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Playing Gigs For Exposure

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.



A lot of musicians get so-called “opportunities” to do unpaid gigs for the exposure or to get their foot in the door at an establishment. Sometimes it’s worth it but sometimes it is not. So how do you or your band decide as to whether you should take the opportunity? Simply put, it’s all about what you have to gain from it or what you are most likely to gain from it.

The Festival

Sometimes there will be a festival where multiple local acts are playing. On the surface, it would seem like an opportunity for a great deal of exposure. The theory goes that each band pulls in its own following, and so each band gets exposed to each other’s following. Also, some people who don’t follow any of the bands may attend simply because it is expected to be a large event. That in itself is an attraction to some.

However, things don’t work out like some would think they should. Your time slot will have a lot to do with your level of exposure at the event. Let’s say that the festival is on the entire weekend. So, you have bands playing all day long and into part of the night for both Saturday and Sunday. Maybe even starting on Friday evening. In any case, you will have time slots where more people are likely to be in attendance and there are other time slots where less people are likely to be in attendance.

I’ve done several big events where multiple bands played. Most turned out well as far as exposure was concerned. All the ones where I played in front of a lot of people and actually got a good amount of exposure were the ones where I played in a good time slot. We are basically talking prime time. Anywhere from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm. One where I played in the middle of the day was pointless because hardly anyone was there. It simply wasn’t worth the time, or even the drive, for that matter.

The day of the week that you will be performing on plays a big part too. Maybe It’s the weekend, but most people prefer to not stay out late on a Sunday because they have to get up early the next day for work. So, if your time slot on a Sunday is late, you might not have a lot of people in attendance.

The ideal situation would be for your act to be sandwiched in between two popular acts and all of you will be performing prime time on a Saturday. That is the ideal opportunity and well worth saying yes to when offered the chance. A poor time slot early in the day may not even be worth your time because, the reality of the situation is, you most likely will not get much exposure. So, if you are not doing it as a favor or for a charity, you probably should just stay home.

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At a Bar or Nightclub

Sometimes opportunities will arise where you will be offered the chance to play at a bar or nightclub for the exposure. Or, in order to get a paid gig, you may have to do one for free so that they can decide if you are worth paying for. I have to say that I have never done an unpaid gig at a bar. I had always done an audition or played an open mic for the purpose of scoring a paid gig.

There were a few times when I went to enquire about performing as a solo act at an establishment and was asked if I had my guitar with me. I said yes and went out to my car to get it. I played and sang right at the bar. I scored paid gigs doing that. Some would ask me to play their open mic if they had one and I would use that as an audition for a paid gig. None of them told me I had to do a gig for free in order for them to decide if they wanted to give me a paid one.

Some bars and nightclubs don’t even pay bands to do gigs. Some only have open mics where musicians will play for nothing. The only person who may get paid is the host of the open mic. Sometimes it might be worth it to go to one just to do a few songs and meet some people. Maybe do a little networking. All you have to do is show up with your instrument and plug into somebody else’s sound system and play. It’s not like setting up your own gear and performing for a few hours for nothing. If it is a place that has live bands that pays, it might be worth it to play at an open mic and use it as an audition for a paid gig, otherwise it may not be worth your time. It’s pretty hard to make a living playing for nothing all the time.

A New Establishment

Sometimes a new establishment may request for you to do an unpaid gig for the exposure because they are just getting started and can’t afford to pay bands just yet. But if you can prove that you are able to bring some people in, they will consider giving you a paid gig in the future. They have the nerve say it would be good for you, for the exposure. Okay, how is this good for you regarding exposure? First of all, if you are the only ones bringing the people in, then the only people you are getting exposed to are probably people who have already seen you. The idea is to get exposure regarding people who have not yet seen you. Playing a place that has a sizeable regular crowd, regardless of who may be playing there, would be exposure. Not a new establishment that does not yet have a regular crowd.

Think It All Over

The reality is that a lot of gigs that you might play just for the exposure actually turn out to not really give you that much exposure. As I stated above, if it is a festival of some kind and you have a bad time slot, you could end up playing for just a few people and not this large crowd you may have been imagining.

You may be desperate to get out there and play and you would not be the only musician that ever existed that has felt that way. But gigs for exposure don’t always give you exposure. Quite often, they end up being a big disappointment or all-out waste of time. Sometimes you set yourself up to not be offered that many paid gigs because some people figure that you would probably do the gig for nothing, so why bother to pay you if they think they can get you for free?

What you need to do is think it all over. Think about what is to be gained other than the exposure. Because the opportunity for exposure might not really be there. You could do an unpaid gig for other reasons though. You could do it as a favor or for a charitable cause. In those cases, it might be worth your while to set up your equipment and play for a few hours.

To Sum It Up

It may seem to you, after reading this article, that I am trying to say that it is not worth it to play a gig just for exposure. That is not the case. There is nothing wrong with playing for exposure if you are really getting a great deal of exposure and you are not just doing almost all of your gigs for exposure. What I mean by really getting exposure is that, in many cases, you don’t end up getting a lot of exposure. This may be because you have a bad time slot or playing in a new establishment or a place that does not have a regular crowd. My point is that doing unpaid gigs just for the exposure doesn’t always mean that you end up getting the exposure.

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