another topic on the value of music

Tommyland

Member
Going forwards from the piracy topic, I’m in the middle of writing, so this post isn’t quite 100% coherent but I’ll share for now and see what others think:

In 2007, Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, took part in an experiment, where he dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, and played 6 classical pieces spanning approx. 43 minutes at a subway station, as over one thousand people walked by. He was also playing his $3.5million violin, handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari.

A few nights previous, Bell had played at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Now he stood in front of commuters, playing for mere coins. The experiment was to see how people would respond to world class artistry in a mundane context, where no one was telling them it was great. The people failed. In all, Bell received $32. Not bad, but nothing special either, given his world renowned talents.

In my opinion, this experiment illustrates why bands and solo artists are finding it harder to sell their music. Given that music is everywhere and almost everyone is doing it, trying to stand out in such an oversaturated industry is damn hard, and is in effect, a mundane context. Maybe (unsigned / self-starter) musicians are viewed more like street buskers these days, in the sense that no matter how good their music is, society as a whole aren’t expecting to be blown away.

Remember, the reason a lot of bands became huge is also because they were hyped and held up as future music icons in the press. They were given an elevated status, and this gives people a reason to pay attention. Music alone doesn’t always sell. It’s also about who the band is, their personalities, their story, etc. We also read magazine editors and bloggers raving about them too, which adds to the appeal.

Have you noticed how your own attitude has change towards the value of music and other musicians? And if so, in what way?
 

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
This is a great post, summing up exactly my thoughts.

I think the "music" sold to the masses, with hyped young goodlooking "musicians" and simplified songs that appeal to as many as possible, is related but not the same at all as the art of music.

The problem is, as all art, the art of music is not really for the masses, and neither is it normally wanted to be. But since this art must have derived from simple music/ simple songs/ simple singing/ simple drumming, there is a legitimate place for both of course. The whole problem is a) people tend confuse the simple entertaining (and money making) kind of music with the art form, and b) there is money involved, the prospect of making lots of money.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
wE'VE TALK ...DAMN CAPS LOCK ... we've talked about this stuff a bit of late and I agree. Not sure what can be done about it. It's like stopping a runaway steamroller.

There have been studies showing that fish will swim into the path of predators if other fish are doing it ...
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Nice posts, & a ton of truth in both. Marketing is the biggest factor governing the success or failure of any product. Make no mistake in this, mass market music is a product. Nothing more, nothing less. As in all product marketing, the same rules apply, whether it's a can of beans, or the latest purveyor of white teeth & tits.

For any product to succeed, it needs to attain critical mass, the point where sufficient numbers have been sold to perpetuate to accepted brand status. How you get to that point is the key. It can be anything from putting a pile of money into a sustained advertising program, to exploding enough bombs to establish your global terror credentials.

Musicians really need to separate mass market acceptance from status achievement in a minority interest bubble. Unfortunately, the promotional mechanisms are similar, although on a dispirate scale. In one you need to be crafted merchandise, in the other, you actually require a degree of skill to impress your peers. The only thing that really binds the two together is that both models require a USP.

Here endeth the reality check surmon of the day.
 

synergy

Senior Member
I believe if there had been a panel of benign pointless 'judges' at the station sprouting off garbage about how much they 'loved' the performance and that he had that 'wow' factor that 'they' whoever 'they' are were looking for- I bet he would have picked up a enough to buy himself a new fiddle!!! I mean 1713!!! Poor guy cant even afford to play something new and plastic!!!!! :)
 

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
In 2007, Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, took part in an experiment, where he dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, and played 6 classical pieces spanning approx. 43 minutes at a subway station, as over one thousand people walked by. He was also playing his $3.5million violin, handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari.

A few nights previous, Bell had played at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Now he stood in front of commuters, playing for mere coins. The experiment was to see how people would respond to world class artistry in a mundane context, where no one was telling them it was great. The people failed. In all, Bell received $32. Not bad, but nothing special either, given his world renowned talents.
On the other hand a few circumstances must be considered as well: In a symphony hall, the audience payed for listening to a concert they expect, at a certain time, and consisting of certain musicians playing certain pieces of music.

In a subway station, people may have no time, are somewhere else in their minds, are listening to their ipods, are phone talking, etc.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
On the other hand a few circumstances must be considered as well: In a symphony hall, the audience payed for listening to a concert they expect, at a certain time, and consisting of certain musicians playing certain pieces of music.

In a subway station, people may have no time, are somewhere else in their minds, are listening to their ipods, are phone talking, etc.
Swiss hits the nail on the head. People go to the symphony "expecting" world class music, and usually it comes as no suprise to them who and what they are seeing.​
This "experiment" would work, with similar results, with almost any art form. Or sport, for that matter.​
Jorge Lornezo is the 2010 World Champion MotoGP rider. And hundreds of thousands of fans pay good money to see him, and others, race. Yet, put him on the street, highway, or freeway (decked out on his GP bike and in full leathers).... and probably not 1 in 1,000 drivers would know who/what they just saw. Just some guy on a fast bike, covered with stickers. Nor would your average commuter know the motorcycle they just saw is worth about $2 million dollars.​
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
So if I take a 1920's engraved Black Beauty into a subway station instead of a Pearl Export model, I won't make any more money no matter how loud I play "Three camps for Paradiddles"? Lol
 

Fuo

Platinum Member
I agree with swiss and harry. the experiment was done DC metro station on a friday in january. i couldn't find out what time of day it was, but seeing how it was at L'Enfant Plaza (a business area) on Friday, I'm guessing it was morning or evening rush hour when people were rushing to get where they were going (in the cold).

when i'm going through the metro stations, on my way to meetings in DC, I pretty much have blinders on (and headphones too). even if bonham, and hendrix were resurrected and jamming there i doubt I'd notice :)

try it on a saturday afternoon, in july, at a metro station near a tourist area and you'd probably have better results.
 

Tommyland

Member
On the other hand a few circumstances must be considered as well: In a symphony hall, the audience paid for listening to a concert they expect, at a certain time, and consisting of certain musicians playing certain pieces of music. In a subway station, people may have no time, are somewhere else in their minds, are listening to their iPods, are phone talking, etc.
That's it. The "framing" of the musical context influences people's appreciation. We don’t expect to hear a world renowned musician on the street, so we might not pay much attention, even though we have all seen entertaining street buskers with a large crowd gathered around too.

This kind of experiment has been replicated in other areas, such as art (putting a piece worth millions on sale at a restaurant that sells local art priced at only $150 – where in the end, no one seems to pay much attention), and at wine tastings (where they put cheap plonk into expensive bottles which get a better rating based on the label or reputation, not what their taste buds think of the wine).

Bottled water is another one. If the CEO of Perrier couldn’t tell his water from others on live radio (he got it on the 5th attempt), I doubt anyone else can (allowing for probability of a correct guess). That’s because we aren’t drinking it solely on account of our taste buds but on our perception, what Paul Bloom calls, the “essence” of the product.

However, you can see how the appreciation for music ties into this. And when musicians worry about the value of music sliding, and what to do about it, maybe it’s a futile endeavour because there has been a gradual “shift” in what elevates a musical experience to something worthy of purchase.

It used to be worth paying to have the songs on a CD or Vinyl. But now that everyone is releasing CDs and whatnot, good music will have to go one further. You can’t expect to stand at the subway station like all the others and sell your wares. People’s expectations are higher.

This opens the floor for all kinds of ideas as to what would make a great display of music. People still love music and enjoy having it but there needs to be more to it than before. Obviously not all bands can just put on a concert in some symphony hall (for a great experience) but it might mean having to up their game a little in the live department or what they are offering to go with the recorded music (how about a documentary to go with it?).

Skies the limit…
 

Ethan01

Senior Member
Hmmm I dunno. Classical music is FAR from popular in the first place. Try the experiment with a Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and you'd get far different results.

Or for us drummers... put Travis Barker or Joey Jordinson in a subway as well and they'd get a ton of attention regardless.

Now on the question of "popularity", that's up to cultural tastes, in particular how it's changed over the course of history. People like things fast, loud, and sexy. I guess they always have, right? Classical music in its heydey was considered fast, loud, and sexy because whatever came before it, wasn't.
 

dairyairman

Platinum Member
i'm thinking that $32 for 43 minutes of playing is not half bad, especially considering everyone is in a hurry and how few classical music fans there probably are among subway commuters.
 

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
Hmmm I dunno. Classical music is FAR from popular in the first place. Try the experiment with a Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and you'd get far different results.

Or for us drummers... put Travis Barker or Joey Jordinson in a subway as well and they'd get a ton of attention regardless.
More interestingly: Put Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Joey Jordison in front of an opera audience!
 

T.Underhill

Pioneer Member
Swiss hits the nail on the head. People go to the symphony "expecting" world class music, and usually it comes as no suprise to them who and what they are seeing.​
This "experiment" would work, with similar results, with almost any art form. Or sport, for that matter.​
Jorge Lornezo is the 2010 World Champion MotoGP rider. And hundreds of thousands of fans pay good money to see him, and others, race. Yet, put him on the street, highway, or freeway (decked out on his GP bike and in full leathers).... and probably not 1 in 1,000 drivers would know who/what they just saw. Just some guy on a fast bike, covered with stickers. Nor would your average commuter know the motorcycle they just saw is worth about $2 million dollars.​
THIS.

People who ride the metro (Ms. Underhill) are going A to B and likely getting shoved along the way. They aren't paying attention, it's their daily commute. You get asked several times a day for money, witness verbal altercations, smell the world's worst B.O., etc.
 

Tommyland

Member
Hmmm I dunno. Classical music is FAR from popular in the first place. Try the experiment with a Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and you'd get far different results.

Or for us drummers... put Travis Barker or Joey Jordinson in a subway as well and they'd get a ton of attention regardless.
But that’s the whole point of the experiment. Obviously, the results would be different if you put a famous personality in the subway, so what does that tell us about how hard it is being an “unknown” pushing your music in this digital age of over saturation? If all the hype you have to go on is your own shameless plugs, and you can’t demonstrate any external social validation, then don’t expect much of a reception from people.

When you ask people what it is about music they appreciate so much, wouldn’t many of them point out the music itself as being the most important, be it, the skill involved, and not just appreciation for the personality playing it? Yet, remove the personality and leave just the music, and we sometimes miss out on greatness because we weren't paying attention. Joshua wasn’t famous to those particular people and so they treated him like any other average street musician in that context.

It’s just something to think about. The things you like: do you like them solely for their aesthetic value, or because of who the creator is, and the process that was undertaken to make such music? Or because lots of other people like them too? Certainly, not having any social validation didn't help Mr. Bell. But had a small crowd gathered around him, more passers would be wondering what all the fuss was about, and then viola! you have their attention.
 

Tommyland

Member
They aren't paying attention, it's their daily commute.
If that were true then how come they make announcements in subways, put up adverts and people pass out flyers? If they really thought people weren't paying attention, this would be futile, right?

The point about Josh Bell was two-fold: to highlight how “framing” influences people’s appreciation, and that self-starter musicians trying to sell CDs are probably just like street buskers, where many people will walk past them. Being a musician with a CD to sell isn’t so special, even if the music is considered world class.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
THIS.

People who ride the metro (Ms. Underhill) are going A to B and likely getting shoved along the way. They aren't paying attention, it's their daily commute. You get asked several times a day for money, witness verbal altercations, smell the world's worst B.O., etc.
I think that was Tommy's point though. Without context, people don't see/hear what's in front of them. That is not his main point as I took it though.

From this point about context, he builds his question:

If you have a piece of great music, how do you get people to recognize it in modern society, given that traditional context (record labels promoting albums they have released through traditional media) no longer exists, or is severely compromised and distracted from.

There is a certain place I like to for a burrito. The line is always long. Every time I am in line, I am amazed how many people are not paying any attention to anything around them. Every single person is texting or playing with their smart phone. Even if they obviously with a friend, they ignore their friend, in favor of the text.

My wife and I like to host parties. We have the space. What is annoying is how many people drive over here, and then sit on their phones, texting the entire time, ignoring that fact they are surrounded by their friends and a good time. People are so distracted, they ignore what's right in from of them. People think they are staying in touch via the phone and internet, but in reality, they are isolating themselves from anything real.

To which (I think) Tommy is getting at. Given the average person is so distracted by texts, video games, and customized ipod play lists, how does the next generation of musician find their fans?

If the worlds greatest musician (ignoring personal taste for a moment) was standing right in from of you, how would anyone that person was there? If you didn't notice yourself, someone would have to tell you. How does that person (be it a physical person, magazine, advertisement, music video) tell you this person is the worlds great musician if the average person isn't paying attention to anything around them?

Of course, we can all chime in with, put a video on youtube, create a myspace and twitter and/or whatever. Which will reach a certainly number of people. But it's rather different than the old way where information was transferred through fairly limited means, and everyone got the same message.

When I was young, if MTV played a video, everyone in the country who happened to be watching that moment saw the same video. Today, if I watch a video on youtube, no one else is watching it, unless I tell them it's there (or they happen to stumble upon it at the same time).

To which the conclusion is, there will never be another Beatles or Elvis, where one band/artist captures the attention of a generation. On the flip side, thousands of bands who would have gone unheard in the past can reach at least a small number of people.

To which, I think Tommy was trying to get at, how does a band/artist survive when they can only reach a limited audience? How does a band/artist survive when context is so often removed from the equation?
 

Tommyland

Member
Now you're talking :)

The experiment has its faults, and we can't draw any hard conclusions, but it's a valid metaphor for the plight of many musicians today, no?

Indeed, 'packaging' certainly has a lot to do with perceived 'value'.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
In my opinion, this experiment illustrates why bands and solo artists are finding it harder to sell their music. Given that music is everywhere and almost everyone is doing it, trying to stand out in such an oversaturated industry is damn hard, and is in effect, a mundane context. Maybe (unsigned / self-starter) musicians are viewed more like street buskers these days, in the sense that no matter how good their music is, society as a whole aren’t expecting to be blown away.
Most musicians don't perform for "society as a whole", they perform for audiences. I haven't seen the thing you describe- I've found that in situations where people want to hear music and/or expect to be entertained, they are very easy to please. When they would rather be talking to their date, friends or family, or if music is being thrust upon them at an inconvenient time- as in the "experiment"- they're more difficult, sometimes impossible to reach. It's a completely different dynamic from what you describe. And they do respond to the band in the room with them, not the hypothetical abundance of others they might like better. I'm sure there are a few psychos out there who can't talk to a woman doing this, but most people and audiences do actually respond personally in these situations.

Remember, the reason a lot of bands became huge is also because they were hyped and held up as future music icons in the press. They were given an elevated status, and this gives people a reason to pay attention. Music alone doesn’t always sell.
Sure. Like anything else, if you want to sell massive quantities you have to market it. Regardless of its quality.
 
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