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Who sets the price on your work?


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Just to let everyone know - I'm not a retailer, and I've sold approximately 45 violins to date. And that's from my back room shop in rural Roswell NM.

So, I'm not living in So. Cal. any more, and perhaps my outlook is adequately jaded. I do have a rather large (and well run) string inst. shop near me, in Albuquerque, that I can go to, if I want to deal with a larger shop - but dealing with them has shown me how difficult it is to try to make a dent or entree into their already established and self promoting business practices. As I would run a business also.

 

Yes, making a living at this, has been an interesting experience for me for the last twenty years. I'm glad that I had a school string department as a client for most of those years, and a repair shop, along with a thriving re-hair business going, (along with selling what I have made...) for most of that time.

 

Queries?

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For me, this is one of the trickiest areas to navigate in my quest to become a full time violin maker. Living in a smaller market area and not having much of a retail side to my operation I have admitted my shortcomings in this area and I rely heavily upon the guidence and wisdom of a few trusted people who know these things, meaning dealers. I defer to their many decades of experiance and have found that even with paying a commission I come out making more with them than I do when I do my own sales (which is often very comical). I do hope to do all of my own sales one day but for now I feel it necessary to devote 100% of my time to the shop. Dealing with musicians is an adventure in itself, to say the least. There is some weird voodoo psychology that goes on when it comes to price which I don't really understand (and would love to hear some feedback on this) and that is the perceived higher value that someone places on something when it is more expensive than the next thing. If someone is in a shop,  and sees a $4000 violin hanging next to a $10,000 dollar one,  the $4000 dollar one becomes just that, a $4000 dollar violin. The $10,000 dollar one may make the pulse quicken just a bit, shine a bit brighter and be just that much sexier. For now I leave those things up to the dealer as I know he understands them better than I do. That said, I would heavily caution against underpricing your work in order to make a quick sale,  if possible.  As to the OP's concern of his current financial situation? I would say to you that you're right where you need to be, this is how it works and to hang in there and don't give up hope. It will get better. The only other choice would be to give up and get a real job and that would be unacceptable.

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Weird psycho voodoo it might be, but it isn't irrelevant to the topic.

 

A basic fact of the market place is that below a certain threshold, production and factory work dominates.  Hand makers must distinguish their work from this segment of the market.  It isn't optional.  If ones work is not seen as definitively different and better than the best factory work, then you are in direct competition with the factory work and are fighting a battle that will in inescapably lose.

 

I'm sure others on MN will set me straight for my wrong headedness. But to me, it is obvious that our hand work needs to be clearly different and clearly better than the best factory stuff.  Short of this a maker has no reasonable prospect for business success.

 

If we aren't willing or perhaps able to present our work as well distinguished from and in some sense better than the best factor work, then what is the point?   Assuming the work is good enough, our instruments should be priced above or at least at the top pricing range of the best factory/production stuff.  If our work is actually better, as it needs to be, then this is a fair value proposition for the consumer, and helps psychologically distinguish the handmade market from the factory/production market.  If our work isn't clearly better, then we need to either get out, or improve our products.

 

When a subset of handworkers price compete each other down into the price range of factory work, the winners will be the factor/production manufactures and other handmakers that didn't engage in the undercutting.  The hand makers who try to win by undercutting each other will simply hurt themselves.

 

My not so humble opinion is that a price under 5k, or even perhaps 8k, is not sufficiently distinguished from factory pricing.  And that if a maker doesn't see their own work as more valuable than top factory/production stuff, then it isn't time to sell yet.

 

I am not a highly established pro.  So perhaps I don't have the right to a viewpoint?  Or perhaps I'm supposed to apologize for having one?   But since I'm navigating my first makes and my first sales, this topic seems relevant to me.  And I do by nature have my opinions.  Or are only old pros allowed to be hotheads?

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I am not a highly established pro.  So perhaps I don't have the right to a viewpoint?  Or perhaps I'm supposed to apologize for having one?   But since I'm navigating my first makes and my first sales, this topic seems relevant to me.  And I do by nature have my opinions.  Or are only old pros allowed to be hotheads?

 

Is anyone here being a hothead?

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Assume for a moment that these 3 things are equal among the better makers and buyers :  

1.Top quality work

2. Discerning taste

3. Transparency and honesty. 

 

 

 

2 out of 3.  Most e great makers are #3 , but it's not necessary .

 

Then it would follow that the only variables left for determining price are :

A. Location

B. Who you know

C. Your ability to bullshit

 

 

B.  is pretty important, but it's often called REPUTATION.  If the other great makers  appreciate your work and recognise it as special it usually trickles down to the players. 

The success of C., Bullshit, is only moderately effective for a brief time in a professional carreer.  Don't get me wrong there is still plenty of bullshit among a few of  the geat makers but it has to be augmented by solid performance-- they just keep bullshitting because it's a way of life for them.  Everyubody knows that they are full of shit, they just also happen to be really good also and everybody knows that too..  

 

A. is only important if you live remotely and don't get out of Dodge once in a while to acquire B.

 

 

 

Next, assume that a handful of 'top makers' will exist in vacuums not caring about the rest of the world coz they are the 2% who charge £40k for a fiddle.

 

 

Never gonna happen without B., at least in the first 20 years of  professional life,  or unless a violin maker talent scout discovers you at the local pharmacy buying bandaides.  The 2% don't charge 40K-- they get 40K,  there's a big difference.  Very few if any of them are young, which necessarily brings us back to B. 

 

 

All my lifetime observations. But then again I'm pretty full of B. myself. :D  

 

 

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My price has changed many times over 30 years. I am likely to just point out obvious factoids, but if they help anyone, here goes.

 

I have made the price decision over and over, and in doing so, I look for facts. 

 

I look around and see what other people are charging for actual sales. I disregard the bar talkers who "sold their whole quartet in the airport on the way to the competition". I also ignore the top and bottom 5% of prices I can confirm. I place myself on a spectrum of modern makers, as realistically as possible based on evidence. From all of that, emerges a number. 

 

I have always worked with dealers, as well as selling directly to musicians. 99% of my experiences with our dealers have been good. I owe my living to these hard working people. (I did have one dealer charge more than I specified, and like Chris Jacoby, I did not like it. I also had one dealer discount an instrument and then make it well known. Obviously, I will never work with either of them again!!!)

 

I respect and continue to work with several dealers. They will tell me, when asked, if they agree with my pricing. But even without asking, you can figure it out: they would not accept another one if the last one was not a good experience for them.

 

Make enough of them, and it sorts itself out. 

 

Marilyn Wallin

Lincoln, Nebraska

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Sorry if that didn't make sense- never post after Happy Hour. :blink:  .Sorry if i was too pedantic.

 I think it's decent advise, and I don't take any of it back, and I don't make fiddles. I have been around the block in the business for more years than I care to admit. Making fiddles isn't so bloody different than  any other hand made endeavor, especially when one is talking about musical instruments.  I really want everyone to do well and prosper, and that's MY business. Believe it or not, we are all in the same boat.

 

" a rising tide raises all boats"

 

How do you do that Vulcan thing with your fingers?  Live well and prosper.

 

Hey Marilyn

Seen any hills lately? :P

All the best with the move..

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The answer is ASAP, and don't just "send" it, but carry it over there.

 

If the main purpose is to win a certificate or medal, you will never be really ready.  And that would miss the real point, which is to go there and learn.  And have a good time.

 

 

Amen! Getting feedback from competition is worth its weight in medals. I improve every time I'm dragged through the wringer.

 

Thanks guys... Point taken... ;) I guess if I intend to take this trade seriously and be taken seriously... I should get myself up to Indianapolis.  Tough sell to the wife though at this point its just an expensive hobby to her at this point.   :( 

 

So if worse comes to worse an I cannot attend, how *bad* would it be if I could only just send a couple instruments?  

 

Joe

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Ten years ago I bought some beautiful back wood, no heads, no bellies, no ribs, (although I can cut ribs off these backs). I paid 1500 Euros each just for these backs. I use wood, some of which is more than 150 years old. I use ancient ebony boards of a type that is no longer available. My wood has taken years to find and needs (rented) space and careful handling. I use handmade fittings of the finest quality and the best strings (often trying two or three sets to get the best out of an instrument). I use ancient Aubert deluxe bridges, sometimes making two for one instrument. I make my own varnish and I have invested many thousands of whatever currency you care to mention doing this. I have purchased masses of tools and equipment. I have purchased hundreds (probably thousands) of books and scanned the internet for thousands of hours. I have studied and continue to study my profession.

I don’t regret any of this for a second, but honestly making the fiddle is the easy part, and doing that well ain’t easy.

In my mind, this is what an artist is.
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Does anyone seriously think the economy will recover enough stability to support the already dying arts ?
 
To tweak the market back to life you'd think people would discuss and consider options...but they don't, they just riot and shout anger because they've lived with it for too long and they feel that negotiation is a one way street. 



 

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Ten years ago I bought some beautiful back wood, no heads, no bellies, no ribs, (although I can cut ribs off these backs). I paid 1500 Euros each just for these backs. I use wood, some of which is more than 150 years old. I use ancient ebony boards of a type that is no longer available. My wood has taken years to find and needs (rented) space and careful handling. I use handmade fittings of the finest quality and the best strings (often trying two or three sets to get the best out of an instrument). I use ancient Aubert deluxe bridges, sometimes making two for one instrument. I make my own varnish and I have invested many thousands of whatever currency you care to mention doing this. I have purchased masses of tools and equipment. I have purchased hundreds (probably thousands) of books and scanned the internet for thousands of hours. I have studied and continue to study my profession.

I don’t regret any of this for a second, but honestly making the fiddle is the easy part, and doing that well ain’t easy.     

Dear Roger,

 

Would you mind sending me the exact address of the storage space that you rent?

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Does anyone seriously think the economy will recover enough stability to support the already dying arts ?

 
To tweak the market back to life you'd think people would discuss and consider options...but they don't, they just riot and shout anger because they've lived with it for too long and they feel that negotiation is a one way street. 

 

 

It's a zero sum game. Nobody ever in "arts" made the kind of money pop "artists" make. For Lady Gaga things look good. Also, ENORMOUS chunks of populations are coming "on-line" economically - look at Asia. Overall, Earth economy has never been better, nor commodities of any description, cheaper.

After ww2, the Old World, US included :) , overextended beyond sustainable and way beyond any reasonable demand. Things are now adjusting and it's not pleasant.

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So if worse comes to worse an I cannot attend, how *bad* would it be if I could only just send a couple instruments?  

 

Joe

It depends , are you in a place to see and play gold medal instruments?or silver?  have you been able to view or handle the old treasures? Do you have someone /or several people who can judge and critique your work? (not your wife's aunt Carol) As a beginner, I got WAY more out of the personal contact with the top makers and instruments than from any score card,...that could be just depressing....I'm not saying all would be for naught to not attend , just that as a beginner there is only good to gain from going.

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Nothing clears the room faster than a good-natured discussion on the "end of culture"...

The way I see it, there is hope in the fact that the dealer was unwilling to price my work low. I essentially trust him, although had I made the choice, I would not have gone near that price. I appreciate all of the perspectives shared here so far.

And to whomever said that a real job would be unacceptable at this point...of course. I have had enough years of that (sorry if that sounds ridiculous to you older guys, but to be fair I am not talking about regular jobs...I started at the age of 13 by stripping bark from massive logs for a log home builder. This work is a luxury I earned imho!).

I think I should have tried to enter the VSA competition in 2012. But I'll see some of you there this year. Should be a hoot!

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Does anyone seriously think the economy will recover enough stability to support the already dying arts ?

 
To tweak the market back to life you'd think people would discuss and consider options...but they don't, they just riot and shout anger because they've lived with it for too long and they feel that negotiation is a one way street. 

 

 

The arts are not dying at all. I still do "art" for a living  - both violin related, and drawing/painting/commercial related.

The market is exactly the same as it has always been. difficult in one regard, yes, as always, but here and accessible in the other regard. That people in general don't want to spend their hard earned money, in an all encompassing sense, has always been the thing that one must deal with and overcome by salesmanship... so, what is different today than yesterday?

 

Selling to individuals, interested in what you have to offer... You simply must sell your goods to them, even if it's a personal sale, not in the general stream of commerce (so to speak - since I've never been in that stream, and never really cared much about it, nor believed much in such things that many people talk about on-line)

Yes, as alive as ever. And I've been selling art both strictly artistic and commercial art (logos, company stationary - etc.) since I was in my early twenties. There is no lack of customers in any area of endevor...

Ever.

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Del Gesu managed with some cheap beech for a violin back, price of wood is of very little relevance to the player. 

 

 

This is not exactly true. During his working life Del Gesù was using top quality maple. In fact it was far better than the maple that Strad was using at that same time. It may be that it was arriving from Venice where his brother Peter was working, but whatever the reason he almost always had top quality maple at his disposal. 

 

As for the cost of a Strad; the price of one of his violins has been estimated at about the equivalent of a craftsman’s wages for a whole year. I would not mind earning the years salary of a plumber or a car mechanic today. 

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I think that the wealth shifting to Asia has a lot of promise for Western Art, actually. I have friends from violin making school and after in the trade from Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong. Ignoring the broader "art", the big emerging money in these places wants nothing to do with Chinese instruments. New American, New European, and old German violins are in high demand, and the market there is wide open for them.

Of course Old Italians, too, but I don't have any of those.

I wonder sometimes about getting 12 nice new instruments together and going over to a Chinese trade show as The American Maker, translator and suit, and what connections to the trade there could be made, to steadily supply new fiddles to.

Just a pipe dream. A nice suit is expensive.

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I wonder sometimes about getting 12 nice new instruments together and going over to a Chinese trade show as The American Maker, translator and suit, and what connections to the trade there could be made, to steadily supply new fiddles to.

Just a pipe dream. A nice suit is expensive.

 

I handle contemporary instruments and bows as well as rare antiques wearing a sweater and jeans and my clients include Americans, Europeans and buyers in the Asian market.  Dump the suit.  Spend the money on quality materials.

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Sounds good to me. Do you think visibility: the renting of booth I described, is helpful? I really liked the guys from Stradivariazioni that I met at the VSA, but I wondered if their trip was to create sales, or just to check out the community of makers over here.

And I didn't know that you deal antiques, sounds like fun.

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Some years ago my co-worker and I were listening illegally (in Germany) to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast. There was this snooty woman presenter asking a musician to choose eight pieces of music that he would take with him to a desert island. The guy was a retired principal trumpet player in one of London’s best known orchestras. The reason why we were both glued to the radio was because we both came from the same northern English working class background as this musician.

The man spoke, as we both still do, with a strong northern dialect. He had learned to play the trumpet in a brass band. This tradition was common amongst working communities, (also here in Germany where I now live). The reason being that the hands of working men, (they now have women members), were so damaged by their work that they could only play brass instruments.

Out of this tradition, bands like the Black Dyke Mills Band emerged.

Now this snooty woman, with an accent that could cut glass, asked this retired trumpet player how he had started playing the trumpet. He told her that he had started at the age of 14 working in a factory that made metal dustbins. (US trashcans)

She pursued the theme. “And what was your particular job,” she asked.

“I made the lids for the dustbins,” he answered in his northern accent.

But she was not about to let go. “So what did you think, when as a young working man, you arrived in this great capital city of ours, to take on the roll of principal trumpeter in this world famous London orchestra? What was going through your mind on this momentous occasion?

“I thought it was better than making dustbin lids”, he replied.

We looked at each other and from that moment on, whenever one of us complained about our lot, the other repeated these words. “It’s better than making dustbin lids:”

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