I've recently created my own kind of exposure gig: the business mixer. I'm focusing heavily on finding background music gigs. The very nature of the music makes it hard for me to stand out. After all, if I rock the house as a background musician, I'm not doing my job! You don't really develop a fan base as a background musician, so instead of going after fans, you have to seek out people who can hire or refer you. In my case, this means establishing relationships with other professionals, including but not limited to event planners and caterers. This is where the business mixer comes in.
A couple weeks ago I played during a wedding professional networking seminar. I had already signed up for the seminar, but then I realized that the best way to advertise my music was to perform, so I volunteered to play at the event. I landed a country club gig as a direct result of participating, and I've established friendly relationships with several event planners and caterers. Next month I'm going to play for a business mixer, with the goal of establishing more relationships and collecting as many business cards as possible.
In my naivete, when I started making plans to become a professional musician, I thought that I would be all set if I could hook up with one or two event planners and caterers. Wrong! I need to establish relationships with as many event planners and caterers as I possibly can. To this end, I'm going to regularly seek out more "exposure gigs" at business mixers. I'm playing for free, but really, it's free advertising.
To be a working musician, I feel that most exposure gigs in restaurants are a dead end, unless you're playing specifically to build a fan base. With the kind of work I'm looking for, my best bet is to go to business mixers and play for the people who can hire me.