Should Famous Artists Be Working for Exposure?

Over the years, the fine art and commercial art communities have slowly wised up, learning how to run their businesses as businesses and saying no to free work. So, why are these famous artists working for free when it comes to the Super Bowl? The NFL surely isn't struggling for money, so shouldn't they get paid? Should any artist, famous or unknown, work for exposure?

In this video from YouTube channel The Futur, Chris Do explains the evolution of the Super Bowl halftime show. He also explains some of the possible reasons why famous artists provide entertainment to millions for free during the Superbowl halftime shows. By some estimates, searches for Rihanna's cosmetics brand "Fenty Beauty" shot up by 833% after her performance in which she featured the brand. Rihanna has also struck a multi-million dollar deal with Apple for an Apple TV+ documentary, Apple Music featured playlists, interviews, and more as part of the deal.

In the video, one can see that Chris isn't too comfortable with the idea of doing work for exposure. The channel is centered on teaching creatives how to earn their true worth. However, in the right circumstances, bartering can be the right decision too. Trading your time and expertise in exchange for exposure might be the right decision when you have a product or service that will bring in money even while you sleep.

What do you think? Is it always a bad decision to work for exposure, or are there exceptions?

Susheel Chandradhas's picture

Susheel Chandradhas is a professional photographer and filmmaker based out of Chennai, India. He has a background in advertising and graphic design.

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I wouldn't say "never", but generally, not willing to pay = not serious. Not serious = not a good partner. Not a good partner = not worth investing.
Using the Super Bowl as an example seems pretty silly.

There is a good 3 minutes of info in the 10:21 video. TLDW (left at about 6 minutes)
Using one of the largest events in media/sports etc as an example is not something very many Fstop readers will need to deal with.
I do free stuff with clients who I support, but it is my decision.
Maybe Rihanna got the union rate for a performance, I hope her Oompa Loompa dancers got paid...

Exposure and advertising are two sides of the same coin, and you wouldn't criticize an artist for advertising, would you? Most advertising costs money. Of course, some advertising campaigns are more productive than others, so forms of exposure must also be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Performing at the Super Bowl isn't an option for most of us; more likely it's a small local non-profit looking for a freebie. And that sort of free exposure typically doesn't generate much financial benefit in return. In that case, you go with your heart and compassion for the organization. If you sympathize with their cause and don't feel like they're unduly taking advantage of you, I see no reason not to contribute a photograph or some sort of work... regardless of whether it generates exposure or not.

The process of getting from an unknown struggling artist to a thriving, successful artist is not so straightforward, so I'd be hesitant in criticizing an artist's choice of how he or she uses public relations, advertising and exposure to succeed as a businessperson. You call it "being taken advantage of by a large corporation" while others might call it a roadmap to success. Consider this: Carlos Santana was a relative unknown when he was paid $750 for performing at Woodstock in 1969. Even then, that token amount of cash wouldn't get very many artists to go far out of their way just for the money. But that event undoubtedly launched a career and made him a fortune.

According to "Dollar Times" $750 in 1969 is worth $5852 today. Not a token amount. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

I suppose a token amount is a matter of perspective. Granted, I'd be happy to earn that much for a weekend's work in my home town if it all goes into my pocket. But I don't think $5,852 is much money in earnings if you have to pay expenses for traveling across country with seven band members. Of course, like a lot of things including professional athletes and CEOs of large corporations, the earnings today is incredibly higher than the rate of inflation since the 1960s. Taylor Swift supposedly pulls in over $1 million for a concert.

My point is that working for exposure could be a wise decision, regardless of whether you're highly successful or just starting a career. Either way, everyone has the right to say no. I wouldn't write it off though just because it seems like big corporations are taking advantage of artists. I'd try to forget what they're making on the deal and evaluate how it can help my career.

Look if you have a few million in royalties and branding sure go on the Super Bowl for the exposure, but most artists need to pay the bills with the work they're doing right now and celebrities aren't working for exposure with a local company

I would charge more than any high end photographer in the world, then have the joy of say, " I turned down the most famous singer in the world, the star is abuse with low end cost ". That is bragging at the highest rant for the day

This seems detached from the realities of the value of Super Bowl exposure -- an event in which corporations pay between $3 million and $7 million for a 30-second advertisement. The performing artists get this world exposure for free. They and their brand are enormously boosted by this exposure. It isn't rational to suggest that they are performing for "free." The performers are being paid millions of dollars worth of world wide audience exposure that can be transformative for their music and their brand extensions.

This is exactly why photographers will struggle with their business all the time. They don't know the difference between free advertising and doing something for exposure. All the time the same things are said. Someone wants to get big money because had invested years in their learning and spend thousands in gear... So does the Baker down the road, but if the bread taste like sh*t, nobody cares....