Social media (at least, my stream) is loaded with articles from, or in support of, artists that complain when they are asked to produce their art free of charge in exchange for exposure. This request is no different than that made in many other industries. It’s common in business; it’s called an internship. While artists may have to pay for paint or other supplies, they don’t have to pay for professional clothing, monthly subway passes, and mandatory social outings, so the expenses are largely a wash. Perhaps the fact that artists don’t get this point is why they’re “starving.”
Maybe this will teach them a lesson (though admittedly there are differences). An article published today on Business Insider (UK) talks about David Choe, and graffiti painter who was contracted to paint Facebook’s offices in 2005. He wanted $60,000; he was offered stock instead. So while he was paid for his services, it wasn’t in a form that could pay the rent or put food on the table. As far as Choe knew, this Facebook thing wouldn’t amount to much, so he should have expected nothing more than exposure. For his efforts, he’s now worth $200,000,000.00.
Though your results will certainly vary, this is how the real world works, even at the smaller scale. Only when you’re in a position to command payment will people want to pay you. Maybe you don’t like the world works and want to change it. Fair enough. The point, though, is that you’re not special or being discriminated against. Everyone pays their dues. Food for thought.