- Have a day job but you find yourself thinking about magic a lot?
- Watch magicians, observing every little detail of what they do, what they say, how they say it, what they wear, what tricks they do?
- Have a magic kit that you spend endless hours on, arranging and rearranging?
- Feel "I could do that" if only I had a bit of help?
- Often feel defeated by a lack of confidence?
- Feel that you have untapped abilities?
- Crave guidance and mentoring from someone?
- Like the idea of entertaining people but you have already taken another path in life?
- Feel stumped simply because you don't know where to start?
If you answered yes to most of those questions, then you and I have a lot in common. Most likely the greatest difference between you and me is that I am a professional magician. This is how I earn my living—it's what it says on my tax return—and what a great way it is to earn money.
So how can you get started on the same path and write your own success story as a kids magician or family entertainer (or perhaps a balloon twister or face painter)? My answer is have the right mindset early on. This is important as your mindset will inform how you approach learning the tricks of the trade and what you focus on, and these in turn will greatly affect the success you enjoy and how fast you get to that level of success.
So what mindset am I talking about? I explain them below.
Mindset #1: Learn from experts but be your own authority.
I love going to work almost every day. But it was not always the case.
I came into magic later in life with a whole lot of experiences from other professions—army sniper, TV cameraman, author—under my belt. This previous life experiences have let me look at the world of magic with a different set of eyes than many other magicians. There are many in this industry who became, and stayed, a professional magician at a much younger age than me. (And I tell you, many of them are so much better than me.)
When I started in magic, I followed convention and amassed a mountain of tricks and applied myself to mastering them, assuming that in amongst those tricks were the ones that would make me a good magician.
I joined a magic club; I read and watched as much as I could; I stumbled my way through, and with nothing more than trial and lots of error, I woke up one morning and decided I'm going to set myself the goal of earning a living doing this. I had made the decision.
I already had some cool tricks, tricks that the magic community had convinced me were the hottest ones to be using at that time. With their knowledge backing me, I was sure that I had cracked the secret code, that I had found those elusive tricks, the ones that turn average magicians into great magicians.
Problem was, my audiences didn't share the same enthusiasm. The cause of the problem was easy enough to see: those audiences just didn't understand good tricks when they saw them.
They hadn't studied the subtleties that go into making a trick a great trick. It was a frustrating time of trying to find audiences that appreciated my tricks and my hard-earned skills.
As it happened, I had always liked sponge balls but never used them, on advice from some learned magicians who assured me sponge balls were old hat; everybody has seen sponge balls. I had few sleight-of-hand skills at this stage but decided, on a gut instinct, to put together a basic sponge ball routine.
A strange thing happened: my audience loved the sponge balls. People got excited and wanted to be the one to participate in the trick. They would tell me that oh yes, they had seen this same trick before, but “PLEASE do it again.”
This started me thinking about much of what I had been told, so I started look elsewhere for advice. There, to my surprise, was a wealth of knowledge on commercial, audience-pleasing magic. The common theme to most of these writings is: the magician and his/her personality is much more important than the tricks they do. This struck a chord with me and I investigated further.
I found books by people like Eugene Burger, Darwin Ortiz and Jamy Ian Swiss that profoundly changed my outlook, and ultimately, the path I was following.
The more I looked around, the more I realised that four out of five magicians know a lot about tricks, but know little, if anything, about actually performing those tricks before an audience.
Inside of me was a burning desire to be able to entertain people with magic so I quietly took a radical step.
That step is this: I stopped listening to 95% of the noise around me and became my own authority, an expert on the magic that was right for me. The process was so simple: if it made audiences happy, it was in; if it didn't, it was out. My bookings sheet was to be my compass.
I started to get much better much faster. I started to notice recurring patterns, like the more direct and uncomplicated the tricks were, the better reactions I got. I found I could use my best classic force, or a one-way forcing deck, and it made little difference to the audience's experience.
Mindset #2: It’s not so much about the tricks as it is about being a fun, likable entertainer.
When I was starting, I noticed that audiences liked to be controlled. It gives them a reason to not have to think; it gives their weary minds a break from a tiring day of decision making. So I discovered that if they trusted me and enjoyed my company, they were happy to let me take them for a fun journey for a few short minutes. I was having FUN with my audiences.
The more I went down this path of promoting fun and personality over tricks, the better my performances became and the more bookings I got.
In assessing my 10-year journey to this point, I came to this conclusion: you don't have to be a sensationally good magician to be an entertaining magician. (Look no further than the late Tommy Cooper.)
So many people I have met throughout my travels would, in my view, make much better magicians than many skilled ones I know. These are people who are good fun in the company of people. I would ask them if they had ever done any sort of performing. Often they would answer, "Oh me? No. I don't have any talent at all."
I would always think, but you do, you do, you already have what others like me had to learn the hard way: a comfortable and engaging way with a crowd.
I reckon if I gave these people with good showmanship skills some basic tuition and items such as an invisible deck and a one-way forcing deck, they would get better reactions from the public than many skilled magicians out there today. Why? Because an audience has no real way of assessing whether you are technically good or bad at magic. They are the ultimate authority though on whether you are a good entertainer.
But let's get one thing straight: I think the best thing is to strive for excellent technical magic skills AND first-rate showmanship. If you achieve both, then you will be a force to be reckoned with. And with a tenacious personality and good business acumen, the world will be your oyster.
With that said, here’s what I firmly believe based on my experience: if someone has the desire to be a magician and a streak of fun but don’t have the showmanship and technical magical skills yet, they can be a magician. I mean I did it, and believe me, I'm nothing special.
So I reckon if you have a burning desire, then I can show you how to be a magician and how to make money as a magician. You just have to adopt this mindset: One, learn as much as you can from other magicians and kids entertainers, but figure out and stick with what works for you. Two, don’t fuss too much about magic tricks. People will remember and love you more for the laugh and the rapport you build with them.
In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss where you can find the best tricks for your routine. I hope you’re excited. Magic is worth getting excited about when you start to realise it is far more than just a bunch of tricks.