April 07

The Localist: Monetizing Payment in Exposure

A common complaint from musicians in the modern era is that people asking for music services too often seek to pay musicians in exposure in lieu of actual money. Musicians usually react to such offers by pointing out that exposures aren’t a form of literal currency, and so, for instance, exposure can’t be used to purchase food from the grocery store or pay the rent. Isn’t it ridiculous then, that a venue owner or event planner is attempting to compensate the musician in exposure? It is of course true that exposure is not a literal form of currency or money. But then again, musicians deal in non-monetary goods all the time.

I mean, music is a non-monetary good that musicians ply to customers with the idea that it is a valuable good. And like exposure, music is something that can’t be used to purchase food from the grocery store or pay the rent. For instance, if I eat a meal at Le Bernadin, and try to pay for the tasting menu by busting out a song, Eric Ripert will likely force me to wash dishes for a few nights in order to pay for the meal. Moreover, musicians often seek non-monetary goods as a part of pursuing a career in music. In fact, some musicians who reach a certain level of professionalization (not to be confused with musicianship) will often pay money to a publicist in order to get their name out to music journalists – i.e., to get exposure. So, as it turns out, nobody contests the idea that exposure has value.

It struck me the other day that perhaps the problem is not that venue owners and event planners don’t understand that exposure has no value as physical currency in the marketplace. Instead, the problem is that venue owners and event planners don’t understand how little monetary value the exposure they’re offering actually has. So, for instance, if Facebook were to offer an advertising boost to place your music in the feeds of an untargeted group of 40 people, with a wide variety of ages, political leanings and music tastes – only a small fraction who are likely to like your music in the first place – I would imagine the monetary value of the boost (what Facebook would charge you to boost the post) would be less than $2. When monetized in this manner, the vast majority of exposure offers sounds pretty lite.

Perhaps then the issue is that venue owners and event planners too often over-estimate the monetary value of the exposure they offer, and the best way to combat exposure offers is to provide a hard and fast rule for monetizing that exposure. The Facebook-comparison metric, I suggest, is a decent place to start out. How much would Facebook charge for a similar level of exposure? I would submit that most exposure offers turn out to be far less than even minimum wage. Now, perhaps your local venue owner or event planner disagrees. If so, maybe they can answer a few questions to help substantiate the value of their exposure offer. For instance, what is the venue or event’s typical draw?

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The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”