Exposure Don’t Pay the Bills

The big “E” word. (Well, the second biggest “E” word — the first being Entertainment.) How many times have artists heard the word exposure? For those working in other industries, if there were a dictionary of entertainment lingo, “exposure” would be defined as “currency for work performed.” In reality, it’s “punishment; requital.” It’s nothing short of non-violent slavery.

To illustrate our point, I call on all artists — writers, musicians, actors, directors, photographers, dancers, journalists, graphic designers, content creators, editors, painters, fashion designers —  to do this next time a media stakeholder offers us exposure: If said executive is located within your vicinity, invite him/her to the supermarket. Then grab a few essentials, the absolute must-haves in your household, like food, toilet paper and water. While pushing the cart, engage in a conversation about the project and listen to the exciting amount of exposure you’ll receive. Get in line at the cash register. Yes, let the cashier scan the items. Once the total is displayed, have the executive pay, but not before you tell the cashier: “Thank you. See? I’m an artist and this producer is paying me with exposure. Unfortunately, that hasn’t hit my bank’s direct deposit yet, so (s)he will cover this with actual U.S. currency or plastic, depending on what his or her exposure balance is.” By now, cops may have been summoned to the location or the manager may have exchanged heated language with the exposure-rich job creator. Regardless of how this scenario resolves, hopefully this opportunist learned his or her lesson.

Take for instance, an email I received from Intralink Global. An analyst representing the now-offline-but-soon-to-be-relaunched Hispanically Speaking News, a Latino-focused news and culture website, stated the platform is “eager for writers who can cover the US election, economics and business, Donald Trump, major political events and trends in Latin America, and cultural and social issues,” while preserving a witty, satirical voice. Upon asking for the pay scale, the numbers returned were the past monthly unique visitors on the platform. In other words, $0 USD, and unquantifiable amounts of “exposure.” So the content creators aren’t remunerated for the high-quality pieces they must give birth to on a weekly basis, while the agency’s monetary currency hits the bank. This is a great example of Las Tres P’s: People in Power Privilege, the nerve fully funded capitalist have of contacting people they don’t know, especially from diverse communities, and offering them “exposure” in exchange for their talent, education and experience.

A browse through Craigslist, Media Match, or even Barefoot Student, to name a few, will show ads such as:

Graphic Designer Internship (Looking for someone with 4+ Years of Experience)
• Entry level
• 8-10 Hours/ a week

A friend of mine showed me this satirical ad, posted as protest to all these mind-boggling job offers:

“ISO director of photography for a three-day shoot. Must own ARRI Alexa or RED (both $40k+ cameras), must own lenses, lighting kits, grip and dolly, 15+ years of experience, set up fast and still get gorgeous shots. Send reel. No pay.”

As ridiculous as it reads, it isn’t far fetched. In fact, he didn’t make it up; he simply smashed together three different local ads into one. Many photographers replied to the post with their own horror tales, and one of them even brought up the national embarrassment portrayed at the 2012 Olympics.

We must stop these self-entitled business strategists from keeping 100 percent of profits earned off our skills, education, experience, efforts, time and kind hearts.

And then, there’s music. In her New Music Box piece “Why ‘Don’t Play For Free’ Is Not Enough” Daphne Carr cleverly states:

“Don’t reprimand musicians for free work; reprimand promoters for demanding unpaid labor. Venues and promoters have the primary responsibility for ensuring their workers are paid. It should not be the responsibility of a worker to have to ask for pay, it’s the responsibility of the employer to explain the payment conditions and to pay fairly and on time.”

Most entertainment unions tackle these issues, notably the grassroots campaign Fair Trade Music powered by the American Federation of Musicians. And let’s not forget the voluntary recognition of the employee’s union from the Huffington Post, a big win for our brother and sisterhood of the Writers Guild of America East. This is the way to go: leverage benefits, offer fair wages and working conditions, foster community equity building, and respect everyone’s right to earn a decent living through their burning passions. Nothing makes you happier than to play piano? You have the right to earn a living playing piano.

There are a few exceptions to the rule (feel free to comment and add any other exceptions not listed here):

1. If no one is making a cent on the project: If everyone involved is, as my mom would say, “pelao,” if no one is profiting from our contributions, or if there’s a barter agreement, then it’s fair game.

2. If you’re helping a friend or a family member: To each their own, but it’s a rule open for debate and our own better judgment.

3. If it’s deferred payment: If the capital will come after the service is rendered and a contract stipulates a clear deadline, then it’s open for negotiation.

4. If you offer or volunteer your work (not recommended): If you meet the stakeholder and you offer your services free of charge, that’s on you. Bottom line, no one should ask us to work for free.

We must stop these self-entitled business strategists from keeping 100 percent of profits earned off our skills, education, experience, efforts, time and kind hearts. Some may argue we’re all full-grown adults and, should one of us accept the work, it’s his or her problem. Except it isn’t. The moment one of us devalues our craft, we devalue it for the rest; we lose leverage and we cheapen it. Some may argue this will blacklist us, never to be hired again in the industry. Why would any of us want to work with or for these smooth-talking con artists? If you worked in the financial industry, would you start or grow your career by working at a Ponzi scheme-based institution?

Success is not measured by the amount of money or wealth we’ve accumulated. This goes for every industry. We need to remain in solidarity, and that’s not just signing petitions. Please, let’s all unite to JUST SAY NO! Repeat after me and chant in unison: “I get paid for what I do and for what I know.” Most of us weren’t conferred graduate degrees to be pitched “exposure” as a job incentive, let alone remuneration. If business leaders want quality work, they must pay for it. We can get exposure walking naked through Central Park.

If you have a comment, a story or even a rebuttal regarding this kind of exploitation, feel free to comment with the hashtag #RespectOurCareer.


Featured image: Christian Guthier/Flickr