When looking into an industry teeming with syncopated excitement and frenetic creativity, you may often wonder how much do DJs make?
An average DJ can make anywhere between $21,100 (£15,400) to $221,000 (£161,300) per year, while the most famous DJs take home 10’s of millions of dollars.
To find what DJs are making the big bucks and how much they are making, carry on reading.
Everybody Wants To Be A DJ
From its inception, disk jockeying has always been a career choice that drew from the most cutting-edge crowd, and as a result, it is a brutally cutthroat and competitive business.
Due to the allure of becoming a DJ, it’s a business that quickly sees the once talented become irrelevant, jockeyed out of first place in the hearts of the public by the new guys with the freshest sound.
Everyone knows the big names – growing up in Southern California, I remember everyone being very excited that Afrojack was performing at our AfterProm. Yet, I also remember being told that DJing was not the best career choice for having a consistently reliable profession.
Here we’ll delve into the truth behind DJing; who gets the big bucks, what gigs pay the most, the highest paying genre, and who are the most successful DJs of today.
The DJ Hierarchy
While it’s easy to focus on the big names like the Chainsmokers or Calvin Harris, anyone wanting to be a DJ has to be willing to work his way up through the ranks of amateur, intermediate, well known, and finally, superstar. Your standing as a DJ will play a major factor in what you should reasonably be expected to earn on a single gig or annually.
When beginning a career as a DJ, getting a foot in the door is the main priority, and especially in local gigs, it’s not uncommon to perform without pay, build a following, and help promote your image. A no-name might get a small wage in a performance type gig like club or festival other than free entry and drinks.
An established DJ has a following – people know of them. While not possessing international fame, the reality of having fans invested in seeing them perform means that they are assured of getting paid for each performance. In Los Angeles, California, a DJ can earn anywhere between $50 (£36) to $100 (£73) per hour, and that entirely has to do with his popularity.
Finally, the cream of the crop, the international DJ stars get paid in the millions, earning $100,000s for each gig they play. When you’re that famous, money flows like the music.
Where Is The Money In DJing?
DJs perform on many different occasions, including weddings, club nights, music festivals, and parties, all paid gigs, and growing their fan base whilst making money.
However, different gigs pay different amounts, and not all events will be equally lucrative.
According to Ziprecruiter.com, the average DJ in the United States will get paid $43 (£31) per hour at a wedding, making approximately $88,790 (£66,818) per year.
To put that into perspective, the average American salary is $35,977 (£26,263), so an established DJ with consistent DJ bookings will make considerably more than the national average.
Performing in the club scene can be very lucrative depending on the prominence of the location and the performer’s fan base. Small, hole in the wall spots with a no-name DJ won’t earn as much as a big club with a headline act in house, and the pay measures accordingly.
However, while clubbing is a popular pastime and brings in a lot of revenue, it pays less than the more ostentatious wedding scene.
According to ZipRecruiter, which tracks jobs and employment, the mean annual salary for a club DJ is $49,607 (£36,213) per year, which averages approximately $23.85 (£17.41) per hour. This varies based on locale. For instance, in Los Angeles, $200 (£146) a night is pretty standard, whereas, in New York, big clubs can pay anywhere between $500 (£365) to $1,000 (£730) for a performance.
Next are festivals; we’re talking the BIG ones like Coachella, where the people come to be mesmerized, entertained, and party hard!
There are three types of DJs performing at these events – headliners, small names, and no names. The no-names perform at those odd times like lunchtime where no one is listening, but the party can’t stop. They can get paid as much as $2,000 (£1,460) – $5,000 (£3,650) for a set, although I’m pretty sure many of them will be earning a lot less than that, as appearing on a big festival billing is a great way to build a name for themselves.
Next are the small names that people like and have a growing fan base – they get paid anywhere between $10,000 (£7,300) – $50,000 (£36,500), obviously depending on their fame and public following.
Since festivals rely on these DJs to have fans eager to see them perform, they are quick to nail down the act and pay to have them on the line-up.
Now the big guns, the main headliners. These guys get paid in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single performance. Calvin Harris, for example, according to the Guardian, makes $400,000 (£292,000) for a single set.
Finally, we have radio DJs who work behind the scenes, flooding the airwaves with the perfect blend of sweet, sad, calm, and upbeat music that we all like. According to Salary.com, the pay range falls between $32,140 (£23,462) and $47,620 (£34,763), with the average falling at $39,002 (£28,472). Radio is the lowest paying DJ gig, likely because it’s a full-time position with no performance factor.
The Highest Paying Genre
Music genres are not all created equal, and music genres pay differently. For example, not many people will make it big DJing strictly Country music sets (much as we’d like to see that happen).
Most of the real DJ scene is in EDM (Electronic Dance music), which mixes many Pop, Dubstep, and other electronic music styles. Celebritynetworth.com provides us with the most up to date list of the most famous DJs and what they are all worth, courtesy of spinning a few tunes and making some sick music!
How Much Do DJs Make (Top 20 Highest Earning DJs)
$240 Million (£175 Million)
Also known as Adam Richard Wiles, born January 17, 1984, Calvin Harris is a British expatriate currently living in LA. 37 years old, Adam Wiles topped Forbes highest-paid DJs list from 2013-2018, 6 consecutive years in a row!
Wiles routinely works with many different celebrity artists to co-produce some of the most popular sounds of the last 10 years, among them “How Deep Is Your Love” and ‘”We Found Love.”
$150 Million (£109 Million)
Tijs Michiel Verwest, originating from Southern Netherlands and playfully labeled the Godfather of EDM. He was born January 17, 1969, and currently resides in Denver with his new wife, model Annika Backes.
Specializing in EDM, Tiesto’s top hits are “Feel It In My Bones” and “Lethal Industry.” The 52-year-old DJ has been practicing in the industry since 1983, and all looks good for the big-name artist moving forwards.
$75 Million (£54 Million)
The producing mastermind behind “Play Hard” featuring Ne-Yo and Akon and “Without You” featuring Usher, Pierre David Guetta is a French 53-year-old who has worked with many of the top names in the music industry, among them Sia, Jason Derulo, and Nicki Minaj.
In addition to DJing, Guetta is a successful songwriter and music producer and owns a Miami condo.
$75 Million (£54 Million)
The American DJ was born in 1977 and grew up in Newport, California. By 1996 he had already established his own record label entitled Dim Mak. Throughout his career, he has produced major international hits like “Pursuit of Happiness” Remix and “Free the Madness” with Machine Gun Kelly, as well as “No Beef” with AFROJACK and Miss Palmer.
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo
$70 Million (£51 Million)
Guy, one of the two-part team making up Daft Punk, is another french musician, singer, songwriter, DJ, and film director, ruling the international disk jockeying stardom scene. Born in 1974, Homem-Christo and his Daft Punk Co-star Tom Bangalter appear on stage wearing robot helmets and creating a unique blend of electric music.
Among his top hits are “Starboy,” a collab between Daft Punk and the Weeknd And Divine with Sebastian Tellier.
$70 Million (£51 Million)
Bangalter, the other half of the Daft Punk duo, was born in January 1975. He and Homem-Christo met in 1987 while attending school and bonded over their mutual appreciation for music and unique sounds.
They merged into EDM and began performing their own unique robotic music style, and took the club scene by storm.
In addition to being an established DJ, Thomas Bangalter is also a cinematographer, singer, producer, and songwriter.
$65 Million (£47 Million)
Trance DJ Oakenfold is a British record producer that has been nominated for 3 Grammy Awards due to his hypnotic mixes. Born in 1963, Oakenfold had a precocious journey on his way to stardom and fame. Sneaking into clubs and masquerading as members of the press to interview famous people are just some of Oakenfold’s techniques that show how determined he was to make his dreams come to fruition.
Working as a DJ and producer, Paul Oakenfold released his latest song in September 2020 called “The Perfect Song,” produced for Mexican singer Fey.
$60 Million (£43 Million)
Nick van de Wall was born in 1987 in the Netherlands to a single mom. After growing up and attending college in Rotterdam for a year, Afrojack left to pursue his musical ambitions.
His debut album titled “Forget the World, was a massive success, pathing the way for collaborations with David Guetta and Madonna.
His latest music includes the songs “Bed of Roses” and “Step Back.”
Paul van Dyk
$60 Million (£43 Million)
Choosing not to go with his legal name Matthias Paul as his DJ name, the German DJ grew up in Eastern Germany and cultivated his musical ear by listening to the forbidden American radio stations and the bootlegged copies of western music before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
With a short interim in Hamburg, Paul performed in Berlin and then became famous as one of the first known international DJs, and in 2007 his hit “Seven Ways” was a major success in the UK.
In 2016 Paul suffered a severe spinal and head injury, but that hasn’t prevented him from producing the hits “Everyone Needs Love” and “Breaking Dawn.”
Armin van Buuren
$55 Million (£40 Million)
Armin was born in South Holland on December 25, 1976, and has been ranked the number one DJ five times by DJ mag, along with being nominated for a Grammy for his single collab with Trevor Guthrie, “This is What it Feels Like.”
Going back to 2001, van Buuren hosted a radio show playing awesome trance mixes, reaching and touching an audience of millions.
In 2019 Buuren released his 7th studio album, “Balance,” featuring collaborations with Above and Beyond and Ne-Yo.
$53 Million (£38 Million)
Deadmau5, pronounced Dead mouse, is a Canadian DJ born and raised in Ontario, Canada. Claiming to be the unpopular kid in his high school, Deadmau5 says that instead of “concentrating on being liked,” he focused on things that interested him, like his music.
A bit on the edgier side of things, Deadmau5 has many albums and singles with titles like “Random Album Title,” “Some Chords,” and “Animal Rights” – this is an artist that pushes the boundaries, with his music on collaborations with artists like Kaskade and Rob Swire.
$50 Million (£36 Million)
Chicago born and raised Ryan Gary Raddon started his DJing career slowly. Born in 1971, Kaskade got his name from reading a nature book and remarking to a coworking that a cascading waterfall would make a good name.
In his youth, he served two years on a religious mission in Japan. It wasn’t until 1995 that Kaskade began DJing on the weekends, and not until 2001, he produced his first single, “What I Say.”
Since then, Kaskade’s stock has only risen, catapulting him to international fame.
$48 Million (£35 Million)
Thomas John Digweed, born in 1967 the British, DJ began when he was only 15. Willing to do his time, Digweed didn’t get his big break until 1993 when the mixed tape he sent to Geoff Oakes was played to DJ Sasha.
Performing in major clubs worldwide and hosting a UK radio show Transitions, with the first hour of mixed music, Digweed is famous for his hit singles “For What You Dream Of” and “Tangent: with Nick Muir.
$45 Million (£32 Million)
Sonny John Moore seemed to think that his given name didn’t possess that unique blend of cool and edgy – a sentiment that we can agree on.
Born in 1988 in Northern Los Angeles, Skrillex brings a lot of talent as a DJ, singer, songwriter, and record producer. The winner of eight Grammy Awards, Skrillex has collaborated with artists like Diplo and Poo Bear.
$42 Million (£30 Million)
Julius O’Riordan, born in 1966, gets his name not because he’s judgemental but because he is a practicing lawyer.
A British success story, Judge Jules has had a longstanding position on the UK’s radio station Kiss and BBC Radio 1; The Judge has produced music through Paul van Dyk’s record label, among them “The Attack” and “Give Me a Reason.”
$40 Million (£29 Million)
Born June 6, 1985, Alex Pall grew up in New York and, in addition to being a DJ, is also an actor and a songwriter.
Pall and Andrew Taggert joined forces in 2012, forming the duo the Chainsmokers, which ousted Calvin Harris of first place for the world’s most highly paid DJs in 2020 for the first time in six years.
Their first major hit, #Selfie, aired back in 2014, and since then, they’ve been responsible for the top hits “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Closer.”
$40 Million (£29 Million)
Drew Taggert, the 31-year-old costar of the Chainsmokers, grew up in Maine until moving to New York to join up with Alex Pall in 2012.
Of the two, Andrew is more involved with their songwriting and vocals. With the dropping of their latest album, “Memories…Do Not Open,” the band has been catapulted into fame, edging Calvin Harris off the number one spot.
$40 Million (£29 Million)
Christopher Comstock, it turns out, does not have a giant marshmallow for a face. The artist said that he dons the marshmallow head to avoid detracting attention from the music, not wanting the trappings of fame like fan adoration and facial recognition.
Definitely, on the younger side of these millionaires, Marshmello was born in 1992 and is a superstar DJ and producer.
With his famous remixes trending as top hits, among them “Wolves” with Selena Gomez and “Silence” with Khalid, Marshmello is a DJ whose career looks like it’s in a steady upward climb.
$40 Million (£29 Million)
Alexander Paul Coe is a Welsh DJ born in 1969 and famous for his live performances and his partnership with John Digweed. The two artists collaborated on the Delta Heavy project and collaborated with other artists, including Junkie XL.
Sasha continued to perform and drop albums and has again begun to work with Digweed back to back when he’s not enjoying his house in New York with his wife or hopping over to visit London.
$35 Million (£25 Million)
Anton Zaslavski, born in 1989, is a German Russian. Zedd’s first big track was “Stay the Night,” followed by hits “I Want You to Know” with Selena Gomez and “Break Free” with Ariana Grande.
Zedd continues to produce music with superstar artists, catapulting his career forward. I’m sure we will see him climbing this chart over the coming years.
As you can see, there’s some serious money to be made in DJing, but let’s be honest; most of us will never hit the heady heights of superstardom like the names in the Top 20 list.
To become one of the DJ elite nowadays, you have to be more than a one-trick pony. You need to produce music, run a record label or be an artist in your own right. Gone are the days you can make it to the top on merely DJ talent alone.
However, with that been said, it is still possible to make a pretty decent living from being an event or club DJ in your local area.
They say ‘do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ and for most of us, we love to DJ.
So if you can get paid to spin some tunes, well, then you are already winning… and you never know, one day you might make it onto that list. Well, we can dream, right?