The fake currency of exposure

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If you are a professional in the arts, you will be invariably get asked to work for exposure. By that, I mean people will come to you with a “great” idea  and they will say something like this:

This project is going to be huge and seen by thousands (or millions) of people. I can’t pay you much but you will get great exposure and probably a lot of other jobs if you do a good job on this one.

When someone approaches you with that proposition, there are reasons you might want to take the job. It might be good experience or you might just think it is going to be fun. Maybe the financial side of your craft is not of importance to you.

However, here is the trap to avoid: don’t think for a second that getting paid for “exposure” is going to be worth it financially. Invariably it will not be. You won’t get more jobs. Your YouTube channel will not explode.

Here is why that is: the people that come to you with that proposal are usually overselling and overestimating their influence. Almost certainly they are offering that deal because they don’t have money, and they don’t have money because they are either unsuccessful or just starting out. Truly influential people pay the people they hire. They don’t deal in the fake currency of exposure.

I am not telling you to always charge full price for your work. If you think there is value in the project outside the money, go ahead and discount or work for free. Just don’t try to equate exposure to money. Exposure will not pay your mortgage.

Some of you might wonder if I am a hypocrite when I talk like this. After all, I give away basically all of my music for free in some form or another and clearly, I do that partly for exposure. That is different; that kind of exposure is simply a form of advertising that I find very cost effective. Let me assure you that I do not make decisions to give away music without having a long term plan in place that eventually pays the bills. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in music production over the years but it is not an altruistic donation to the world. I want that money to come back.

I am not saying this is a right or wrong thing. I am not telling you what to do in every single case. I am simply saying that as a general rule, be wary about accepting the counterfeit currency of exposure. If you are on the other side, don’t offer to pay in counterfeit either. Just pay what the person is worth in real money.