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Paying musicians in exposure isn’t the problem… you are 11 Mar 2017

Ok, so maybe the problem is not specifically you, but it does seem like a lot of people like to cry murder at the sight of someone offering ‘exposure as payment’ to a creative type. The view that asking a musician to play without monetary payment not only goes against what the music industry is based on, it also goes against the way that society works.

No one is denying the fact that you can’t cash exposure in at the bank, but nobody claimed that you could either.

Don’t be a hypocrite

There is no way that anyone in the music industry can ever truly say that they are against exposure. Whether they are searching for exposure to new fans, new readers, a new booking agent, a new label, a prospective promoter, a prospective employer or customers; everyone who actually wants to be in the music industry is looking for some sort of exposure. When themusic.com.au and Tone Deaf post articles slamming the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) for seeking musicians to volunteer a performance in return for promotion, it's a little concerning. A media outlet criticising someone for offering exposure as payment must have paid all those artists that they have premiered tracks or videos. No? Oh really, so why did all those artists want to premiere their track or video with those outlets? You guessed it; they all wanted the exposure.

In the event that a media outlet would pay an artist for an article, and exclusive interview for example. It wouldn’t be with your mate’s band who just played their first show, it’ll be with a name who is going to drive readers into their media outlet. Because if exposure is done right, it can not only be worth getting for free but worth paying for. I’m sure all of the promoters, labels and artists paying for advertising with themusic.com.au or Tone Deaf would agree... I would hope that at least the directors and finance team of those sites would too.

Exposure has value

If you view an offer to play without payment for exposure as taking advantage then you need to get your priorities straight. The music industry works because completely unknown bands can level a playing field somewhat by offering to play without a payment for the exposure. This can give them access to the same opportunities that a more established band has who might offer to play the same show for a fee. You see, exposure works both ways and promoters understand that. A promoter or venue may agree to pay you a lot of money to perform their show if you have an established following, as this will inevitably mean increased exposure to their show. Exposure is a valuable commodity and can allow any artist regardless of size, to level the playing field in order to build a career for themselves.

The main call out from the article(s) in question, was that the Melbourne International Coffee Expo were looking to take advantage of musicians (this is not the first time an article such as this has been used to reel in some readers btw). I know several bands who’ve not only agreed to play shows without payment but been the ones who offered to play shows for free in the first place, for one reason: exposure. I even know a band who took the opportunity to open for a larger Australian artist on their national tour last year (8 out of 10 dates) without payment. They paid their own way for travel and accommodation, but they gained a hell of a lot of exposure for it. No one is asking you to play for free, let’s get that clear. But if you don’t play for free there may be others who are already pitching to play for free so they can get the exposure. What it comes down to is how much the exposure means to you.

It’s up to you

Paying musicians in exposure is not the problem, you are.

If someone is looking to buy a backpack for $5 when you are selling a backpack for $40, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to rip you off. Even if they ask you directly if you will sell your bag for $5, they are still not trying to rip you off - this is called negotiation. It’s up to you to determine the worth of your backpack, exactly the same thing applies to musicians.

If you don’t feel as though you deserve to play a show for free, you say “No thanks, our rate is $xx.” If they then say “That’s OK we’ve got others who will play the show for free,” it’s not blackmail it’s a reality. It’s up to you to explain your value and lower rate until you both come to an agreement. If they are adamant they want someone to play for free, then it’s either not the right show for you, or you need more exposure (you can get that by playing to a larger audience than your mates just FYI).

If you're going to complain about that then you need to take another look at the big picture.

This isn’t just the case in the music industry, it’s a fact of life. How often do you think people start off their career on six figures versus starting on minimum wage and working their way up? Careers work the same way, you choose which jobs to apply for and which ones to ignore, salary is one of the criteria which will determine if you say yes or no. Some people get the exposure and experience working an unpaid internship so they can use that to boost their chances of getting the job they want. Others decide that they can’t dedicate that time without getting money and take a different path to try and work their way there. Others start their own business and pour in ridiculous amounts of money so they can have an opportunity at living the job they want.

If you’re not getting paid for a show then maybe you need more exposure; if you’re not getting exposure then maybe your price is too high. If no one is playing your show maybe you’re not offering enough money; if you have a lot of people offering to play for free then maybe your exposure is a pretty valuable thing.