A Professional DJ Guide to Independent Contractor Rights
Updated: Aug 18
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:
Control their work in a meaningful way;
Supply their own equipment;
Be booked with no guarantee for more work;
Not need to be trained by their clients; and
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:
A minimum wage;
Overtime pay (wedding DJing can be a 10-12 hour day);
Wages paid at least twice a month;
Workers’ compensation insurance;
Unemployment insurance; and
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:
Maternity leave, and
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 DJ'ing 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;
Right to a Contract
Right to Control
Right to Work When You Want
Right to Work Where You Want
Right to Make Decisions
Right to Advertise
Right to Receive Payment
Right to Work with Multiple Clients at the Same Time
Right to Challenge Your Worker Status
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 clients, go on vacation or take time off. No means NO when you are a professional DJ and have the 1099 workers contract to back it up!
4. Right to Work Where You Want
As the face of your company, you choose where you work. If you are signed with an entertainment company as an independent contractor that doesn’t mean you have to accept every gig they throw your way. While that might work for their company it might not be the best design for your company. You can choose to not work at a certain venue because it is to far of a drive or with certain people because you have deemed them incapable of a professional relationship. You have the right to run your DJ business the way you see fit without the obligations of being an employee.
5. Right to Make Your Own Decisions
While employees are expected to follow orders from their bosses, independent contractors are their own boss. Indeed, whoever hires you as a DJ does so as your client and not your boss. Being an independent contractor provides you with the freedom to dictate where, when, and how you DJ. Remember, your clients do not direct your work. Clients hire you to entertain as a DJ while you maintain the freedom to decide how you entertain as a DJ.
6. Right to Advertise
You have the right to act and advertise for yourself. You are free to market your DJ services with business cards, brochures, and digital marketing. Advertise your service in magazines or on online platforms for event DJ’s. Marketing yourself as an independent contracted DJ goes a long way towards being recognized as one.
7. Right to Receive Payment
Your independent contractor agreement specifies your right to receive payment. That’s why it’s important to use a contract that clearly states how much and when you get compensated. You should submit your companies invoice to your clients with clear communication on your expectations and terms of condition. For weddings and company parties I get paid 24 hours before the gig but in club world, it’s usually the day of the event. Your contract should have clear deadlines to receive payment. I have had to chase down club owners and it’s not fun to waste your personal time. I strongly urge all DJ’s put it in writing (especially) when giving your client the homie hook up.
8. Right to Have Multiple Clients at the Same Time
When a client hires you the option exists to work with other businesses at the same time of contract. Example, I have worked for competing clubs downtown that are on the same street within 24 hours of each other. Currently, I get most of my work wedding DJ'ing for competing event venues all over Austin and central Texas and as I build my network my demand goes up. With only 52 Saturdays in a year you can see why a large network is important to building a sustainable DJ business. It’s basic supply and demand, there is only one of you and multiple clients, don’t forget this ratio otherwise you run the risk of acting like an employee and not a 1099 worker with a legal binding independent contract.
9. Right to Challenge Your Worker Status
At this point you have your independent contractor agreement signed and you’re in the clear right? Wrong. What happens when a client tries to exploit the boundaries that your contract specifies? You have both the right to challenge your status and the right to defend your liberties. Here in Texas we have three branches of government;
The Texas Workforce Commission and
All three branches use their own factors to determine if you acted as an employee or an independent contractor. It’s not up to you or your client to define your business relationship with each other because no company is above the law.
10. Right to Managing Your Own Business
As a DJ you are your own business because you have to manage all aspects of your DJ company. As a self-employed business person, you maintain the responsibility to provide your own benefits. Therefore, your client bears no responsibility for providing employee benefits and you are solely responsible for enforcing your DJ business rights. For instance, if the client fails to pay you for work performed you maintain the right to sue the client in a court of law for breach of contract.
Lastly, I urge you to use this blog as a starting point to your introduction to independent contractor law and not as a final determination for 1099 work. I encourage you to expand your knowledge on how to protect your company as a DJ. Here is a list for my fellow DJ’s to point you in the right direction:
The U.S. Department of Labor helps independent contractors understand the difference between employees vs independent contractors.
The Texas Workforce Commission offers guidance to questions about rights as an Independent Contractor.
Employment and Client Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has clear defined meaning of what you are and are not entitled to as an Independent Contractor.
Last but not least if you and a client cannot agree on your status you can file a SS-8 form, to determine your worker status for the purposes of Federal employment taxes and income tax withholding.
I hope this blog provided answers to the complex legal questions about DJing as a professional entertainer and how to protect your DJ career as an independent contractor filing a 1099. The bottom line is as an independent contracted DJ you’ll earn more money if you:
Know your Federal rights;
Have legal binding contracts with clients;
Make work decisions based on state and local laws; and
Know your tax responsibilities.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog about legal rights as a professional (1099 working) DJ. If you have any questions or concerns about what I have blogged please reach out and lets talk about it. I look forward to the day when every DJ knows their liberties and stands up for their right (to p-a-r-t-y). Celebrate your liberties by knowing your legal rights as an independent contractor so that you can be a professional DJ and small business owner that has a successful career based on a foundation of 5 star service and a network of professional relationships within your community that are protected by local, state and federal law.