I was reading an article in Medium about “How Platform Capitalism Devalued the Music Industry,” when I came to this comment from electronic pop artist Grimes – currently dating Elon Musk – “DJs get paid more than real musicians.”
As the blowback continues to reverberate from the recent “employee dislocations” by iHeartMedia, of hundreds of their disc jockeys across America, I wondered who were these highly valued DJs Grimes was talking about.
World’s Highest Paid DJs
Turns out that Forbes published a list in July of what Forbes called “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs of 2019.”
The #1 highest paid DJs are “Chainsmokers” earning $46 million in pre-tax income over the past year.
If that was the first thought that flashed across your brain, you’re not alone. The Chainsmokers are made up of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall.
#2 was “Marshmello” at $40 million, #3 was “Calvin Harris” at $38.5 million, #4 was “Steve Akoi” at $30 million and rounding out the top 5 was “Diplo” at $25 million. Forbes actually ranked the top 15 and you can see the whole list HERE.
None of these DJs are on your local radio station. They are all club DJs.
The Chainsmokers signed a three-year exclusive residency deal with Wynn Nightlife in Las Vegas that has the pair performing only in nightclubs at XS and Encore Beach Club in Vegas in 2017. The pair is such a draw, that agreement has been extended until 2021. The group also records EDM albums and released their first single in 2013.
Christopher Comstock, aka “Marshmello,” signed with the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas taking up residency at their Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub.
Marshmello entertains from a rotating DJ booth shaped like his signature cylindrical marshmallow mask. If you’d like to see him in action, here’s a link to a YouTube video
This year coming in at #3, “Calvin Harris.” He previously had been the #1 highest paid DJ for six consecutive years.
Absent from the list are over-the-air radio DJs.
Radio’s Highest Paid
It should come as no surprise that Howard Stern reigns in the top spot with an income north of $90 million. But he’s on satellite radio.
The top earner on terrestrial radio is Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he’s battling advanced lung cancer. Then comes Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, all syndicated talk radio hosts.
What’s the attraction of all of these personalities?
Grimes puts it this way, “It’s kind of like Instagram or whatever. [Listeners] don’t want the real world.” Great personalities give us an escape from our world and make us feel like we are a part of their lives.
Radio provides the listener with community and companionship through the stories it tells and music it plays.
Harry Harrison, New York City’s Morning Mayor, recently passed away at age 89. He was a New York City DJ Legend, broadcasting over WMCA, WABC and CBS-FM for the majority of his radio broadcasting career.
Cousin Brucie was invited to share his memories of Harry and why he was so loved by Big Apple radio listeners. Brucie said it was all about making the members of the radio audience feel like family. It’s all about talking to people and being out in the community with them, touching their hands. In fact, the host said, when Brucie showed up at NBC4 to do the segment, people who work at the TV station came to see him and gave Brucie a hug. Something that rarely happens when guests appear on the program.
I know how they feel because, one Saturday night, that’s exactly what I felt like when I had the opportunity to spend a night in “Cousin Brucie’s Place” at SiriusXM.
The Power of the DJ
The common thread, whether we’re talking about a popular club DJ or radio DJ, is their ability to bring people together, engage in the same thing at the same time and make us feel like we are welcome and belong.
Harry Harrison told his listeners that “every brand new day should be unwrapped like a precious gift” and he always wished his listeners the very best, “because that’s exactly what you deserve!” Ron Lundy greeted his listeners with “Hello Luv,” Dan Ingram called his listeners “Kemosabe,” and everyone was a “cousin” with Brucie.
The biggest casino operators know how important the DJ is in bringing people into their dance clubs. A great club DJ can read the room and know exactly the right mix of music to play to get everyone involved and have a good time.
That same magic built great radio on thousands of local radio stations across America. It can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence and algorithms.
Real local radio knows how to read the community and provide exactly what it needs at that moment. All great radio is local and relevant.
DJs become your best friend.
Is there anything better than hanging out with your best friend?
11 responses to “DJs Get Paid More than Real Musicians”
And that, my friend Dick Taylor is the “power” of “personality radio” and why companies should encourage and embrace it…not try and get rid of it. By the way, as a musician (I’ve played guitar and been in bands since age 9), I can tell you a radio DJ typically makes more money than a DJ or band in a bar. Bars pay DJ’s or musicians around here typically about $50 to $150 a night.
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Good insights here on the opportunity that awaits those in front of any microphone. I understood early that my daily radio job could easily be out-earned in nightclubs and at dances(private clubs,schools, wedding receptions, etc.) Radio afforded me the discipline,format, responsibility and expectations to reach a higher level as an entertainer. Radio career-12 years. Mobile dj career-35+ years. Too many people in radio to thank here. All talent needs time and encouragement to develop.
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Bob, what a great story. Thank You for sharing your experiences and wisdom with others.
I get it. Club DJs are performance artists. They do more than spin records and talk. They dance, they “scratch,” and the audience sees them and interacts with them. Most of us work(ed) in radio are anonymous.You don’t see us do our jobs — we are (were) faceless voices coming out of the speaker.Are these club “djs” worth all that money. Not up to me to say, but… And are (were) most radio on-air folks (news and programming) underpaid? You betcha. The upside, at least for me, was that I could walk out of the office, get on the elevator, and no one knew who I was unless they recognized my voice.
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I’m sure many were attracted to the anonymous stardom of being a radio personality. I know I enjoyed that aspect of the business when I began.
What you learn quickly however, is that it’s getting out in public and “pressing the flesh” that really connects the radio listener to the personality and the radio station.
Something that Cousin Brucie is a master of doing.
Thanks Bob for stopping by the blog today and sharing your thoughts.
My takeaway keywords: Local. Relevant. Companionship. Best friend.
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Thank You Robin.
The Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris have been part of the CHR HAC landscape for years. When you say who? that just shows how out of touch the older generation is (Note: I know them because we own a HAC station, and probably wouldn’t if that wasn’t the case). How many words do the worlds top DJ in these clubs or residencies utter? ZERO! They put on a light show, props, and effects and show off their mixing production skills. Rush, Howard, Hannity have built up a base thru the power of social media, cable television, guest appearences. A massive media collecive has insured their success, not just radio. Cousin Brucie, Harry Harrision, were awesome! in another era. Radio is going thru a evolution, and for some that is a hard pill to swallow. I compare it to the era when radio had actors, announcers, writers, data collectors, etc. The teletype, network and 45 single came along and those jobs were no longer needed. IHeart knows the return of having talent in some markets is none, other markets are a different story. In our market, they have kept talent that also do other duties in the cluster. The IHeart game plan: They are reaching out to National and Regional sponsors by promoting podcasts, concerts, contests, syndication, celebrities (Bones, Seacrest) Sirius XM, and their local stations are part of this equation. How does the other localiy owned stations fit in? Weather, sports, interviews, the swap shop, and more. We do it everyday. However, unless we have a local interview segment (blood drive, church, community event) our on air studio is used for production and some live shifts. There is so much to do now at a local station that a 4 hour shift to back sell songs is a waste of time. I start at 6AM (I track my shift). By the time I return emails, update social media, return phone calls, and solve other issues it is 9:30AM. This generation does not pick up a phone to call a station for a request, they text. It takes about 30 seconds to pull up that song and send a track shout out to that listener. Or put in that commuinty announcement that was emailed. Mission accomplished. The harsh truth, you chances are of being hired if your skills are limited to on air talent and the use of Audition©
Tracking doesn’t replace the companionship of a live radio personality, living in the same moment as you are living, IMHO.
I understand that today’s youth may not find that necessary, but to those of us who grew up with that kind of radio, it’s a hole that goes unfilled.
Thanks Damon for giving us a young radio person’s perspective.
Radio DJ and a lot of money rarely go together.
Going all the way back to 1947, at CBS network the top baritone voices with no accent who could read mistake free without accents got (in today’s dollaras) $875.00a,week.
Wben KHJ signed on in 1965, Robert W. and Don Steele got $300 a week. Plumbers in L.A. made $500 a week back then. Only New York City and Chicago got great money. There were about 100 people in those positions.
Union scale in L.A. in 1976 was ‘16,000 a year. Boston was $17,000.
You had to be a hustler and work 2 or 3 jobs besides radio.
This is what Gary Owens did his entire career. With 30 million viewers on Laugh Inn, he got $558.00 a week or union scale.
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True, I don’t think any of us got into radio for the money. We got into it because it was our passion.
There are many ways to be compensated. Money is only one, and not the most important.
But for many of us, radio paid a living wage and gave us the opportunity to raise a family.
I feel truly blessed to have had a 50-year radio career.