Things to Do Before You Get Famous


Last year, internationally celebrated violinist Joshua Bell tried an experiment. He took his violin (a Stradivarius built in 1713, worth about $3.5 million) into the Washington, D.C. Metro and played for about 45 minutes.

If you want to get cheap seats to hear Joshua Bell perform, expect to pay at least $100.

So who stopped to listen to him play Bach and Schubert? Nearly no one. Thousands of people marched past, avoiding Bell’s eye so they wouldn’t feel guilty about failing to throw a quarter or two into his case. (He made a little over $32 for the day.)

Music did not soothe the savage breast. Music failed to even register in the savage breast.

(I was fascinated to read about exceptions, like a three-year-old named Evan. Evan knew there was something special going on, and tried to dawdle so he could check it out. But Evan’s mom was in a hurry to get him to daycare and herself on to work and hustled his curious little butt right on past. I don’t blame her, we’ve all been there. As the Washington Post story reported, “The behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”)

Evidence, if we needed it, that kids are smarter than grown-ups about some things.

Context matters more than ability

So what can we learn from this slightly depressing little story?

For one thing, it’s a stark illustration that talent and ability are not enough. The moral of the story is probably not that Joshua Bell is a mediocre violinist.

Remember the famous coffee commercial, where they substituted crummy supermarket instant coffee for the coffee in great restaurants? Of course people loved the crummy coffee. When they ordered it, they expected to pay $5 a cup for it. It was delivered in a delicate china cup. It came after a great meal. It was brought by a snooty waiter.

It’s not that talent and ability don’t matter. They do. But no one can begin to see talent or ability until they’re put into the right frame.

Some people never see past any frame. Not much we can do for them. But for you, we can make sure you’re choosing the frame that sets you off.

Success is a brand

You don’t need mass appeal or millions of customers to be a success. But your definition of success needs to be a keystone of your brand.

You decide what success is, then show the world how magnificently successful you are by that light.

No one is going to notice your amazing talent and elevate you to fame and fortune. You’ve got to create the fame and fortune in your own outlook first. Claim your position.

This stuff takes time to gel. You might have to be patient. But keep your vision of yourself as a success clearly in your mind. Pretend you’re deposed royalty from some forgotten (but elegant) country. Don’t let your crummy apartment or 20-year-old car make you think of yourself in small terms.

Be your own fan club. Other fans will catch up to you eventually.

You can make your own context

Joshua Bell’s story is also a great lesson in the art of finding what you look for. If you expect to hear not-very-good musicians in the subway, even the world’s greatest violinist will sound like nothing special.

Could anything like that be happening in your life now?

We could try to be a little more aware as we move through our days–leave a little room open for the possibility that something extraordinary could happen. Let’s face it, when human beings are involved, there’s always room for the extraordinary.

But beyond that, we could try to expect better out of our lives. We could expect greatness from our work. We could expect passionate fanaticism from our customers. We could expect personal lives and professional lives that nourished and enriched one another, and brought us joy.

Hell, we could start by expecting to get paid what we’re worth. Baby steps.

Choosing a new frame for Remarkable Communication

I’ve decided that, comfortable though this cozy little joint has been for the past year, it’s time for me to move my voice to a frame that’s better suited to it.

Remarkable Communication is going to change some things–to a new domain name and a spiffy new theme. (My profound thanks to Men with Pens for helping me out with this.)

I am very happy and grateful to have found so many readers on this little homegrown blog. I did everything you’re not supposed to do–I used an uncustomized template, didn’t use my own domain name, was too cheap even to spring for the Typepad plan that would have let me use custom style sheets.

It’s always been about the words for me. But I think it’s time for me to get those words into the right frame. Not every reader is as perceptive as you are. I’d like more people to be able to see this blog clearly.

There might be a few bumps and lumps as we get moving, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I’ll keep this Web address going for a few months so my occasional visitors will know where to find me.

And I’ll let you know what I learn along the way, so you can benefit from the boneheaded mistakes I am sure to make.

Read the original Washington Post article about Joshua Bell’s stunt

If you found this post useful, subscribe to my free email class on creating better content!


  1. James says:


    Words to live by! I can relate to this post perhaps better than most. I recently gave my own website a face lift as well, with the help of completely new frame. Not “custom” but customizable, at least. Yes, there were some “bumps and lumps” as you put it, but in the end, I think my brand – and my customers – will be better served. Yours too! I’m eager to see the fruits of your labor.


  2. Sonia:

    I love you! You are my favorite (one of them) writers and bloggers. I must meet you one day.

    This article was extremely well written and I liked in particular this one:

    “Hell, we could start by expecting to get paid what we’re worth. Baby steps.”

    This is confirmation that I am on the right track. I raised my speaking fees not too long ago, feeling very comfortable with what I did and expecting to get what I ask for.

    And you know what?

    I am getting them! I just booked two speaking engagements at full price for the Fall. One at Penn State University and one at Frito-Lay. WOOT!

    The key is to believe that you are worth what you ask for and stick with it. Also, to keep raising your prices. You don’t need a best-selling book or a PH.d to justify price increases.

    Just do it! Thanks for the fabulous, inspiring, uplifting and the WOOT FACTOR!

    Did I say I love you? LOL.

  3. I’m a huge fan of the Joshua Bell example (being in DC when it happened) but had never quite thought to apply it to branding and context. Good points all around…

    I think a new branding of your site will be huge. I mean, look at me with all my crappy content and a really nice theme…somehow people seem to stick around! So with you, with real words and stuff, you’re going to be even more of a rockstar!

    Really though, I agree that context is as much king as content is. It’s possible to make a name for yourself in the most awful circumstances…but when that can be avoided it’s just stupid not to. Amen for pointing that out to your readers/writers :-) .

  4. MichelleVan says:

    Loved this article ….No one is going to notice your amazing talent and elevate you to fame and fortune. You’ve got to create the fame and fortune in your own outlook first. Claim your position…..
    That is true for just living with passion and purpose in the world You’ve got to claim it! Great article. Stumbled

  5. The Joshua Bell story was touching – and a perfectly example of what I know to be true. Branding counts. Framing counts. Context counts.

    Take anything out of context and you’ll perceive something completely different.

    This is why we remain Men with Pens and not Scribblers with Pencils. It just wouldn’t be the same.

  6. Evan says:

    Sometimes we’re surprised ie. there is the possibility of the frame being shattered.

    I’m pretty sure the people in the subway were busy and rushed – it isn’t a judgement of his ability that was being made. No one was asking people to stop and listen and what they thought of the quality.

    Looking forward to the new look blog.

  7. CK Reyes says:

    Sonia, You said it all when you said, “…expect better out of our lives…expect personal lives and professional lives that nourished and enriched one another, and brought us joy.” In another “frame” this is like looking for what’s right in a situation, and whatever we look for we will find. I coach people to find their passion and it always surprises me when the first thing they look for are the obstacle. So, if you see obstacles in the way of your new venture, please, please, please, don’t listen to them! Always reference back to the desire that motivated you in the first place!

  8. Sonia Simone says:

    Thanks all! Especially to Stephen & Michelle for the nice Stumbles. Stephen, congrats on raising those speaking fees–I predict great things coming for you! I hope I’ll be at SOBCon again next year, so we can meet then.

    @JamesP (PTP), I think you will see great stuff from the new site. I don’t see anyone else taking the approach you are–not too high, not too low.

    @JamesC, I rather think of you as Monkeys with Keyboards, but you know, in a good way.

    @Jared, it’s funny, I remember hearing the story on NPR and it stuck with me, and I just started writing. Sometimes I don’t quite know what corners I’m going to take until I take them. I love that about writing, you can put new connections together for yourself. (And your content is not crappy, I think your content is great, so thwwwpppppt.)

    @CK, what we look for is so powerful, isn’t it? A simple thing but it can make all the difference.

  9. Congratulations on taking the next step, Sonia. You write at a level that’s worthy of a major space. Looking forward to reading you in your new frame.

  10. “Claim your position.”

    Perfect! Everything we do and every word we speak reveals precisely what we think of who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going.

    Unless we claim our own success, no one is going to claim it for us. And unless we speak and act from a place that exemplifies the success we claim, we’ll be waiting a long time for that success to manifest.

    Thanks, Sonia. And best of luck as you claim the next level of your success!

  11. Connie says:

    Moooovin’ on up!

    Congrats Sonia!

  12. Suzanna says:

    Great move, Sonia, I can’t wait to see what you show us next!

    I look forward to covering you in the Examiner once you’re settled in to your new robes.

    Suzanna Stinnett

  13. You are so on point, Sonia.
    People don’t ever see the real picture.
    They see whatever they have in their head about how the picture would look like.
    So not the picture but peoples thinking about the picture is important.
    You can show blank wall and people will believe it’s very beutiful, if you tought them than the clean, white wall is the only picture popular this year.
    We have to work on people’s mind and not on our masterpieces.
    Less creation, but more influence.

  14. Kelly says:


    I’ve never noticed your “cheapness” or cared. Your words are wonderful to read, and no slightly awkward blogging platform would stop me from reading them.

    (I’d have been hanging out with the lady at the end of the Washington Post article, too. That broke my heart. I know trappings matter—heck I say it for a living—but genius is genius even in a baseball cap. Or a TypePad template.)

    Congrats on your big changes coming up. Having done mine a while back, I can tell you it’s worth it in the end.



  15. Joanna Young says:

    Good luck getting the new frame for your brilliant words. I look forward to seeing it!


  16. Brava! Lovely, lovely, lovely words.

    I am right behind you darlin’ I think…MwK ( also known as Men With Pens) will be reframing moi, aussi.

    Way fun. I cannot wait to see your new digs, Sonia. :)

  17. Brian Clark says:

    I’ve heard this story many times, and it’s telling.

    Funny thing is it just makes me want to go hang out with my kids. They’re the only ones who see the wonder and beauty in life.

  18. Pen name says:

    Mom… ?

  19. Bill K. says:

    I’ve never heard the Josh Bell story, though I have seen him live and had just listened to one of his CDs this morning before I read this – my pets like him.

    Good thing he wore a cap. The hair would have given him away.

    My first reaction is that most people probably do have trouble discerning quality from mediocrity and need help from visual cues, etc. And the people who make their living out of selecting talent are just too busy to find it without some help from the one who creates it.

    I wonder what I would have done in that subway …

    Good luck with your move.

  20. Oh, what perfect timing for me to read these words. It’s so easy to look outside for encouragement. Thanks for the reminder to look for it on the inside first and foremost! I so appreciate your gift of painting with words…Cheers!

  21. meanderer121 says:

    Great post…I just became a fan and am not following your blog. :o )

  22. What a remarkable post. I well remember when this was big news here in DC. And thinking to myself “heck, why do I have to work at home, I would have stopped and listened”.

    Especially, I love the way you share your story and make excellent points about believing in your own greatness. What a concept, eh?

    I’m looking forward to following you, now that I’ve found you (thanks to twitter)!


  23. Sonia Simone says:

    Welcome to all the new folks. :)

    Bill & Peggie, that’s a big question, isn’t it? Would I have done differently? Would I have stopped? I think I would have, mostly because I am highly distractable and have definitely been known to lose some time on the rare occasion that a subway musician is good. But maybe not. I wonder how many folks who were there later found out about it and were astonished.

  24. Hi, good luck with the move, I think it’s a great decision and I’m sure your loyal readers will follow you, no problem.

    And I’m not at all surprised that it was the children who tried to stop to listen to Joshua play – kids are so tuned in until “well meaning” adults shut them down. I think us adults all need to tap into the wisdom that we still have within us and listen like we did when we were kids. :)

    Thanks for this beautiful post! :)

  25. Barbara says:

    You always give me so much to think about! Wonderful, wonderful post. I would read you in any format, but you deserve the branding and dazzle of the highest echelon.

    I am facing am a major redesign and branding opportunity, so this was also a very timely post for me.

  26. Sonia Simone says:

    Barbara, I am always so happy when I see you here. Would love to chat about your redesign & your life & all of it. xox

  27. awesome article…thank you so much for sharing that :) shows that perception plays a big part in life.

  28. Ming says:

    wow … you’re writing, is like a concert violinist playing on a street corner, and i feel the fuzzy feeling of being a little boy watching.

    i’m also changing frames, although i didn’t know that was what i was doing until i read this.

  29. Gina says:

    I dig your new digs! I dug your old digs, too…but it was really about the words for me anyway. But, yeah, I get it, and have found it necessary to bring my “frame’ up to speed with my clearer vision of what I’m offering. And before I’ve even found out how it may impress my readers, I already feel more like an authority just thinking about it. Amazing.

    Ginas last blog post..Foodie Friday – Berry Cornmeal Cake

  30. Sonia Simone says:

    Gina, that is so cool!

    I do think it’s worthwhile waiting to create a great frame until you develop a sense of what you want to frame. I don’t regret spending a year to get around to getting the right look & feel for RC, it’s really taken me that long to decide what I want to focus on.

  31. Gina says:

    HA! Really wishing THAT wasn’t the first blog post you might encounter going to my site.. LOL! Yummy as it may be…

  32. Sonia Simone says:

    Hey, yummy is good!

  33. J.D. Meier says:

    Savage breast sounds scary but I like it.

    Success is a brand and it snowballs. There’s always something sparkly about success (life success has a nice ambiance.)

    I’m always torn on fame. I don’t want to be famous, but I want to be impactful. I see how fame is consistent ingredient in reach and how you scale impact.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Social Loafing

  34. Thanks for the info, great info

  35. Matt says:

    I’m an ex- street performer and busker; the message behind your article is good, don’t get me wrong, but just being a great musician wont make you money on the street. First of all, the same act in 2 different locations [might be just 30 ft diffrence] might mean a 500% difference in money recieved. But the main thing when you’re doing this type of performing is you have to ‘entertain’ people, not just play music you like. Whether that means incorporating movement, comedy into your act or carefully selecting the music you know people will want to hear, and recognise in the 5-10 seconds they take to walk past you.

  36. Rachel says:

    That story about Josh Bell is amazing. It should teach us something about paying attention to our environment and not stereotyping the people we see each day.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Neckline Slimmer Reviews =-.

  37. Che says:

    There could be a different explanation for the people’s behaviour. It is a subway and people would be moving so busily.

    What would have happened, had they put a sign that Josh Bell is playing a Violin now? In my opinion it wouldn’t have made much difference in the response since people are not in a mood to listen music.
    .-= Che´s last blog ..Difference Between LPN and RN =-.

  38. KB says:

    I love the post but I am now affraid of the savage breasts! :-)

  39. nemwie says:

    This story is amazing I hope i could learn more instrument for me to be famous but most importantly its a talent within all of us.

  40. Adversus says:

    No it only showed that Joshua Bell was not a great street performer. It showed that you can be talented and succeful in one area but its not certain that you will be it in an other.
    Let Joshua Bell practise his act on the street for a couple of years and he might be great there too.

  41. Xorn says:

    …$32 in 45 minute? That’s $40/hour. Or, in an average work-week of 40 hours, about $1600 per week, before taxes. Roughly $83,200 per year, before taxes. Even estimating a nasty 30% tax rate, that would still be almost $60,000 per year. That is some impressive money.

    Anyway, context is a bit more important than this article points out. Consider the location. Yes, people pay $100 for the cheap-seats for him, but those are people who want to see him, and who are taking time out of their lives to see him. Would enjoying the music have made up for the parents who rushed their children by, had they been fired for being late to work? I don’t think their boss would be too appreciative of it.

    Perhaps people didn’t stop to listen because they COULDN’T stop to listen.

  42. korea says:

    hi my names korea and im 11 pretty young well i was wondering how to get famous if your really poor? i love singing and want to do it for a living. i can really sing i wanted to be a singer since i was 4. i always try to becomea sing. i want to help my mom out too,she barly has enough money to pay the morgage on my house,also i live in colorado springs so she workes in denver so she can feed us with what money we do please tell me how to be famous 4 my 2 sisters, mom, and me – korea.

  43. I love this article. Makes you think!

  44. thanks for posting, a good reminder that we should always stop to smell the flowers by the road.
    violin beginner lessons´s last [type] ..Instrument Master Review

  45. I first heard of this experiment a while ago, and it’s certainly a great study about the power of perception.

    However, the fact that it was done in a place where people are totally focused on travelling somewhere as quickly as they can somewhat weakens it in my opinion.

    Rather than an experiment about whether people can recognise quality music, it became an experiment about whether good music can divert people’s attention from an important task that they are undertaking.

    It would be good to see a similar experiment done in a place where there are a lot of people passing by in “leisure” mode rather than “business” mode.

    Eric G.
    Eric Graudins´s last [type] ..Is Backlinking Dead


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