This is a tough subject, doing it for free. The thought of it elicits plenty of emotion from artists because so many people expect you to hop on their project and get paid shit or nothing, all for the prospect of "getting noticed"...
Let's get this out of the way --- doing what you do to pay your bills, for free, sucks. But if you know what you are doing it only sucks in the short term. Thinking about your career means thinking long term, and acting accordingly. Done correctly, you will network with the right people, work with the right people, be seen and create debt with the right people. Here are some tips to help you navigate the sea of assholes expecting you to work for free.
1) Who the hell are you?
Do you know who they are? If someone asks you to work trade for press / photos (TFP) and the first thought in your head is, who the hell are you...that's probably an issue. Before you say yes or no however, do your due diligence. I'm talking about The Googles. In 2016 it's tough to hide who you really are online. Your reputation follows you, it's digital, and it is easy to find. Look them up, check out all of their social media accounts, search their name as a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram and see what people are saying. You should be able to find a portfolio or something showing their work. Does it add up? What does your gut tell you?
2) Is there a written agreement?
Far too often when you agree to a TFP project, getting your hands on the end result to use for your portfolio, or getting your name credit on that end result wherever it is being showcased can be a challenge. Having some kind of written agreement in place prior to the job can make it a little easier to get what you deserve. Especially if you have never worked with people on the project.
3) Who else will be working on the project?
One of the best ways to meet other professionals is to work with them. You get to see what they are made of, and vice versa. One good project with good people can lead to more, paid work. You never know when you are going to work the project that will kick down the door to a stellar career.
4) Who is the project for?
Is it for a person or company that you have aspired to work with? Is it a recognizable company that will look good on your resume? This may be a door opener for you.
Going back to 'creating debt' mentioned before. In the end, you are doing someone a favor. Even if they tell you that they'll feed you, and you will get the images for your portfolio...let's not for one minute pretend that you are getting more value out of this than if you were on a different, paid gig. So you're giving someone a favor. No need to sugar coat it.
The beauty of favors is, usually, you can reign them in when you need. You're creating debt with whomever is asking you for your time in exchange for less money than you are worth. You may be able to make this a handy ace up your sleeve in the future. Most people do actually repay their debt. No all, but most.
Another thing to consider is that in 2016, one of the best ways to market and brand yourself is to offer value to people for free. That is exactly what I am doing, right now, with you. I'm sitting on my couch on a Monday night, neglecting my family, neglecting this ice cold Stella, and neglecting my Xbox, in order to bring you value. I do this a lot, for several reasons. First, and most importantly...I care about your career, and your success. You are the lifeblood of this industry, the Frontline Artists. So by offering you some valuable information, hopefully you can put it to use to further your career and your earning potential. If you like what you read, you will come back for more valuable information, and you will begin to look at Frontline Artistry as more than just an apparel brand, but a lifestyle, and something that you want to be a part of. Something that you are a part of. And in that, you will want to sport our gear because our mantra speaks to you. So I am going to keep providing you with valuable content that will help you grow your career. In return, we will do business together and you'll buy some awesome stuff from us, and maybe tell your friends.
In your career as an artist, you have the ability to offer the same kind of value and show your worth, on TFP shoots. These are where you should shine. If everything lines up and the project looks like it is something that you want to do, you should go in there and act no differently than if you were being compensated. In fact, you should do even better. Your kit should be CLEANER, you should dress impeccably, you should show up early. Because when they see how amazing you are, and they aren't even paying you...imagine how fabulous you will be when they are. (side note, don't let anyone take advantage of that, though...tread lightly here)
So what is the downside? When should you NOT do it for free? If any of the aforementioned points simply don't line up...you may want to think twice about TFP work. There are a lot of bullshit artists out there who want you to TFP on projects that are crap. And you need to be very careful about people who want to take advantage of you. Doing free work can have serious negative side effects if you are not careful. They can give the impression that you are always willing to do it, and they can condition people who hire makeup artists for projects to think that make simply isn't something that needs to be a line item. That it is something that they will easily be able to get for free. This can have seriously negative side effects on your earning potential, and the earning potential of artists in your area. So you need to keep that in mind.
Most importantly --- don't ever be a pushover. If you are not comfortable with a project, you are under no obligation to accept it. And you don't have to feel bad about turning something down because it isn't right for you. At the end of the day, follow your gut instinct. They're what has kept the human race alive and evolving for millennia. They are usually right, so find your hustle, stick to it, and perfect that shit!