Advice: Going Professional
“ Show me any top entertainer or top business executive, and I`ll show you a guy who has mapped out his life from the very start.”
– Bobby Darin
I had two different magicians with similar questions. Chris P. Wrote: “ I’m not sure you can help me with this but as a fellow magician who has won several awards and made a nice name for himself I figured you would be as good a person to ask than anyone else. I was wondering if you could give me any suggestions as to how to get into magic professionally. I don’t want to be stuck doing birthday parties and little things like that. I want to light up a stage. I have done one stage show and I felt at home up there. Like thats where I belong. I don’t feel I am anywhere near as good as you or better than anyone else but I do feel I could entertain a crowd for a good amount of time if given the opportunity. So anything you can give me, any info, recommendations, suggestions, any help at all as far as how to get into magic as a career would be greatly appreciated. “
Brandon W. Also wrote to say: “ I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind throwing some advice my way. I want to perform! And I look up to a lot of different performers (you being one of them) and I just wanna know… What does it take to be performing as much as you or anyone else? What did you spend your time doing in the early stages of your career? Did you do nothing else but practice, compete, local performances, etc? What is the smartest way to make a career? “
Well these two question are basically for me so I will do my best to answer it alone. So you want to go Pro. Chris said he didn’t want to be “stuck” doing birthday parties. To be honest the majority of pro’s do lots of birthday parties. In fact I know of a few Vegas headliners who do bar mitzvahs! Why? Because they pay! Until just a few years ago I was making $35,000 a year on weekends doing birthday parties. I would still probably be doing them if I had started with a better marketing plan.
What did I do wrong? I used my own name instead of a character to promote and present the kids shows. This made it really difficult to expand into the corporate and comedy markets. Who wouldn’t freak out if they saw the guy who was booked for their little Billy’s party at a local comedy club doing more adult style humour! If I had it all to do again I would create a character like the Purple Pirate or Freddy Fusion (both names I helped to create for friends since learning my lesson). I would change my look so it was entirely different from the character I envision becoming for the bigger stage. Doing this would have allowed me the flexibility to expand a new market without losing the old one. Grandpa always said don’t burn the bridge until you get across. I personally don’t want to burn any bridges. Once I had a firm hold on the new market and wasn’t in need of the old one I could easily SELL the old market and the character to a young up and coming magician. That’s right, you can sell the kids show when you no longer want to present it anymore because it’s not you… it’s a character and a show with all the good will and contacts you have cultured over your career.
My Father always said you are in show-business. That’s two words and one is bigger than the other. Treat them that way! If you plan to be a pro, that means professional. That means learn about business, marketing, letter writing, telephone skills and communication. Learn to accept rejection. You’re going to get a lot of that during your entire career.
Nothing is better than standing in the spotlight. I live for those moments. It is the most comfortable place I know. The hardest thing is getting the gig to do what we were born to do. Study the market you wish to conquer. Look at others who have succeeded and use their actions as your road map. A time will come when you surpass those that you admire but by then you should have a firm grasp of what to do to continue your journey.
All of this advice will mean nothing if you don’t have the show. All the business skills in the world won’t help to make you a star. You must strive everyday to be a better you. To find a better way to do what you do and to keep your magic and your show current. This of course has to be done in tandem with your efforts on the business side.
In the beginning I did shows anywhere they would have me. I did three shows a day for thirty days at West Edmonton Mall on a riser stage for less money than I now pay in commissions to agents! Why? Because I got to do the show over and over to new audiences. Once I had a few acts that were well rehearsed, I went into contests. Why? I used contests as a vehicle to promote myself, to increase my skill level and to set myself apart from the other magicians. I practiced constantly but as I have said many times it is important how you practice. You can only stand in front of a mirror for so long and then you need to present it to a live audience. Only then will you know what works and what doesn’t. Yesterday I sat through a five hour stage contest and only one of the acts ever looked at the audience! The rest could have been doing their act in their basement and it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Take a moment and think of your favourite entertainer. It doesn’t have to be a magician, it could be a singer, comedian or actor. What is it that makes them so special to you? I’ll bet it is the fact you relate in some way to that artist. That in some way you and the artist made a connection. This is extremely difficult but worth learning. It will take you a lot further than the newest sleight or prop.
The when you decide to add new material to your show think about what everyone else is presenting … and don’t do it. Yes, that’s a hard task. I too have several pieces in my show that many others present, but I try to do them different. I try to make them my own. I am often stunned by the number of sub trunks I have seen in my life. Can you image how often a booking agent see this trick in a promo photo or DVD? Why would he book you instead of the other guy with the same prop? There is no reason. So why not make your sub trunk look like something else. Over the years great magicians figured this out and adapted the effect to different props. Jack Hughes created a Hat Box, Mark Wilson did Excalibur which was recently performed on America’s Got Talent by Michael Grasso and Greg Frewin has his Shrouded Transition. All of these magicians knew the value of being different. The same effect with a different looking prop makes you stand out in the crowd … yes there is a crowd!
It’s not an easy road. In my early days I ate ketchup and hot water for many a dinner. I had close friends who invited me to their homes just to make sure I was eating ! I lived in the worst apartments you could imagine and did shows in bars I would never dream to even enter now. All of these things helped me to be the man, the performer, I am today.
I would recommend you read Joel Bauer’s book “Hustle, Hustle” and the Tarbell course in magic to start. Michael Ammar has a wonderful audio CD which is even available on digital download on how to negotiate higher fees too. Find a mentor in your area. They don’t have to be a magician, just a great business person. Read, study and put into practice all you learn. Some will fail and other things will succeed. The secret is to learn from the failure and don’t do them again. My Grandpa used to say that a man who succeeds, is a man who aimed to low! If you have never failed … you really have never tried.
Get out there and do shows. Take a decent photo of yourself that you can use to sell you and your magic. Don’t make it look like all the ones you have seen before. Do it different! Borrow a video camera and make a short promo video and create a DVD to give to local agents and talent bookers. Call companies and clubs and ask them if they could use your services. Expect a lot to say no … but don’t write them off. Put them in a pile and in a few months call them again.
That’s basically what I have done all my life to a be a professional.
Keep well and busy …