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A Professional DJ Guide to Independent Contractor Rights

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

As a professional DJ who started his career at underground parties, over a decade ago, I know when you get that first paying gig you are so excited at the time of hire that you don’t really pay attention to whether you are an employee or an independent contractor, you just want to DJ on a Saturday night and get paid to do it. I get it!

It’s important to understand that as an entertainer, a DJ is the brand and the face of their own business and that makes you, the DJ, an independent contractor. Independent contractor laws clearly state that the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is more than a label. In this blog, I will discuss both Federal and Texas independent contractor laws, why they matter for DJ’s, the difference between employee vs independent contractor (1099) workers rights, and where to find additional Federal and Texas assistance if you have more questions on your legal rights as a DJ.

Let’s get started! I personally have never met a DJ that was an employee of someone else’s Club or DJ company. Indeed, it is highly likely that most professional DJ’s, like myself, are independent contractors because a DJ will:

  1. Control their work in a meaningful way;

  2. Supply their own equipment;

  3. Be booked with no guarantee for more work;

  4. Not need to be trained by their clients; and

  5. Have skill sets that are not managerial by nature.

With that being said, many downtown clubs or entertainment companies prefer hiring their DJ’s as independent contractors over formal company employees. Why would they want that you ask? That’s easy to answer! It’s because they save lots of money doing so. When you are an employee of a company you are guaranteed:

  1. A minimum wage;

  2. Overtime pay (wedding DJing can be a 10-12 hour day);

  3. Wages paid at least twice a month;

  4. Workers’ compensation insurance;

  5. Unemployment insurance; and

  6. A safe workplace.

Just to hit home the facts, I want to be clear that you understand that none of these benefits I’ve mentioned are available to independent contracted (1099 worker) DJ’s. While I am hopeful for future gig economy laws in Austin, I’m not holding my breath while I wait for progress on a state or country level. Therefore, as you can see, currently there is a great incentive for clients to classify DJ’s as independent contractors (1099 workers) rather than employees. But, what does that mean for the DJ that signs a contract as an independent contractor? It means said company or club owner is not legally obligated to provide the DJ with employee benefits like:

  1. Health insurance;

  2. Paid vacations;

  3. Maternity leave, and

  4. 401(k) contributions.

With that being said, it’s important to know your legal rights as a DJ so you can prevent the blurred lines between employee vs. independent contractor business relationships with your clients. I’ve created a list of legal rights that all DJ’s stepping into the entertainment game should educate themselves on before accepting that first paid DJ gig and signing on the dotted line.

Let's Begin ....

So, you have paid your dues as a newbie DJ and your ready to make money with your fine tuned skills! Well, it’s time to get familiar with your rights as an independent contractor because getting paid and knowing your 1099 tax responsibilities will allow you as a DJ to earn a fair living wage and grow your brand in your local community. If you don’t know your rights as a DJ, clients may pay you less than they verbally agreed or not at all, make you work longer hours than you agreed upon (like DJing more than your slot) and require you to perform duties you never intended to do as a DJ (like running lighting, club promotions, event planning or sales marketing). I personally have had clients try to control my company, U7 Austin DJ, with an employee contract yet legally classify me as 1099 worker, these are spineless tactics from people with a weak business foundation, often companies and night clubs who take advantage of their community don't have the staying power to make it the city of Austin and go bankrupt or close in due time. Your city might be the same way. Nevertheless, it is important to run your DJ company as a professional so that you can build a network in your area based on trust and transparency. The best way to do that is to first know your rights as an independent contractor (1099 worker). Here are 10 facts that all DJ's should know. You, the DJ, have the;

  1. Right to a Contract

  2. Right to Control

  3. Right to Work When You Want

  4. Right to Work Where You Want

  5. Right to Make Decisions

  6. Right to Advertise

  7. Right to Receive Payment

  8. Right to Work with Multiple Clients at the Same Time

  9. Right to Challenge Your Worker Status

  10. Right to Manage Your Own Business

The rights of independent contractors has evolved from federal and state laws, and Supreme Court decisions over the past 50 plus years. The purpose of this blog is to teach you, the DJ, about general independent contractor rights as a professional so that you can succeed as a small business owner. Below, I expand on ten key rights that DJ’s have as independent contractors running their own business.

1. Right to a Contract

The first piece of advice I want to share with my fellow DJ is to not wait around for any client to give you a contract, because they will put you to work DJing and never get around to providing much less signing a legal binding agreement. So many times in the club scene I have heard horrible stories about DJ’s working months without any pay … yes you heard that right, I said months! It is important to understand that a DJ without a legally binding contract with clients becomes vulnerable to entertainment abuse often this abuse is in the form of no pay, they might instead give you an open bar. How generous of them. However, free drinks on a Saturday night will not pay your bills come first of the month. All DJ’s need a formal independent contractor agreement that details the DJ’s duties and how much and when you get paid. Also, ensure your contract describes, billing terms, payment methods, and contract termination details. Example, it is in my contract that I get paid 24 hours before the gig or I will not show up and my deposit is non-refundable. And, yes my boundaries have been pushed in the past. I had one client that hired me for a local Austin festival along with many other DJ’s and told me, I would be a headliner and only headliners were getting paid. Come the day before the gig and I hadn’t been paid yet. I told him I’m dropping out of his festival and he took it so far that he ended up PayPaling me one hour before the gig started because I made it clear, my car was packed and I was ready but I won’t leave my house till the money drops into my account. Sadly, this is not unique and a common problem in the entertainment industry so save yourself the trouble and have your own DJ contract written up and ready when clubs, companies or festivals want to hire you as a DJ even when said clients are friends of the family.

2. Right to Control

The purpose of being in business for yourself as a professional DJ is to be in control of your career and it is important to understand that you are your businesses brand. You are not your clients brand because you are working with them not for them. If a client tries to control your business by telling you not to work for their competitors or how to do your job you have now become an employee of that said company and are no longer a 1099 worker. Never let that happen to you as a professional DJ. As an independent contracted DJ you already have the experience and knowledge to do your job without the need for training or on the job direction. You are in control of your DJ business brand which is you and it is never appropriate to let clients dictate your business strategy or marketing. Ultimately, you are in business to make a living. Don’t forget that!

3. Right to Work When You Want

As an independent contracted DJ, you have the right to decide what days you will work. DJ’s mainly work on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. However, if you do not want to work on any said day (like the holidays) you do not have to. I have had this problem in the past where a client tries to guilt me because I’m already booked with their competitor or I'm on vacation. This cheap tactic doesn’t work on me and it shouldn’t work on you. If a client is giving you a hard time about your schedule it is important to remind them that you are often booked because you are a professional and you do not have to ask permission to have other