a.k.a. Inflation blues, post-pandemic problems and an overdue examination of contemporary nightlife models.
Dance music often presents itself as a bastion of fun, hedonism and partying, but it’s also a global, multibillion-dollar industry, and like many other industries of that size and scale, it’s run into a major economic roadblock in 2022: inflation.
It’s not often that electronic music journalism delves into macroeconomics—and that’s probably a good thing—but in recent months, the conversation around inflation has bullied its way into the club, reaching a volume that makes ignoring the issue not just impossible, but financially irresponsible. And while much of the discourse to date has manifested via behind-the-scenes grousing or the occasional DJ griping on Twitter, the ripple effects of inflation are already being felt across the live music industry, prompting questions about whether many of nightlife’s long-held practices will continue to be feasible in the long run.
One such practice is the normalization of the frequent-flyer DJ. Although promoters have spent decades flying DJs in to play their parties, the custom went into overdrive during the 2010s. The explosion of cheap airfare (especially in Europe) had a big hand in that, but the internet—and specifically the way it reshaped fandom and globalized music culture—also played a major role. While artists below the star tier once largely toiled in semi-obscurity, the growth of social media, not to mention online platforms like Boiler Room and Resident Advisor, elevated the stature (and increased the number) of what might be described as mid-tier acts, allowing them to more easily build an international fanbase. Promoters—many of them driven by those same online influences (and of course also looking to turn a profit)—also began to look further afield when booking events, filling their lineups with artists from other cities, countries and even continents.
As this approach became more widespread, a sort of booking arms race developed, with parties jockeying to stack their bills with talent and bring in hot out-of-town artists before a rival promoter could do the same. After all, the dance music industry was growing, lots of people were making money and in the years leading up to the pandemic, it became commonplace for DJs, even ostensibly “underground” ones, to be catching multiple flights per week, performing in multiple cities—and often multiple countries—within the span of a single weekend.
COVID obviously put that system on pause, but now that clubs and festivals have returned and live music is settling into something that at least resembles normality, the industry in running into a serious problem: the old ways of business are a hell of a lot more expensive than they used to be.