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What IS Exposure?

"Getting your name out there."

Some are willing to give away their entire catalog for free in  hopes that the extra exposure will build loytalty and gain fans.

Other artists insist that every piece of music should be paid for and don't care about exposure.

What, exactly, is exposure worth?

My thoughts:

A) The exact value of exposure-for-exposure's sake is nebulous at best.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to calculate an exact value for each additional unit of exposure, so to speak. Much like advertising, the benefits are only visible over the long-term and are often difficult to directly quantify.
For example, how many additional fans would you expect to get for making an album available for streaming online for free? Would these additional fans buy enough of your music, merch, or shows to make this trade-off a net benefit for your band? This great post by Frank Woodworth does the math to estimate profit per stream, but attempting to discern the value of increased fans and their propensity to purchase is strictly guessing. 

As much as I'd like one straightforward answer, it seems justifying a decision based on the value of exposure is a subjective choice. In the case of streaming, I choose a blended approach. 

B) Some types of exposure are more valuable than others.

Hypebot: I understand you gotta get paid,
but both you and I know this ad you run isn't
worth anything to 99% of DIY artists.
Paying your own tour expenses in order to tour with an internationally popular band that fits your genre would (probably) be worth it. Paying to get your music tweeted about by a local music blog may be worth it. Paying to get your music available on a Chinese web store if you're a Tennesse-based funk band will not be worth it.

C) Opportunities that tout "exposure" as their primary selling point should be looked at skeptically.

Often, the word exposure is a red flag that a service or person is trying to take advantage of you. We've all had fantasies that if we get our music in front of the right A&R person / magical wizard, our entire musical career would be solved forever. Companies who base their value proposition on offering bands exposure are playing to this fantasy. 

In our early days, my own band bought into one of those compilation CD rackets where we had to pay $200 for a box of compliation CDs which one song of ours would be on. We were going to be taking baths in exposure-flavored champaigne!

After dropping the cash and getting the compliation, we quickly realized that the other tracks on CD were awful and didn't have any rhyme or reason as to why they were all included. It was a mess and we couldn't, in good conscience, charge people for that collection of debris. I'm pretty sure we ended up throwing the box out.

Our email inbox is so flooded with these kinds of "opportunities" you'd think we were one email and a thousand dollars away from a world tour. That exposure must be some pretty powerful stuff!
How do you feel about the concept of "exposure"? Does your band give away free music or not? Why do you make the choices you do?


  1. As a promoter and one who does those "Compilation cd rackets" as you have referred to them i can say that it is a good way for a band to get exposure if done right. we charge a very small fee (no where near the aforementioned $250) and do all the work ourselves. as a member of a band you have to trust that the person responsible for such a product knows what he or she is doing and determine if it is worth it or not. exposure can be achieved many ways though and most times for free (well cost of gas to drive to a venue and play music to whoemever is in the crowd) so it can really go either way

  2. I hear ya, but I have yet to see convincing numbers for return on investment or conversion rates for the cash put into compilation CDs. Does it increase website traffic / youtube song plays after it drops? Is there an increase in sales of iTunes singles?

    The bigger problem I see with the compilation market is lack of focus. For a 20 song group, there's maybe only 2-3 high quality tracks put alongside a collection of miscellaneous subgenres that don't mesh well. I think it would make for a better product to limit each compilation to a very select track list (around 7) of only very high quality recordings within a specific genre. It'd be much easier to market these collections by building up a reputation as a discerning taste maker than a shotgun-style approach (like the Unsigned and On The Rise compliation we got. Had the compilation dude cared about quality, we shouldn't have been on it, as we were heavy metal on a CD of pop-metal)