The Truth About Preferred Vendor Lists: Should You “Pay to Play?”

May 18, 2017 by Jason Rubio

As a long time DJ, I started at age 13 and did mobile events at that time (since I couldn’t get into bars/clubs and YouTube or Social Media didn’t exist). Later, I DJed at bars/clubs and loved it! It was amazing to get paid to literally meet lots of people, get free bar tabs, and do what I love! However, about 5 years ago, I decided to start focusing more on private events, as a DJ. Don’t get me wrong, I loved getting paid to have fun at my bar/club events, but I didn’t like the late hours and the low pay, and to be honest, fun doesn’t pay the bills!

Private events can certainly be just as competitive as the bar/club DJ scene, but the pay makes all the difference. You can literally set your own rates and get paid far more than the usual bar gig pay. When I made this shift, I noticed that there were “preferred vendor” lists that venues, planners, and even caterers had. I wondered how they decided who is preferred? How can I get on that list? Before actually knowing the truth, I thought that if I simply showed up and did a great job, every time, and got to know the venue managers/owners, they’d refer me. That should be how it works, right? Yes, it should be, but it often doesn’t work this way. Yes, it may work this way for some vendors, but there are many venues and vendors that do not do this.

Venue managers often create a preferred vendor list based on one thing: money! DJs/companies work out deals with these venues and people who refer them, and agree to give a percentage or dollar amount to the venue or person who made the referral. It’s often 10% of their fee. So if a DJ books a $2000 event, they’ll give a referral fee of $200 to the venue/person. Many DJ companies and other vendors will “partner” with venues and be on the preferred list, or create a package that includes a DJ, photo booth, caterer, planner, etc. The venue manager will create a price that pays everyone the fee that they want, and still get a kickback from the vendors. Some venue managers will penalize clients by charging a fee for not booking their preferred vendor lists (we’ve seen many charge $500 for not booking their preferred vendors). This may not be the case for all venue managers and vendors, but we’ve definitely seen it at many venues in the Austin/central Texas area.

Overall, the choice is yours on whether you want to “pay to play.” I can understand why DJs and other vendors do this, of course. More referrals means more income. We choose not to do this and still have plenty of bookings, all year long.


Jason Rubio Jason Rubio (88 Posts)

Jason Rubio is the co-owner and founder of Austin’s Best DJs, a professional DJ & photo booth company that provides music and entertainment for hundreds of weddings and events in the Austin and central Texas area. Jason started his DJ career as a mobile DJ, at age 13, and has since DJ’ed thousands of events, providing music and entertainment for clubs, bars, radio, concerts, festivals and various other events. In addition to writing for Mobile Beat, Jason also writes “The DJ Insider,” and has been featured in Canadian Special Events Magazine, Wedding Planner Magazine, and numerous other sites and publications. Jason is also a graduate of Texas State University with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Education, as well as a Master’s of Public Administration, from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Contact Jason Rubio at

Filed Under: DJing Weddings, Mobile DJ Business, Mobile DJ Sales & Marketing