My experience DJing in Japan *rant inside*
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  1. #1

    Default My experience DJing in Japan *rant inside*

    Hello all,

    A quick intro for those who don't know me, I am a lawyer working/living in Tokyo who speaks fluent Japanese, and has lived on and off in Japan for 4+ years. I am also a DJ, and have been playing for a bit over two years. I wrote an article/blog post the other day about my experiences in Japan that I thought some of you might find interesting. Here it is:

    I've decided to make a DJ-related announcement―and for the first time, it isn't going to be accompanied by crazy pictures, as I'm sure most of you are thoroughly sick of them.

    I've been DJing in Japan on and off for over a year, and I've had about 20-30 gigs in total at venues ranging from dive bars, to big clubs, to fancy hotel lounges. For the most part, these events have been a blast, and I'm thankful to have been given all these great opportunities to play. The downside is that 90% of these gigs have been unpaid (save free entry and a drink ticket or two); and by the end of the night I often find myself in the red due to purchasing drinks for friends who have come out to see me, taxis back and forth (when I choose not to go early/stay until 5 AM), etc.

    Though I have had a few gigs in North America that didn't provide financial compensation, those situations were far from the norm, and I typically would do them as a favor for friends. In most cases, however, event organizers back home compensate DJs for their services. In fact, there have been situations where the venues were so empty that I'm certain the owners of the establishments were losing money―but they nonetheless paid me. The concept seems quite simple: You request a service; you pay for that service.

    In Japan, however, I've come to realize that this is not typically the norm (with the exception of non-Japanese organizers, who, in my experience, compensate DJs). In Japan, actually, there's an air of "I'm letting you play at ____, so just be thankful for the opportunity." At the beginning, I was extremely thankful. After all, how many DJs get to play at WOMB after only 6 months of playing (I came to learn later that this is all to common)? Playing at famous clubs can be great, even though you will almost never be guaranteed a slot on the main stage. You also don't always get to play at an ideal time; and 4AM sets can really wear you down (not to mention, it's nearly impossible to get friends to come out and see you when you're playing the DJ equivalent of the graveyard shift).

    On top of not being compensated, though, there is another unique aspect about DJing in Japan which really irks me: You are constantly pressured to bring as many people to an event as possible in order to line the pockets of the club owners and promoters. I realize that promoters probably need to satisfy a certain quota, but the constant badgering of DJs to report the number of guests, and guilting DJs into bringing more people out if they don't report a high enough number, is absolutely ridiculous. To put this in more simple terms―if you're not going to compensate someone for doing work for you, don't ask them to bust their ass to do your job for you. Now, occasionally, you will be compensated per person you bring; but these "kickback" systems are rarely announced, often requiring DJs to go out of their way to get some kind of clarification. Even when you do get clarification, the terms are typically silly (e.g. $5 bucks per person after the first 20 people you bring). Once again, you only get paid once the promoter profits substantially off your hard work.

    And then there's the problem of promoters shortening slots for sets in order fit as many DJs in as possible, because they know that the more people they have DJing for them, the more money they can make based on each DJ's shuukyaku (essentially translating to "rounding up customers") abilities. All this leads to is too much variety in the type of music played, and an influx of inexperienced DJs.

    There is another underlying issue with the whole shuukyaku system, and that is that you feel like you're taking advantage of your friends when you ask them to come. The reality is that DJs want nothing more than to hang out with their friends, and they naturally want to invite their friends, help them get discounts, etc.; however, I've stopped inviting friends to clubs when the promoter has informed me that there is a kickback system in place, because I don't want to profit off my hard-earned relationships.

    This post has gotten way too long for its own good, so without further ado, here is my announcement: I will no longer be taking unpaid gigs as a DJ―and I urge other DJs to do the same. I have spent way too much money (in addition to transportation and party-related expenses, purchasing music and DJ equipment gets expensive) and time on this passion; and like anyone else who provides services, I would like to be compensated for them. I'm tired of not being able to answer people who come up to tell me that they loved my set, and ask me why I'm not playing on the main stage. The best I can typically muster is that I agree the vast majority of DJs playing on Tokyo club main stages are absolute garbage, yet they somehow have a following (though I've checked some of these DJs' social media pages, and the truth is that many of them really don't!) which gives them that extra push.

    I'm fortunate to have a real career to fall back on; and I feel terrible for all the young people who desire nothing more than to make a name for themselves in DJing, because many of them are probably scraping by to do so. I really hope this situation changes soon. Thanks to all who have supported me; and thanks to all who have fairly compensated me for DJing.

    I'm out!
    Aaron Benjamin
    soundcloud.com/djaaronbenjamin
    facebook.com/djaaronbenjamin

    Tokyo/Toronto

  2. #2

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    It isn't just you, and isn't just Japan, and isn't just DJing. This kind of thing is being asked by venues all over the world of live bands and musicians too. They will do it because there are plenty of people starting out who fall for it and play some gigs before becoming disgruntled, and are replaced by new fresh faces on the music scene.

    The only way to stop it happening, and make sure that DJs, live musicians and entertainers are fairly compensated for their art at venues is to educate each other, especially the fresh faces, and collectively refuse to play for free unless we have a really good reason to.

    We should have a guild or something...

  3. #3
    Tech Guru the_bastet's Avatar
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    Are you able to have booking contracts in japan?
    - Equipment - 2X Technics 1200, 2X Audio Technica ATLP1240, 2X XDJ700, 2X XDJ1000 MK2, Denon DNX-1100, Mixars DUO, DJM750 MK2, NI Audio 10, NI Aduio 4, Serato SL3, 4X Shure M44-7, 2X Ortofon Pro S, 2X Numark Groove Tool, Maschine MK3, Samson Carbon 49, Roland SE-02, Novation Launchcontrol, TouchOSC, Nocation Peak, Arturia MiniBrute, Korg Volca Kick, MicroKorg (Classic), NI Komplete Audio 6

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stormcaller View Post
    It isn't just you, and isn't just Japan, and isn't just DJing. This kind of thing is being asked by venues all over the world of live bands and musicians too. They will do it because there are plenty of people starting out who fall for it and play some gigs before becoming disgruntled, and are replaced by new fresh faces on the music scene.

    The only way to stop it happening, and make sure that DJs, live musicians and entertainers are fairly compensated for their art at venues is to educate each other, especially the fresh faces, and collectively refuse to play for free unless we have a really good reason to.

    We should have a guild or something...
    Agreed. I'm definitely being more proactive in educating other DJs around me.

    I will have to respectfully disagree that this practice is as common in other countries as it is in Japan. This kind of thing shouldn't be happening anywhere, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by the_bastet View Post
    Are you able to have booking contracts in japan?
    Could you be a bit more specific? Are you referring to a contract that sets out the terms/compensation related to a DJ's performance?
    Aaron Benjamin
    soundcloud.com/djaaronbenjamin
    facebook.com/djaaronbenjamin

    Tokyo/Toronto

  5. #5
    Tech Guru Nicky H's Avatar
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    This is the problem with the huge boom in DJ'ing over the last 5 years or so.
    Low barriers to entry = over-saturated market = talent for the lowest cost.
    SC | MC

  6. #6
    Tech Guru Patch's Avatar
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    It's not even that - this is what you're gonna get when you choose a career that you LOVE, over one that puts food on the table.

    Unfortunately.

    Otherwise, I'd be a full-time DJ.
    DJ'ing: 2x1200MK2, DJM 850, Dicers, F1, Zomo MC-1000, Sony MDR-v700, i7 Win 10 HP Envy
    Production: Ableton Live 8 and a mouse, Sennheiser HD400, Sony VAIO

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  7. #7
    Tech Guru the_bastet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patch View Post
    It's not even that - this is what you're gonna get when you choose a career that you LOVE, over one that puts food on the table.

    Unfortunately.

    Otherwise, I'd be a full-time DJ.
    I can tagree with this. I love both my career and Deejaying/Production/Label Owning.
    - Equipment - 2X Technics 1200, 2X Audio Technica ATLP1240, 2X XDJ700, 2X XDJ1000 MK2, Denon DNX-1100, Mixars DUO, DJM750 MK2, NI Audio 10, NI Aduio 4, Serato SL3, 4X Shure M44-7, 2X Ortofon Pro S, 2X Numark Groove Tool, Maschine MK3, Samson Carbon 49, Roland SE-02, Novation Launchcontrol, TouchOSC, Nocation Peak, Arturia MiniBrute, Korg Volca Kick, MicroKorg (Classic), NI Komplete Audio 6

  8. #8
    Tech Guru Patch's Avatar
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    Then you are lucky and I envy you.
    DJ'ing: 2x1200MK2, DJM 850, Dicers, F1, Zomo MC-1000, Sony MDR-v700, i7 Win 10 HP Envy
    Production: Ableton Live 8 and a mouse, Sennheiser HD400, Sony VAIO

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  9. #9

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    I guess one of the problems is, that a lot of DJs (including me) started it as a hobby, not as a profession and have proper job next to DJing. They see a intrinsic value in playing out in bars etc and they don't see themselves ever on a big stage, paid a lot.

    For us hobbyists this is more or less fine but unfortunately this also affects people who do the real business and all of a sudden a professional wedding DJ (who is also a sound technician, MC, light engineer, party planner) sees himself competing with "that friend of the bride who is also a DJ".

    Unfortunately this leads to a descend of overall quality in the DJ domain. The craft is not at all in focus, but the following, marketing, PR of a DJ. The clubowners have the choice of booking random DJ A (who plays for free) or random DJ B (who charges some money) and/or famous DJ A (who charges shitloads of money). Guess what they spend their money on.

    I can nowadays score enough gigs that have a high intrinsic value for me (underground raves, bars, clubs, open airs) and still give me enough compensation (freebies, money, fame) but it was a long way and took a lot of effort. The only real advise I can give is: If you had a bad experience with a promoter, club owner (or maybe a friend 'booking' you) gently stay away from them in the future without exceptions!

  10. #10
    Tech Guru Patch's Avatar
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    You have to keep learning. Experience is priceless.

    Unfortunately, some things you have to learn the hard way.
    DJ'ing: 2x1200MK2, DJM 850, Dicers, F1, Zomo MC-1000, Sony MDR-v700, i7 Win 10 HP Envy
    Production: Ableton Live 8 and a mouse, Sennheiser HD400, Sony VAIO

    Click HERE to D/L Free Tracks from Soundcloud!!!
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