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How do you sell your handmade violins?


TedN
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12 minutes ago, Rue said:

:mellow:

Which slippery slope are you heading down?

The sound of one instrument versus another? They are being judged constantly by the best players.

Otherwise what's the point? If CNC instruments can sound just as good as the finest handmade ones, what's the point of learning all the carving skills?

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You need to do everything possible to make potential buyers want to have YOU, not just your violin.  Even if I made the best sounding instrument ever, I doubt anyone would want to own a Ron1.  Effort needs to be made toward advertising and making your name known.  Capitalize on your successes.  If successes aren't happening, you have to make them happen.  My icon guy made good instruments, but he was a master at promoting himself.  As many makers did, and likely still do, he employed various clever, if not marginally shady, ploys to this end.  If you can get your $5k violin into the hands of a recognizable symphony orchestra violinist for $0, that's $5k well spent on advertising which would benefit in promoting yourself for the rest of your career.  Good marketing will sell even second-rate instruments, but with an absence of good marketing, a maker of excellent quality instruments will never be "successful" in their lifetime.

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34 minutes ago, Ron1 said:

You need to do everything possible to make potential buyers want to have YOU, not just your violin.  Even if I made the best sounding instrument ever, I doubt anyone would want to own a Ron1.  Effort needs to be made toward advertising and making your name known.  Capitalize on your successes.  If successes aren't happening, you have to make them happen.  My icon guy made good instruments, but he was a master at promoting himself.  As many makers did, and likely still do, he employed various clever, if not marginally shady, ploys to this end.  If you can get your $5k violin into the hands of a recognizable symphony orchestra violinist for $0, that's $5k well spent on advertising which would benefit in promoting yourself for the rest of your career.  Good marketing will sell even second-rate instruments, but with an absence of good marketing, a maker of excellent quality instruments will never be "successful" in their lifetime.

The spirit of what you're saying pans out...

But the market elevates what it wants. I know more than a handful of antisocial, approaching unpleasant luddites who can't stop their fiddles from selling...

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5 hours ago, HoGo said:

I'm only part time maker (of mandolins) but I think I can relate to this topic. I live in area (Slovakia) with very few mandolin players (basicly dozen or so worth calling half serious players) and most of them can afford chinese product at best. When I started building I strived for perfection and quality, of course I found out I will have to wait for the perfection but eventually I managed to build enough quallity that folks who saw my work understood it is not junk and I sold my first few to local players (I never imagined they would pay the serious asking price back then but they did after trying out) After that I sold few in Czech Republic and even to US (my 7th instrument). The owner spread the word over internet and I soon got more inquiries from all around globe than I could handle. I build instruments without waiting list, I just tell the folks to keep in touch till the next instrument is nearing completion and it will be theirs, if they won't there is always someone else... I don't have any website and my web presence is basicly just on one internet forum like this. I rarely post about my instruments it's mostly the happy owners who spread the word.

Being a decent player helped me a lot and during my musician time I played and compared hundreds of instruments. This allowed me to judge quality of my own builds and also set the price correctly. That is important  - to set correct price especially at the beginning.

That's a very encouraging story HoGo.

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Since most answers here focused on the marketing aspect, there is not much more I can tell you about it. We are not living in Cremona in the 17th century and the market has changed dramatically.

So where does ‘success’ come from? And I think it is just as important as the marketing, because much what marketing is build on is to promote ‘your mindset’. To exaggerate it: if people, for what reason ever, get the impression of a ‘couch potato violin maker’ ,well, I guess you know the answer of what kind of advertising this is.

Recently I read the success stories of some artists. Joseph Beuys, for example, was starving for years and struggled his way into the image of a sort of shaman artist. This was new at that time and rocketed him to the top price selling artist of his days with art work which as such had no real value. (Assembled rubbish and sometimes as simple as a margarine cube) The best thing was that he made fun out of it and somehow even made fun out of those people who paid millions for it saying ‘everyone is an artist’ (meaning that there is nothing special that HE made the million dollar thing.)

We can’t do that. There are no art critics around to find the ‘new idea’ in our work. Our work doesn’t represent philosophical or psychological ideas reflecting things in our society. And I think even artists who are just making a living on their work (so those who are not at the top end) get some press about the vision they have in their work. Violin making is in the words of Sam Zygmontovitch just making a wooden box. There is no more publicity on that than the local newspaper writing about the ‘Stradivari in Wisconsin.’ Or ‘carving wood into sound.’ (But even those small things contribute to success.)

If you look at the success stories of most successful contemporary violin makers, each of them found his style and idea to propel his/her work as something special into the market. There are sound freaks, physics freaks, historic copies freaks, competition winner freaks, marketing freaks, be in the right place freaks, quick build freaks, family tradition guys, (etc. etc.) and often it is a combination one or more of those things.

My advice to a young maker is put yourself on a mission. You need to define your goal almost like Schwarzenegger wanting to become the youngest Mr. Universe. And if you know your goal you need to lift weights and make sure that people know about it. Work, work, work and if you are already completely exhausted and maybe frustrated about setbacks continue to work, work, work. 

See yourself as one in Thousands of violin makers doing exactly the same thing (yes the market is extremely competitive) and try in this environment to learn permanently anything you can imagine. Eventually you come to do things others don’t do or, even better, things others can’t do. It is not what about what YOU think is the best, but what others think is the best and permanently work, work, work on that. (You might get some general inspiration on that theme from Simon Sinek though his viewpoints are more from the class of people in an employment environment)

Find advisors who help you to define yourself. The best example I know is Leonard Bernstein, who as a young musician, composer and conductor was permanently seeking contacts with his famous elder peers. He stood against the hyper critical view of Fritz Reiner (mastering his way to become the only Reiner student to exit his conducting class with summa cum laude). He showed his compositions to Aaron Copland whose critical view spotted all what looked like the work of another composer and telling him where he found ‘original Bernstein’ with the advice ‘work on that bar!’.

One practical advice is that I have seen often that successful makers don’t take a finished violin as the finalized sound result. They are very self critical about their own work and often reopen it, readjust it several times to get the best result eventually risking to go to far. But they don’t talk about failures, they take it as the self motivation to become better. (I won’t tell you how many unfinished instruments are in my shop) Then after years of work on yourself and the marketing aspect you might get the attention of a TV broadcast which puts you in connection with the orchestral world or better a famous player. 

Another way of learning is to make things just the opposite way of what you think is correct and see what is coming out. You might get the most surprising results or learn what is really important. To save time on your own work you can buy a cheapy on eBay and try to improve the sound or fool around with it.

And, as we know, learning to do things better is often connected to teaching others. I learned the most things when trying to make people in my workshop to become better from what they started with.


Our critics are the musicians who will use the instruments you make. Meet them and talk to them. Their advice is the capital you can build on. And I personally like straightforward negative comments best. They are rare and very helpful,even if you don’t understand immediately what a musician is talking about. Take it seriously. I have tremendous respect for what they are doing in the extremely competitive field of classical music and see their comments from a world which I don’t experience.  (A violinist friend of mine put it like this: ‘you go on a stage to be beaten up, at least by one person saying ‘this was bad.’) Expressing emotions with a stringed instrument in your hand is beyond any imagination a complex task. You might think this is only at the very top level. No, I think this already starts when a kid plays the first notes in front of a teacher.  We know that a good 1/8 violin makes a different impression for this kid than a bad one. We, as makers serve, I repeat ‘serve’, to this market from the lowest to the highest level. Even if you think that the last instrument you made is ‘the best on this planet’ someone will tell you, that you are wrong. And be aware that criticism can sound very ‘seducing’. I was once told ‘oh I like your instrument, it is very easy to play!’ What the professor meant was that instruments which are ‘easy to play’ are for amateurs and not for professionals, which made me go back to my workshop to open the instrument and work, work, work. ( Now it is in the hand of a professional who talks about the possibilities he finds in the sound of the instrument)
 

And you need routine in your work. About routine my favorite story is Admiral McRavens speech (you find it on YouTube). His seemingly absurd conclusion is ‘if you want to change the world, make your bed in the morning.’ Sharpen your tools, or do anything which makes you go through the day in a positive mindset. Failures and frustration will for sure come every now and then but with routine you know that if you are back the next morning, things are in place for a new start.
 

Keep in mind that your success is not defined by you, but by others.

Define your goal and put good habits on it, be humble for things you are doing.

Good luck!

 

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45 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Since most answers here focused on the marketing aspect, there is not much more I can tell you about it. We are not living in Cremona in the 17th century and the market has changed dramatically.

So where does ‘success’ come from? And I think it is just as important as the marketing, because much what marketing is build on is to promote ‘your mindset’. To exaggerate it: if people, for what reason ever, get the impression of a ‘couch potato violin maker’ ,well, I guess you know the answer of what kind of advertising this is.

Recently I read the success stories of some artists. Joseph Beuys, for example, was starving for years and struggled his way into the image of a sort of shaman artist. This was new at that time and rocketed him to the top price selling artist of his days with art work which as such had no real value. (Assembled rubbish and sometimes as simple as a margarine cube) The best thing was that he made fun out of it and somehow even made fun out of those people who paid millions for it saying ‘everyone is an artist’ (meaning that there is nothing special that HE made the million dollar thing.)

We can’t do that. There are no art critics around to find the ‘new idea’ in our work. Our work doesn’t represent philosophical or psychological ideas reflecting things in our society. And I think even artists who are just making a living on their work (so those who are not at the top end) get some press about the vision they have in their work. Violin making is in the words of Sam Zygmontovitch just making a wooden box. There is no more publicity on that than the local newspaper writing about the ‘Stradivari in Wisconsin.’ Or ‘carving wood into sound.’ (But even those small things contribute to success.)

If you look at the success stories of most successful contemporary violin makers, each of them found his style and idea to propel his/her work as something special into the market. There are sound freaks, physics freaks, historic copies freaks, competition winner freaks, marketing freaks, be in the right place freaks, quick build freaks, family tradition guys, (etc. etc.) and often it is a combination one or more of those things.

My advice to a young maker is put yourself on a mission. You need to define your goal almost like Schwarzenegger wanting to become the youngest Mr. Universe. And if you know your goal you need to lift weights and make sure that people know about it. Work, work, work and if you are already completely exhausted and maybe frustrated about setbacks continue to work, work, work. 

See yourself as one in Thousands of violin makers doing exactly the same thing (yes the market is extremely competitive) and try in this environment to learn permanently anything you can imagine. Eventually you come to do things others don’t do or, even better, things others can’t do. It is not what about what YOU think is the best, but what others think is the best and permanently work, work, work on that. (You might get some general inspiration on that theme from Simon Sinek though his viewpoints are more from the class of people in an employment environment)

Find advisors who help you to define yourself. The best example I know is Leonard Bernstein, who as a young musician, composer and conductor was permanently seeking contacts with his famous elder peers. He stood against the hyper critical view of Fritz Reiner (mastering his way to become the only Reiner student to exit his conducting class with summa cum laude). He showed his compositions to Aaron Copland whose critical view spotted all what looked like the work of another composer and telling him where he found ‘original Bernstein’ with the advice ‘work on that bar!’.

One practical advice is that I have seen often that successful makers don’t take a finished violin as the finalized sound result. They are very self critical about their own work and often reopen it, readjust it several times to get the best result eventually risking to go to far. But they don’t talk about failures, they take it as the self motivation to become better. (I won’t tell you how many unfinished instruments are in my shop) Then after years of work on yourself and the marketing aspect you might get the attention of a TV broadcast which puts you in connection with the orchestral world or better a famous player. 

Another way of learning is to make things just the opposite way of what you think is correct and see what is coming out. You might get the most surprising results or learn what is really important. To save time on your own work you can buy a cheapy on eBay and try to improve the sound or fool around with it.

And, as we know, learning to do things better is often connected to teaching others. I learned the most things when trying to make people in my workshop to become better from what they started with.


Our critics are the musicians who will use the instruments you make. Meet them and talk to them. Their advice is the capital you can build on. And I personally like straightforward negative comments best. They are rare and very helpful,even if you don’t understand immediately what a musician is talking about. Take it seriously. I have tremendous respect for what they are doing in the extremely competitive field of classical music and see their comments from a world which I don’t experience.  (A violinist friend of mine put it like this: ‘you go on a stage to be beaten up, at least by one person saying ‘this was bad.’) Expressing emotions with a stringed instrument in your hand is beyond any imagination a complex task. You might think this is only at the very top level. No, I think this already starts when a kid plays the first notes in front of a teacher.  We know that a good 1/8 violin makes a different impression for this kid than a bad one. We, as makers serve, I repeat ‘serve’, to this market from the lowest to the highest level. Even if you think that the last instrument you made is ‘the best on this planet’ someone will tell you, that you are wrong. And be aware that criticism can sound very ‘seducing’. I was once told ‘oh I like your instrument, it is very easy to play!’ What the professor meant was that instruments which are ‘easy to play’ are for amateurs and not for professionals, which made me go back to my workshop to open the instrument and work, work, work. ( Now it is in the hand of a professional who talks about the possibilities he finds in the sound of the instrument)
 

And you need routine in your work. About routine my favorite story is Admiral McRavens speech (you find it on YouTube). His seemingly absurd conclusion is ‘if you want to change the world, make your bed in the morning.’ Sharpen your tools, or do anything which makes you go through the day in a positive mindset. Failures and frustration will for sure come every now and then but with routine you know that if you are back the next morning, things are in place for a new start.
 

Keep in mind that your success is not defined by you, but by others.

Define your goal and put good habits on it, be humble for things you are doing.

Good luck!

 

Very well said. Particularly concerning the task of making instruments for musicians. Musicians are the end customer. They are being tasked with an exceptionally difficult and demanding work... playing in an orchestra. Playing an instrument, in front of an audience, without making a mistake, sometimes for hours on end, is excruciatingly challenging. If we don't understand the pressures that they are under when they perform this task, we are not going to be much help to them. We need to provide musicians a benefit. That's what they are coming to us for. How can we help them exceed in their already difficult task? We need to understand their pressures, and craft instruments that help them exceed in their own craft. I suppose the only way to do this, is to sit in the drivers seat. We need to be in orchestras and understand what that experience is like, and only then we will know how to craft an instrument for a musician that will provide them benefit.

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Interesting fact I realized as I was pondering this question today: Antoine Nedelac also lived in Dallas, just a few miles from the opera house, was a fine maker, but I never heard of him until after he had left.
The former principal second violin of the DSO bought one of his violins a couple years ago and raves about it, but by then Nedelac had already left.

So even though I’m very interested in this subject and constantly talking to folks about it, I didn’t even know he existed until after he departed.

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9 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

 

It is not what about what YOU think is the best, but what others think is the best and permanently work, work, work on that.

Excellent advice by Andreas Preuss.

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7 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Stradivari had about 90 unsold violins in his shop when he died.  With many more years of hard work I think I can do that too.

:D

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Just a quick non-luthier comment. (Typed this up on the phone first but realized I was not signed in, so excuse if a double post shows up). To the OP....

In my business at least, which is a higher end craft, websites are POS, route for shielded email. and a vehicle for catalogue of career and bio. Increasingly, even those uses are becoming obsolete.

Instagram is where people find new, young customers and reach people in general.  I think some luthiers have mined that, but if you are older and not there, or not socially inclined, you are. missing out on a powerful tool. Especially in such a visual field.

Young people (I'm 60) snicker at "websites".

 

 

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9 hours ago, TedN said:

Very well said. Particularly concerning the task of making instruments for musicians. Musicians are the end customer. They are being tasked with an exceptionally difficult and demanding work... playing in an orchestra. Playing an instrument, in front of an audience, without making a mistake, sometimes for hours on end, is excruciatingly challenging. If we don't understand the pressures that they are under when they perform this task, we are not going to be much help to them. We need to provide musicians a benefit. That's what they are coming to us for. How can we help them exceed in their already difficult task? We need to understand their pressures, and craft instruments that help them exceed in their own craft. I suppose the only way to do this, is to sit in the drivers seat. We need to be in orchestras and understand what that experience is like, and only then we will know how to craft an instrument for a musician that will provide them benefit.

I don't understand this need to over-intellectualizze the process, or to do what Andreas claimed-- to have a vision of one's work as a package that fits inside a marketable label. You don't need to be in an orchestra playing the Ring cycle to understand the violin should be well-balanced and not too heavy. You don't need to have a tale about the important ramifications of your intent and vision to learn to carve a bassbar that projects and yet lets the fiddle speak clearly and articluate when played ppp

And I know that maestronet is the estuary for this sort of rigor of imagination.

Take the grandiose ideas out of worrying about marketing and make woodchips every day. Your intellectual vision should be to stay stubborn enough that you start making money eventually. If you're not building three or four a year at least, you probably aren't going to get anywhere worth having some silly vision of yourself.

 

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2 minutes ago, Potter said:

Just a quick non-luthier comment. (Typed this up on the phone first but realized I was not signed in, so excuse if a double post shows up). To the OP....

In my business at least, which is a higher end craft, websites are POS, route for shielded email. and a vehicle for catalogue of career and bio. Increasingly, even those uses are becoming obsolete.

Instagram is where people find new, young customers and reach people in general.  I think some luthiers have mined that, but if you are older and not there, or not socially inclined, you are. missing out on a powerful tool. Especially in such a visual field.

Young people (I'm 60) snicker at "websites".

 

 

You're very right. I let my website lapse six years ago. Instagram is, of course, an old folks playground too, by now (I'm 40 this year.)

TikTok and SnapChat are the visibility behemoths now, and as they too will churn under for something new soon, I'm too busy to get on board.

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3 minutes ago, Christopher Jacoby said:

You're very right. I let my website lapse six years ago. Instagram is, of course, an old folks playground too, by now (I'm 40 this year.)

TikTok and SnapChat are the visibility behemoths now, and as they too will churn under for something new soon, I'm too busy to get on board.

Yes, I have resisted those, too. IG really works for the visual arts. I used to schlep work all over the country, now I put up a group of work and it's gone in an hour. It's a big world out there and IG can bypass the gate keepers and middle man of the past.

My daughter and I went to the NY contemporary show before the shutdown and she had a blast playing a broad range of violins, mostly out of our price range for now. But a great day with the 12 year old hearing really great violins under her ear. Wish there were more venues like this. I could imagine a luthier organized "show" circuit that visited the top conservatories. All you need is 10 luthiers, a hotel room, and promoting through IG, teachers, school, posters..... Or partner with a local shop for a percentage.... just thinking out loud.....

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1 minute ago, Potter said:

Yes, I have resisted those, too. IG really works for the visual arts. I used to schlep work all over the country, now I put up a group of work and it's gone in an hour. It's a big world out there and IG can bypass the gate keepers and middle man of the past.

My daughter and I went to the NY contemporary show before the shutdown and she had a blast playing a broad range of violins, mostly out of our price range for now. But a great day with the 12 year old hearing really great violins under her ear. Wish there were more venues like this. I could imagine a luthier organized "show" circuit that visited the top conservatories. All you need is 10 luthiers, a hotel room, and promoting through IG, teachers, school, posters..... Or partner with a local shop for a percentage.... just thinking out loud.....

Sounds like a good model to me! I'm really looking forward to the return of the Reed-Yeboah event too. 

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Guess I'm "old" as well.

However, I see a website as the staple of internet accessibility. I don't think I've missed out on any shopping opportunities by not using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

These seem to come and go in popularity.

A young person can always access a website - whether they mock it or not. Older folks (with possibly even more money to spend?) may not want to keep up with the revolving door of the latest, greatest social media outlets. 

BTW...my kids mocked me...even eons ago, for preferring the bulletin board format for internet communication. Yet here we all still are.

I still prefer it. 

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All good for you as a customer, but my comments were made toward the seller.

Instagram links directly to other people, players, ideas, themes #luthier #contemporaryviolins #violin etc.. that let people find you in the ocean of things and ideas. How do you find a website if you have not already heard of someone?  Whereas a luthier could link to all the young soloists playing his instruments..... 

And I don't think it is possible for a young (or any) player to have a soloist career without IG and it's relatives. Check out @violincase. (at HH's level, most surely she has others managing). And now that's true of pedagogues- check out @avaluwho or @elizabethfaidley

Once you have a follower, customer you can use email and website for most sales.

Really, I had to be drug into IG kicking not quite screaming. It is a job, you really need to be posting every day or two, needs to be visually thoughtful, needs to feel personal.

I follow this guy @jhlviolins through which I found his podcast and realized he is relatively close by, through which I have at least got to the point of fantasizing about having him look at my daughters well used, somewhat abused 100 year old French factory violin for restoration. Don't know if that will ever happen, but is an illustration of how it works.  

 

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Oh, I would also say my customers on IG are predominately in the 40 and up range as my work is not inexpensive. 

As Christopher said, especially since the pandemic, IG has expanded to take over much of what used to happen on Facebook. I personally find Facebook awful in every way. 

The kids are doing Snapchat and TikTok, neither of which I would think would reach my audience effectively.

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55 minutes ago, Potter said:

My daughter and I went to the NY contemporary show before the shutdown and she had a blast playing a broad range of violins, mostly out of our price range for now. But a great day with the 12 year old hearing really great violins under her ear. Wish there were more venues like this. I could imagine a luthier organized "show" circuit that visited the top conservatories. All you need is 10 luthiers, a hotel room, and promoting through IG, teachers, school, posters..... Or partner with a local shop for a percentage.... just thinking out loud.....

If that's the show I'm thinking of, the luthier pays the promoter a rather hefty commission should one of their instruments sell. I'm not saying that's wrong, since there are certainly expenses involved in setting up such an exhibit, which need to be recovered one way or another. But understand that makers with a genuine (not fake) waiting list, will have about zero incentive to have instruments there.

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58 minutes ago, Potter said:

Really, I had to be drug into IG kicking not quite screaming. It is a job, you really need to be posting every day or two, needs to be visually thoughtful, needs to feel personal.

Some of the best violin makers and restorers I know, and some of the most successful, have spent very little time on "plugging" themselves. :lol:

Who would you prefer to deal with? A maker or restorer who has become highly skilled at self-promotion, or one who has invested that time, instead, in learning to make a better instrument or perform a better restoration?

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With all the discussion on selling violins (which has been fascinating, by the way), I would encourage the OP to post a link to some pictures of his work.  You never know if someone is curious enough to contact you.

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You have a name. People are looking for you, already. The OP sounded more at an entry level. I have won NEAs, my work is in museums, the work has always come first. And Hillary and every other recognized violinst is using this tool. Don't think she (and Perlman!) are posers. If you win a VSA? medal who is going to see besides luthiers?

And it eliminates the gate keeper, so if someone is making great violins out there they don't have to necessarily pay someone else a cut. And just like the NY show, yes, people with a waiting list would likely not do that show or put as much energy into self promotion, though it seems in your field the longer your waiting list, the higher price you can ask. 

The idea that the world is fair or that the cream will rise to the top (and be seen and noticed) is just not true in the rest of the arts. I admit up front,  my lack of knowledge regarding your profession.

I am also someone who grew into my profession in a different era, at least in my little world, everything has changed. Yes. it means work that I don't admire gets attention, but more people are able to do it. And a small group of experts (who often had mixed motives)  don't get to totally control any market. As democrats (small d) and free marketeers we should all be happy about that. Add in universal health care and we would have a revolution in personal autonomy.

I do find it a chore some days, but with a cell phone with a good camera, 10-15 minutes on average does it. 

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