Joshua Bell is a world-class, classical violinist. He plays for sold-out concert halls around the world. He literally brings in $1,000/minute. He is a modern-day musical genius.
In 2007, The Washington Post conducted a little experiment. They got Joshua to perform at a Washington D.C. subway station, on an antique violin worth over 3 million dollars. The plan? To see if the passersby would stop to watch and listen to one of the world’s greatest musicians playing some of the most timeless classical tunes the world has ever heard on one of the most expensive instruments ever .
Almost 1,100 people passed by him as he stood by the door with a violin case open for change. Dressed like a regular dude, he played. And played. And played. For about 45 minutes. Guess how many people stopped? Seven (for about a minute each). His total take? 32 bucks.
Can you imagine that? Did these people not know genius when they heard it? Did the people who threw in a buck know (or care) that the “cheap seats” for his concerts are in the $100 range? And here they are, with access to Bell that would make front-row seats as the L.A. Symphony look like nose bleed seats.
So what’s the lesson? For whom are you playing your violin? If you’re charging the most in your market but aren’t getting any takers, is it possible you’re a Joshua Bell playing for the D.C. metro when you should be at Carnegie Hall?
Larry Hammond says
Thanks for the insight. This is a lesson that everybody needs to learn.
Randolph Sellars says
Excellent blog Ron. The Post’s experiment just goes to show that “perception is often more important than reality.” Obviously, some concert goers can distinguish quality music from mediocre, but like many art forms – audiences are often affected by what tastemakers say is good. Audiences often either lack good taste themselves – or lack confidence in their own opinions. They either consciously or unconsciously follow trendsetters or believe in established social conventions. We assume that because someone is performing in the street, they can’t be as talented as someone playing in a concert hall. I’d like to hear more thoughts from Ron and his readers about how a street musician, photographer, filmmaker, etc. can overcome the perception of presumed mediocrity by utilizing creative marketing – assuming there is enough talent to back up any claims of expertise. In particular, those living and working outside of the established media centers of NY & LA.
Ron Dawson says
Thanks for the comment Randolph. I think there is an assumption you’re making I’m not sure I would agree with. I don’t think the passersby at the DC station thought of Joshua as mediocre just because he was in a station. My contention is that because of where he was playing, the people passing him by were not inclined to care one way or another. Empirically, he is an amazing player. But when you’re focused on getting to work on time, who cares? Or, if you are not from an environment that appreciates classical music, who cares.
The same goes for filmmaking, photography, etc. Some photographers or filmmakers have a style of work that any other trained eye would know is technically or artistically brilliant. But, if he’s showing it to the wrong audience, one who doesn’t care about certain types of lighting, or black and white, or film grain, or whatever, then it won’t matter how good she is. It’s not that the prospects thinks she is mediocre. That’s just not what they’re in the market for.
The hardest part about marketing I think is finding the right audience in the first place. Once you do, if you get your work in front of them, they’ll appreciate it.
Randolph Sellars says
Thanks Chasingphotography – I think that we are all correct. I see Ron’s main point and agree completely. “Playing” to the right audience (“targeting” in marketing speak) is a very important key to success. AND, I think that what we are saying about perception is also a relevant point. In marketing, it is referred to as “perceived value” which is one of the pillars of branding. Adding to your example (excluding everyone who is late for work or an appointment), how many more people would have stopped to listen to Joshua if they had been told upon entering the station that a World Class Violinist was playing?
Using my own marketing as an example. Whenever listing film credits as a DP, I first list the most prominent films – even if it’s older work done when I lived in LA. Why? Because people have heard of those films, which adds to my perceived credibility. Of course, I also include my best recent work on my reel because that represents my current ability. I’ve noticed that Ron does the same by listing his prominent clients like Adobe and Apple. Those projects may, or may not, represent his best current work – but they get people’s attention.
The success of Dare Dreamer increases both Ron’s visibility (sheer numbers) and his perceived value. The fact that he has a large audience and he writes intelligent and thoughtful blog posts does not necessarily make him a better filmmaker. But it adds greatly to his perceived value. It may also increase his real value, if (for example) an ad agency brags to their client that Ron is on board to shoot their project. “Oh, I’ve heard of him – great choice!” Ron gets a good pay rate, the agency gets to mark up Ron’s services, and the client feels more secure by paying a top rate (assuming they can afford it). All based on perceived value. Obviously, Ron (or anyone else) must have the skills and talent to deliver the goods when the time comes or he/she will lose perceived value with that client.
The challenge for beginning artists and service providers is how to increase one’s perceived value prior to earning recognizable credits or clients. For established creatives, the challenge is maintaining and increasing – demonstrating continued growth. Obviously, passionate testimonials from happy clients are a valuable tool. Other ideas and thoughts?
Ron Dawson says
Great line of discussion Chase and Randolph. I think we are all actually on the same page. 🙂 Perceived value is key in marketing. Clients will always pay more for what they perceive to be worth more, whether or not it actually IS worth more. Since when it comes to art, you’re often dealing with a subjective opinion, perception is everything.
And Randolph’s point about which clients you list is also right on the money. Whenever I give a proposal to a client, I will change it up based on the client I’m pitching. If I’m pitching a video to a seminary, I’ll talk about in the bio portion of the proposal, the work I’ve done for other faith based organizations. If I’m giving a proposal to a photographer to make his/her DVD, I’ll put in the bio section references to other high-profile photography DVDs I’ve produced etc. And as you mentioned, for my general about page, I’ll mention clients that I know everyone who sees it will recognize.
As far as other ideas and thoughts… I also like to use case studies. Don’t just show your work, but explain the thinking that went into it. What was the problem you solved and how did you solve it.
Thanks for the great discussion.
Randolph Sellars says
Yeah Ron, we’re all on the same page. Good suggestion about the case studies. I’m always interested in hearing ideas that relate to marketing in our field. If you ever need a DP for a project, feel free to check out my reel at:
http://randolphsellars.com. You’ll also find a humorous blog post there about my experiences on “the most dangerous movie ever made.”
I do think Randolph makes a good point, though, Ron.
There is plenty of assumption regardless of the focus of the audience “heading to work”. Human nature/psyche at its base is where I would agree with Randolph. This man playing a violin in normal clothes in a “normal” everyday setting, sets the expectation for average people to assume average things.
The phrase, “perception breeds reality” holds some truth here. I hear what you are saying too, Ron.
Of all the passers by at a D.C. Metro station, none of them occasionally go to the symphony? I would wager some do, but in the moment passing by the judgment is made that this fellow is not as good as the 1st chair violinist in the symphony. Where is reality, its the same person, but they were judged on location and attire. Someone just trying to make a buck, a down and out musician.
In relation to our fields, perception is often reality. Think about the presentations given and how clients view individuals and companies.
Theres something to be said for both sides, but I dont think you can rule out what Randolph says.
Chad Pennington says
I hear some of the comment about work and such but let;s say you had Beyonce Performing.
Work or No work – they would stop a little longer than usual – To me it should people seems to care more about the who and what they are into rather than the other way around.
It still was a cool lesson.
Ron Dawson says
That’s a great point Chad. Yes, I do believe if Beyonce was performing, you’d get a much larger audience. 🙂
Thanks again, Ron! I posted this now very popular video a little while back — as an example of most humans being sheep sheep, and don’t know how to stop and smell the roses, and wouldn’t know good art if it bit them in the ass. I hadn’t thought of the marketing angle outside of the experiment being good for Bell and Carnegie Hall. Thanks for pointing out the marketing-pricing relevance. I needed that shot in the arm!
Ron Dawson says
A good shot in the arm is always good for biz. Glad it was inspiring. 🙂