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

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(remember, the point of this is to think about how, or if, this applies to a cappella groups)

Question: What sets the great, super-successful magic acts apart from the less-successful ones?

In pt 1.5 of 2 I discussed what I meant when I said there are only so many tricks.  The content of a magic show is not going to be that different from one act to another.  So what makes some great, and others less so?

Hypotheses: regardless of your act, the core of what you are doing is not nearly as important as the 3 Ps.

What are the 3 Ps?

I’ve developed the 3 P system, and you can have the secret by mailing me 2 easy installments of 12.95… okay never mind I’ll just tell you.




(See, don’t you think that’s worth 3 easy payments of 12.95?)

To be a gigging magician, you have to have a minimal amount of skill, of course.  You have to have a show, of course.  The truth is, however, that you’re not doing anything original.  In Vegas you can see it all… if you want, you can see it all five times in one day at five different theaters!  There are only so many tricks.  So what makes one act so much more successful than another?  Why do some big names get SO BIG when others don’t?

Personality: the artist has it in spades (MAGICIAN PUN ALERT).  Frequently the personality or image becomes bigger than anything else.   But they have something: they are extremely likable, they are intriguing, they are mysterious, they are brainy… they have something captivating about their person.  David Copperfield, Chrisssss Angel, Penn & Teller.

At the most basic level, a magician is an ENTERTAINER.

There’s a lady magician in Vegas, and I really want her to succeed, but she has the personality of a Formica countertop.  I have no idea what she’s like in person!  On stage, she does not have IT.

Presentation: that’s what a magic trick is.  All presentation.  The tricks are all the same; what makes them great is how they are presented.  Do it well, it’s mystifying.  Do it poorly, and *yawn*.  Do it with white tigers, and VAVOOOM!

At the most basic level, a magician is an ENTERTAINER.

It’s all about the show.  It’s the music, the lighting, the dancing girls, the fog, the HOLY CRAP HE JUST MADE A HELICOPTER APPEAR ON STAGE.

Presentation applies to close-up magic, too.  How you sell the trick.  Establishing a relationship with the audience, getting them to feel, act, react certain ways.  All the finger wiggling, the touching the head, the dramatic pauses.  Presentation.  These things are not random or spontaneous, even though if they are done right the seem that way.

Polish: it’s not just knowing how to do a trick: it’s doing it so well, every time, that it boggles the mind.  It’s rehearsing it to the bone.  It’s putting a show together that is slick, top to bottom, to distract from whatever flaws there might be.

At the most basic level, a magician is an ENTERTAINER.

The polish is what sets the uber-successful acts apart from the not as much.  Same can be said for bands, for comedians, for bizarre French circus shows: it’s the last 2%, the tiny nuance, the ultra-specific details that no one will ever notice, but that just make things… work.

Perhaps the best thing to learn from magicians is that they work really, really hard at their craft.  Magician bios almost always reference how long they’ve been doing it: started at age 7, performing professionally from age 15.  They do this stuff for a LONG time!  YEARS at theme parks and fairs, small venues, working their way up.  They do this for ages, adding new tricks, tweaking old ones, learning from mentors, performing ALL THE TIME.

Might be as important: the successful ones understand the entertainment business, the industry, and they know how to work their acts, to work the 3 Ps, and to market themselves to get work.

If there is any value in anything I’ve written about this subject, it is this: go back and substitute a cappella/singer/a cappella group/my a cappella group in wherever it says magic/magician etc.  Think about it, and decide for yourself if it applies: all these (opinionated) observations about magicians, can the same be said for a cappella?  If so, what does that mean?  If not, should it?

There are a lot of successful magic acts out there!  Maybe that’s another lesson a cappella artists should learn: there is enough work to go around, and by working together we can actually make more business opportunities for all of us than we could alone.  Magicians know how to network, share trade secrets, help out the new acts… and they don’t fear that they are going to lose business because of it, or if they do, they share anyway because that’s what you do.



Wrong premise interesting conclusion

I am going to have to disagree with your premise. All magic is not the same and all magicians are NOT doing the same effects. As one of the magicians trying to do original work, I'd like to set the record straight. 

Each year well-known (in the magic community at least) magicians publish new books with new effects. Magic shops are filled with HUNDREDS of books and DVDs each with new and original material. Some effects are the same with different methods, but often the effects themselves are new and different.  

Penn and Teller are not performing the same things as Mac King (Harrah's in Vegas -- also a great show) who is not performing the same things that I do. Originality is possible and it's a great thing. Sure many magicians perform classic effects, and sure the ones with great presentations go further than those who are blah, but Derren Brown in England is a huge, A-list national celebrity in England because he created new and original magic. Likewise, Penn and Teller and David Copperfield are famous in the US because what they did was new, different and original (though many people have copied them since then) 

What I will agree with you on, is that a cappella can learn from THIS fact. Originality IS possible in a cappella. The great crossover groups like Rockappella and Take 6 often dramatiaclly alter the original song when arranging it. If your goal in arranging is to sound exactly like the original, many people would rather just go listen to the original. But if you create something that is new, so that the audience MUST come to you in order to hear it, then you'll be succesful if there is an audience who wants to hear it. Rockapella is best known for their original song, Carmen Sandiego. Also their arrangement of Here Comes the Sun is a great example of a song that i HAVE to go to Rockapella to hear. When a song is arranged just like the original, I get largely the same experience listening to it as i do to the original. 

In order to be successful, you definitely need the 3 Ps, but if you want a cappella to ever break the glass ceiling and become a true, recognized medium, you are going to have to do things that are original. 

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