January 2007 world famous violinist Joshua Bell, posing as a street musician,
gave an incognito performance to morning commuters at a metro station in
Washington DC. The world famous violinist performed beautiful and complex music
on an instrument worth $3.5 million, but nevertheless received only cursory
attention, or none at all, from the majority of commuters who passed him by.
Only days earlier Bell had played at a Boston theater where tickets sold out at
an average price $100 each. In his subway performance he only made a paltry
was an experiment arranged by the Washington Post. Journalist Gene Weingarten
was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his outstanding and
thought provoking analysis of the experiment. Weingarten examined the role that
context plays in our artistic perceptions and to what degree our perception of
beauty is influenced by our mindset at the time we perceive it.
are interesting philosophical arguments and while fascinating I would like to
add another, more practical, interpretation.
someone pays $100 for a ticket they expect a quality performance. They expect
excellence. They expect the best instruments, the best acoustics, the best of
everything. Is it the best? Maybe, maybe not. Is the listener even able to
judge the quality of the performance? Maybe, maybe not. But even if they are
tone deaf and sleep through the whole performance they will feel like they have
received value. Because they paid $100.
someone sees a musician performing on the street for free, they see what they
are paying for. It’s free, how can the musician be any good? They have
pre-judged the quality before listening and may not even bother to listen. Many
who attend both events really aren’t qualified to tell if music is good or bad
and they judge by the ticket price.
is why you cannot afford to underprice your creative work. By underpricing your
work you are telling the public that it is not of good quality or value. While
many of your customers may truly appreciate the real value in your work, a
percentage of the buying public really has no idea of what goes into creating a
work of art. They see the price. And if the price is ridiculously low, then they
see it of no value. You devalue your brand.
course there are some who stop and listen and can truly appreciate the work for
what it is. However if you are counting of finding an audience filled with the
true believers to buy your work and pay your rent then start looking for space
on a subway platform.