It’s common knowledge now that the likes of Calvin Harris and Skrillex are making stupid money, like billionaire money, but you’d be wrong to assume that cash trickles down the dance music food chain.

Aussie DJ and producer Nick Thayer, who releases on Skrillex’s OWSLA label, recently took to Tumblr to break down the economics of a career as a performing artist in electronic music. It’s a really interesting look at the unglamorous financial reality that many “successful” DJs struggle with. It turns out that, unless you’re headlining festivals and doing crossover collaborations, performing as a DJ can be a grind.

Of course, the gig also has its perks, and Thayer doesn’t come off as whiny as his earnest exposition goes some way in dispelling the assumption that DJ life is some lucrative dreamlife.


Taken from Thayer’s Tumblr:


I wanted to take a second to break some numbers down for you. I’m doing this to be transparent. To let you know what the life of producer / DJ looks like from the financial end. People often think there’s a huge amount of money in this scene. There is, but it is very concentrated and in the hands of a very, VERY few people.
The vast majority are on similar numbers to me, running on fumes most of the time to make this thing work. We do it because we LOVE THE ABSOLUTE SHIT out of writing music, playing music and sharing music.
Let’s start with a release.
Here’s the TOTAL sales breakdown for my Like Boom EP (March 2012). This is sales across all platforms (iTunes / Beatport / etc etc). Bear in mind this EP was the #2 overall release for thirteen weeks on Beatport so you can assume it was a comparative success.
  • “Like Boom”: 2600
  • “Facepalm”: 2932
  • “Totalitaria”: 1125
  • “Haters Gonna Hate”: 652
  • “Top Of The World”: 710
  • “What Props Ya Got”: 614
  • “Rise Up”: 658
  • “Like Boom” Nick Thayer Rmx: 1953
  • “Facepalm” Rmx: 969
  • “What Props” Rmx: 509
So that’s 12,722 total sales.
For the sake of making this as simple as possible, let’s be generous and call these sales $2 each (most are a bit less). Then let’s split 50% (give or take) for whatever site you sell through, meaning the site takes $1 and there’s $1 left. Most labels these days run on a profit share arrangement which means you split what’s left of that down the middle too. Let’s also allow for any writing splits where other artists have been involved adding vocals etc. So here we have total income that gets to me after the site, the label and the other artists involved have all taken their cut.
  • “Like Boom” (50% to sample clearance, 25% share to three vocalists) = $162.5
  • “Facepalm” = $1467
  • “Totalitaria” = $562.5
  • “Haters Gonna Hate” (50% to vocalist) = $326
  • “Top Of The World” (50% to vocalist) = $177.5
  • “What Props Ya Got” (30% to vocalist) = $158
  • “Rise Up” = $329
  • “Like Boom” Nick Thayer Rmx (see above) =  $122
  • “Facepalm” Rmx (50% to remixer) = $242
  • “What Props” Rmx (50% to remixer) = $127
So that’s a total income from the EP of $3,673.50.
(I’m not going to include Spotify or YouTube here as they total less than the price of a beer overall).
At this point you pay your management 15% of what you have. Mastering comes in at approximately $150 – $200 per track, so that’s $1500 total. Artwork is $1000 for anything half decent that’s usable across all platforms*.  A decent publicity campaign is about $300-$500. There’s a myriad of other smaller costs involved too. Some labels will cover these costs up front but it will be a ‘recoupable advance’ meaning you have to pay them back before they give you any money so it’s the same as fronting the money yourself*.
So you can see at the end, this EP which probably represented a year of work at actually ended up COSTING me money (though not a lot) to release. If somebody said to you ‘put your heart and soul into this project for a year and at the end give us some money for the privilege of having us listen to it’, what would YOU do?
What about touring?
At this point people usually say ‘well you make a lot of money from gigs right?’  Well not really.  Around six months after this EP came out, so in late 2012, enough time to potentially see the benefits, in the US I was earning between $1000 and $1500 for a show. That might sound like a lot of money, but that is TOTAL.
Let’s say I did a run of nine shows across three weeks (Thurs, Fri, Sat night x 3) at $1250. That’s $11,250.  That’s A LOT right?? Well.  Right off the bat the booking agent will take 15%.  As an Australian in the US I pay 30% up front on tax too (this is reclaimable but Australia has a reciprocal tax agreement with US so it comes out of the amount of tax I owe here in Aus).  So that’s down to $6200 straight away.
Then I have to pay for travel*.
Let’s say return flights from Aus ($1500 economy fare) plus travel in between shows ($200 per flight if lucky) and we’re down to $2687.  You can usually get the club to pay for a hotel on the night of your show, but that’s it.  So that leaves maybe ten nights where you are covering it at $100 a night if you can find it.  Often they will be much more expensive so you survive by sleeping on couches in friends’ places every second night.  That’s $1687 left.
Now pay management 15% and we’re at around $1434. Then there is food to pay for cause you can’t live on bar snacks for three weeks. At $30 per day (that’s $10 for b’fast lunch and dinner) for three weeks is around $600 and at that point all you’re left with is around $800 for three weeks’ work, which is not exactly a fortune.
So what?
This is not a sob story. This is me saying to you please, PLEASE support artists you like in any way you can think of.
Buy the whole EP when they release it instead of just one song. You would not believe the difference this can make. Even buying two songs instead of one helps chart positions which creates exposure which means more people listen and the cycle repeats itself.
Share the links to their music on your Facebook or Twitter or re-post them on SoundCloud or wherever you can. Promoters keep an eye out for whoever is being talked about the most across social media so instead of bugging your favourite artist to come to your town talk about them as much as you can and bug the promoters to bring them.
I want to say now THANK YOU for every single person who has supported me in any of these ways. Who has bought my music, shown their friends, stuck stickers on things, come to a show, or whatever.