Talent alone won’t pay the bills

Here’s a Washington Post article about an experiment. The newspaper asked world-famous violinist Joshua Bell to dress down and perform as a street musician at a DC metro stop. Hardly anyone paid attention. He earned $32.17 in tips. People routinely pay over $100 for a chance to listen to Joshua Bell in a concert hall, but he earned an average of about $0.03 per passer-by that day.

Suppose Bell were trying to support himself as a street musician. What might he say to himself after a disappointing day at the metro? That if only he had practiced a little harder he would have made more tips?

7 thoughts on “Talent alone won’t pay the bills

  1. It reiterates my belief that context plays a huge roll in our value system. If you are attending a black tie concert that costs $100’s to attend, you’ll gladly pay the price to “see and be seen”. Not so at a bus stop.

    This also brings into play the importance of “hype”. YoYo Ma has much greater facial recognition over a much longer period of time. I wonder if we would have seen the same results? I bet that would depend on the part of town where the experiment takes place.

    Mr. Bell might have had a wonderfully large crowd if he had been playing on, say the campus of Rice University or UT Austin near the music building. But tips he collected may have been much, much less.

  2. Concert musicianship isn’t necessarily the same thing as good street corner playing. I wonder how much a regular street performer could make at the same metro stop?

  3. American Idol proves the same thing. Wonder if in showbiz is better to be an agent than an actor.

  4. Omar: I imagine you’re right. Being an agent is probably a safer road to success.

    The older I get, the more I appreciate middle men. I realize that they provide important services that aren’t obvious or easy. For example, I used to think consulting companies made too much money off their consultants until I realized how much work it takes to find work.

  5. @John Finding consultant jobs is not hard. I once made a living off a web site where I said I’m offering industrial R&D services. It worked. I made a good living. I did nothing else but setup a web site.

  6. This was an experiment. In real life, would this guy keep going to the bus stop to play or would he figure something else out?

    Someone of modest talent might be forced to play at the bus stop, the guy with incredible talent has options.

  7. Odds are, someone with an ear for music would walk past eventually and send him on the road to stardom.

    But truthfully, this probably tells us more about society as a whole, than it does about a talented individual’s likelihood of success.

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