When People Ask You to Work for "Exposure," Show Them This

Six or seven years ago somebody asked me to sing a St. John Passion. It was two rehearsals (for the solos only), three performances, and I believe two sound recording sessions.

The offer was something like $250.

Plus exposure.

At first I wasn't sure if he meant $250 per call or $250 total. $250 total would have been less than minimum wage.

I tried to clarify, and he proceeded to berate me to take the gig because "All of my colleagues had accepted the same amount of pay."

So he first offered waaaay too little money, he then berated me, and then disclosed the pay of my colleagues.

Because he pays in "exposure."

"Exposure" means "I want you to sing in my concert for publicity. Because if you sing, then you'll get publicity, and magically money will appear in your bank account! Your rent will be paid! Groceries will simply show up in your refrigerator! The car? Fully tanked at all times! But I don't have to actually work to fund raise to pay you, because I'm cheap with my time and my energy."

So many people have asked friends and me to sing for "exposure," that all we need is a knowing glance at one another. To this I say:

"I'm from Wisconsin. Where I'm from, people die of exposure.

This happens in other areas of my life as well, for example last week someone asked me if I'd teach them German for free.

I like to keep a friendly professional tone in my correspondence, so I didn't respond, "Well, my landlord doesn't accept brownie points as partial rent, so NO." I simply referred that person to the page with the lesson and tuition information on it.

Within this idea of working for "exposure," there exists a lot of sexism, essentially misogyny, because the underlying assumption I've come across over the past 20+ years of professional singing is that either my parents or a husband are paying for my life so I can "be an artist."

Which in the conductor's mind then justifies not paying me a living wage for my work, because my life is bankrolled not by the work I do, but by someone else. It's not the conductor's responsibility then, is it?

To contrast, this, one of the best conversations I've ever had about charging an appropriate fee for concerts was with a conductor, who said simply, "You calculate how many hours you'll be on stage and in rehearsal and multiple that by $X. As you gather more experience, you raise it, and you charge more for difficult pieces because it requires more practice time. That's how it works."

He, the conductor, is also a fantastic negotiator, which is crucial for performing artists. And women. Because no one pulls us aside like they do to little Johnny and says, "Here's how you go into a negotiation. First..."

That conductor has never once asked me to sing for exposure.

Which is good, because I'm from Wisconsin and I know one thing for sure: people die of exposure.


N.B. I originally read about exposure and the phrase "People die of exposure" referring to underpaid artistic labor on a blog post a long time ago and don't know the author's name any more. If you know that piece, would you please send me the link via the "contact" form? Thanks!

Eating Exposure for Dinner_Nicole Warner mezzo-soprano


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