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The Ultimate Showdown: Exposure vs. Compensation

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

by Maria Kaganis and Tali Izhaky


For far too long we’ve heard the same narrative over and over: before you can be a

successful musician, you must be a starving artist. Live slightly above - if not on - the poverty line, barely scraping by until your rise to fame. Starving artists are told to be grateful for every opportunity, gig, stream, etc. because nothing is better than exposure. Exposure will lead to all the money, fame, and glory you’ve ever dreamed of; don’t worry about being fairly compensated for your work today, think about the exposure.

These bits of “advice” sound promising, but does exposure actually equal compensation? Is the exposure from a small gig at your local town’s bar equal to being paid for your time? Does getting your song viral on TikTok secure you a future full of glitz and glam? Can you live off of Spotify streams alone? Let’s explore exposure vs. compensation.


With streaming, it’s true - exposure does equal compensation. Although, it’s really a double-edged sword. Streaming has become the forefront of the recorded music scene, breaking records in revenue for publishers and payout for collecting societies. For some perspective, total streaming (paid subscription and ad-supported) made up 62.1% of global recorded music revenues in just the last year (Source: IFPI Global Music Report 2021).

However, the amount artists get paid per stream is not equal to the amount of exposure they may receive. Unlike physical sales that dominated the recorded music industry just a decade ago, streaming royalties do not generate a substantial stream of revenue, nor are they paid directly to the artist. Here’s a chart roughly detailing how many streams on Spotify and Apple Music an artist would need weekly to survive (assuming they get 100% of the royalties):

Since 174,000+ streams is much easier said than done, a lot of lesser known artists turn to social media to rack up their streaming numbers, sacrificing compensation to do so.

TikTok is well known for making small artists blow up, but that comes with a price. If TikTok goes out of its way to feature a lesser known artist, they can do so for a low fee or no fee at all (Source: Tiktok Music & Royalties). In this case, artists get exposure for the sacrifice of compensation.

One of the biggest arguments as to why exposure is equal to compensation is because the more streams you get now (exposure), the more likely you are to sell out shows (compensation) in the future. But the problem is that artists can’t rely on future income, nor can they expect to make it big via social media with little to no present compensation to support them while they wait.


Artists in all industries face the same issue of not being fairly compensated for their work. It doesn’t matter how much “exposure” you get at that small bar or even a music festival, that doesn’t pay the bills. Monetary compensation is what pays your bills and allows you to keep doing what you love -- create.

Now, don’t get us wrong! Being able to perform live in front of any audience is a great opportunity and can undoubtedly lead to bigger and better things. Live music is the leading revenue generator for artists in terms of ticket and merchandise sales, so it’s always been a crucial aspect of an artist’s career. However, living in our current pandemic-ridden world where live music is slowly making a comeback, it’s very important for artists to be able to make money aside from live music, and they are struggling to do so with the lack of compensation they get for their work.


When we see the unfair leverage platforms like Spotify or TikTok have over artists, it’s fair to say that exposure does not justify cheap payouts or no compensation at all. What

good is exposure if a musician doesn’t have the means to provide for themselves on a day-to-day basis? This is a necessary conversation that needs to be had so the music industry can properly support the people who make them all their money in the first place - the artists.


Do you have thoughts on exposure vs. compensation? Let us know your take in the comments below!

Cover Image Source: The OatMeal

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