Musicians’ Union: Is the exposure really worth it?

Sam Jordan from the Musicians' Union explores what "exposure" means for musicians and when not to accept it as payment for live gigs...


“There’s no fee, but it will be good exposure...” If you’re a gigging musician, then you’ve probably heard that one before, or at least something similar.

When deciding whether to accept a booking, it’s up to you to decide whether that exposure is really worth it. Here we explore that decision-making process and look at examples of “exposure”.

Firstly, never be afraid to request a fee when discussing a potential live booking.

If you are offered “exposure” as the main benefit to the booking though, it is really important for you to properly assess what it means and if it is worth it. For every musician, that assessment will be slightly different.

Yes there are examples of good exposure which we will discuss, but remember you can say no to a gig if necessary.

It’s always worth trying to negotiate, but if there’s no flexibility on the promoter’s behalf, and the deal isn’t right for you, don’t do it. You’re not losing anything, but you are applying quality control.

“There will be industry professionals and press attending the event”

This could potentially be great in that it could lead to gaining important contacts, representation or press coverage.

However, who has the promoter actually invited and what areas of the industry do these people work in? Are these people that work with your style of music? If industry professionals such as A&R are attending to see one of the other acts, will they be around for your set?

These are important questions to ask and will define whether that exposure is actually beneficial to you or not.

If potential contacts are going to be in attendance, then make sure you are prepared to make the most of it. Be accessible to them throughout the event, network and have business cards at the ready." 

“It will lead to more work”

Being an active live musician might be a more attractive prospect to those working with artists than one that appears less active. But you need to consider where these potential work offers are actually going to come from. This could again go back to the previous point about finding out which industry representatives will be in the audience, and looking at what work they could potentially offer.               

If the promoter is putting on frequent events, then they could be suggesting that they will book you again if the gig is a success. There is of course no guarantee of another booking unless it is confirmed and you should consider, if they do not want to pay you for this gig, are they going to pay you for the next?

Going to a promoter with a dazzling review of this gig is likely to put you in a positive position, so there could be good exposure there. However, will there be press at the gig or would it be your responsibility to get any there?

“We’re expecting a big crowd” or “We get big crowds for these nights”

Building your fanbase is hugely important and you can do a lot of research yourself on this type of exposure.

Look at how much effort the promoter has put into promoting previous events and check out photos of those gigs. You should be able to get an insight into the work they do, and whether they work in collaboration with artists." 

If they are not putting the effort in, then how can they guarantee a large audience?

You can also consider the pull of other acts performing on the night through their previous slot positions, and size of venues they have performed at. You should be able to get a rough idea of their appeal and of course their fans could potentially become fans of yours. If you’re supporting an act with a buzz around them, make sure people know! Your slot time will likely influence the crowd size when you play though, so do take that into account.

So, is the “exposure” actually enough for your booking not to warrant a fee?

Consider it carefully and always value your work as a musician.

Find out more about the MU and how it can support you via theMU.orgYou can also stay up to date with the latest MU news, events and campaigns via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Thinking about joining the Union? Full-time students can join for £20 a year.

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by Sam Jordan, Musicians' Union's London Regional Officer
October 1, 2018
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