If becoming a close-up magician was as easy as following the rules laid down by the industry over the last few decades, then why aren’t all magicians created equal?
Herein, lies 5 rules I believe every close-up magician should break. An anarchic approach for those looking to ignore the rules laid down by the industry they call home.
Winners bend the rules; their willingness to diversify their approach makes them stand out from the crowd.
Break away from the herd and dip your toe into the taboo. Not everyone will like this advice. But let’s be honest, not everyone deserves to read it either.
A lot of young magicians and newcomers to the industry rely on me to give them the honesty that others deny them. Through fear of competition, or a mis-guided desire to protect them from making mistakes.
Their answers are often cryptic and leave those fresh performers in limbo.
Where do you go next?
Turn off your controversy alarms. They’ll be going crazy, and I don’t want the noise to distract you from this…
1. DON’T PRACTICE
One of the most offered pieces of advice given to all magicians is to simply ‘practice’.
Forum responses, instead of being detailed support, become a cliché of “Practice, practice & more practice.”
What does that arrogant response really mean to an aspiring magician?
It condemns them to a life of hobbyism.
Controversially so, much like this entire piece, is to NOT practice. My mantra always used to be…
Perform to practice.
The easiest way to learn is to fail, and a fresh audience will support you with some excellent advice and insight. I have forgotten my mothers response to every trick I ever tried to show her, but I remember every strangers “saw that!”.
Tiny micro-adjustments to my performances, misdirection or handling of a sleight were made each time until I finally became flawless.
I’ve seen technically gifted masters of their craft vanish a card, but with no patter, zero eye-contact and a flat climax.
I will always remember a school-friend Ryan Bradford who was dancing on stage in a club when he was 18. I said “Where do you get the confidence to dance in front of everyone?”
He spluttered cheap cocktails across the side of my face and said “The way I see it, I don’t know these other people and I’ll wake up tomorrow morning not knowing them either. So it doesn’t matter does it? I might never see them ever again”
That sentence alone gave me the safety net to perform without fear of ridicule.
2. NEVER SAY YOU’RE A MAGICIAN
My introduction at all tables I performed at was…
“Hi, I’m Geraint, I was hired by <<insert name>> today to entertain you. It’s totally free. **Smile – extends hand to shake their hand** … What’s your name?”
**Introduce yourself to everyone at the table**
“So we’re going to play a game for some free drinks, hands up if you gamble?”
… At that moment I’d go into Two Card Monte. Popularised by Blaine.
The reason for this, (and I have extensive theory on the subject) is that a guitar player is expected to be an impressive guitarist. A doctor on an plane is expected to be able to save the sick passenger, regardless of their specialism. A magician, if introduced as such, will be expected to be able to perform a trick.
It will be great, but it will be expected.
Now imagine if they don’t know you’re a magician. You never say so, and your first routine is framed as a game to win free drinks… it just happens to use a deck of cards.
Now imagine that spectators face, when they see two different cards to the ones they were convinced resided in their death grip. MIND = BLOWN.
Half the time they’ll lean in, eyes-wide and say “Oh my God! Are you a magician? That was incredible, do another one, do another one!!”
Set the bar low and you’ll always be able to jump it.
3.NEVER PRINT BUSINESS CARDS
One common misconception is that when someone asks you for a business card, they intend to keep it forever.
A business card is a worthless expense. Those who need to know you, know you… and if you’re good enough, word of mouth or social media will allow them to contact you.
Many times I’ve had calls from clients who say “Hope you don’t mind, Nick gave me your number.”
Despite my yearning for a clever logo, or thicker stock than a house-brick, a business card is a useless expense.
PRO TIP: If you perform a telephone trick. Like Non-toxic by yours truly. Your client, spectator, potential customer will have your number already in their phone. Take 30 seconds for them to save you as ‘magician’ in their phone.
PRO TIP 2: If you’re not a magician, say “Sorry, I don’t usually take new clients. I’m very busy. However, I’d love to help you out if I could. Take my number/email and send me a message with what you need. If I’m available, I’d love to find a way to work with you.”
The client-customer relationship is symbiotic. They need you, you need them. You don’t have to be so desperate to impress.
I’ve never given work to anyone who’s clearly fishing for it, and I’ve never booked/been hired to consult based on me being 100% available to their every beck and call.
Slow down and add value to yourself by not having a business card.
Ouch, I can feel the burning glares through this very screen. Some working pros are paypal-ing their orders for a Geraint Clarke voodoo doll as we speak.
Whether you’re new to business or not, clients have budgets and sometimes you’ll be outside of that margin.
Most would tell you to walk away, but a £80 night in Revolution Vodka bar could be the difference in you affording your car insurance or selling your body on Newport High Street at 3am at age 19. Am I right?
Jokes aside, there will be a point in your life where your expectations meet the reality and your assumed value will take a huge dive off a short pier.
It’s okay to under-charge. Promise.
My advice to everyone is that there are 3 types of businesses.
- The First
- The Best
- The Cheapest
Which one are you?
It’s okay to be any of them. The free market relies on it.
When I was 17 I charged £80 + Free drinks tab in Revolution Vodka bar as my residency (Until a competitor informed them I was underage to get their business)
Then I worked my way up to £300ph gigs at the Celtic Manor when I was 21, to which a man once exclaimed was more than his son, who’s a surgeon and I quote “Saves lives”. Way to make me feel inferior… Dad!
Nowadays I have increased my hourly rate again. I don’t take anything under my rate, unless it’s for a charity that’s close to my heart.
If you’re not comfortable with being the cheapest, someone else will be… and 74% of the time, they’ll get the gig.
(I made up that statistic, but my argument still stands your honour)
When you’re last to the party, you can’t be upset the champagne is gone.
Settle for Smirnoff… You’ll still have fun. 😉
5.DON’T HAVE A REPERTOIRE
“BURN HIM, BURN THE WITCH”
Maybe I’ve gone too far now. I did say these rules were meant to be broken.
This one is my favourite. Mostly because the real way to make your audience feel special is to tailor their experience where needed.
A deaf girl wants to see a trick, and you remember a great one. PERFORM IT.
A charity for the blind hires you. SAY YES. Get out of your comfort zone.
Often at gigs I get specific requests.
“Make the card go into his pocket”
“Can you pull a card through a window?”
My 10+ years of buying everything good Ellusionist has put out has given me a vast repertoire to choose from, as the situation arises.
Fluidity in your repertoire turns an audience into a friend.
My response is always “I don’t know… but we can try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll do something else amazing, but we’ll try it together”
Having 5 tricks you perform for 15 years is the fastest way to turn your passion into your job.
You’re a refugee of the 9-5 currently. Don’t go back.
I’ve often done an extra 20 minutes of tricks I never intended to do, with a group that’s LOVING my company, and omitted the tables who see you as an interference on their only child-free night of drinking since Blair got elected.
There’s solace in a slapdash, reactionary approach to your performances.
Allow yourself laxity.
Playing it safe doesn’t pay your mortgage and rules are meant to be broken anyway, aren’t they?
Photo credit : Dan Burgess