Exposure. It rings in my ear like a curse word. Often preceded by the immortal phrase "It's unpaid but..." -Nothing is more of a turn-off during fixture booking foreplay than this overused chat-up line.
Of course decent exposure is a great reason to do an unpaid gig, (or if it's for a charitable cause). But too often artists must deal with promoters who throw this word out in a premature explosion of guilt. Usually because they're secretly planning to take money off people at the door with no intention of compensating the artist those people paid to see in any way; through cash or exposure. It's a con.
They insist the artist invite their existing fanbase without inviting anyone for themselves; as a result filling the room solely with people who already know that artist exist. Resulting in zero exposure for the artist, but maximum exploitation of the art. They fob the disenfranchised artist off with drinks and finger sandwiches like owners of some Dickens-esque musical soup kitchen; as if giving us actual money would just be an ill-advised hand out that would only go toward fuelling some drug habit ...
The artist does 100% of the promotion and the promoter keeps 100% of the money. You'd think we'd put our guitars down and never gig again.
The cruelty is that the artist WANTS to perform; profitable or not. The fan wants to hear the music and there are promoters out there that wish to exploit this relationship solely for their own gain.
Embarking on a music career is like setting off down an alley with a bad reputation. Many can walk it, and get through just fine because actually most promoters are wonderful; those I have worked with really are awesome. Thank goodness. But those select few still exist; so we all have to keep an eye out for those new artists out there. They are the most vulnerable to the predators that gave this path such a bad rep.
So check on the door when you buy your next ticket that they're cutting their acts in in some way and keep supporting fairtrade live music! ;)