Freelance Lessons In Appreciation And Marketing

A  musician playing violin in a Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

He played six Bach pieces for about 60 minutes. During that time approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After:

3 minutes
A middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes
A three year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

45 minutes
The musician played. Only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while to listen. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

This is a real story. The Washington Post, as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities, arranged the entire scenario. Playing incognito, no one knew the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world.

He played six of the most intricate classical pieces ever written, on his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days prior to this, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the tickets averaged $100 per seat.

The questions raised:

In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty; do we stop to appreciate it; do we recognize talent in such an unexpected context? One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments… How many other things are we missing?

The Marketing Lesson

We all know presentation affects consumer perceptions of quality and value, and people will frequently assign one of two identical items as being proportionally better than the other simply based on more attractive packaging or presentation.

This same concept not only applies to consumer products, but for services and art as well. No matter how great your talent, Delivering your message to the wrong crowd will get you nowhere fast.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital for artists to go where your ideal audience is with a very specific marketing message and service that speaks directly to solving their most pressing problems or fulfilling a deep need or desire in order not only to get noticed, but receive the monetary value you wish to collect for your creative work.

Trying to be everything to everyone in a large crowd of art buyers that don’t recognize the value in what you do because your presentation or marketing is in a unexpected context is a waste of energy.

So my question to you as we quickly close out this year. Are you marketing yourself out of context?

Or are you marketing in places where your ideal prospective clients are, delivering the kind of focused message that your Ideal prospective clients will stop, listen and eagerly pay you the big bucks for?

To Your Creative Success,
Carlos Castellanos

P.S. What was your biggest challenge this year? What do you foresee your biggest challenge to be next year?

Leave a comment below and let me know, and we’ll cover the topics in one of several Q&A calls I’m ramping up for the new year.

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12 Responses to Freelance Lessons In Appreciation And Marketing

  1. Perhaps I am marketing myself out of context. My ideal clients are ones that will pay me for my work because they see the value that I add to their business and customers. Maybe I’m in the wrong location. Maybe I haven’t met the right people who can help me get to where I’d like to go. My biggest challenge this years was obtaining new clients and writing opportunities. Of course, I could say my biggest challenge is me. Sometimes I get in my own way…2010 will be different, I’ll be more focused…

  2. Hello and happy new year Rebecca,

    My apologies for not responding sooner. We took some needed time off and returned to a hot bed of urgent to-do lists.

    The concept of marketing context can be tricky. I’ve been to your website and you seem to be very clear in who your ideal audience is.

    I’d be interested in discussing with you in more detail where you feel your challenges are.

    Focus seems to be what everyone is fighting to get back to. Since getting back in the studio, I am on a mission to “clear the decks” of all distractions that do not fit into my most immediate goals. Prioritization and focus go hand in hand.

    Check back as I’ll be revisiting marketing basics in upcoming posts to be sure our readers stay focused, or refocused to ensure 2010 is approached with laser precision purpose and action.

  3. I’ve been working on prospecting phonecalls for my client list. I get a few bites here and there, but, nothing’s better than someone coming to you for help (instead of the other way around). The hardest thing is being assertive enough and getting rid of the “stage fright”-type resistance I have to getting on the phone in this manner; in a way, its a lot like asking a girl out on a date in high school and the fear of being rejected in a nasty way. The difference is, you’re livelihood is on the line, and you may be making up to 80 calls a day, in between actually working on projects.

  4. Wow. A very interesting experiment! I like your commentary, Carlos. My issue is, like Rebecca, finding my niche or target audience.

  5. Great article Carlos. It’s amazing how much context & presentation plays a role in perception.

    Reminds me of the study they did with the $20 bottle of wine — told the tasters it was either a $5 bottle or a $125 bottle. Of course, those ones told it was $125 found it tasted better.

    My current thinking it that it’s not just context and presentation, but also anticipation – if you can get someone involved with what you are presenting, you don’t need to convince them at all. this could be done over time (build-up), or static (the deeper they go on your website, the most invested they become in what you are offering).

    Something i am working to incorporate into my own efforts 🙂

  6. Good point George.

    As part of the sales process, anticipation and investment of time in researching absolutely plays into buying decisions.

    The more you can get a prospective client to invest time in learning about your product or service, the more likely they will choose to work with you.

    Excellent, sir.

  7. Hi Carlos my friend. So I’ve been an artist all my life and ive also have struggled misserably . There’s not much inspiration happening when your pockets are empty . And it takes a lot to get a guy like me down. but I have been feeling like I have been in the wrong business all my life. how does a guy like me seek help.? Since I was 13 I have dedicated my life to art . View my artwork at my wordpress blog gallery.

  8. Mr. Castellanos,

    I like website design (January 28, 2010) have been working on prospecting (phone calls and emails) for my client list. I get a few bites here and there, but nothing is better than someone coming to you for help (instead of the other way around). I have had a few of those this last year and in some cases, promise of more as a result. For instance, I design and produced all the artwork for a CD cover of a local artist. I was given lots of accolades by the CD production house and promises of more work for other clients of theirs’. Then I basically never heard back from them. Another case was a design house who told me that they desperately needed help because they were over loaded. Yet they kept putting me off for months. I finally stopped calling and stopping by their place. Most of the time, clients come from = people that I know in social networks such as my church, where I find a little work here and there.

    I was inspired and challenged by your words regarding musician playing violin in a Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. This is finally what I needed to hear regarding my direction as an artist. Stop trying to be all things to all people. I am a very good designer but my passion and my strength is in being an Illustrator with my own style. I need to market that and focus on marketing that only.

    So the question remains, How and where do I go about marketing myself in the most efficient and expeditious manner?

    Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.


    David Matthew

  9. David, thanks for your comment. There is no “one answer fits all”, as we are all different and have different goals for our work and personal lives. But here’s a short step-by-step list that I’ve found works well for me.
    1- Identify and be clear on your Goals (financial, creative, personal)
    2- Identify the things you are willing to do, and those you are NOT willing to do.
    3- Decide on the Kind of work you want to create or problems you want to help others solve through your work.
    4- Research and identify markets most receptive to the kind of work and solutions you offer that are in alignment with your goals.
    5- Do you know anyone that may be able to assist you in making headway within that market

    If you find a market for example, that you feel your artistic style would work well within, but norms within that industry does not place a large enough value on the work to match your financial goals. Then you may need to
    a) Revisit what you are offering to that potential market that would be of greater perceived value and position yourself differently.
    b) Research that market better to uncover other potential areas where your work and experience might be of more value to them.
    c) Do the work and compromise your financial goals
    d) Look for a different market or adjust/simplify your work to match markets needs to accomplish your financial and creative goals.

    Obviously, we can go much deeper with this. There is no one set answer that will work for everyone. And the truth is, sometimes there just isn’t a viable market for what you want to do that will meet all of your goals. You may have to have your hand in multiple markets offering different solutions depending on your own situation.

    I hope that helps.

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