The FREAKest Links: Radio Woes and Street Musician Edition

Driven by a question similar to Dubner’s theory on libraries, University of Texas economist Stan Liebowitz examines the effects of radio play on record sales, and finds that heavy radio rotation may actually hurt sales.

Reader Geoffrey Wiseman pointed us to an alternative explanation for violinist Joshua Bell‘s remarkable inability to draw a crowd during his impromptu concert in a D.C. metro station. Short answer: Bell might be a good musician, but he’s a lousy street musician.

Fulfilling at least one reader’s wish, Dallas Mavericks owner and friend of Freakonomics Mark Cuban has submitted an application to buy the Chicago Cubs.


nothings

That Joshua-Bell-article-as-street-musician _misses the whole point_, or, alternatively, _belabors the obvious_.

Belabors the obvious:

Yes, good street musicians attract crowds. Yes, Joshua Bell did not attract a crowd. Why not? "Because he's not a good street musician" may be an answer, but it's not an interesting answer.

Misses the whole point:

Indeed, the question wasn't "will an awesome concert violinist make a great street musician?". The question was "will an awesome violinist attract attention? will the quality of the music move people, attract them just by it's sheer quality / awesomeness / magicalness, RATHER THAN by the entertainment / skillful-crowd-manipulations / other abilities of street musicians?"

Perhaps good street musicians have experience with crowds and such to already know the answer to that, to not be surprised by it. Good for them! But if they were to write an article telling us about it, how convinced would we be? Maybe we'd think they were offering sour grapes because secretly the truth was they weren't good enough _musicians_. Joshua Bell's performance, and this article, settle that question once and for all.

Read more...

edelrc

While we may find the violist case interesting it happens in many other careers.

For instance a great political analyst may fill auditoriums but in a untrained audience of a large network TV channel will drown its share to the minimum!

I am sorry for the violists but while I like great political (and economical analysts) I appreciate more a cheering polka than Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 3 in G Major, K. 216…. I can only be “educated” in so much!

pkimelma

Regarding Joshua Bell, I think the larger point is that music has context. Most of us think of listening to music as related to the activity at hand. Few would try to concentrate on a mental task with aggressive (attention demanding) music blasting. Likewise, few would appreciate classical music during a Football game. We are attracted to kinds of music in contexts we find appropriate. So, classical music on a street corner or subway station may come across as more like Musak and its ilk - calming perhaps, bothersome if moves to the foreground. On the other hand, a lively jazz or rock or equivalent song may cause us to pause precisely because it attracts attention (which is why movies and sports use it to get us roused). Many/most fans of classical music prefer to listen to it with out distractions (in the foreground by intent), which means having to not have other things to worry about (like walking to work).
Even if he played the kind of classical music some movies use in action scenes, his lone violin would not have worked - those all add far more instruments to get that power.
The point of crowd management to get people to stay longer (or drop money) is a different matter entirely. You have to hook them 1st.

Read more...

OldSpice

agreed, violin music is not ideal for subway performance. This piece is pretty good at covering what is.
http://musicnation.musicnation.com/blog/2008/02/street-musicians-part-ii

nothings

That Joshua-Bell-article-as-street-musician _misses the whole point_, or, alternatively, _belabors the obvious_.

Belabors the obvious:

Yes, good street musicians attract crowds. Yes, Joshua Bell did not attract a crowd. Why not? "Because he's not a good street musician" may be an answer, but it's not an interesting answer.

Misses the whole point:

Indeed, the question wasn't "will an awesome concert violinist make a great street musician?". The question was "will an awesome violinist attract attention? will the quality of the music move people, attract them just by it's sheer quality / awesomeness / magicalness, RATHER THAN by the entertainment / skillful-crowd-manipulations / other abilities of street musicians?"

Perhaps good street musicians have experience with crowds and such to already know the answer to that, to not be surprised by it. Good for them! But if they were to write an article telling us about it, how convinced would we be? Maybe we'd think they were offering sour grapes because secretly the truth was they weren't good enough _musicians_. Joshua Bell's performance, and this article, settle that question once and for all.

Read more...

edelrc

While we may find the violist case interesting it happens in many other careers.

For instance a great political analyst may fill auditoriums but in a untrained audience of a large network TV channel will drown its share to the minimum!

I am sorry for the violists but while I like great political (and economical analysts) I appreciate more a cheering polka than Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 3 in G Major, K. 216.... I can only be "educated" in so much!

pkimelma

Regarding Joshua Bell, I think the larger point is that music has context. Most of us think of listening to music as related to the activity at hand. Few would try to concentrate on a mental task with aggressive (attention demanding) music blasting. Likewise, few would appreciate classical music during a Football game. We are attracted to kinds of music in contexts we find appropriate. So, classical music on a street corner or subway station may come across as more like Musak and its ilk - calming perhaps, bothersome if moves to the foreground. On the other hand, a lively jazz or rock or equivalent song may cause us to pause precisely because it attracts attention (which is why movies and sports use it to get us roused). Many/most fans of classical music prefer to listen to it with out distractions (in the foreground by intent), which means having to not have other things to worry about (like walking to work).
Even if he played the kind of classical music some movies use in action scenes, his lone violin would not have worked - those all add far more instruments to get that power.
The point of crowd management to get people to stay longer (or drop money) is a different matter entirely. You have to hook them 1st.

Read more...

OldSpice

agreed, violin music is not ideal for subway performance. This piece is pretty good at covering what is.
http://musicnation.musicnation.com/blog/2008/02/street-musicians-part-ii