HomeBlogsMister Tim's blogOf Music and Magicians: pt 1 of 2

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Hypothesis: Within the entertainment industry, a cappella groups are more similar to MAGICIANS than to any other act (including bands).

Read below for details, and get ready to discuss!

Remember, this is just a hypotheses... even if it’s not totally right, is some of it right?  Use your critical, scientific mind.

This hypothesis is based on the considerable time I’ve spent in the last several months meeting and networking with Las Vegas entertainers, including gobs of magicians (not G.O.B.s of magicians). This is in addition to years at fairs, entertainment showcases, variety shows, and street festivals where magicians congregate like lint in my belly button.


1) There are tons of them.  Dime a dozen.  All over the place.  Super pros, pros, semi-pros, amateurs.

2) The general public doesn’t know there are that many magicians: they are not A-list celebs (except Chriss Angel why does he have 2 ‘s’es in his name?); not on TV all the time; the public doesn’t see it all the time; we don’t read magazine articles about magicians.  You may not even be aware how many magicians there are.

3) Pretty much everyone is aware of magicians as a concept, you’ve seen one before, the general public knows it exists, even if they don’t think about it often or at all. 

4) The general public doesn’t see magicians very often.

5) Magicians exist mostly as a novelty.

6) Magicians are, to a degree, disposable entertainment.  They do their show, and when they’re done, yay, let’s go get another funnel cake! (reference to the fair circuit, usually populated by at least one performing magician act per fair.  Mmmmm, funnel cake).

7) Magicians have a very specific stereotype used to portray them in popular media.  Often, it is a less than kind stereotype.  Caricature at best, derogatory at worst.

8) Magicians don’t typically headline major events, concerts, or theaters.  Still, they can make a good living, doing sideshow work, variety shows, lower bill.

9) There is very little to differentiate one magician from another.  One might specialize in sleight of hand, one in grand illusions, one in wrapping their tricks up in mystical or gothic or seductive trappings, but when it comes down to it, there are only so many magic tricks.  No one is doing anything unique or original. 

10) That’s not to say magicians can’t still be very entertaining, even if you’ve seen tons of them.  Even if you know how they do their tricks.  Even if you’ve seen their exact act before.  Some magicians are just fun to watch.  Some are just so good that it’s entertaining even if you know how it’s done.  Some have additional components to their show that make it awesome.

In the comments section below, discuss how you think this applies, or not, to a cappella.  Also, what you think sets the good acts apart from the not as good. 

Please be civil.  I just had some dental work done.

Music and MAGIC




First of all, respectfully, [comment removed by moderator]. 

I know it is not a good idea to start a civilized comment with such an inflammatory remark, but this whole post offends me both as a magician and as an a cappella singer. And I am both. (I have sung for 4 different a cappella groups including the Stanford Fleet Street Singers and a CASA group in New York called "Red States" (Politically unaffiliated) and I have worked as a magician professionally for a number of years in restaurants, theaters, etc). You are way off base. Your comparisons are inapt it seems as though you just don't have the kind of experience with magicians to make the kinds of statements you are making. 

Many of the more serious magicians in the US and UK have been working very hard to dissipate such stereotypes and stereotypical thinking and honestly, I would appreciate it if you'd take down this post since it is only serving to feed negative stereotypes of my profession and my hobby. To my mind, this post serves no constructive purpose, and for the people who see it (mostly those already engaged in niche entertainment) it will only exacerbate existing, negative, and incorrect stereotypes. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying that such terrible, stereotypical magicians are out there. They are, and it's unfortunate. But it isn't fair to compare major, famous bands to unknown a cappella singers and magicians. There may be a bunch of mediocre magicians floating around who are a dime a dozen, but there are also a bunch of bands, both rock and vocal who are mediocre and who are disposable entertainment. How many times have you been to a wedding with a live band that is disposable entertainment, or even a club with live music and you never knew or cared about who the band was. I would venture to say that the large majority of people making their livings playing in bands are not famous, but respectably gigging just like magicians and a cappella groups. 

Thus, if you are going to compare a cappella groups to anyone, the better comparison is still to gigging rock groups. They are struggling from coffee club to coffee club and very few have made it big, but we should point out that some a cappella groups HAVE made it big and are in the mainstream: Take 6, Rockappella, etc. It's a better comparison between a cappella as a genre and say... jazz as a genre rather than a cappella as a style of entertainment and magicians as a style of entertainment. There are a ton of jazz performers around, but for the most part, they haven't made the Billboard chards or stadium tour circuit in a while. Every once in a while there is a big crossover artist like Norah Jones or Dave Brubek, but for the most part, audiences who like jazz seek out jazz musicians in the same way that audiences who like a cappella seek out a cappella. There's no need to bash magicians to point out that a cappella has very few groups in mainstream popular culture. 

As for magicians not doing anything original, this is where my "screw you" comes into play. David Blaine had a fascinating take on magic, professing to be a person actually born with powers and calm about it. He also turned the camera back on the audience and made audience reaction the focus of a magic show. That is an incredibly original and interesting presentation for magic that had never been done before. He also brought magic into the mainstream again. There are the David Blaine parody YouTube videos that have become more popular than any a cappella video to circulate, and as for your comment that you never read articles about magic and magicians in magazines, you are wrong there too. There have been a number of COVER PAGE articles in Newsweek, the New Yorker, and Harpers over the last 2 or 3 years. That's more than anyone can say of a cappella. In the UK, Derren Brown has developed what is probably the newest development in Magic, his methods are new and interesting (if you know them) and his presentation is not one of "Magic" as in super powers, but as in "influence" like NLP, suggestion, misdirection, etc. While he uses "magic" methods, that is not how it reads to the audience. It reads as an interesting demonstration of subconscious suggestion. Brown has also brought magic back to the legitimate theater. He has played sold-out runs at a number of West End Theaters in England, and toured all over the country. Finally, if you tell me you can't differentiate Penn and Teller from other magicians around, you are just lying. They are incredibly famous celebrities here in the United States. They have a distinct personality and point of view, and they've been in the public eye for a long time. 

I could go on for a long time naming other famous magicians: David Copperfield -- USA, Cyril -- Japan, Paul Daniels -- England (all incredibly famous celebrities in their countries and beyond). But we don't really have the time or space here. 

You say you met and learned about magicians from county fairs, street fairs, and "networking" in Las Vegas. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you've only seen a very narrow swath of the magicians who are out there? That's like saying "I've spent a ton of time listening to musicians in various symphony halls all over the country. No musicians anywhere have any sense of beat or dance music, and it's too bad no musicians ever use their voices." 

There are restaurant magicians, there are corporate party magicians, there are concert magicians, there are theater magicians -both small theaters and larger ones, there are TV magicians, and yes, there are street performers and fair magicians, but you seem to only fall back on the stereotypical understanding that you've inherited -- a knee-jerk reaction to something you thought up rather than actually doing the research to find out whether these genres are similar at all. 

Few of the people who read your demeaning post will read my comment, so I'd just appreciate it if you'd take down the post. If you want to talk more offline, I'd be happy to. You can email me at michael@magicmichael.com. You are entitled to your opinion, but I hope you will recognize that this post is demeaning, offensive and not that well thought out. I love Gob and Arrested Development, but at least that's tongue-in-cheek. Your sincere attack on a lot of great magicians who are doing some incredibly creative and interesting things, methodologically, presentationaly and artistically is simply mean and it is not becoming of this website or the a cappella community. 




I like this post a lot! I don't think I would ever make that comparison on my own, but I think you hit a few nails on the head - I think the general public's perception of the two match up pretty in sync. That's not to say that those of us in the a cappella community want it that way, but to the world at large, I agree with many of your perception points.

An exception might be groups like Straight No Chaser (the pro group which was signed to a record label). I can't think of anything that might parallel to that, as I can't recall ever hearing of a magician having an equivalent of a record label.

But even the levels of professionalism make sense to me - an amateur magician might learn a trick from a handbook or manual, as an amateur group might learn one of Deke's arrangements. Or a professional group might rely on their sound guy for balance and effects, as a professional magician may rely on his tech guys for lighting and pyrotechnics.

Two other things - First, I have to say I'm happy that CASA and Co. is on the opposite side of the secret spectrum to the Alliance of Magicians. I don't think I've ever interacted with a group of people so eager to share and assist each other, from giving advice to tricks of the trade, usually without a second thought.

Secondly, and this is the most frustrating thing about reading this post, I really wish that a cappella was associated with funnel cake. MMMmmmm....funnel cake.


Mike said: "to my mind, this

Mike said: "to my mind, this post serves no constructive purpose, and for the people who see it (mostly those already engaged in niche entertainment) it will only exacerbate existing, negative, and incorrect stereotypes."

 I think there is a very distinct purpose to this type of post - to help the a cappella community see itself better. A lot of times, we have tunnel vision and can't really imagine the way non-acaheads view our art and our concerts and our scene in general. For what it's worth, I don't think Tim is really dissing magicians so much as creating an (humorously hyperbolic) analogy to another much-publicly-beleaguered art form so that aca-heads can understand the type of misgivings, misrepresentations or stereotypes we're up against when disseminating or marketing our own art form.


CASA Director of Fundraising
Elegant Catastrophe Singers 2008 - 2009
Downtown Crossing 2004 - 2007
Stanford Harmonics 2001-2004

Concurring in part and dissenting in part

I agree that the a cappella community sometimes has a hard time seeing itself from an outside perspective -- it is something that many in the magic community are always concious of. 

But I still think it is a problem that Tim finds magicians TO BE a humorously hyperbolic analogy. In much the same way it is offensive to many people to insult something by calling it "gay," I find it offensive to insult (or point out the problems with) a cappella by comparing it to magic, since, of neccessity that implies that magic embodies everything that is unfortunate about a cappella. 

I guess when such words come from someone who is NOT IN the magic community, I don't find this "humorously hyperbolic." I found it pretty mean. Sure there are a cappella stereotypes, but why do we have to feed stereotypes about magicians to even allow ourselves to see the ones about a cappella?


I think Tim's really onto something here. There are some strong parallels that I'd never thought of before. I agree that magic is pretty much as Tim describes it. Cheesy rehashes of age-old tricks. True innovation isn't required, because there's no need to start from scratch. Most magicians aren't writing their own tricks, but rather doing slight variations on the same things that have been done for decades or centuries, all of which have some intrinsic value and beauty at their heart.

BTW, Blaine strikes me as a douche and the worst kind of attention whore, and can we STOP with the wind machines and silent, scantily clad assistants, please? As a personal friend of Penn Jillette's and someone who has also been a fan and follower of their career for years, I know that these guys truly ARE breaking new ground (Tim - I gotta get you some comps - you NEED to see them live). They are innovative, shocking, inspiring and hilarious. There is artistry because they are brilliant individuals where most other magicians, I would suggest, are rehashing what's already been done due to lack of funds, time or the extraordinary brainpower that (people like P&T) have. Likewise, it's easy to be in an a cappella group, but difficult to be in a groundbreaking one. You don't even have to write music! Just write or get some arrangements of already existing songs and execute them reasonably well. It can breed complacency in some sense/s, and I think Tim is challenging us as a community, as artists, to do MORE. To stretch our artistic muscles more, to aim for innovation instead of just cameraderie (though that has its merits, of course), to actively defy (or at least acknowledge) those stereotypes. I could be off the mark here, and Mr. Tim can correct me, but that's how I see it. And as Web Content Director of this site, I don't think this article is out of line. It's clearly Tim's opinion. He's encouraging discussion, and I think his points are valid.

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

let's not go too far.

With your "wind machines and skantily clad women" comment, I can only assume you are referring to Hans Klock (and maybe early-80s Copperfield), who has become a new (and unfortunate) stereotype for stage magicians. I agree that it's an unfortunate image, but there are relatively few magicians in this world who still perform in that style and I don't think it's fair to dismiss all magicians based on those few. 

P&T are great, but there are other greats around too. As for David Blaine, let's not confuse his performance character with his actual person. I don't know him very well personally, but I do know a few of his top consultants well who all say that, in person, he's a very dedicated magician who actually cares and works diligently for the art. 

As far as the fact that this is only TIm's opinion, let's please remember that opinions, too can be offensive, or at least couched in offensive terms. The underlying statement about a cappella may be valid, but it isn't neccesary to take potshots at magicians to make that point. 

nope, not just Klok (and Pamela Anderson as assistant??)

Actually, I've seen numerous magicians who follow that model. Don't know their names, but they all have that grandiose music going, the wind machines, the same overwrought movements. I'm sure that lots of people love it - it's just too much for me. I also find Blaine's spectacles uninteresting, though Penn says he's a nice guy. I'm much more interested in the guy working on a small scale who is doing something new and fresh.

As for what's offensive and what's not, there's a chance that anything that comes out of anyone's mouth could potentially offend someone. Sometimes important discussions ruffle feathers. It's my job to make sure that everything on the site is civil, and so far, the only person who's breached that in this discussion...has been you, with the first thing you said (tagging it with "respectfully" doesn't negate it). We're leaving everything up because the discussion is important, but please know that personal attacks won't be tolerated going forward. With that said, speak your piece!

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

I see both sides

I read Tim's post agreeing along the way as I too have had experience in the fairs, festivals and even Cruise Ships worlds. Then I read Mike's post and saw where he was coming from too.

The accuracy of the general points and comparisons of Tim's post are pretty eary if you ask me. I too wouldn't have thought of that example at first. But Mike did bring up some pretty big name magicians and made solid arguments for how they are original acts and not just generic "seen it once you've seem em all".

So you two can thumb wrestle over who's right. I get the whole passionate response thing too. But, as you all have seen, it gets me into trouble a lot too. :-(

So I would say that, as I should more often, you might have gotten further with Tim if you had maybe walked away from the computer, took a breather and then maybe come back to respond with a cooler head. I will say though that as passionately as I disagreed with some of the things in Tim's recent post about self-editing and things being crap, I would NEVER have asked him to take down his post. Thanks to freedom of speech, even unpopular speech is protected no matter how much it offends or pisses us off. As Amy stated, this is a blog where people state their opinions. Tim has every right to express his (to you very mean spirited) opinions on here. He DID open the floor for discussion too which gave you a perfect opportunity to RESPECTFULLY disagree. (I know, pot calling the kettle black)

I also agree with Amy and others that we need to take a harder, more critical look at ourselves as a community and also realize that maybe just maybe we some times are "legends in our own minds" and that the non-a cappella world might not see what we do as something as special as we think it is.

Maybe a more magician-friendly way to compare would be that there are lots of magicians (groups) but very few really great ones. BUT...there ARE great magicians (groups) and they deserve the respect that they've earned.

OMG don't look now but I think I was just diplomatic. God! I hardly know myself any more. ;-)


No, Michael.

I'll keep this brief and say nothing re the "argument", while hopefully cooler heads prevail:

A comment that starts with "screw you" does not bear, nor give any respect, Michael. Rationalizations and backpedaling aside, you negate your point - and yourself - with this tack.

About Me Diovoce Studios CASA Board of Directors

another similarity!

11) there are insiders who, out of zeal and dedication, are always willing to take up arms to defend, extensively, the honor of their art.

I'm glad that mfeldman is here - I never thought I'd get a magician _and_ an a a cappella singer to test my theories on!  Suggestions about how I should treat myself intimately notwithstanding, I thought you brought up a lot of great points!  Which I will discuss in pt 1.5 of 2.

A couple points, though, as pertain to this comment stream:

First, I was not attacking magicians.  It was not my intention to offend, and I honestly don't see anything in my post that could be deemed as offensive.  If anything, I'm defending magicians.  By pointing out stereotypes, flaws (as perceived by my, my opinion) and negative images, I was not saying I agreed with them: I was saying they exist (which is not disputed) and therein lies kinship with a cappella.  This is my opinion; you certainly don't have to agree with it.

Second, as I'll state in greater depth in a soon-to-be-posted other blog, I love magicians.  I think they are great.  For whatever realities I perceive about the business and industry of magic, or entertainment, I still giggle like a giddy goat when I see a great magician rip off some excellent sleight of hand.  I was actually trying to hold magicians up as the ideal, as what a cappella acts should be emulating.  Which I'll describe in detail in the posts to come.

That would have been nice

If the original post had been phrased in such terms, I would have been much less offended. 

If you had actually said "I love magicians, but they are much maligned in popular culture, just like a cappella," that would have been fine. But you phrased it in what I could consider "combative" terms. Hence the beginning of my original response (Which i now regret since it seems to have been blown out of proportion)

But what you said is that magicians don't ever do anything original, that they are a dime a dozen, and that we are disposable. I'm just not entirely certain why you can't see that someone might find the way you phrased that to be offensive. 

Finally, please remember that, opinion or not, it can still be offensive. Many things that are offensive are opinions. Lot's of people are of the opinion that all gay people are sinners and bad people. Lots of people are still of the opinion that women are inferior. Now I'm not saying what you said was AS BAD as those opinions. I'm just pointing out that you should not be surprised that someone might be offended when the opinion you post on a public forum is derisive to magicians in ways that I think are just not empirically true if you look at what is really going on in the magic community. 

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