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How to find your voice

Note: I'll be transitioning my blog off my website and onto Substack. For a better reading/subscribing experience, SUBSCRIBE HERE.


When I attended Tannen’s Magic Camp, we often talked about finding your “voice” or “character.” I think they’re basically the same thing, and I’ll be using the term voice instead of character because I think it’s a better reflection of what we’re aiming for. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that they’re playing a character on stage, but most everyone understands that when artists communicate, they do so in their own voice. Anyway, back to camp: 


One exercise was to list out traits that define us on stage, and I always struggled with this. I would write things like “funny” or “charming,” vague words that didn’t differentiate me from anyone. I knew that that wasn’t sufficient, but I also didn’t understand what I was missing. Why did other people understand themselves, and I didn’t?


It’s because I was missing, by far, the biggest tool one has for discovering their voice: Performing. 

I struggled to find my voice when I was a 15 year old Tannen’s camper because I wasn’t actually performing. Sure, I would do the occasional cookie-cutter birthday party show 10-12 times per year. But it was nothing close to the volume I needed to actually learn in a responsive feedback loop (which is, in my opinion, at least 3 times per week). 


As much as everyone told me to “get reps,” it wasn’t until I actually started getting them that I started to understand my voice. Of course this sounds obvious. But I wish someone had told me as a kid that I can do as much work trying to figure out my voice as I want—it won’t be worth anything until I actually put it to use. 


I even started getting defensive about it, because the more common word for “voice” is “character.” Trying to find my “character” confused me even more, because I wasn’t playing a character on stage. So, a common cop-out would be to say that my character is just a heightened version of myself. It’s just certain parts of me that are exaggerated. Well, which parts??


For a long time I had no answers. And I didn’t see why that was an issue. Why couldn’t I just be me? Because “you” doesn’t cut it if you’re trying to make it in the entertainment industry. Nobody will want to see your show if they can’t describe it. Put another way, they won’t understand you if you don’t understand yourself. 


If you describe your voice as “a heightened version of yourself,” exactly how does an audience member communicate that to a friend? They don’t. People need to use concrete adjectives to describe how you stand out from other performers. Entertainment is a word of mouth industry. You grow because people share your work with their friends because they benefit from it. 


So, after a few years of reps, what is my voice? What specific traits get exaggerated on stage? 

  1. Type-A: My signature routines include reciting every Super Bowl score, MVP, and halftime show from memory, memorizing the entire audience’s names, and solving a Rubik’s cube blindfolded. It’s type-A on steroids.

  2. Endurance: Outside of magic, I run marathons. Endurance gets subtly communicated when I’m on stage in a two ways. First, I don’t really do gags or short bits. Most of my routines are at least seven minutes long and take time to build. Second, the memory routines inherently show that that I put long, slow hours into perfecting them. While I don’t think the audience makes the exact connection—they aren’t going home thinking “wow, he probably runs marathons because his routines are slightly longer than the average magician’s,” I think the fact that those traits are all baked together makes the performance accurately reflect me. 

  3. Sarcastic: This is a HUGE thing I’ve been working on. My friends outside of magic would be astonished that I’m “working” on sarcasm, as it’s basically my sole mode of communication—but, here’s the key caveat—only among people I’m comfortable with. I’ve surprised many people by telling them that I’m sarcastic, and it’s because I’m not comfortable being sarcastic around people I’m not close with. That could be a pretty big issue on stage. If I want to be authentic on stage, and sarcasm is part of my authenticity, but I can’t be sarcastic around people I don’t know well (i.e. an audience), I’m screwed. So, I’ve worked on upping the sarcasm on stage, and that’s really helped me connect more with people. They can feel that I’m being authentic because I sound like myself

  4. Manic: My friends would describe me as a little crazy at times. I walk and talk very fast, and generally am not very patient. Not my best qualities in real life, but they work on stage. For example: I might reveal someone’s phone password at the same time as I’m swallowing a needle. I’m solving a Rubik’s Cube while reciting Super Bowl scores. I’m reading 4 people’s minds at the same time. Yes, manic gets exaggerated on stage, but it’s definitely part of me in real-life too. 

  5. Empathetic: You need to have contrast on stage, and I hope that empathy comes through. It takes real, genuine effort to learn and remember the names of everyone in the room. I try to make an actual connection with the audience both on and off stage, whether that’s learning what they do for a living, talking about where they’re from, or congratulating them in front of the crowd. I try to do this in real life, and I’m trying to bring more of it on stage too.


Again, why does finding your voice matter? Because for years, I really thought that it didn’t. It matters because if you want to succeed as an artist, you need to know what you’re communicating. You need to know what you’re putting into the world. I am not a magician for all occasions. Right now, I am a mentalist who specializes in public shows for people between the ages of 25-40, often in bars and comedy spaces in young areas like Williamsburg and Denver. Yes, I can do corporate gigs and private parties too, but that’s certainly not how I’m viewed in the public eye, and that’s ok. 


But here’s the key takeaway: If you’re thinking “damn, I can’t describe myself very specifically,” it’s almost not even worth trying yet. Because if you don’t know off the top of your head, you don’t know. That’s ok. This is a solvable problem. It just means you need to perform more. I wish I had been told this earlier. Not only did I not know my own voice, I literally COULD NOT KNOW. I didn’t have enough experience. But it also didn’t take me that long to figure it out. I’ve discovered most of this over the span of about 15 months and 150 shows. 


This may be disappointing to hear if you don’t perform very much, but I don’t believe there’s a shortcut to this. If you want to be good at literally anything, you need to get your reps. Trying to find your voice after 10 shows would be like trying to complete a marathon after 10 runs. It’s not gonna happen.


Likewise, you don’t really find your voice, your voice finds you. One day you realize “wow, this has been a trend for me lately.” And the only way to see a trend is to have something to look back on in the first place. 


One final point: One way to speed up the process (besides doing more shows) is by practicing awareness. This might come in the form of journaling, sitting quietly with your thoughts, meditating, walking, running, etc. You need to be alone with your thoughts and separated from your phone. This process is almost impossible without an attuned sense of awareness. 

My character will certainly change—I might be totally different in a year. In all likelihood, though, I’ll be more refined. All I can do is be aware. Your voice, your character, your brand if you want to call it that—is all you have. People don’t buy a show, they buy you. So you’d better make sure you know who you are. 


Note: I'll be transitioning my blog off my website and onto Substack. For a better reading/subscribing experience, SUBSCRIBE HERE.

 

Thanks for reading! I have a lot of shows coming up, and you can get tickets to all of them below:






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Two years ago I started a blog called “Everything I Don’t Know.” The name was accurate, in that I didn’t know much. I wrote about the process of graduating college and transitioning into professional

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