I started in the entertainment business over 30 years ago, and still today I occasionally get this phrase from someone who is holding an event and needs entertainment, an MC, speaker, etc.[TRANSLATION: "We have no money but are hoping that you are just desperate or eager enough to come and work for free (and you must be because we've never heard of you)"]
My typical response? "People die from exposure."
Even if some clients don't come right out and say this explicitly, their approach to booking the event implies the very same thing.
Don't get me wrong--I have done many events over the years where I made a considerable compromise ostensibly in order to help my business move forward. However, I cannot recall even ONE instance of ever booking another event, gaining new clients (or any other thing beneficial to my business) from those events where I was asked to do it because of good "exposure" or "there'll be a lot of people there" who are "important." Not ONE.
In fact, most of them wind up being disasters, where the performing conditions are less than favorable, promises are broken, audiences could care less, and it is a lot of work for no return. In one particular instance a few years ago, I had to call on some security people to haul off a couple of teen-agers who were so disruptive and sabotaging everything I was performing (e.g. they crashed the stage and grabbed props while I was blindfolded during the show, for starters). Yeah; that went over well.
I've gotten so tired of being fed this "exposure" bit over the years that I created a funny routine where someone winds up thinking of the word "exposure," only to find the word written in black magic marker on my bare chest after tearing my shirt open onstage. I save it for my more "adult" or "edgy" crowds, and it is always a show-stopper because no one ever sees it coming. Plus, when you add a few stiff drinks before and during the show it becomes even funnier. We cleaned it up a bit and had some fun with it during a recent photo shoot in downtown Wichita.
So what's my point here? If my reader happens to be an event planner of some kind, or even a fellow entertainer themselves, to relay the truth that the concept of "performing for exposure" as being beneficial to the entertainer in any way is an absolute myth--and to make a bit of a mockery of the whole lie so many are so willing to believe. If you can't afford a professional entertainer, can't get a sponsor, etc., then ask uncle Charlie to dust off the magic case and "come and do something" for the event. Don't faint when a professional quotes a price that you think is ridiculous; just because you've never heard of them doesn't mean a thing. There are plenty of seasoned professional entertainers that I'm sure you've never heard of--they pop up on Netflix with their own specials all the time.
I'm also hoping that this brilliant article I've written will get me some good exposure here; if I don't die first.