Lessons about performing, lesson 42: Don’t do shit for exposure!

It’s amusing how bad at predicting the future of this site has gone. It has somehow gone from anticipating making a few posts and being done with it to the point where I try to get something out there every day for you.

I got a question from a guy we’re going to call “Bob.” Bob is not his real name, but he asked why I do this – if I’m not making any money at it.

Well, Bob, I enjoy it. I also like the idea of helping people. People seem to enjoy the work and I enjoy seeing the comments and hit counter go up. No, they don’t click ads, but I’m rewarded in other ways.

Yes, I’d like the site to break even. I don’t much care about a profit, so breaking even is just the goal. Anything additional would go to some worthy cause, perhaps some sort of gift for the regular readers.

Bob followed this up with asking why I didn’t seek out sponsors. Well, Bob, I’m pretty lazy and I might someday want to write reviews – and I’d like those reviews to be untainted with the smell of bias. So far, I’ve written mostly nice things, but I have plenty of not-nice things to say.

So, there you have it, Bob. Those are the answers to your question. They have not a damned thing to do with today’s post, but I’m going to put it here anyhow.

No, today’s post is something different. It’s yet another lesson that you might want to learn. This one has some caveats, but we’ll try to address them.

I’m not going to write my longer intro, ’cause I was busy answering Bob. If you want to see the complete list of rules for performing musicians, see this link.

Now, onto today’s article…

Rule #42: Don’t perform for ‘exposure.’

This one does have some wiggle-room, and I’m sure someone’s already thinking of a time when they heard a story about somebody who did something for exposure and ended up making it big. And, granted, there are some situations where it might be a valid strategy. However, as far as general rules go, this one is a good one.

You might notice a recurring theme. I’ve continually pointed out that you are, in fact, trying to run a business. You know what businesses do, well, the profitable ones at any rate? They make money.

Do you know what people doing shit for exposure make? Nothing.

So, don’t do it. In all my years, I’ve seen weeks of dedicated playing at an open-mic night turn into a regular paying gig twice. Yup. Two times… Two times out of what probably totals thousands of people trying to get gigs from exposure.

Granted, I didn’t follow up with them all – but the music community is remarkably small. Why? Because it pretty much sucks and the pay is the only thing worse than the benefits.

Now, there’s a fucking lot of room here. Is it okay to play a bar for free drinks? Oh, hells yeah! Doubly so if you’re just starting out. Triply so if you’re a band with a free weekend and can drink your full weight in beer.

Hells yeah! Make a party of it. Invite the neighbor’s toddlers and have a merry old time seeing who can drink the most and still remember the words.

Do you play the local pit party and hope one of them tells their uncle that you are a rocking band and he should let you have their stage some weekend? Why not? You might as well. Besides, there will almost certainly be free titties and beer.

But, do you play the sleazy bar and hamburger shack for no paycheck, two beers, and a burger? Hell no. Have some fucking pride! They’re just using you.

If they’re making money from you, you deserve to make some of that. You should get paid something for your trouble. Doing shit for exposure is just someone using you without having to pay you. There’s literally no need to do that – in most cases.

How do you get your name out there? You work at it. You make some demos and you beat the pavement. You learn about the profession and you call around asking venues if they’re interested in hearing your demo. If you’ve got a reputation, you don’t even have to send a demo.

Approach them like a professional and not some needy kid who is hoping to be the next Axl Rose. It’d seriously help if you approached the right kind of venues so it’d be in your best interest to do your research.

Side note: Research doesn’t necessarily include going bar hopping and waiting until after a few drinks to ask if they’re interested in listening to your demo. It might include that, but I’m absolutely not going to recommend it.

The whole point is that you’re selling yourself, not entirely unlike a prostitute – except they get paid better. You can’t just give that shit away for free.

And, really, there’s a lot of venues and not that many good musicians. You’re good, right? Well, if you’re better than average, you’ve got a decent shot at pulling more gigs than you can fit into your schedule. You just need to get out there and let them know.

I kinda want to make a bunch of hooker analogies, but I’d like to think I’m above such juvenile humor. So, insert a bunch of them here and pretend I wrote them.

Your ‘free sample’ is your demo. Your ‘benefit’ is your reputation. Your ‘feature’ is your ability. Your being there means the venue makes money. You’re working. You’re earning a portion of that money, even if they don’t give it to you. You might just as well make ’em give it to you.

You can’t really be a professional musician unless you’re actually a professional. I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure being a professional requires getting paid for your services.

I’ve personally witnessed people performing the same gig, week after week, for exposure. They’re there, playing at a bar – as the only act, for exposure. They’re doing it week after week after week. They’re waiting for that big break, that right person to walk through the door.

The right person isn’t going to walk in the door. You have to go knock on his door. Doing shit for exposure is a waste of your time, effort, and musicianship. Don’t do it – except when you should. In which case, do it for the free titties and beer.

This subject will likely come up again. I am, after all, teaching you to be professional musicians. Getting paid seems like a pretty damned important lesson. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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