I've just seen this article from The Daily Mash pop up on Facebook and it got me thinking about playing for free.
It's very tongue-in-cheek, as everything for their website is, but it raises a valid point about playing, and asking others to play for this myth of 'exposure'.
'Exposure' is word that plagues hard working musicians everywhere. I see gig adverts all the time that all say the same thing; 'we can't pay you, but you will get exposure to a new audience'. That's all well and good if you know there are going to be a lot of people there who have never seen you before. I played at half time at a Wolves match last season for exposure to over 26,000 people (if you measure 'exposure' purely in terms of Facebook 'likes', I still only gained about 15 new 'likes' directly from that gig). I've also taken support gigs for more established artists who play similar styles to me because playing to an audience that enjoy similar music to mine is good 'exposure' for me and my music. These gigs were also great fun and in the case of the latter I've often sold more than my fair share of merchandise to cover the costs.
My main problem with this comes from the idea that all gigs are like this, that all gigs have masses of people attending who are all fans of the sort of thing you are doing and want to hear music that is new to them. We all know that this isn't the case and that actually most of the time you end up playing to an empty room and getting evil looks from the promoter for not bringing anyone with you. 'Why would I need to to re-expose myself to people who are already my fans?' I hear you ask. 'Surely if I was just going to play to my friends and fans, I would just put on my own show'. Well that's because in reality there is no 'exposure' on offer. It's just a buzzword used to mean 'the venue/promoter is doing this on the cheap and lazy and so can't/won't pay you'. I've ranted on this blog about promoters like this in the past so won't go into it again, but if you fancy a chat about it you can find the original post here.
I don't want to fall into the trap of this becoming another 'poor, down-trodden musicians' post where I sanctimoniously go on and on about how musicians don't get paid enough and it's all so terrible. I put on open mic nights myself where other musicians don't get paid to play. I get both professionals and people who just do it for the love of it play at them and they do it for a variety of reasons. I guess what I'm really getting at is that real, genuine exposure to an engaged audience of people who like the style of music you play, regardless of how big that audience is, is vital to musicians at almost all levels. My issue is that that, in the majority of cases, this is simply not what is on offer.
If you want to see me 'exposing myself' (in a musical way...) I'm hosting open mic at The Rainbow in Coven tomorrow night (Wednesday 29th October) from 8:30. See you there :)