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Joel Roston Composer | Instrumentalist
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Working for Exposure

03 Nov 2021

Musicians and composers are constantly being asked to work for “exposure” and/or “publicity” and my thoughts on that situation have really changed over the years.

Just, up front here, what this post is not about are collaborative situations wherein people don’t have any sort of meaningful production budget and offer to barter or in some way offer as payment something equal in value to a composer’s services. Some filmmakers, for instance, might trade editing or video production services that are of equal value to a composer’s time/fee in exchange for music or the use of a certain track.

This post is about companies, organizations, or people who have actual production budgets and want custom music or music services directly from a composer, but have not budgeted any money to pay the composer.

That said, here we go:

My position used to be that an offer for “exposure” or “publicity” isn’t worth anything. As I got further into my career, though, I started writing more detailed licensing agreements and began to realize that the only real problem with a deal for “exposure” or “publicity” is that the people offering them, as we know, more often than not, don’t really mean “exposure” or “publicity.” They mean, “Please provide your services for free.”

How I’ve been thinking about it for the past few years is that you can actually write a contract or agreement that makes “exposure” mean something.

While I’d love to say that I arrived at this position by simply directing my brain to think through the issue creatively, the initial idea came from a mere reference to an “Agreement for Exposure” crafted by a lawyer out in California called John Tobin, which I found in this 2015 blog post on John’s site. Sadly, I’ve never had a chance to see the actual agreement because the link has never worked.

Using the idea of an “Agreement for Exposure” as a launching point, I began trying to think through how a licensing agreement or work contract could empower a creator in these sorts of “work for exposure” situations and it dawned on me that agreements can, really, say anything you want them to say; the only requirement is that both parties need to feel comfortable signing the thing.

While it’s been a long time since I’ve been asked to work for exposure, at this point in my career, if someone were to make the offer, and if it were work I was interested in doing, I might decide to call them on it by agreeing to it and then sending over the terms of a licensing agreement that, to date, I haven’t exactly thought through, but would probably include things like:

1. Producer will send twenty personal emails of introduction to other professional media creators describing the project we worked on together, explaining how my contribution helped the project, and including links to appropriate work samples.

2. Producer promises [some number] of unique downloads or views of the work in question in a given time period. If that milestone isn’t reached, some actual penalty-fee is paid to the composer.

3. If certain project-specific financial milestones are reached, the composer automatically receives [some] fee.

4. Composer will be mentioned in any and all supplemental media mail-outs and/or promotional materials.

And probably a bunch more stuff that I’d need to think on.

The goal would be to come up with a tangible, quantified definition of what “exposure” means with regard to the project and then contractually obligate the client to follow through with providing the exposure.

Note: This stuff is rarely on my mind. Pretty much all of the people I work with are thoughtful, collaborative, creative weirdos just doing their awesome thing.

Essentially, while I one-hundred-percent agree that we need to keep talking about and explaining to people that anyone providing a service—any service—should be paid for their time and expertise, it also seems helpful to occasionally put someone in the ol’ hot-seat and force them to confront whether they really mean “exposure” or “publicity” when they used those words.

In Hard Bloggin', Work

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