I moved to New York one month ago, and I’ve spent that time working hard to get shows. I’ve cold called dozens of party planners. Sent hundreds of emails. Gone on “get to know you” coffee meetings. I could talk about the success, but there are few lessons in a job well done. I'm more interested in noting that I’ve been ignored and rejected many, many times.
And yet, I don't say this to complain–this is exactly how it should go.
Because what job isn’t hard? What job doesn’t require struggle and sacrifice? Is there one successful person who has never been rejected?
There are none.
I woke up a few mornings ago to an email about a gig. I didn’t do a single piece of outreach for it. I didn’t know the client existed. I was referred by another magician, who I reconnected with when I got here. While I toiled away, somewhere, out there, someone was thinking about me. It was a good reminder of the importance of laying groundwork.
If there are any aspiring magicians out there, anyone who wants to get shows but is struggling to gain traction, I hope the below insights will help remind you to just keep swimming. Here are five things I’ve learned (and am still learning), after a month in the Big Apple.
1. You didn’t know they existed
It’s crazy how quickly I get caught up about a lead once I hear about it. I follow up quickly, I pay attention to what the client needs…in short, I try to book the gig. On one hand, that’s what makes a magician a good businessperson. Following up and being attentive to the client is essential. But it’s also important to not be attached to the gig. After all, you likely didn’t know that gig even existed before they submitted it to your website. So why are you getting caught up about it? You were perfectly content ten minutes ago when you were oblivious to this opportunity. Be aware of that.
2. Groundwork takes time
A lot of what will benefit you in the long term doesn’t feel like work, but is equally as important as cold outreach, emails, and rehearsal–anything that feels like “doing something.” Those activities include seeing other magic shows (or shows in general), asking for advice from more experienced magicians, and swiping up on someone’s Instagram story to tell them you like what they’re working on. All these intangible, relationship-building activities put you on other people’s radar. The more consistently you put yourself around other magicians, and do so while being kind, considerate, and asking people about themselves, the more you will reap the rewards down the line.
No, they might not have a gig for you that instant. But in six months? In a year? Absolutely. It sucks to wait that long. It’s legitimately scary. So the key here is twofold: First, focus on what you can control, which is working hard and being kind. And second, reset your expectations to see success not as a now thing, but as a later thing that is ultimately a byproduct of the hard work you put in every day. The only expectation you should have is that when your alarm goes off tomorrow, you’ll put in the work. That’s it.
3. You can’t fit into someone else’s lane? Create your own
Sure, it would be great to arrive in New York City and immediately get on the hottest magic shows. But you know what? Those shows were doing great before I got here, and they’ll continue to do so whether I’m on the show or not.
So, my friend David and I produce our own show (An Evening of Magic). And with a little persistence, we’ve now generated a waiting list of magicians who want to perform on that show. And we’ve started to sell out those shows. We have control and autonomy because instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold, we made our own, with a lot of exciting projects down the line.
It’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to team up with more magicians eventually. But it’s also fun to enjoy this process. We aren’t a famous show, and that’s actually a good thing. It means we have less scrutiny, more control, and a ton of fun. If you want to come to our next show on February 23rd, you can get tickets here.
4. Love this
Last week was particularly hard. I just wasn’t getting the traction I wanted. But as Friday rolled around, I thought “why am I not loving this?” Sure, I might not be getting booked at the rate I envisioned, but I get to work on magic tricks all day. What a gift. My literal job is to sit in my apartment, dream up ideas, run them by my friends, and put them on stage. I cannot think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And, when the shows do come in higher volume (and they will, because I work every day for it), I’ll be prepared, because I’ve spent my free time practicing.
The success, in whatever form that takes, will come, but I’d be naive not to remember that I’m successful right now. I have autonomy. I have over a dozen shows lined up. I have relationships I’m building. I have a lot of irons in the fire. If I don’t love that, I’m making a huge mistake.
5. Celebrate the wins
When you have a task in front of you as large as “making it in the arts,” it’s pretty easy to become demoralized. One gig is nothing compared to the amount you’ll need to make a living–which is literally thousands of shows over a lifetime. Still, a career is built show by show, client by client, and like I’ve written about in the past, if you don’t learn to celebrate the small wins, you won’t know how to celebrate the big wins.
It’s tough, because if you’re trying to make a living, you have to be focused on the next gig. How will the people who see me in the theater know to book me for their company? How will the client who booked me for their Zoom happy hour recommend me to their sister’s startup? But if you’re only focused on the future, you’ll never be focused on the show you’re doing now–which is the only way you’ll get that repeat business in the first place. It is precisely that present-ness that will land you other shows.
So, you need to celebrate every win you get, and enjoy those shows independent of what may happen afterward. Every relationship you build, every show you land, is worth being happy about. No, each one doesn’t necessitate a party. But you can think: “I did that. That’s a step forward, and I’m proud.”
Life is far too short to be mean to yourself. Yes, it’s important to ruthlessly self-examine your actions, but not at the expense of your own happiness and self-esteem. Celebrate the wins, radiate joy, and move forward.
Below are upcoming public shows. I'd love to see you there: