What’s The #NairaLife Of A DJ Like When There’s No Party?

May 18, 2020

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.

Tell me about your first money stunt. 

That was in JSS2. My neighbours and I, six kids,  put together a plan to hawk pure water around the area. The plan was to hawk in pairs every day. We sold some before our plan scattered – my mum caught me.

Wait, why did you want to hawk?

The idea came up when we were sourcing for money to buy a new ball, after one neighbourhood madam seized it, and punctured our ball. Since the idea died before we were able to raise enough money for the ball, we split what we’d raised.

I spent the ₦20 I got on Goldspot and Jollof Rice with meat during lunch break the next day. Also, I was about 11 years old. 

Hahaha. What was it like for you growing up?

Nothing too shiny, but we lived okay. Dad had a nice Peugeot 504, we attended a private primary school. But while I was in secondary school, his spare parts business nosedived, so he had to take up a job in transportation. The transition period was brief so the impact wasn’t much. He still works at that transportation company. 

What about your mum?

Mum is a caterer. I think it’s more of a passion than a job for her.

Post-secondary school?

I gained admission into Uni to study Hospitality and Tourism. Graduated in 2007. Then I served in Benue State, moved to Lagos and worked there for a year, before I finally moved to Abuja. 

I worked in a hotel for a month then left to join an events company. I was an event coordinator, plus I handled their social media.

Now, I’m curious about how you found DJing

I was netting ₦36k at the events company, but it wasn’t enough to keep up. So I had to think of something that would earn me extra income, and allow me time for my daytime job. That’s how I landed on DJing.

I met a DJ while at a work party and jokingly told him I’d love to learn. He ended up teaching me and I landed an internship at the club where he worked, and I got paid ₦20k. Worth it. This was in 2013.

So this was about 5 years into working at the events company?

Yes. The club shutdown, but by then, I’d already met another DJ in 2014, who I interned with for over a year. During my second internship I met a wedding DJ who encouraged me to consider it and it fits my personality. 

But it was after I worked at one more club that I decided to focus on a particular market segment: weddings. 

I’m curious about that personality part. 

Before I started DJing, I’d only ever attended three club parties. For a while, I noticed my ears would ring for days after a club weekend, beats me how some DJs like their speakers close to their ears.

I love my space a lot, but I also love what an amazing DJ set can do to a crowd. It’s beautiful to watch.

Tell me about the first wedding gig.

That was in December 2015, when I was working with my second club. I was opening for the head DJ when the client came to request for my card. He called weeks later and we met and negotiated the price. They wanted me to spin during the traditional and white wedding reception. It was an amazing experience. 

The party went on till the venue owners forced the party to shut down. The beautiful thing is I’m still friends with the family and most of the groomsmen till date and I’ve gotten so many referrals from them. They became like my extended family. 

Love it. How much did that gig pay?

₦200k at ₦100k per day. From that, I had to pay rent for sound equipment, which cost me ₦120k at ₦60k per day. In the end, I had ₦80k to myself.

Random, but how many types of DJs are there?

There are five main types of disc jockeys: Club, Mobile (ceremonies and corporates), music producer, radio and turntablist. Turntablists are hardcore scratch and battle DJs. 

Who are the biggest currently in each category?

How many gigs will you say you did in 2017?

15 main gigs in total.

In 2018; 18.

2019; 13.  

How did your rates change per year? Did you increase when someone offered more, or you just had standard rates?

When charging for any event, the main factor is always the question: where? The venue ultimately tells me the size of the venue and the average number of guests to expect, so as to know the amount of equipment needed. 

You know, I never ever ever thought about it this way before. 

Not all DJs work this way. Some give a flat rate based on whatever factor works for them. 

What’s the highest you’ve ever charged? Based on venue and all?

₦350k. First it was out of town, and I had to consider logistics. But from what I gathered, the big boys charge much more, up to ₦1.5 million per gig.

Can you break down how your flat rate increased over the years?

In 2017, my flat rate was at ₦100k, then in 2018, I reviewed it to ₦150k. I kept it at that rate till 2019 when I started charging ₦200/250k. 

I had to enter a contract with different sound companies at different times so as to improve on the sound quality, which means I get to pay better quality digital sound. A DJ is as good as their sound, so I’ve had to enter contracts. I’ve had terrible experiences with a few sound engineers in the past, which has cost me clients. 

Tell me about the absolute worst one.

This one happened in late December 2018. The sound engineer did an amazing job, the sound was top notch. But during the after-party, he sent a member of his team to disconnect power and then denied doing it. Ọmọ na so the party end. I lost that client and his friends who were already asking for my contact. It was a painful one. 

Looking at this mix, when will you say has been your busiest period of juggling all of these things?

Every December is super busy, but 2018 was the busiest. I had two weddings in Lagos, then got another booking alone immediately after that. There was another happening in Abuja handled by my team.. 

How much did you gross?

About ₦1,550,000 . But in the end, a huge chunk was eroded by rentals, hotel bills, flight and Uber trips. 

Let me take one of the weddings in December 2018 for example. The client paid ₦350k. This is how it went: 

  • Sound Engineer: ₦155k 
  • Return ticket to travel from Abuja to Lagos: ₦55k 
  • Hotel bills for three nights: ₦75k. 
  • Uber: ₦10k. 
  • Feeding: ₦15k.

By the time I returned to base, I was down to ₦40k. 

In the end; I had ₦20k to myself, sent ₦20k home to my mum and ₦10k to my girl. This same thing repeats itself with each event. Only that now I know what the problem is. 

What is it?

The major constraint is the equipment. When you pay more than half of your revenue as costs for resources like equipment, something must change. I have to own my own equipment, but these equipment aren’t cheap. Depending on others is expensive, and not just about the equipment. Depending on others to cover bases has cost me a lot of clients. 

How much is your ideal Wedding DJ set up?

₦3,820,000. 

That’s covers for; four speakers, four subwoofers, a pair of microphones, three amplifiers, one analogue mixer, and one standard mobile DJ controller.

Not for the faint hearted. 

Tell me about your very last gig.

It was a big wedding and I charged ₦150k because they hired a sound company to provide sound for the event. This was also just before the lockdown.

And you haven’t earned since then?

Nope. Since the federal lockdown was announced, all outdoor entertainment activities stopped. No parties, no ceremonies. With this new reality, I’m trying to figure out what skill I can learn and monetize from home. I’m down to my last ₦15k. 

Woah. Nothing else in savings or anywhere else?

Nope. Burnt through my reserves trying to help my people during the lockdown. I started the lockdown with ₦100k. Then I had to send ₦50k to my family, and 20k to my girlfriend and then had ₦30k as emergency cash. Before the lockdown was announced, I already stocked up the house with ₦30k, and paid for my data ₦10k, and then used the remaining ₦10k to pamper myself. 

What has this new reality done to your mindset

I’m freaking out. I think this pandemic was a test on the health of every business. A lot has changed. I was telling a friend the other day that I’m glad I wasn’t married yet, because I would feel very bad having a wife and not being able to cater to her needs. I’ve also seen a lot of DJs going on Instagram live to entertain people, but my worry is who pays the DJ?

The reality is until the ban on public gathering ends, the entertainment industry will suffer.

Right now, I know I have to figure out a way to earn more to sustain till this storm clears.

I know it’s hard to think long term in this kind of situation, but tell me about the future.

I have long term plans, and the ultimate goal is to make DJing a real business. Right now, it’s just self employment.

What’s the difference for you, between being a real business and what it currently is?

Right now, I need to be present for me to get paid, There’s no real structure. If I fall sick or die, it’s the end. But if it’s a business, I’ll still get paid whether or not I show up; there’s a structure that ensures that the wheels keep spinning. 

I completely see what you’re saying.

I’m grateful that I’m burning my attachment of living from paycheck to paycheck. I have seen and experienced how bad it can be. Starting a business is risky now, but long term, if I build properly, it’ll pay off.

Realistically, how much money do you think will be sufficient to survive through this pandemic on a monthly basis?

₦150k, if you add black tax. ₦100k if I decide to just ignore everyone. ₦100k will cover food, electricity and internet costs, transportation, emergency fund and small ‘trips’. 

What is something you wish you could be better at, financially?

Saving more, although it’s hard because I’m left with too little after each gig. 

Do you have any financial regrets?

A lot. Top on my list is selling my bitcoin before the price went up.

Give me the full gist

I bought my first bitcoin in 2017, but sadly I joined a get-rich-quick scheme that promised to double my coins, but never did. I lost about ₦150k at the time.

Since then, I’ve been careful about investments that look like a get-rich-quick scheme. I’ve been fantasising about going into treasury bills but I need to sort out my equipment needs ASAP, before this boat sinks.

Do you have any investments lodged somewhere currently?

Nope. None at the moment.

How would you rate your happiness levels?

4/10.

I’m thankful for growth, and for living above and beyond my fears. The week after I resigned from that 9-5 was a fearful one, my family kept calling.

No one still understands why I’m insisting on pushing this ‘DJing thing’. It makes me wonder how Jimmy Jatt survived family and peer pressure before now. But nothing good comes easy. I’m taking my time, going through the process.

It’s not sexy or romantic, but I’m sure it will pay off in the end. 


The next Naira Life drops on Monday next week at 9 am. Subscribe to Zikoko’s Money Newsletter and get it before everybody else, plus all the things that didn’t make the cut.

Find all the past Naira Life stories here.

Every story in this series can be found here.

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