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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Taking A Gig For "Exposure" Really Means

Exposure image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
The longer you're in the music business, the more times you're approached to do a gig for "the exposure." This usually means that either you won't get paid at all or you'll be paid a discounted rate for the privilege of doing the gig, ostensibly in order to gain higher visibility that will lead to more or better paying gigs later.

I've found that whenever "exposure" is brought up by the party offering the gig, that usually means they're just trying to get something for nothing, so the exposure doesn't amount to much. On the other hand, if the concept of exposure isn't brought up at all or even given a soft-sell, it occasionally can turn into just the thing you need to help advance your career.

So just what is this "exposure" thing and what can it do for you? Exposure can mean building awareness of either your personal brand or that of your band. This extended awareness will hopefully result in additional gigs or additional sales for your products. So how do you determine whether you'll gain enough exposure to make the gig worthwhile? Here's the formula I've come up with after years of getting burned:

1) Don't believe what anybody tells you. If you're told that agents, managers, record labels or a possible new audience might see you, take it all with a grain of salt. Do some research and find out for yourself before you make a commitment. The gig is going to cost you time and probably money, so try to make sure up front that you'll actually be getting what's promised.

2) Try to match any potential exposure to your promotional needs. Assuming that you've verified that you'll actually be playing in front of a crowd (that's not always the case), try to find out:
  • Is this a crowd that wants to be entertained in the first place? No use playing to a thousand people who just want some background music instead of the type of show that you have to offer. An example would be playing a wedding because a manager that you want to meet will be there. The problem is it's the bride's day and she'll control what you play and how you'll play. You'll never be at your best no matter what you do so it's a no-win situation. Avoid gigs like this all costs.
  • Is this a compatible audience? Don't take the gig to try to open up a new market segment that you don't already have a handle on. It hardly ever happens. If you're a great ska band but you're asked to open up for a hard rock band at a biker rally,  chances are the crowd won't like you no matter how great a show you put on. It's an incompatible audience, so don't waste your time.
3) Never play for a convention or conference crowd. You may have 5,000 people in the audience, but there won't be enough of them that like your type of music to make a difference. I once saw The Cult absolutely bomb playing to a NAMM crowd. Thousands of musos, but they were there for the party, not the band. And what's worse, at least half of them were thinking, "I can play better than that."

Don't let that exposure gig go the wrong way. Think really hard about it and do your homework before you commit.

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Joe Randeen said...

Good stuff Bobby.

The Sound Shop Mobile Recording said...

I agree with everything you said here Bobby. While they do exists, 99% of the "Exposure" gigs are one sided as far as its benefit.

That being said, I had some friends open for Bush recently. I believe it was an exposure gig with limited travel. That gig put them in front of 8000 people and launched them onto a full time national opening slot.

Like I said, few and far between.


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