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I'll Pay You In Exposure: The Great Debate

February 28, 2018


So you're a creative. Whether it's photo, graphic design, videography, or whatever your craft is, you've honed a skill in something and you want to be compensated for it.


You typically have the choice between two main avenues: monetary compensation, or exposure.


As a creative myself, I'd like to settle the debate on which is the better offer with respect to the VIDEO world. If that's not you, please go get offended somewhere else.


Now, I've seen several articles lately debating which is the proper way, and a great majority of them are in favor of the "artist gets paid route". Which, can you blame us? How else do we make a living with our skillset?


If you want a quick distraction, check out this article Bored Panda did making fun of people who think art should be free.


But, this is a blog about unpredictability. We're about going against the norm and doing things differently. So I'm going to argue for the other side, and point out when it's right to accept exposure for your hard work.


This free shoot led to 3 VIP tickets to SEMA in Vegas 



Now before your face explodes and every creative out there boycotts this website because I hinted that it MIGHT be a good idea to accept exposure SOMETIMES, please go ahead, we don't want your fragile egos reading anyway.


But for the rest of you trying to make it big, lean in.


While I am VERY MUCH in favor of getting paid for my work, I also know when exposure might be the better move.


I've been in the video production industry for almost a decade. Filming everything from music videos to cinema productions, sideline highlight videos, sizzle reels, TV shows, live broadcasting, documentaries, public speeches, etc. I will also be the first to tell you that there's a million things to learn, and I'm far from the best. I've at least been around the block.


But I'm not where I am now because I expected to be paid for EVERY job I did.


In fact, the majority of the jobs I did during my first few years in this business (and even quite a few now) are for free. 


Jesus, Mary and Joseph...did he say for free? How am I going to shop at Whole Foods and buy my name brand rolling tobacco so I can tell grad students how legit of an artist I am?


This free shoot led to a project with Fetty Wap + Lil Dicky



Relax, Sebastian. Don't get your suspenders in a wad. I'll shoot for free if my client meets any of these guidelines:



1. They're a favorite


Simple enough. If you're The Chainsmokers, Coldplay, Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande then I'm going to throw every resource I have at your project without asking any questions. Why? Because I'm a huge fan and the opportunity to brush sides with you is absolutely worth it. I would earn money to pay my way into the experience you're already offering. So yes, I'll handle this labor free of charge.



2. They have a bajillion followers that are likely to trickle over into your social platforms


If you've got thousands of followers and pretty much guaranteed over a quarter of a million views on what I create, you're damn sure I can't afford not to put my name on whatever you want me to create. You're probably so big that you don't even need my help, and it's actually more of a favor to me that I can produce something for you.



3. There is a chance of career progression or another opportunity after this one


This is a grey area, and where most creatives will turn up their pretentious noses. But I didn't get half the collaborations I've had, or been on the stages I've seen because I required payment every time. I filmed EDC my first time for free. I filmed middle range music artists for free so their management would plug me to the label's top tier artists. I've filmed bigger artists once or twice for free so we could develop a long term relationship, and then get paid every time they return to my city. Which leads me to my last point:



4. If the networking opportunity is more valuable than money


And this is where my resume soars past most in my field. For years, I filmed music artists for the first time ALWAYS for free. Why? Because that artist feels like they got a huge deal knowing the quality of my work, and as a result, they are more receptive to future opportunities and paid gigs. Plus, when I can present projects from household names to lower tier artists, I am able to demand more in return for my efforts.



This free shoot led to a music video with two more artists



Now I get it, you can't do everything for free. And don't get it twisted - I hate getting played as much as you do. I've been burned plenty in Los Angeles when I've put together a project in hopes of getting paid, and my client bailed at the last minute, or they made networking promises that never happened. It's a shitty thing to do, but it happens.


I've also seen my uncredited photos turn up on Instagram ads, which makes me want to punch a baby. These are areas that are never ok.


But I keep things in perspective. The amount of opportunities I've gained from taking risks in doing pro bono projects in hopes of growing my network or a bigger shinier opportunity down the road have outnumbered those moments of getting shafted 100 to 1.


This free shoot led to 3 VIP tickets to a Chainsmokers + Backstreet Boys show


Bottom line: money isn't everything. Don't be afraid to work without it in special cases. But also don't be afraid to demand it when your work has reached a quality level.


Just don't freak out if someone doesn't want to pay your rate. Maybe focus on creating something that's worth what you're asking, find another means of compensation, or realize that the potential client doesn't deserve your time.


If you've made it this far, you're either thinking there's some value in this perspective, or you're fuming at the idea of letting your precious hands move without money on the table. Either way, drop a comment below. We'd love to hear what you think!



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