HomeBlogsMister Tim's blogOf Music and Magicians: pt 2.5 of 2

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(seriously sorry for so many long posts right in a row… waaay too long for a single post, but I want to get this out there, and figured might as well just chuck it all out!)

Welcome to part four of the two part series comparing a cappella to magicians.

This one is short.

A lot of magicians do a lot of business.  They work a lot.  Many of them make a lot of money, even if they are not household names, or famous in a 21st Century cover-of-people-magazine kind of famous.

How?  Why?

Magicians learn how to get gigs.  They learn the business.  They learn to market themselves.  It is part of the magicians craft, not just learning the tricks, but learning to SELL the tricks, and learning to SELL the act.  They learn to put together promotional materials, and to sell themselves.

This is in SPITE of the fact that they are novelty acts (chill out that’s my opinion), that there are tons of magicians, and all the other points described in pts. 1-2 of this series.  They can still be successful, still put on great shows, still get lots of gigs.  But they do it by embracing the nature of what they do, not pretending to do something else.

Magicians don’t tour like Broadway shows.  They rarely show up on late night television, they don’t get record deals (or the equivilent, television deals, with the exception of a very few).

So how do they succeed?

The do smaller theaters, fairs, festivals, parties, restaurants.  They perform on street corners.  They make a KILLING in corporate gigs.  They find alternative venues, venues where they will be appreciated, where they can serve and entertain an audience.

These are the venues where, coincidentally, and completely according to my opinion, a cappella groups can gig the most.  _Not_ in the traditional music venues, but rather in the traditional novelty act venues.

THIS IS MY OPINION.  You are welcome to dissent.

Magicians tailor their act to their venue.  Masters of adaptation.  Looking at the audience and venue and figuring out what will be the most impressive thing to show.  A big levitation illusion isn’t going to work in a coffee shop; close-up coin tricks aren’t going to work when you’re on a grand stage in a convention center in front of 6,000 people.

The point of all this, however, is not an in-depth analysis of magicians.  It would be just as worthwhile to make the same comparisons with any paid branch of entertainment.  Maybe I’ll do that.

The point is this: to find principles that a cappella acts can apply to bring them more success.

I think magicians and a cappella acts are incredibly similar.  I think there is a disconnect where magicians are excellent at the 3 Ps and marketing their acts.  I think it is odd that a cappella acts have not (generally) adopted this approach, and I think a cappella acts could benefit from analyzing that area and adapting for their success.


magic trick


Knowing your audience

I wish I disagreed with you more - chiming in and saying how much I think your right doesn't make for an interesting discussion! Your three P's translate pretty well to the a cappella model in my opinion. I'd like to focus on one point especially though, presentation. I've seen a lot of collegiate groups kind of do what they do, without thinking of what they're doing. To explain, let me share a short story with you!

Recently, I had an Iron Chef cook off with some of my friends. I of course was the judge/host. This of course translates to me getting a bunch of people to cook a large meal then clean my whole kitchen for me :). Anyway... Being the lead judge for this competition, I had to come up with categories to judge by. Besides the obvious taste, presentation, and use of secret ingredients, I also judged all contestants by a mystery factor, which wound up being "knowing your audience".

While all teams received high marks in this category (they were using my food to cook for me after all), I wouldn't always award full scores to all a cappella performances I've seen. As you say, a good magician knows how to scale his act, levitating for a large crowd, using slight of hand for a coffee shop. In the same way, a good a cappella group should know when to cut down on the choreography or really amp up running around on stage. Even more important is choosing a set list. When performing for a college audience, there is almost nothing that is more of a deal breaker than a set of three or four slow to mid tempo songs. People just lose interest and fall asleep!

My guess is, that this is found so much in collegiate a cappella, because there is often a different mind set there, as well in some amateur groups. That is to say, the reason that some groups exist, or that some people perform in these groups, is that they just want to sing and have fun. Now, there's nothing wrong with that - if a person likes singing with a group, good for them, keep it up! Does it mean that they'll put on a good show? Not necessarily. They might be performing for themselves, maybe performing for their parents or roommates, or maybe performing for the sake of getting a chance to get with the smoking hot alto. While these are all legitimate reasons to be in a group and sing, I still contest they do not necessarily make a good end experience for anyone watching/listening.

On the other hand, I don't know if I've ever heard of a magician willing to perform illusions just for himself. The joy in magic isn't derived in performing a grand feat, but convincing an audience that a grand feat was performed. In this way the magician is always, like you said, catering to his audience. I don't know why it took me years to get that. For a long time I was so conscious of small musical imperfections in a live show, a wrong syllable in the bass part, or a tenor which was a little flat, a soprano who would always be a quarter beat late on an entrance. Only if I could go back and sit in the audience for my first couple years of performing! How I'd go, "Well, this sounds pretty good, but wow am I bored!" I didn't realize that I was sacrificing performance for quality of sound. The thing is, if I spent 20% of my energy focusing on the sound, and the other 80% on showmanship, on personality and performance, the audience would have liked it 200% more! (Keep in mind, I was mostly performing for non-musicians, in "novelty venues" - dining halls, a cappella shows, the mall, etc.)


Thia hasn't happened after an a cappella show

Haha!! Thanks for posting

Haha!! Thanks for posting that Deke, 

I hadn't heard about that, but it's kind of awesome/hillarious (as long as yours is not the backyard it was found in). 

Maybe THAT'S what we need to add to a cappella shows. 


...except you let Antonio walk around after your shows...

Just to set the record straight

Since I have taken it upon myself to act as the one to set the record straight, I would like to make the following clarifications:

1) Magicans have toured like broadway shows and probably will again. David Copperfield tours with his act all over the world and throughout the US as well. In the 60s and 70s Harry Blackstone, Jr. and Doug Henning were household names and both toured with their shows just like broadway shows. Today, (as I have mentioned in other "Parts" of this post) Derren Brown tours all over the UK and then does sold-out, extended runs on the West End (UK's equivalent to our Broadway). The difference is that in a broadway show, lots of different singers/actors can play the different roles in different casts. In a magic show, there is usually only one Harry Blackstone, Doug Henning, or Derren Brown.

2) Magicians show up ALL THE TIME on late night TV. Johnny Carson was a magician himself and often had magicians on. Craig Furguson just recently had a full magic week with a different magician on every night. 

Other than that, I agree with your vision for a cappella and the fact that we must learn our audience and customize our shows. (I would only add that a cappella should strive for more originality than it currently does -- for more on that see my comments to Parts 1.5 and 2) 

Maybe I didn't make this

Maybe I didn't make this clear: I'm not talking about exceptions, I'm talking about generally.  When you bring up the exceptions to what I've said, you name the same ones (Copperfield, Blackstone, Brown, the Japanese dude).  The fact that you have so few to name proves the point that generally, on the large scale, magicians (and by comparison a cappella groups) are not major celebrities.

Actually a perfect parallel to a cappella: we've had McFerrin, Take 6, Rockapella, Manhattan Transfer, and a smattering of others who have emerged as national or international celebrities.  I wasn't saying that magicians _don't_ ever make the big time: I mentioned Chrissss Angel and some others.  I was always saying _generally_.  I'm not writing from the perspective of the hyper-successful acts, because I'm writing for people reading CASA.org, who generally are not in hyper-successful acts.

You spend so much energy defending magicians, bringing up details that frankly, _the general public doesn't know_.  That's part of my point: the general public doesn't care about the nuance of an a cappella arrangement: they care if it's fun to listen to or not.  I'm not talking about hardcore a cappella fans, I'm not talking about those heavily involved in a cappella: the general public.  

I was never saying the stereotypes are accurate, or fair, or reasonable.  I was pointing out that they exist.  You acknowledge that yourself, and have pledged your life's work to dispelling those.  A perfect parallel to the a cappella apologists working the same work for a cappella.  

Exactly, Tim

Now that you're trying to be "more civil", and all, one hopes that Michael can now take down his obviously long-prepared and oft-used knee-jerk defenses a bit and see now that not a single thing you said was offsensive, rude, "uncivil" or even untrue, for that matter.  And that the whole point of what you're trying to say is that magic and a cappella share similar characteristics, goals, and challenges.



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Dio --

I don't think I've ever had to defend magicians quite like this before. So this is certainly not an “oft-used” or “long-prepared” response (if it were it probably would have been better constructed from the beginning). In fact, most people I talk to about magic have a sincere appreciation for magic, and when they find out that I create many/most of my own effects, they have a profound respect for the creativity, originality, and artistry of magic.

I still think that much of Tim's original post was offensive (though, to his credit Mister Tim seems to have taken some of my comments to heart and has been much more civil in parts 2-4 of 2). The first post was phrased pejoratively and many of his points about magicians were (and still are) actually and empirically untrue. If you read any of my responses to any of his posts, you’ll see that I’ve stated time and time again that there are hundreds of creative magicians out there creating new and original effects every day. So actually much of what Tim said is still untrue, from his contention that magicians are incapable of being original (perhaps the comment which offended me most), to assertions that magicians are never on late night TV or never tour like a broadway show (Tim, you mentioned I could only name a few, but I just didn’t want to spew names, here are some more who have been on late night recently: Lance Burton, Eric Mead, Steve Cohen, and Brian Gillis... if you want more there are a ton – same goes for touring magicians).

The one thing I agree with in these posts is that magicians and a cappella singers suffer from similar challenges of anonymity and the struggle to define yourself in an already niche medium.

But I also disagree with his proposed solution. I DON’T think it’s just about being better or more engaging. I think if you really want to stand out and be noticed, you actually do have to be original. That’s what has worked for the A-list, celebrity magicians.

So, Dave, please stop attacking ME. My points are and were valid too. I think I had a right to be insulted by a variety of comments, which cast my own profession in a very limiting and negative light, even if I initially phrased my objections poorly. If you think Tim has every right to leave his initial post up, then I think I have every right to leave my initial response up. I think I make some quite valid points. Magicians are an incredibly interesting and creative bunch, and I think someone needs to stand up for that.

Nope, sorry.

One could rather easily break down Tim's initial post, and your reactions to same, and present some compelling evidence that a) it's a GREAT analogy, b) you've got a far-too-subjective chip on your shoulder re this matter, and c) you may possibly have some issues with identity to work out.  One feels sympathy for the all-too-obvious, albeit inapplicable sore spot that has been touched on here for you.

However, you lost any chance of...well, anything at all, when you started your "defense" with your "respectful" Screw You (who are you trying to kid, Michael?  do you realize how you look to pretty much...everyone else?).  Obviously I'm not the most measured commentator in the history of aca, but I do tend to rather quickly realize when I've made a mistake, especially a glaring one like this, and I do my best to own up to it. You chose to leave it (your (quite) personal attack) in there, even after much discussion and, one assumes, ample opportunity for reflection.  Even after you felt Tim was being "more civil" (facepalm).  You can deal with the results of that choice, or you can keep talking to yourself.  Whatever you'd like.

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