Viewpoint: Edward Adoo on the challenges ahead for independent DJs during the Covid-19 pandemic

Viewpoint: Edward Adoo on the challenges ahead for independent DJs during the Covid-19 pandemic

Online streams are keeping independent DJs going through lockdown, but what about the long terms effects? Broadcaster, writer, music consultant and DJ Edward Adoo – who currently hosts a weekly radio show on BBC Three Counties Radio among other slots – weighs in...

The classic phrase of saying, ‘Last night a DJ saved my life’ has become synonymous for making those big nights out special and memorable, but for many of us currently on lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic it has redefined how we generally embrace DJ culture and the dancefloor.

It has taken us away from lengthy door queues, bouncers, long queues at bars and brought DJs and dancefloors directly to our living rooms. This may sound all well and good, but for those DJs unable to source work what has life like been? Will they be able to recover?

I happen to be one of those DJs who have been affected. When I am not presenting radio shows or appearing on TV, I spend most of my time DJing at bars and clubs across London, or on the summer festival circuit. It’s my third main source of income. Since the lockdown, that revenue stream has severed. Like many DJs who regularly play at bars or members clubs who are self-employed, there are no entitlements to loss of work or earnings. Many of my forthcoming summer dates that were booked in by clients have not been honoured with any cancellation fees. There are no schemes in place to ensure DJs will be entitled to half or full fees if any of their dates are cancelled. 

So what is life like for many DJs who solely depend on work to pay the bills? For many who have weekly residencies or offer music consultancies or curation-type services, such as providing weekly playlists to venues, the lockdown will be total a nightmare. The government’s package covering overheads may come as a lifeline for some, but long-term it could be catastrophic for many.

Trade bodies such as the Musicians’ Union are great – I am a member – but I am not aware of what the MU could do to help me and others during this time. With no signs in sight on when venues will be able to reopen it worsens the situation. Unlike most industries the DJ sector doesn’t have a trade body to represent the voice of independent DJs. 

It’s not all doom and gloom. Various DJs have taken the entrepreneurial step to stream their sets online with many, such as DJ Spoony, raising funds for our beloved NHS for the great work they are providing during this epidemic. But for others with a large following it has also become a golden opportunity to test the market on how to receive a secondary income through trading their service as a DJ to a mass audience. The more followers equates to how much revenue can be sourced from one source or outlet. So a DJ with over 100,000 followers can expect to bring in a steady flow of revenue through clicks, followers and potential views. They will be able to survive and earn something from their streams. 

It’s not just DJs in particular who are benefiting from this new phenomenon of streaming during lockdown, but record labels, too. Some record labels have embraced online streams by bringing the dance floor into people’s living rooms.

House music label Defected have set the trend by hosting weekly virtual global festivals – teaming up with DJs in different cities and raising funds for charities. It has grown through word of mouth and shares across social media. This is all well and good but what does the future spell for the DJ industry once a vaccine has been found? Can things get back to normal? If social distancing will be in place in some form, it will be difficult for many DJs such as myself who play regularly in smaller environments to source and find regular work.

This may result in playlists being used instead. DJ streams may be saving our nights, but we have to look beyond the lockdown to ensure the industry can survive. Whatever happens, let’s hope there will be a scheme put in place to ensure myself and other DJs will be able to survive and do what we do best.

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