How to Book a Headline DJ

How to Book a Headline DJ

Are you a new club promoter wondering how to book a headline DJ? The answer isn't as straight forward as you might want!

In this blog we help explain how club promoters big and small book headline DJs and headline acts for their parties, club nights and music festivals.

It's especially useful for our DJ and music production graduates who are looking to start their own club night.

There are many things to consider before you attempting to try and book a headline DJ. First consider this, is your event ready for a headline DJ?

Let's start from the beginning...

What is a headline DJ?

First let's clarify what a headline DJ actually is. A headline DJ is the main booking of an event, the biggest name on the flyer and the artist that will sell the most tickets. Being a headline DJ comes with prestige, experience and celebrity. In summary, a headline DJ will have the following attributes:

  1. USP (Unique Selling Point)
  2. A Large Following
  3. Fame/Celebrity
  4. Chart-Topping Music
  5. Stage Presence
  6. They Have a Live Show
  7. They Have a Memorable Look & Brand
  8. They are Interviewed by Music Magazines
Click here to find out more about what makes a headline DJ

Dayane Leanddro at Ministry of Sound

How expensive is it to book a headline DJ?

There is no specific price for a headline DJ. The price is often calculated based on how famous the artist is, how big the event is and how much money the event will be making in ticket sales. It's safe to say however that big names can be in the tens of thousands and headline DJs can be paid in excess of a million for certain performances.

Headline DJs are often out of reach for new club promoters, unless of course said promoters are very rich! In most cases, new promoters will start with smaller acts and build up to bigger acts over the lifetime of their brand.

For a reasonably sized venue on a normal weekend night, Ministry of Sound or Egg for example, you would expect the headliners to be paid between £3,000-£10,000. Headliners at smaller events can be much less. Headliners at bigger events, festivals or special events like NYE can be a lot more!

It's worth mentioning however that large clubs or promoters will often outsource the lineups for certain rooms to sub promoters, record labels or other brands. In these cases they will give those sub promoters a budget and those promoters will decide where the money goes. For example, if Protocol Records were to host The Box at Ministry of Sound they would most likely be paid a brand fee. Let's say £10,000 for example. They will then pay the DJs and the owner or the label or brand would take the rest. In these cases the brand itself becomes the headliner.

How To Book a Headline DJ For Your Event

So you want to book a headline DJ for your event? You'll first need to pitch your proposal to their representation. Start by doing your research to find out who represents them. Do they have a booking agency or a manager?

Often, the best place to look is their social media profiles. Artists will regularly include a link to their booking agency in their bio. If they don't, you can try to message them directly. A quick Google search can often also help you find out who to contact.

How to work with booking agents

Booking agents are notoriously difficult to communicate and negotiate with. You have to remember that their job is to get the best price for their artists performance, to protect their artists credibility and ensure that they are booking with the right event at the right time. In their eyes this is a battle and they play for the opposite team!

It's normal for booking agents to completely ignore you if they can already see that they don't want to work with you, your brand or event.

Unfortunately, this is true and a reality of working with headline DJ booking agents. I personally think it's very rude and bad business. It wouldn't be hard to simply copy and paste a polite decline or elaborate with the reasons behind declining a proposition. Instead, many agents will simply ignore and event block you from contacting them further!

Remember that negotiation is a power game. Many agents will ignore you at first to build a sense of scarcity or desperation. If you think it's hard to book someone you'll probably end up paying more when the opportunity arises. Booking agents know this any will play you like a fool unless you understand how to negotiate with leverage and how to stand your ground.

Be prepared for booking agents to be quite rude and stand-offish.

Just think of the process of booking a headline DJ like a game of chess. You need to foresee a few steps ahead of where the negotiations are currently at and have a few tricks up your sleeve. If you have some leverage then you'll be in a better negotiating position.

Negotiating a fee is like a game of chess

How to negotiate with headline DJ booking agents

A typical negotiation will start with your emailing them to ask if their act would consider performing at your event. You will need to include your entire event proposal with details for them to even consider replying to you. 

Make sure you include information about the lineup, venue, ticket price and promotional strategy. You'll need to have links to all your profiles, a clear brand identity and exciting vision. The more professional your event proposal is they more likely you'll get a reply.

If the agent thinks you're an amateur promoter or newbie then you'll unlikely hear back from them. 

If you even get a reply, they might initially turn you down, however this might just be a psychological trick and the first move in your game of chess. By no means should you consider the conversation over and give up. If they turn you down with no explanation ask they why. You might be able to change aspects of your event to suit them better or perhaps you can just treat this failed attempt as a good learning experience.

They might think that your event doesn't match the notoriety of their artist, is an amateur production, uncool or unlikely to sell out.

You can't apply for a headline DJ to perform at your event if it isn't as good as or better than the events and brands the artist is already working with. Look at your competitors who are booking this artist and make sure you measure up.

Agents won't allow you to book headline DJ acts unless they think your event will be a sell-out success. It's not good PR to have your artist play to an empty dancefloor and booking agents are very aware of this fact. Far better for them to turn down amateur bookings than have their artists credibility and value be drained by letting them perform at an event that is deemed a flop. It rubs off badly.

Let's say you get a reply and it's positive, they want to know more. They will likely ask you a vague question like 'What's the budget for this booking' Sometimes the best way to answer this is with another vague reply that is used to fish for more information. Remember, this negotiation is like a game of chess, you want to find out more information before committing to anything concrete. This way you can assess the bookers true position and therefore make a more accurate decision about how much money you're willing to pay.

How do booking agents decide on how much to charge for a headline DJ act?

This is a great question with a few answers. Firstly, a booking agent would assess your events financials and estimate how much turnover and profit you are likely to make.

For example, they might calculate that the venue has a capacity of 1000 and likely to sell out. Tickets are £10 each so that totals £10,000 turnover (ticket sales). Now they would estimate how much they think you are paying to hire the venue and for extras like sound technicians, equipment, promotion and the other DJs. They will deduct these expenses from the turnover and estimate how much profit you might make.

Let's say that the expenses are £7,000 so that leaves you with a profit of £3,000 if the event sells out.

They will then most likely ask for the entire £3,000 (or more) for their opening bid. Why would they ask for more than you're making in profit? They might ask for more that you're making in profit because of a few reasons. The most common reasons are:

  • They normally charge a lot more for this artist.
  • They think that by booking their artists you will get not just the performance but also kudos and reputation gains.
  • They are just greedy and want to empty your bank account!

Either way, knowing your rough profit margin will help you figure out what your maximum budget is. I would suggest that you plan your budget on the fact that your event might not sell out and there might also be hidden costs. For example, you might need to spend more on adverts to sell-out your event than initially planned.

If I was due to make a £3,000 profit on a sell-out event I would want to be paid at least something for my efforts for running the event. Let's say £1000 for your efforts as the promoter. After all, you're taking on all the work and all the financial risk.

In this scenario it would leave you with a maximum of £2,000 for the artist if you're confident that your event will sell out. Less if you're not confident. However, if you think this artist is not going to sell out the event then perhaps rethink who you're trying to book or go back to the drawing board.

If you're looking for ideas to help you sell out events click here.

In our example here the agent is looking for £3k and you're maximum is £2k. Now you have the goal posts it's time to use your leverage to lower the fee or meet in the middle. Compromise is the name of the game! I would often come in with a ball-park estimate which is deliberately a lot lower than I am expecting or willing to pay. As with all negotiations you often end up in the middle ground.

They will probably turn this down. When they do, you can then say you're willing to increase the budget if you can get more value for money from the booking or you can ask if they would accept a lower fee if your providing more value. Here are some ideas on that front.

1. Will the artist give me exclusivity for this performance in this city on that month?

Having the artist play multiple events in your city during the same season as your booking will make it harder to sell tickets. Make sure that if you're paying a high fee you are getting exclusivity. The opposite of this is to ask the agent to accept a lower fee if there is no exclusivity clause.

2. Will the artist be promoting the event on their social media. If so, which platforms and how often? Will they include this event on their mail-out perhaps? Maybe they can mention it in any upcoming interviews in the music press or on radio shows?

Ideally the artist should help you promote the event to their audience and help you sell tickets. If you don't actually request this they will rarely do it. Make sure it's in the contract that they help you promote and be specific about the details. If the artist is not willing to promote the event in the ways you are requesting hopefully the booking agent will see the logic and accept a lower fee.

3. Will the artist be willing to flight share with other promoters in the same country or will the artist accept cheaper accommodation?

One of the biggest costs of booking a headline DJ other than the performance fee is the travel and accommodation costs. If you're booking a headline DJ on a business class seat from one continent to another it is very expensive. One way of reducing the cost is with a flight share.

A flight share is where you share the cost of the flight with other promoters in the same country (but not the same city for the reason above). If other promoters in different parts of the country want to book this act you can share some of the costs drastically reducing the amount you need to pay. Another good thing to ask is will the artist accept less expensive accommodation in exchange for more fee. Most reasonable artists will but some artists will insist on five star hotels.

4. Will the artist add value to the booking by creating unique content?

One of the best ways to get the artist to help you promote the event is by asking them to create unique content just for you. This could be a mixtape, live stream, Q&A or interview, instagram takeover or a video of them promoting the event details.

It's also great for your brand if you have an endorsement video from your headliner. Having a history of booking great headliners will also help you negotiate more bookings by assuring the booking agent you're an experienced pro. This evidence will come in handy for future negotiations.

It might be worth paying more on your first few headline DJ bookings and recouping the benefits later.

5. Will the booking agent give you any other other smaller acts as part of the booking?

Many agents have a large number of artists they represent. Some of them are established and expensive and some of they are relatively new and in need of exposure. You might help the agent kill two birds with one stone by saying you'll pay the higher fee if they throw in some smaller acts for free. This will ultimately save you money in booking the other acts and keep the booker happy too. Win-Win.

6. Will the booking agent accept a lower fee if you pay in advance.

In some cases agents and artists will be more likely to accept an offer if you pay in full, in advance. This carries less risk for the booking agent and might tempt them into a cheaper offer. It's more risk for you if for any reason your event is cancelled.

7. Will the booking agent accept a lower fee if you promise to spend a certain amount on advertising or package some press exposure into the deal?

In some cases the booking agent will accept a lower fee if they feel the booking will come with some extras. Extras could include a press interview or a big spend on advertising. What other extras could you be offering that add value to the booking?

Will the booking agent accept a lower fee because of the press hype around the night?

In some cases certain events will have more hype and a better narrative than others. Some events might be spearheading a certain sound or cause. For example, Pride events might be able to pay smaller fees because the artist is keen to support the LGBTQI community. There might be a charity aspect to a night or special cause the artist might want to support. Perhaps your event supports diversity riders and this is something the booking agents also want to support.

8. Will the booking agent accept a lower fee because the venue is exceptional?

In some cases, booking agents will accept a lower fee because the event is exceptional in some way. For example, if your event has a one-of-a-kind venue or USP which is not comparable to any other event you might win them over just because of the cool-factor and exclusivity. One of the ways this might pan out is if you have an incredible venue. Something that's perhaps never been used like a castle, monument or awesome landscape.

Your events USP might be able to help you negotiate a better headline DJ fee.

9. Will the agent accept a lower fee if you help them get other gigs in your country for the same act.

Sometimes a booking agent will entertain the idea of your helping them secure more bookings in return for a lower fee. You can reach out to your contacts and promoters in other cities in your region and ask if they are willing to book the act while they are in the country. In many cases they will because they will benefit from a flight share. If agreed, you'll benefit from the cheaper flight share but also the discounted price because you helped the agent secure more gigs. Win-Win.

10. Will the agent give you a better price if you agree to a regular booking.

Another way of securing a better deal is to buy more. Ask the agent if they would give you a discount if you book the headliner on a regular basis, perhaps every six months. You could also investigate if they will give you a lower price if you agree to book other artists from their roster on a regular basis. Try and build a reputation with the booker as long-term plans benefit you both.

After you've agreed on the price

Make sure that you've agreed on a fee that covers all the extras like travel, transfers, accommodation, guest-list places, the artists rider and food.

The next step will be to ask the booking agent for the draft contract.

Make sure you check the draft and then ask for any amendments that you feel you want. Don't be afraid to ask for amendments because the booking agents will always be over protective of their act in their contracts. It is quite normal to make multiple amendments to a contract before everyone is happy.

Make sure you have room to manoeuvre if your venue is cancelled or event is cancelled for any reason. 

A common clause to add would to have an agreement that you can book the act on another date if your event is cancelled for any reason out of your control.

Once you are happy with the fee you have negotiated and the contract you can sign the papers and pay the deposit.

Congratulations you've now booked your first headliner DJ! Make sure you now promote your event and sell out!

If you would like more helpful blogs relating to DJing, music production and promoting please click here.

If you are interested in learning how to DJ or produce click here for our courses at LSA.



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