Exposure or Exploitation
So how do you know which is which?
So when does exposure become exploitation? I'll answer that with a parable: My doctor and I are good friends. As a matter of fact we are on a first-name basis. We even hang out sometimes. You know why we are such good friends? I'll tell you why: Because he knows I can read with a high degree of comprehension and that means I understand the sign at the front desk that says, "payment due at the time of services rendered." It isn't personal, it's business. You see, there is no exposure in his line of work; he is a true professional. My musician friends call me and say "can you do some recording for me?" I say, "Sure! What kind of budget are you working with?" After a few awkward moments of -Silence- on the phone: "you get that we're all doing this for exposure, everybody is donating their time...?"
Basically they have no financial backing and they really expect us to play for free and produce a CD for free that they get paid for. Is trickle down economics at work here? I need them to understand this: My gear did not just materialize from space. It was bought and paid for and my relationships came after I had been using the gear for years and they expect me to use that gear on a free product. Where is the equity in that? You see this is a clear case of exploitation.
Musicians gravitate toward that word, exposure, like fireflies to light. Like somehow that word means free candy! Let's say your band accepts a date for a benefit and they're telling you you're going to get great exposure from this. At the end of the night the owner pats you on your back and gives you these words to ponder: "The event was a huge success and a lot of it was due to your outstanding band. We're planning to have the same event next year and we'd like to have you and the guys back next year too!" The question is: Why? Is it because you were good or because you were free? Here you have a clear case of exploitation. At this pace you will basically be paying to play because you have expenditures for gas, maintenance of your vehicle, maintenance of your instruments, wardrobe maintenance, rent, or a mortgage, and, of course, your time practicing the music. So is it exposure or exploitation? You see he didn't say anything about money. He got you for free and he assumed he could do it again next year.
However there are some gigs that are good for exposure. Some may even put you in front of people who may need to see you. The truth is, if your name is not on the marquis, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad gig. This may be a great time for you to use your networking skills and as the say (and it really is true) "you never know who's sitting out there."
That brings us back to our question: Is it exposure or exploitation? Only you can decide for your situation. As musicians, we should dialogue about this subject openly. The endgame is for musicians to have that same mentality: "payment due at the time of services rendered."
Russell K Shores
Vice President, Austin Federation Of Musicians