It’s a common rallying cry among freelance musicians that you shouldn’t play gigs that pay in “exposure.” Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, and playing for free devalues your skills and others’.
But there are more ways that musicians become convinced to work for someone else’s bottom line and get nothing back but maybe a little “exposure.”
Unsolicited product endorsements are a common one. An endorsement deal with a company should involve some kind of tangible benefit to the musician: money, free or significantly discounted products, or maybe something like funding to support travel or musical projects. If you’re hashtagging your favorite brands in every social media post, and the companies aren’t supporting you back in a meaningful way, you’re working in their advertising department for free.
Creating online content for companies is also often the same as working for exposure. If a business wants you to provide them with articles, educational materials, videos, photos, artwork, etc. for their social media posts or company blog, they are asking you to do creative work without compensation. (Sometimes these efforts are creatively described as “contests.”)
I’ve gotten many “offers” to have my blog posts “reblogged” (copied) onto corporate websites, with a vague promise that this will generate “traffic” to my site. I fell for it a few times in past years, and it always resulted in a small handful of clicks that dried up after a day or two, and then my content lived on for free on someone else’s site. Now my content all stays here, where these days I get more traffic than the corporations offering me “opportunities” to hand over my work.
Whether it’s gig work, writing web content, or attaching your good name to a product, value yourself enough to ask for what you’re worth.