How do you build professional connections when you can’t stand being around people? How do you network effectively when social situations make you feel like a fish in a frying pan? A panel on doing exactly that was held at the PAX East gaming convention back in April. The hour-long talk was mostly aimed at people working in and around the gaming industry, but also featured some sage advice from professional magician and face of Penguin Magic, Nick Locapo.
Note: You might also recognize Genii Online editor in Chief, Susan Arendt, at the podium. I feel I should mention that, with her being my boss and all.
Locapo makes a lot of helpful suggestions throughout the discussion, but really comes into his own at the 25 minute mark, when he starts talking about how he approaches audiences in the wild. Basically, he lies. He often tells people he only has time for a quick trick or two, giving him an excuse to bail if things aren’t going well and making his potential audience less defensive now they know they won’t be wasting hours of their time if the magician they just met turns out to suck.
He chimes in again at the 44 minute mark with some good advice about creating a positive experience first and then following up with the actual networking later on. There’s very few things more annoying than someone pumping you for career advice or promotion thirty seconds after they’ve introduced themselves. Instead, Locapo uses magic and comedy to make himself memorable, then follows up later via email. That might sound a bit manipulative on paper, but a lot of people really struggle with striking a balance between networking and being that guy who looks at everyone in the room like they’re a rung on his personal career ladder. Having a hard and fast rule about how long you wait before following up with a potential contact can help you avoid being that guy.
And you really want to avoid being that guy.
Here at GeniiOnline I work with promotional photographs of magicians every day, and can say with absolute authority that huge swathes of them are absolutely terrible (as are the websites I find them on). YouTube magician Chris Ramsay has also noticed this, and lists several of the most obvious issues with sub par promo shots in the video above. In a perfect world, it’d be mandatory viewing for every magician with an internet connection.
Money isn’t the issue. Photography studios can cost a pretty penny, yes, but professional photographers are like rats: You’re never more than six feet away from one and they mostly eat garbage. You can definitely find a photographer who can put out professional grade work on a budget if you look hard enough. Note: A tight budget isn’t an excuse to try and squeeze free, or insultingly cheap, work out of professional (or student) photographers. Please do not be that guy.
“If you’re going to do a professional photo shoot, put the time in, put the money in, put the effort in,” Ramsay says in the beginning of the video, “because that’s your image and it’s staying online as long as you choose.”
He’s actually slightly off there. The image isn’t staying online, “as long as you choose.” It’s staying online forever. Long after you’ve departed this mortal coil and your bones have turned to dust, that horrible photo of you with frosted-tips and sunglasses clutching a cle will still be lurking inside some ancient Google server, ready to slither out into the sunlight whenever someone searches for your name. Any promotional material you put online is nigh-permanently attached to you and your brand, so think before you upload.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a few tips and tricks for promotional photos straight from your friends at Genii Online:
If you do end up with bad promo shots, it’s not the end of your career. Get famous enough and even the worst photographs end up being kind of endearing.
Richard Turner documentary Dealt is an incredible character study, but of course the process to make a great artistic work doesn’t happen overnight. In director Luke Korem’s case, that process happened over several years because he threw out half of the film once he realized it wasn’t coming together as well as he’d like.
In an article written for No Film School, Korem discusses five important things he learned from making his second feature. While much of the advice is meant for filmmakers to take to heart (like “Don’t edit your own film”), there are still some interesting nuggets about the process of how Dealt‘s narrative took shape.
The reason why Dealt works so well (as we recounted in our review) is because it’s not just an account of Turner’s incredible life, but rather an essay on the nature of obsession and admitting your own limitations to yourself. But finding that story meant listening to what was going on around the film’s subjects’ lives and being willing to take a risk on extending the schedule beyond what they’d originally planned for. Korem explains:
…I realized mid-way through production on Dealt that there was a more powerful story to tell. The film at that point was mostly a past-tense biopic. The arc of the story was mostly what happened leading up to this point in the main character’s life. However, it wasn’t sitting right with me. I had reviewed a lot of the cinéma vérité we had filmed, and found it to be more interesting. I also sensed (from listening) that there was a present day conflict and story that was unfolding.
After considerable thought and a team meeting, we scrapped half the edit and reversed course. We decided to film for an additional full year. This also meant I needed to jump in the edit room because our main editor was no longer available. It all sounds crazy but it was the right move. The story we ended up telling has more weight and resonates with a greater audience. It was totally worth it.
You can read the rest of the article here, which offers other nuggets into Dealt’s creation, as well as great advice for both filmmakers and anyone interested in crafting a interesting story from unlikely sources. Dealt is available to watch on DVD and available to rent digitally through iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Google Play, and more.
For all the time spent perfecting tricks and developing a persona, many magicians don’t invest the same energy in treating their craft as a business. If you want to make magic your career, then it’s time to readjust your thinking.
Marketing isn’t a bad thing to do, and it doesn’t have to be smarmy or interfere with your artistic expression. Marketing is simply a way to get you in front of an audience. Getting an audience is how you get paid.
Fortunately, the business side of magic is like any other impressive trick: once you know how it’s done, it’s not so hard.
So gather ‘round, students. Class is in session. Our first lesson is about your website and the five common mistakes it’s probably making.
If you want to get gigs, you need a website. Sure, Instagram or Facebook might be great for helping to build your fan base, but in order to do business, you’ll want to have a place that’s literally your own domain.
Websites are a must for establishing yourself as a professional. It’s standard practice for any business and magic is your business. Even if you’re only a part-time or hobby magician, if you want to get hired, you should have a website. It’s the place where you present all the information a possible client might want to know, from clips of your act to glowing testimonials to services available. It’s likely the first thing somebody will seek out when they look you up. If you don’t have a website that sells them on your skills, they’ll probably hire somebody else.
Even if the website creation is free, there are a few costs to account for. First, you’ll need to buy a domain name. Second, you’ll need a hosting service. Again, there are lots of options and many of them are low (or no) cost. Some of them are bundled into the website creation services. As you establish yourself and get more interest from clients, you may find you want to spend more on extra frills, but it is possible to keep your annual website maintenance budget around $20 if you go the bare-bones route.
There’s no excuse not to have one. Just do it.
In terms of Internet trustworthiness, a website with comic sans font and design cues taken from Geocities might as well not exist. There’s a reason you don’t see sites that look like this anymore. The styles from the early days of the web look cheesy at best and amateurish at worst to a contemporary viewer, who’ll find it challenging to take you seriously if that’s how you present yourself digitally. This is true whether you’re just breaking into the field or whether you’ve been steadily landing jobs since 1997.
Again, you don’t need to be an ace hacker or graphic designer to keep your website up to date. Most platforms for managing a website have easy options for changing both the presentation and the content.
If you need inspiration for the latest looks in website design, check out a few advertising agencies’ websites. Agencies exist to make themselves and others look good, and you can learn a lot from their presentation choices. For instance, Droga5 is simple and elegant, Ogilvy is more old-school, and 72andSunny is all about the bold images.
When it comes to the content, just set aside 15 minutes every few months, or every few weeks if you’re very active, to make sure all of your website’s information is current. That’s especially important when it comes to show and tour dates. If the most recent show you have listed was back in 2016, people will likely assume you haven’t done anything since then. That’s not the kind of unintentional testimonial you want to present to the world.
Humans are visual creatures. You already know that if you’re a magician; you probably exploit that knowledge frequently in your act. A compelling visual is just as important to landing gigs as it is to misdirecting your audience.
Photos set expectations for your potential clients. They can immediately give a sense of your personality and your approach to magic. Plus it’s a perfect chance to show off how delighted audiences are by your act. And once you land the gig, you’ll also need shots to share with press. Whether it’s a local newspaper, a theater, or the online home for magic and deception, the press wants to show you in action in our coverage.
Remember, your website might be the first impression you make on someone thinking of hiring you. Put your best face forward; nothing blurry or washed out by stage lights. Ideally, post photographs that are at least 600 pixels wide. Many magicians opt to have an entire section of their website dedicated to media, with both photo and video examples of their work. That is a great strategy.
The photos can come from an on stage performance or from a studio. They can come from a professional photographer or a friend with a nice smartphone camera. They can be as serious or silly as you are. But they should definitely exist.
Congratulations, someone wants to hire you! But your website just links to your Facebook Page and that’s the only way they can get in touch. No gig for you.
First things first: get yourself a work email address. Considering how much preliminary back and forth can be involved with landing a new client, most people will likely reach out by email. It lets them communicate on their own schedule, plus you’ll always have a written log of what you’ve discussed. Gmail is the world’s standard email provider, and it’s very simple to set up an account. Just go with your name, maybe with the word “magic” or “magician” attached, and hey presto, you have a place for all your business communication.
Or, if you want to look extra fancy, many of the companies that provide your website domain can also make you a companion email address. For instance, if your website was JaneDoeMagic.com, you could have an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. Squarespace and WordPress are two options offering that service.
Make sure you put your new contact information on your site. Put it somewhere obvious, either directly on the home page or under a tab titled “Contact.” Your website is about making it as easy as possible to hire you, so don’t bury the most important details in that process.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t include your social profiles. Quite the contrary. In addition to both your professional email address and work phone number, have links to your relevant social media accounts. If you only use Facebook to keep in touch with family members or LinkedIn is just about your day job, don’t bother to include them. But any social presence you have that focuses on magic and performance should absolutely be included.
Are you reading this article on a smartphone? Odds are good that you are, because those tiny pocket-sized computers are where many people now spend hours of their screen time. Especially if you have a strong following on a mobile-focused platform like YouTube or Twitter, most your website visits are probably happening on a phone. If your site takes more than a minute to load, or simply doesn’t display well on that smaller screen, you won’t get many repeat visitors. That means fewer chances for clients.
Once again, leaning on a full-service website company makes this a moot point. They can take care of making sure your information looks good at any size. If you’re going the DIY route, look for language like “Mobile-friendly” or “Responsive Layout” in your website theme. And whenever you make updates to the site, double-check that everything is displaying properly on both a laptop and a mobile device.
According a recent post on popular magic blog, The Jerx, the real distinction between the professional and amateur magician isn’t the money lining the former’s pockets, but the context of their work.
“Are your performing theatrical/presentational magic, or are you performing social magic?” it asks.
It’s a rhetorical question, so don’t answer that, and you probably shouldn’t be answering questions posed to you by magic blogs on the internet anyway, but if you are a budding trickster looking to get down and dirty with close up social magic, The Jerx does have some advice.
I can sum up the most basic elements in one easy to remember cliche: Be yourself.
Yeah, I know, you just sighed your pelvis out through your nostrils. Everyone breaks out that old chestnut at some point. I’ve lost track of the amount of people who’ve told me to be myself, only to ask me to stop being myself ten minutes later, but in this scenario it’s solid advice. The key to social magic, according to our mysterious tutor, is the illusion of spontaneity.
Social magic should resemble a normal, casual conversation right up until you draw the right card, pull a coin from somewhere a coin should not be, or saw someone’s wife in half. Keeping things natural isn’t just about execution, it’s also about context. Spontaneous patter and choice trick selection can be the difference between your audience talking about the magician they just met in a tweet or in a police report.
The key mistakes that budding social magicians make most often are:
Overly rehearsed patter: You want your presentation to flow like a conversation, not like a performance of Henry VIII. Keep it light. Take a cue from The Incredibles and don’t get caught monologuing.
Forced Jokes: Notice how reading this article makes you want to push me into a ravine? That’s all the forced jokes eating away at your patience. Same goes for magic patter. Funny people don’t need jokes to be funny. Unfunny people can’t use jokes to be funny. Cut them out.
Repetitive Tricks: The longer a trick goes, the less spontaneous it appears. Pulling someone’s card from their pocket is cute, exhuming their dead grandmother and finding their card clutched to her cold, skeletal breast is a bit much. Pushing a trick too far or having an obvious structure to your performance will leave close audiences uncomfortable rather than amazed.
And that’s just a surface level summary. The post goes into an impressive amount of detail about the structure and psychology of close performances. You can read the full thing here.
Penn & Teller: Fool Us has become a destination of sorts for budding magicians; a place where performers looking to make a name for themselves by trying to pull the wool over the famous duo’s eyes in an attempt to win an opening slot at their show in Las Vegas. And whether you successfully fool them or not, you’ve got a killer demo reel for your portfolio to show off to potential clients.
If you’re at a point in your career where you’re trying to appear on Fool Us, you’ll want to listen to this week’s episode of the Discourse in Magic podcast, which features an interview with Michael Close. Close is one of two magic consultants for the show, and has recently released a series of instructional books called Paradigm Shift, and even hosts a free online course called Magician’s Masterclass – so he knows a thing or two about what makes a good trick for television. The hour-long podcast is a great listen, covering everything from his background in magic to the best way to hone your routine for a television audition.
The answer to the question “How do I make sure I’m confident enough in my routine that I don’t fall flat on my face” is simple: practice. But the harder questions is: How do you know you’ve practiced enough? Vinh Giang from 52Kards takes a couple minutes to give his thoughts on the matter, literally moments before performing in front of a few thousand people. He lives by the old theater standby: “One minute of stage-time is equivalent to two hours of rehearsal time.”
It sounds like a lot, but being well-rehearsed means that you’re not only able to perform your routine like it was second nature, but you’re also prepared for when things go wrong – which is often where a lot of the fear lies.
He also talks about making sure you practice the things you say as much as you practice what you’re doing with your hands. It’s something a lot of people forget when practicing, but it ensures that delivery and performance is as flawless as they can be.
What about you? How do you know you’ve practiced enough? Let us know in the comments below.
Rick Smith Jr. is the Guinness World Record holder for card throwing height, distance, and accuracy. He’s been on the talk show circuit, performed all over the world, and most recently on Dude Perfect, a YouTube channel with 26 million subscribers, in a video that reached over 52 million people.
“What does card throwing have to do with magic?” he asked the crowd at Magi-Fest 2018. “Nothing.”
But that hasn’t stopped him from using card throwing as his path toward greater success in magic. After showing off his skills to the crowd, he talked about his own career. While he’d seen some success travelling to schools to perform tricks and give speeches, he’d had trouble breaking out into the wider, increasingly over-saturated world of magic performance. It wasn’t until he discovered his own uncanny talent, almost by accident, that he decided to use it to parlay that ability into more gigs.
While the talk itself was relatively brief and generalized, it’s still incredibly useful advice for any budding illusionist. What skills or interests do you have that aren’t magic, and how can you use those to build your career and help you stand out? Do you have an encyclopedic knowledge of film? Are you a computer whiz? Can you play a wicked cover of the saxophone solo from George Michael’s Careless Whisper? Whatever skills you have, find a way to work them into your act. It’ll likely be better for it.
Stay tuned to GeniiOnline for more reports from the heart of Magi-Fest 2018.
Magic shops and inventors love to push new gear—of course they do, that’s their whole job. But how do you know if that hot new effect is actually worth picking up and learning because it’s good and not just because it’s new? To make that decision, magic blog The Jerx puts new gimmicks through a routine they like to call “The Green Grass Test”. From the post:
I think, as magicians, it’s easy to get caught up in the new thing. At least it is for me. And when I see the “new” thing it’s very easy to fall into the trap that this new thing is better than whatever dumb old thing it’s replacing.
One day I realized that was a very magician-centric style of thought. I was purchasing variations on effects just because they tickled my fancy (as opposed to my spectator’s collective fancies).
So then I came up with the Green Grass Test to prevent myself from falling into the “newness” trap. The test is simply this: When a new trick is released that is a variation on an older trick—or that creates a similar effect as an old trick—I imagine that the new trick is the old trick, and the old trick is the new trick. And then I determine which one I would be drawn to…The purpose of this is to try and figure out if I’m drawn to this new version because it’s new, or because it’s genuinely better.
They then go on to use a trick called Off World as an example. It’s a new spin on the Out of the World routine that’s recently been making the rounds on the internet, and people seem genuinely impressed by it. But The Jerx decided to flip the script: what if Off World was the trick that’s been around for decades, and along comes Out of this World, which pulls off the same effect without any special gimmicks. Which is more impressive?
Of course, the question is rhetorical, and your mileage may vary—the brand new trick may actually be more visually impressive or otherwise better for the audience—but it’s a good thing to keep in mind while load up your online shopping cart full of new tricks to learn during the holiday shopping spree.
While YouTube magician Chris Ramsay was in New York giving a talk about his work (which, according to Ramsay, should be up in the next week or so), he took a few minutes to offer his thoughts in the video above on how magicians and magic fans should communicate with people about magic. For him, there are two audiences—the people who want to simply be amazed, and the people who want to know how everything works—and both audiences are valid and should be catered to. He likens it to the symbiotic relationship between a clockmaker and the clock collector; one cannot exist without the other. “There’s a certain tact to [how magicians should talk about method],” Chris says in the video, “but at the same time, we should commend the curiosity of those who want to know it’s done.” Figuring out that line between secrecy and openness, though, is the tricky part.