In a few weeks, I have the pleasure of doing a show at a high profile company. At the end of this article, I’ll tell you how I got that opportunity. But first:
I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time around magicians I admire. And one question young magicians like myself always ask is,“How do you get gigs for IBM, the White House, Apple, etc?” To our dismay, we learn that there is no set formula. Of course this is the case, but when I was young, I hoped the answer would be “call this number. David Copperfield will be waiting for you, and he’ll have gigs lined up for you on a silver platter.”
No one wants the real answer, which is that there isn’t one set way to do gig work. Now, there are many tangible strategies to get certain gigs, like email marketing, networking, posting on social media, etc. But today, I’m going to talk about a less clear cut strategy, which I call “being available.”
First, I’ll walk you through how one is “available,” before telling you the story of how I got a big gig.
“Being available” means that when someone–anyone–asks you to do a trick, you do it. Maybe it’s someone you meet on a ski lift. Or a coffee shop. But 90% of the time, at least for me, these situations happen at parties and social gatherings, especially when I'm with people that I haven’t met or seen in a long time.
So, how do you get a gig from this? The short answer is that most of the time you don’t. 90% of performances will lead to nothing. But 10% will lead to something and that something is worth all of the little performances.
In January, I performed in New York City–side note: I’ll be performing in the city again on June 18, and you can get tickets here. After my show, I hung out at my cousin’s apartment, where his girlfriend had friends over. The subject of magic came up, and I showed her friends a few tricks. I didn’t get anyone’s contact information, as this was a casual performance close to midnight. I didn’t walk into the room prepared to network or pitch myself, but I was available to show what I love doing.
Fast forward five months. I get a call from a party planner at a high profile company, whose friend was one of the people I met at my cousin’s apartment in New York.
The call served as a serious lesson for me to embrace serendipity. So now, as a rule, almost any time someone asks me to, I’ll do a trick, especially if this is a person I’m just meeting. Who knows where one moment could lead? I’m not saying that you should bombard your friends with tricks on a daily basis, but find fun in the spontaneity of new connections.
A more nuanced approach requires sensing when people want to see magic before they ask. I’m very cautious about intruding on people. The last thing I want is to show people magic in a self-aggrandizing way. But oftentimes, people are afraid to ask or put me on the spot, usually out of politeness. After nearly seventeen years of doing this, I can sense when people genuinely want to see magic, and at that point, I’m happy to perform. I always make sure the feeling is mutual though.
However, how does this sit with notions of work-life balance? After all, I’ve heard many magicians suggest that there are times when they’re “off the clock.”
First, it’s important to remember that being a magician is a choice. Yes, there might be times when you’re “off the clock;” that’s a boundary and that’s important. But it’s also important, in my opinion, to make a conscious choice to always be prepared to perform something–magic genuinely brightens people’s days, and it’s a gift every time I have the opportunity to perform. The joy you bring to people almost always outweighs not performing.
And second, performing magic is the best way to show someone you’re serious about what you do. As I mentioned in previous posts, it’s really hard for people to envision magic–it’s best just to show people. And you can then leverage those interactions months or even years down the line.
So if you’re a young magician–there is no set formula to getting gigs. I think Neil Gaiman said it best in his “Make Good Art” commencement speech: life is like sending out a bunch of messages in bottles, and the more you do it, the more those bottles start to come back. (I wrote a post about Gaiman’s speech last week, which you can read here). Indeed, Cal Newport says that high performers, quite simply, consistently produce good content.
And Nike’s been saying it for decades: Just do it.
Looking to see a show this summer? You've got multiple opportunities in Denver and New York City. Check them out below:
June 18th @ 7:00 PM (NYC)
June 18th @ 9:00 PM (NYC)
July 8th @ 7:30 PM (Denver)
July 9th @ 7:00 PM (Denver)
August 19th @ 8:00 PM (Denver)
August 20th @ 8:00 PM (Denver)