February 20, 2021
The Value of Exposure
Exposure. It’s an interesting concept, and a sales pitch I’m familiar with as a former, original musician. Exposure is a hallmark of the payment method various venues used to offer me and my bands as a form of compensation when I was still playing live music, which I did for over a decade. It seems enticing. “When you play at our venue, you’ll expose your music to a new audience.” Sounds great, right? That’s what all musicians and artists want. The more people who hear us and see us, the more our band’s popularity will grow. That’s the theory. So, what’s the reality? Well, that’s a more complicated aspect.
The longer I played live shows, the more I realized this whole exposure thing doesn’t seem to be giving me or my bandmates any substantial return, but it does appear to be making the venue money in alcohol and food sales. See, the venues sold this concept as a mutual benefit to both the bands and the venue, but what I quickly came to discover over my years of playing and booking my bands is that the venue had the most to gain. The majority of venues would ask, “How many people do you think you can bring in? We have bands that can pack this place, and they do well!” Cool. As I continued to play and book my bands, the question that began nagging at me was, “Well, how many people does the venue bring in?” I mean, frankly, the bar or club owner was the one who started the business. Isn’t it their responsibility to make their venue the destination? How did that become the bands’ responsibility? We were hired to entertain the venue’s audience, right? Well, apparently, that wasn’t the intended business model. It became clear to me the venue’s business model was that the entertainer brings people in, the venue offers exposure and sometimes free beer, and the venue keeps the money. Interesting business model. The artist fights for bookings, promotes the show, invites their friends and family to see them for the 5th Friday or Saturday in a row, and the venue profits. Side note, I don’t drink alcohol, so the free beer was always lost on me. I tried like heck to kill them on the water bill though.
I lost count of the amount of times the venue would say how good of a night they had, while promising to pay us the next time. Now, on the 6th Friday or Saturday when our friends and families were busy, the venue might not do as well, and they were more than happy to pass the responsibility of that lackluster weekend down to the band. You know, the people who were hired to entertain the venue’s patrons. I even witnessed one venue owner throw and destroy glasses behind the bar in a tantrum because we didn't bring in as many people as we had hoped for. Didn't play that venue again. You know, FTG (F#$* That Guy). Note: I need to consider making a FTG shirt. Anyway. As it turns out, the venue’s patrons were our friends and family, which apparently was the audience the venue promised us. Weird.
So, where am I going with this? Well, exposure is a great theory, but it never bought me a new pair of drumsticks, drum heads, or anything I actually needed to keep playing those shows. And, money for other bills? Well, surprisingly enough, no creditor was ever interested in all that exposure as actual payment. This ties in to any creators out there who are trying to do what they love. Their passion. Oftentimes, your passion becomes volunteer work for those who fail to figure out how to effectively sell their own product, whether that’s a destination, services, tangible items, etc.
Passionate artists and creators tend to work very hard to get exposure on their own, whether that be emailing supporters, promoting their shows, hitting social media, or any of the other numerous things we put ourselves through with the hope that maybe just one more person will get and support what we do. And, the aspect that is rarely valued or noticed by companies/venues is all the other work the artists put in to their craft - hours of practice, writing new songs, creating videos, and investing in and setting up the space to create. Offering exposure as payment is a slap in the face to all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
It takes hours, weeks, or even more for a truly passionate artist to prepare for and execute what might end up being a 45 minute set, a 20 minute video, or pages of well-written content, which this may or may not be, and that’s if the venue doesn’t book more bands prior to the show, only to tell you that you now have 25 minutes to play and you’ll be going on at 1:00 AM. True story…or stories. Plural. The value of the promised exposure has now just gone into the negative.
So, again, where am I going with this? Well, in my time in the realm of cigar reviewing, the all too familiar payment of exposure has presented its bad breath having self once again. Is exposure completely without value? Not if the company is actually working to promote their product and the creator as hard or harder than the creator and they are also compensating you for your work and advertising. That’s the company’s job, right? Yes. It’s their product to advertise, not yours. If they’ve reached out to you to assist in that, then the correct assumption is that they see your value, which should completely eclipse exposure. If they want the best product, your creativity, then that has nothing to do with exposure. And, if they go to a professional ad agency offering exposure as compensation, they’ll be laughed out the door in record setting time.
At this point, you might be saying, “Okay, so you want to make money from what you create. We get it, Scrooge!” You would be correct. As all good creators who take time to write, make videos, or create podcasts know, it doesn’t just happen. We invest a heck of a lot of thought, work, time, and passion into these pursuits. If the company values our work solely in exposure, what does that get us? And, in their defense, why did they come to us? The end goal behind their initial contact with us is advertisement for them, which hopefully leads to more customers and money, right? Otherwise, why do they have a company? It’s not greedy or unreasonable for artists and creators to expect that we make money from our work and dedication as well.
For the new guy that’s really excited to be paid in free stuff and exposure, most of which actually amounts to bragging rights (I just threw up in my mouth a little.), remember that the more you do for less, the less every other creator and artist is expected to request. You have effectively not only tanked your value, you’ve tanked everyone else’s as well.
If you’re creating something of value, exposure shouldn’t be the only thing on your list of acceptable compensation. The companies offering that certainly aren’t going to stay in business on exposure alone. Determine your value! If nobody wants to pay, then keep the volunteer work for yourself.
I’ve turned down or negotiated a few offers as I’ve continued on this new pursuit, and I’m happier for it. I still have work to do on that front, but I’m getting back to the old drummer that remembers how this game works and how to either push for what I’m worth or walk away. There are tons of venues out there. Book the better ones.
Now, this might seem like a huge hit on companies, but it’s not. To the companies, I would say this. Work with the people you value. Invest in them. And, yes, invest in them financially. Real artists and creators are constantly in their own heads about how they can make their craft better. That could be better equipment (cameras, lighting, graphics, sound sources, etc.) or just more time to create what they create. That is something that pays off for everybody involved. Exposure buys none of those things. Artists and creators who don’t feel valued are going to keep right on creating, but the work they put out for a non-invested company is going to fade, and, frankly, it should. They’re working as hard for you as you are for them. Actually, true artists and creators strive to exceed the expectations of those supporting them, and if you’re not holding up your side of it or actually supporting them, their minimum is all you really deserve, if that.
Business relationships are not unlike any other relationship. If you value it, invest in it. Leave the exposure sales pitch to the pervs. Also, don’t work with pervs.
February 18, 2021
COMPETE WITH NO ONE BUT YOURSELF
Full disclosure, this entry was inspired by the Cigar Authority Podcast, The After Show, in which they discussed bloggers vs podcasters vs vloggers. Fuller disclosure, that podcast was forwarded to me by my good friend and living LEGEND, Kaplowitz (www.kaplowitz.xyz).
It got me thinking about a lot of things, and all of those things tie-in together. I know. That’s remarkably deep, and no one else could have possibly had those same thoughts, but this is my blog, so I have to pretend that what I’m about to impart on you is profound. So, pretend with me for a few minutes.
If you don’t want to take the time to listen to that particular Cigar Authority Podcast, you should reconsider, especially if you’re involved in any type of creative pursuit. I was going to add “where there’s competition”, but there’s always competition. Someone is always better, always trying to be better, or thinks he or she is the best. That last group of people are wrong on a regular basis, and they stunt themselves from actually becoming great. Arrogant people tend to be blind to how much they actually suck. But, I digress.
The bottom line and take away from that podcast was that the cigar community would be a better place if bloggers, podcasters, and vloggers supported each other, as opposed to tear each other down. Why do people tear each other down? In my experience with music and now with the cigar community, people tear each other down due to jealousy and fear. It’s never because they actually think they’re offering something superior. It’s because they are jealous of a new idea they were unable to think of first or they're fearful that the competition is going to steal the fan base they have built. But, let’s be honest, at some point those same people were trying to steal, or at least share and borrow, the fan base from the people that were bigger than them when they started. And, that thinking is misplaced anyway. Who really likes just one cigar, one reviewer, one band, one food, one particularly tattered shirt that just feels good and should never be thrown away even when your friends and family encourage you to do so. That last one might not have fit, but it's my shirt, and I'll wear it as long as I want. Stop judging me, Frank.
It’s all dumb. Do your thing, and if it’s good, people will notice. If it’s not good, you have three options. Option one is to quit, and quitting offers a 100% guaranteed result…Nothing. Option two would be to sulk and criticize those around you that seem to be doing well. This option also produces a 100% guaranteed result…Nothing. Now, we come to the third option, which is figuring out how to make the thing you do better. Even the newest drummer, singer, cigar reviewer, comedian, etc. has his or her own voice. You have to be willing to dig to find it, and then nurture it into something other people are interested in watching, reading, or listening to. Speaking of which, I really hope someone is still reading this. Your ability to get better doesn’t reveal itself in your ability to blindly kick at the crotch of others who have found their voice. And, yes it’s true, some people appear to really suck and still get the nod. Well, they must be doing something right. Right? Apparently.
I started saying something to myself when I was in high school, and as I’ve gotten older and pushed myself in various creative endeavors, I have slowly forgotten my own mantra. That mantra was and should still be “Compete With No One But Yourself”. If you are constantly striving to get better based off your past performance, you always have the potential to become better. The moment you allow yourself to focus on competing with others, your standard for yourself becomes whatever their standard is. Do you know their standard? Not unless you’re a mind reader, and in that case, guess what number I’m thinking of right now. Wrong. I was thinking of the letter “y”.
Bottom line. Focus on your own work, see what works, modify or abandon what doesn’t, and stop looking over the fence. It’s creepy.