Death by exposure

Exposure. Exposure is what Fairfax offered to a band in exchange for them playing at a large, well attended, and presumably otherwise well funded event.

Exposure is something that people die of. People who have no resources and thus have to sleep outside and freeze to death. They die of exposure. Exposure is something that when done indecently leads to people being put in jail, or destroying their political career (or potentially both in the case of Anthony Weiner).

It might seem a stretch to suggest that the exposure economy kills people, but it definitely kills careers. Careers it claims to build. Nobody, literally nobody, lives by exposure. If I went to my local cafe and offered to buy a coffee by exposure “I’ll tell everyone how good your coffee is” they’d presume it was part of a comedy sketch. If I tried to pay my rent with exposure, i’d be booted out faster than a black man at a Donald Trump rally.

I’m not a musician but I am a performer and that attitude some people seem to have to performance as “a passion” means that people presume you enjoy doing it for free. It’s the same with writing. It’s logic developed by people who work in offices and don’t know what the lived experience of performing is actually like.

I’m not going to deride the journalist who wrote defending the piece and calling the band “ungrateful”. I’m sure she’s been sent plenty of awful things because: the Internet. Though, it does seem unusually short sighted from a person working as a journalist and writer to celebrate exposure as a form of payment. Many writing gigs that once paid now do not pay. What you are offered is exposure to an audience. I’ve written many of these pieces, all for exposure. It might have helped me become a better writer but god earning a living and doing that writing was hard.

The exposure logic presumes that you’ll get future work thanks to the exposure. Apply that logic to any other industry and see how far it gets you. This isn’t like work experience or an internship (though arguably both of those can be exploitative), this band was being hired for a big gig because they were already good at what they do. This gig WAS the future work. If they’re good they’ve already done the shitty, unpaid gigs to earn the credability to GET this gig. They’ve banked their exposure dollars and now are being offered… more expsoure. Just because it’s a big event doesn’t mean it leads to paid work because what the people managing these gigs never seem to realise is the following:

Your gig might well be shit. You’re not willing to pay acts so that already suggest you don’t know how professionally run events should go. So the band, despite their best efforts and them being a great band, could seem shit to the crowd. Maybe the sound system doesn’t work well. Maybe the room or venue was poorly chosen. Plenty of gigs have been ruined by poor planning. In which case those exposure dollars you’re paying aren’t worth shit.

If someone has seen a band (or a comedian) they’ve… already seen that band or comedian. Why would they want to go and see them again in the near future. They’ve seen them. Maybe, maybe, they’ll be so good that in a few years they’ll see advertising for that act and remember how good they were. But for punters in that crowd, being seen doesn’t mean you win people who’ll suddenly be willing to pay to see you at work in a few months, which might well be when your next bill is due.

This is a job. Being a performer is a job. Writing is a job. Doing that job means that we’re away from our loved ones and families. It means we’re not doing things that earn us money. The fact that in your mind you think of it as a “passion” is because you don’t do it as a job. I might be passionate about running but do you think Usain Bolt regards it as “a passion”?

Because it’s a job that often doesn’t pay because: exposure, most performers have to work actual jobs that don’t treat their work as a “passion”. That means 40–50 hour weeks at work and THEN doing your other job. The one you get paid for with exposure. And the maths just doesn’t work out. It burns people out. It stops people from having functional family lives. It means instead of seeing your friends or your kids, you’re performing for exposure.

So it all becomes too hard and people quit. Which means the only people who remain in the industry after 10 years are people who were already wealthy, or people whose performing has very widespread appeal (sometimes because they’re good, sometimes because they simply tap into a larger audience). So many people who are good, but unlucky, or, or who don’t have extra money, quit.

And that’s what the exposure economy does in the long term. It kills off substantial portions of the industry and their job does become just a passion, and then that passion becomes a hobby, and then that hobby becomes something they talk about with other mates who used to pursue that hobby and then there’s one less musician or one less comedian or one less performer making art. And then their interest in it dies.

That’s death by exposure.