There is one word you hear more than any other if you’re an independent musician. Especially if you are relatively unknown. EXPOSURE.
It is more than a word though, it is a unit of currency. And like all currencies it is subject to an ever-fluctuating rate of exchange, not to mention the manifold peculiarities of our society’s notion of value.
Being asked to play for exposure (rather than money) is nothing new. I get emails every week from promoters asking me to do that. My refusals are always courteous and explanatory; their replies (if any) usually tend towards baffled indignation. These little conversations go on in private every day in every part of the country. But now the argument has gone public as it turns out the musicians booked for the various Olympic/Paralympic ceremonies are to work for no fee (despite reportedly being £476 million under budget). That story has been circulating quietly since the Musicians Union began an investigation in April, but when it was reported by the BBC and The Quietus at the end of June my social media news-feeds were suddenly buzzing with activity. The central query was this: Can the benefits of exposure to a wider audience outweigh the embarrassment of being the only profession contributing to the £9.3 billion event without getting a penny? It is a classic debate that can be summed up in three words: “What price dignity?”