Exposure, every musician’s least favorite word in the english dictionary. For those of you that don’t know what this means, allow me to explain: Exposure is the supposed “polite” way for venues and potential clients to tell you that they can’t pay you for a gig or performance – it’s more commonly used in the original music scene rather than the covers circuit because most original bands “just want to get their name out there.”
This word that venues seem to think is a currency does not pay the bills and is a nightmare for those people who have music as their sole source of income and if you ever post a gig listing in a “musician’s wanted” Facebook group with the line “THIS IS NOT PAID BUT”, prepare to get lynched for the foreseeable future.
However, I’ve always wondered something: Is it every acceptable or beneficial to gig for free?
This is the part where every musician in the entire world is screaming at their screens, calling me deluded and stupid whilst mixing the two with various combinations of expletives – but I implore you all to stop and think for a moment and allow me to list a few examples that many people miss:
- Wedding Fair’s
Pretty much every friend of mine who is gigging professionally appear at a few of these every year and nearly always come out with a few bookings a year which will amount to a substantial amount of their yearly earnings. Weddings pay extremely well and can also lead to more bookings from the wedding guests for other events, if you haven’t given a try, I’d recommend it – one of my friends has been performing at weddings all over the world all year round for the last few years!
2. Open mic’s / Jam Nights
I admit, the chances of getting work from events like this is very rare compared to wedding fair’s and showcases but you do never know who’s watching! I personally have picked up both performance and teaching work through these sorts of nights and had great fun whilst doing them so it was a win-win.
3. Doing a mate a favor
Again, I’ve done this a fair few times and it’s not only led to other work but it’s also helped me build relationships with fellow members of the industry both on and off stage. The way I see it we do this for a living primarily because we love it, the money is an added bonus and there is nothing wrong with doing the odd free stint for your mate! Clients are obviously different though, so make sure not to get the two confused!
There are three reasons as to why gigging for three isn’t too bad. It isn’t something I’d make a habit of but it also isn’t something I’m completely against. For those that are struggling to decide wether to take a free gig, always ask yourself what this person is doing for you – are they lining up future paid gigs that are set in stone and certain? Are there people in the audience that could get you paid work? and lastly, have they done you a favor in the past and simply deserve to be repaid?
It’s a complex and never-ending debate but there are positives to working for free sometimes, just don’t make it a habit, you’re going to want to earn a sustainable living!