Apr
08

Who says marketing isn't everything?

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This article appeared in the Sunday edition of The Chicago Tribune. I found this article fascinating because the #1 thing that artists typically don’t know how to do well, and most often are not taught how to do really well, is market themselves to draw the right kind of paying audience. I find this article fascinating for this very reason and an interesting way to demonstrate this point; although the article was written for an entirely different reason.

Who you are, what you do and who you offer it to must be well identified. The difference between being recognized as a leader and in this case, a virtuoso, and being passed by like just another one of those “street musicians” lies not nearly as much in your talent as in how you position yourself to be recognized and appreciated. Are you playing to the right audiences? Do you know who will appreciate what you do really well; the most?

Position yourself and your “product” properly by putting your talents and offerings in front of the RIGHT audience that really will pay for them and who WANTS them; here lies the difference between success and miserable failure.

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If a virtuoso plays during rush hour, does anyone hear?
A star violinist in a ball cap hits a subway station to see if he’s still a draw, or even can earn a few bucks

By Gene Weingarten
The Washington Post
Published April 8, 2007

WASHINGTON — He emerged from the Metro and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money and began to play.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite?

On that Friday, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.

So, what do you think happened?

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question.

“Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician. . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, OK, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”

So, a crowd would gather?

“Oh, yes.”

And how much will he make?

“About $150.”

Thanks, Maestro.

“How’d I do?”

We’ll tell you in a minute.

“Well, who was the musician?”

Joshua Bell.

“NO!!!”

A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100.

But in the three-quarters of an hour that Bell played, seven people stopped to take in the performance. Twenty-seven gave money for a total of $32 and change. No, Mr. Slatkin, there was never a crowd, not even for a second.

  • Yes, Lisa… the best teachers and professionals I have most respect for in my life are those who have been honest with me… about marketing.. and the business as it really is… whether it be the muscial arts, theatrical arts, etc… most of our success is about timing, choices and smart decisions, of course; just a given the actual creative work has been done also…….
    Great article.. and you are absolutely on target!

  • Gary

    There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog: http://www.SawLady.com/blog
    She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters… I thought you might find it interesting.

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