How Club Promoters Pivoted To Keep Dancefloors Packed This Year
This story is part of Billboard's annual Year In Music package, which identifies and explores the major music trends and industry stories that defined 2022.
Given how hard nightlife was hit during the pandemic, with many clubs closing permanently, industry insiders are pleasantly surprised with its 2022 comeback. JoJo Walker, director of programming at New York’s Avant Gardner and Brooklyn Mirage, attests that the industry is generally doing “amazingly well,” even though “it’s more challenging now than ever before.”
As clubs reopened amid the lingering pandemic in mid-2021, venues scrambled to get DJs back behind the decks to play for fans eager to return to dancefloors. “2021 was a free-for-all because everybody wanted to party,” says Walker. “People were willing to pay high ticket prices, and the wheel was being fed from all angles.” This competitive market boosted DJ fees, which in many cases increased up to 20% for club and festival sets. But now, fees remain lodged at these higher rates even as demand has declined, creating headaches for dance promoters who are also navigating inflation’s effects on nightlife.
“It’s not just that artists are being greedy,” says Walker, “but for them to do what they need to in terms of traveling and making a living, they need to have their costs covered: flights, hotels, cars. Those costs are being passed on to the promoter, and now there’s not a wealthy part of the wheel that can be taken from.” Walker adds that many DJs are touring less after enjoying the pandemic’s slowed pace, prompting agents to negotiate higher paychecks for the shows these artists do play.
Promoters have had to get creative in order to turn a profit. Walker is currently structuring artist deals that involve a lower flat rate and a per-ticket bonus, which incentivizes DJs to promote their shows, as their final rates are relative to those shows’ success. Given that she books for multiple venues, along with the annual 100,000-person electronic festival Electric Zoo (owned by Avant Gardner), Walker also has the dexterity to offer multishow contracts, creating an advantage over promoters booking a single room.
Brig Dauber, entertainment director at long-standing Los Angeles club Avalon, says the venue has “kept on step” with new fee expectations while working harder to determine which artists are most viable in the current market. This year, Avalon has skewed toward theme-based nights centered on certain genres and musical eras to “diversify the patronage and avoid the risk of not actualizing profit versus artist fee.”
But whether booking a tiny space or an 8,000-capacity club like Brooklyn Mirage, the surge in venue overhead is resulting in consumers having to deal with higher ticket prices to cover costs. Walker says fans “can’t necessarily afford to go out in the same way they used to, so they’re much more selective about the shows they do attend.” This scrupulousness has created a major increase in week-of and day-of ticket sales, which in turn fosters even less certainty among promoters.
And yet, Walker remains confident things are heading in the right direction. “I feel like among everyone working in the industry there’s a lot of optimism that this will balance out. It’s just going to take some time.”
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 10, 2022, issue of Billboard.