Playing For Exposure?

It was a slow month. I was between gigs, looking for a new venture. When a friend asked me about playing on his local late night TV show that he was just starting. “It doesn’t pay anything right now,” he says, like I’d never heard that before. “It won’t take a lot of your time. I just need 1 song a month and we’ll prerecord the show on a midweek night. The studio is right here in town too, so there won’t be a long commute.”

“Once we get picked up, you will get lots of ‘exposure,'” He says. I’m laughing out loud here. We all have been promised ‘exposure’ for doing free gigs. But in this case I recall several times when my friend bailed me out of some tight squeezes. So I thought, why not? And I said yes. My local band could use the rehearsal, and it will keep us sharp for other endeavors, I thought to myself.

The first taping wasn’t bad, although we stood around for hours to play through our 1 song twice and spent most of the time learning the theme song and little 30 second transition pieces before packing up, not quite satisfied. By the next month I’d lost two of my six-piece band because they were feeling ‘over exposed,’ if you know what I mean.

“We will soldier on,” I told the rest of my players. The next taping needed to be adjusted to compensate for missing musicians, so we added two rehearsals to get it right. In the mean time, “We’re getting picked up by a national broadcast,” my friend tells me. “They have a full studio with a three camera shoot and a great backdrop.” Of course now this studio is an hour and twenty minutes from my house. So was the next rehearsal.

The second taping was a circus of new guests and artists “playing for exposure” I imagine. “You should bring four sets of clothes for different shows,” I’m instructed. So now I’m loading a wardrobe in the trunk of my car along with my beast of a keyboard to fight traffic for the commute.

We arrived on time to set up. We waited an extra hour for that. After set up it was another two hours. Finally, a sound check, where not even the electricity could be counted on. “The crew is union,” I was told. “They have to quit in 20 minutes!” (because they are not playing for exposure). “You’ll just have to run all the songs at once,” the producer tells me.

…it’s hard to follow Christ when you’re out in front of him. When the waters haven’t quite parted you are only going to get yer socks wet.

“We didn’t get what we needed,” I heard on the phone the next day. “We’ll have to tape the songs over next Tuesday.” In the meantime I audition another musician to fill in the gaps. Now, I’m not sure if you know the story of ‘br’er rabbit’ where he picks a fight with ‘Tar Baby’ and ends up with all his extremities stuck in tar, but that is what this feels like. In the meantime, my concerts have picked up and this is starting to feel like a sidetrack I can’t find the end of.

Now I’m thinking the exposure here is from my bills coming due, and I’m more than a little over exposed financially. And that is when the disgruntlement sets in. I’m recalling all those other exposure gigs that were going to boost my career. Calculating now, I can’t recall ever getting more work out of playing for exposure, except other gigs who want me to play for exposure.

In this case I wasn’t even enticed by someone dropping names of other big name artists that I might want to stand next to. I’ve done those as well. In the end, I have to question my motivation. We allow ourselves to be manipulated into work by a desire to become more popular for all the wrong reasons. Granted, we must take some risks and see how they play out, but all too often I have jumped into something with a good attitude and come away cynical.

My intensions weren’t for popularity in this case, but in an honest evaluation there’s a defect in my perceptions, I see success defined as being busy all the time. Money isn’t the center of my passion for music ministry, but there are other clever disguises in the way that I look to appease my own ego. The desire to appear humble and spiritual is a wrong motivation too.

In my determination to “be fruitful” in ministry I sometimes give Jesus about five minutes to nod his approval of my work. But then it’s hard to follow Christ when you’re out in front of him. When the waters haven’t quite parted you are only going to get yer socks wet.

The truth is, from the minute you consider the “exposure” that will come from doing anything at all, just know you are on the off ramp of service to God. The challenge now is to go the second mile to be a man of your word. But had I read Luke 14:28 even recently: “Consider the cost before you build”, that extra mile might have been in a better direction.

The best news I can give you is that God can still draw a straight line with a crooked stick. He can redeem the chaos that you have created by jumping the gun, or biblically speaking, “striking the rock instead of speaking to it,” like Moses did. He didn’t see the Promised Land in this life, but he got plenty of exposure in the desert.

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