Last time, we talked about the mindset any beginning magician would benefit from having. Now we’ll go into where you can look for good tricks that you can use to start building your own act.
But Before Looking for Tricks, Keep This in Mind
I’d start off by echoing what I’ve said in the previous post in this series for starting magicians: don't think like a magician; think like a showman. Just remember this:I say this on the onset because the difficulty rating of a trick has almost nothing to do with its success with an audience. I say this because you might be starting on this journey thinking that the best tricks are the difficult tricks.
You might be asking, “But what about all the cool magicians with the TV specials?” Yes, they’re doing the knuckle-busting moves and they work well on TV specials, and they can work for the right people in the real world. But in most cases, hard-to-do tricks will earn you the least money.
There comes a time when you need to stop pursuing tricks that earn you the praises of your magician friends and take a look at the bigger picture ... if you want to earn money from your magic, that is.
The type of tricks you ultimately choose will have a big bearing on the possibility of you making money. And the type of tricks you need to start looking for are audience-pleasing tricks.
This is something professional magicians understand. Professional magicians know and use what audiences like because audience-pleasing magic gets you more bookings. It's that simple.
By thinking about the audience’s needs before your own, you win out. There is a rule of thumb that goes something like this: amateur magicians do 90% of their tricks for 10% of the audience, while professional magicians do 10% of their tricks for 90% of the audience. And much of that 10% that professionals do is easy-to-master magic.
Listen to the audience’s reaction. Michael got over 10 minutes worth of entertaining from nothing more than a simple card control and an even simpler card steal. Do you think Michael Finney gets lots of bookings? You bet.
So if you want to earn money from magic, you need to start doing one big thing: stop listening to other magicians. By that I mean the 90% of the magicians in the world who are amateurs.
But let's be clear. Amateur does not mean less skilled, and professional does not mean better. They are simply distinctions between whether or not you make a living from magic and entertaining. It may surprise you that many ‘amateurs’ have greater technical magical skills than many professionals, myself included.
Many amateurs are experts on moves and sleights. Their knowledge is encyclopaedic and respected. In card magic, these could be great cardicians like John Bannon and Simon Aronsen. Coin questions go to masters like Al Schneider. Professionals humbly seek these people’s advice, but these people aren't experts on what tricks work under fire, in the trenches of daily public performing. And it can be like a battlefield at times, so like any good soldier, you need to be prepared and have the right equipment for the task at hand.
The magicians you need to listen to are long-time working professionals, magicians like Michael Finney, Bob Sheets, Charlie Frye, and Bill Abbott. I mention them because they all have put out DVDs where they give you their commercial material, the stuff they earn their living with.
So after all that preamble, here we come to the meat of this article …
Tip #1: If any professional says they are offering you their professional material, pay attention.
Any one of their DVDs or books is worth at least 100 overhyped and under-delivering tricks that you will find advertised on online magic stores. (Though I must say, it's almost a rite of passage into magic to buy tricks, expectantly wait for the package to arrive, and open it to find a poorly constructed gaff that breaks or bends after a few goes, or has a multitude of angle and lighting problems. You slump in your chair and feel cheated and lied to ... again. It still happens to me. There are times that something catches my interest and I think I could use that. Later on, I couldn't believe I fell for the hype.)
To know which tricks you would have to stay away from to save your money, I list some of their tell-tale signs ….
- Warning sign #1 is if you don’t find a full, unedited performance on the video trailer, beware.
- Look for a quote or review from a working pro who says that this is going into their routine. Hmm, funny that, you rarely see one of those amongst the hyped-up tricks.
- Much of what is offered for sale is a rehash of existing tricks, though I don't think this is intentional. Many trick makers haven't bothered researching what is out there, and when they come across an idea, they hastily put it together and don't bother testing it in the real world. They shoot the video from a favourable angle and then promote it as the latest and greatest.
You've got to remember that magic has been around for hundreds of years, and the props and principles haven't changed much in that time. It's really just some bits of card, sticky tape, and sleight of hand. People haven't really changed much either. At many points in history, anyone who was inquisitive and had a bit of time on their hands could come up with cool little tricks and novel ideas. My point is, it is much harder to come up with new ideas these days, much harder.
So when you are told it is a brand-new principle, prepare to listen fairly but sceptically.
Tip #2: You DON’T have to search far and wide to find good commercial tricks.
You know why? Because they are right under your nose. These are many of the standard routines you see in older magic books. But that's old stuff, you say, no one wants to see that stuff anymore. What you really mean is magicians don't want to see it because they are bored and want the thrill of something new.
Your regular public audience, however, never or rarely get to see magic performed. It follows then that the general public aren't going to get bored with standard routines as these are likely something they have never seen before. (Remember, stop listening to magicians.)
Now I could tell you a list of great tricks like:
- Misers Dream
- Ambitious Card
- Homing Card
- Cups and Balls
Check out this video of Jeff McBride doing Misers Dream. It is a joy to watch because without saying a word, he entices a young audience member to join him and they start plucking coins from the air. The entire audience gets right into the moment. It is very 'magical' yet the moves required are not difficult to master.
There you have it, two tips that will get you on your way to building your cache of magic tricks. In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss other things to keep in mind when choosing tricks.