In an era where streaming has taken over 90 percent of how music is distributed, disc jockeys (DJs) in Nigeria face an increasing battle of keeping their place in the highly digitalised music industry.
DJs have been part of the ecosystem of music in Nigeria and internationally for years, ensuring the sound and message the artists create are propagated and sustained far beyond the reach of the artists themselves.
Before the era of streaming platforms in Nigeria at least, one of the major ways of getting songs out from the underground listeners to the mainstream market was through DJs playing the songs at events and other occasions.
DJs have been instrumental to the growing popularity of Afrobeats both locally and internationally. DJ Voyst, who has worked closely with artists like Joeboy and Victony, regards the work DJs do as the powerhouse of a smash record.
“Even with how powerful social media is today, DJs still play huge roles in spreading the music both locally and globally,” DJ Voyst said.
The major source of revenue for most DJs is event bookings. Event planners and show organisers know that an event is not complete without the inclusion of DJs who know the right kind of songs to play at different interludes and sessions as they are trained to do.
The cost of hiring a skilled DJ averages between N200,000 and N400,000, with established professionals and celebrity DJs getting paid more to fund their celebrity status.
DJ Dami Fresh told BusinessDay that there are many ways DJs can make a living other than getting booked for events.
“DJs invest in sound equipment where some DJs who have the resources to buy equipment can rent to other DJs for a specific period of time for a given amount,” he said.
At the birth of the streaming era in Nigeria, most DJs who created mixes didn’t have access to Apple Music or Spotify like regular artists because streaming platforms work on exclusive deals with certain music labels, which makes the barrier to getting mixes into the platform very high. Other platforms like Youtube and SoundCloud have access to mixes but they don’t pay the creators of those mixes.
In recent times however, Apple Music and Spotify have developed a tool that allows for the service to properly identify and compensate all of the individual creators involved in making a particular DJ Mix, which also includes any artists behind the music in the mix. This allows DJs to upload their works only through distributors.
In the past, distributors only uploaded mixes of DJs that worked or are affiliated with their labels or companies due to the issue of copyright and intellectual property. Now, the tracks chosen by the distributors are licensed under the distributor’s catalogue and make the process of uploading their works quicker. Traditional mixes for licensing might take a long time, but with an agreement with the labels through the distributors, it is a seamless process.
According to DJ Dami Fresh, there are three major distributors in the Nigerian market for DJs.
“It’s still a work in progress, though DJs can upload through a few distributors like Engage by MadSolution, Party in the jungle by Platoon, and iMullar sound system that offers these services for DJs. There are so many distributors across the globe that put out mixes for DJs, unlike before when it was only available to a few well-known DJs such as Black Coffee,” he said.
Some DJs who regularly collaborate with artists on songs can make revenue from royalties if the songs become big hits.
DJ Aye said one of the methods of making income from streaming services is for DJs to publish their songs like other artists.
“A DJ becomes an artist in the sense that he produces a song technically speaking when he is in the studio or oversees the production of the song. Either way, his name is on the credit and he gets revenue from that song being bought as an artist would,” he said.
These DJs who are also regarded as artists go on to create their own songs, feature artists or sign record label deals to push their names into the listening audience. Notable examples include DJ Lambo, who signed to Loopy Music in 2013 before its merger with Chocolate City in 2015; DJ Cuppy; and DJ Spinall, regarded as the first Nigerian DJ to tour five cities in the United States in 2017 and the first DJ from Nigeria to perform at Glastonbury Festival in 2019. There is also DJ Neptune, who has three albums to his name, the latest being ‘Love and Greatness EP’, which was released in 2019; DJ Big N, who works with Mavin Records, has several songs to his name and one album; and DJ Enimoney of YBNL Records.
Dami Fresh, who was the runner-up at Afrochella’s Tunecore competition in 2022, said other ways DJs earn money is through building a brand, which could require hosting weekly, quarterly, or yearly events. This way they can build a fan base and tap into that fan base to generate money by ticketing these events and getting sponsors.
DJ Consequence, one of Nigeria’s most popular spinners, hosts a yearly event he tags ‘The Vibe’, which is sponsored by liquor brands and attended by fans all over the country. Dami Fresh, who is one of the rising DJs in Nigeria, is also building a community of followers, and hosting fans at a yearly event tagged ‘The Dami Fresh Experience’.
“Some other DJs are smart enough to create merchandise around their brand,” Dami Fresh said. “Unfortunately not all mixers have the knowledge of creating other streams of income; so they limit themselves to bookings.”
BusinessDay investigation found that many DJs practise their craft as a side hustle mostly during the weekends. For newcomers, the money they get from performing at events may not be sustainable enough so they get a 9-5 job to keep up with certain bills.
“They do a 9-5 because at the point of their career, they are still in the process of balancing their growth. To get gigs, you have to be consistent enough so you can get booked for 2-3 a week with a reasonable amount,” Dami Fresh said.
According to him, the average cost of getting an appointment is around N200,000-N400,000.
“If one can get four gigs and is not a heavy spender, then it can sustain that person for a good period. The charges are relative; some can be way lesser than the average on their rate card, depending on the value they bring to their craft, and if they get up to 15-20 gigs, it can be sustainable,” he added.
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Artists and DJs collaborate in different ways. For instance, the artist creates the songs while the DJ helps spread the music by playing at clubs and events or adding their songs to their mixes. While this shared ecosystem is popular, there is little information on how far it benefits the DJs economically.
“This goes back to the origin of DJing where DJs discover artists and put them on their shows. It is like the history of hip hop where the DJs were the main characters doubling as producers or OAPs on the radio,” Dami Fresh said.
In those days, DJs could discover young MCs and give them a platform or have them play their songs if they felt that they were good enough.
In Nigeria, there are DJs who made it a responsibility to discover new talent and put them on shows. DJ Jimmy Jatt, who was part of the rise of Afrobeats culture in the early 90s and 2000s put the likes of the late Dagrin and Olamide (at the start of his career) on his show ‘Jimmy’s Jump Off’.
In recent times, people like DJ Spinall or DJ Neptune have put the spotlight on a lot of young artists and brought them to the limelight, getting artists to collaborate in musical works and this helped the artists build on the momentum of their growing career.
“We are always in the same space; so if there is a connection, people reach out to each other, book a session, and work together, so the relationship is profitable. The younger artist is collaborating with DJs, same with the bigger artists not only in Nigeria but all over the world and through that medium, we are able to discover a new artist.” Dami Fresh said.