I left my job and only have 8 months to make it as a YouTube magician (Part 1)

Magic on social media can be hard work. We asked Jack Rhodes to document his attempt to turn his passion into a career.

I left my job and only have 8 months to make it as a YouTube magician (Part 1)

I've taken an 8-month career break in an attempt to turn my passion as a YouTube magician into a living. One Ahead invited me to share the highs and lows of my pursuit every few months.

July 17th

It's a big day today. I’ve officially started a 'career break’ from my day job as a Nuclear Engineer. I've just spent the past 5 months working 12-hour shifts every single day to save enough to afford ‘giving it a shot financially'.

But what does ‘giving it a shot'' mean?

Well, for me, at least, it means pursuing a career as a content creator. For the past three years, I've been dabbing my toe in the world of magic content video creation - you may know me from my Fool Us and Got Talent magic parodies:

Screenshot of Jack's parody YouTube videos

After a few years working the wedding circuit doing close-up magic, I moved on to stand-up comedy. Then the pandemic happened. Suddenly, there were no gigs, and I had this mental pot of creativity stewing in my brain that needed an outlet. I spotted a lot of other comedians at this time turning to online video content, and I thought… ‘That looks fun'.

Three years later, and although I sometimes miss the short-term buzz of live performance, the long-term creative fulfilment of making videos is so strong.

Currently, my followers (read: ‘vanity metrics') on all my socials look like this:

YouTube: 12.5k

Instagram: 2k

TikTok: 24k

Pretty good for someone who's just been winging it with the odd couple of hours he has free every night.

Therein lies the problem, though… time. Trying to make YouTube videos once a week while working a day job Monday - Friday is nigh on impossible. And that's without trying to keep up normal human relationships with friends and family.

But alas, I now have a window of opportunity. Eight months of opportunity – and I'll document it all in these occasional guest articles.

Spoiler: my Instagram shot from 2k to 100k+ followers in the first month.

In today's post, I'll share exactly how much money I made in the first few months, what worked, what didn't work, why I spent $4,000 on a course, and how one well-known magician commented and said I was "everything wrong in the art of magic".

Essentially, I’ve saved up eight months' worth of my normal wage so I can live the same standard of life without worrying about the financial implications in case this whole content thing doesn't work out.

The end of the career break, and when I am officially due to return to my day job, is marked in the calendar as mid-March next year – at which point I will need to decide if I should go back to the nuclear world or stay in the magic world.

The decision to give up will be based on two things:

1: Enjoyment.

There’s a big difference between making videos as a hobby and making videos because you must earn money. I do wonder if the pressure to earn a living will take away the enjoyment. If I'm earning great money, but it doesn’t fill me with joy anymore, then it's essentially become another day job, and I may as well stick with the safer option of my previous job.

2: Income.

By March next year, if I can prove that I'll be earning a minimum of £1,600 (about $2,000) a month consistently through video production, then I’ll be a happy man. This represents a pay cut from my normal monthly wage and would mean I'd have to adapt my lifestyle to spend less money - a compromise I’d be happy to make in pursuit of making the dream come true.

There was a temptation to include a third option based on having X amount of followers or X amount of regular viewers, but often, these numbers very rarely represent how much money that person is making (or their enjoyment).

Although I don’t like thinking too hard about the money side of things, it really is the one thing that matters most when trying to start a new career. Come March 2024; it may be the case that I'm consistently earning less than £1600 a month but still really enjoying it, at which point I may have a tough decision to make.

But that’s all a while away yet; for now, I'm just going to clear my head and have a couple week’s holiday.

I've just worked five months non-stop, so a break is allowed, right?

August 1st

Well, I’m back in the land of the living, and I can't wait to get started.

This is exciting, you know!

I just need to turn this excitement into some sort of structure, I could very easily make it up as I go along for eight months and suddenly find I’ve not gotten anywhere. So, a strategy is needed. Some sort of framework to keep me consistent and focused.  All I know at the moment is my long-term goal is to build an audience on YouTube. Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are great, but there's nothing quite like YouTube.

 Let me explain:

Every time you click on a YouTube video, and an advert pops up - Google (who own YouTube) get paid by the advertisers. This revenue (called ‘Adsense'') is then split with the video creator, whereby 55% of that money goes to the creator and 45% goes to Google. Not bad at all.

But how much do advertisers pay? Well, it depends.

I'll give you an example. A magic video I made that garnered just shy of half a million views earned this much in ad revenue:

YouTube stats shows £1,100 revenue on 497k views

Not bad for a side hustle, I hear you say. 

Just think how many views you would consistently need in order to make a living, though - this is from a one-off viral magic video, remember? It would be very difficult to earn a consistent income relying purely on Adsense - hence why the vast majority of YouTubers also include brand sponsorships in their videos (but that's a while away yet).

To complicate things further, in an effort to keep up with competitors like TikTok and Instagram, YouTube has now rolled out its 'Shorts’ platform. The shorts platform aims at delivering viewers vertical videos under 60 seconds - the problem here (at least for us creators) is the fact that there are no adverts being shown, so the monetisation is basically non-existent. Let's' roll out the graphics again - this time for a short that gained over a quarter million views (basically half the numbers of the long-form video above). How much do you think 250k views earn a creator on the shorts platform?

YouTube stats shows £0.24 revenue on 281k views

Yep, you read that right. Over a quarter million views and only £0.24 in ad revenue. So when I say my focus long-term is on YouTube, I strictly mean landscape long-form videos that are eligible for the normal monetisation scheme.

Side note: Apparently, monetisation on shorts is meant to be changing for the better soon, so this could change. It has to, really.

The one thing the short-form platforms have going for them, though, is the fact that people can’t get enough of them. Vertical videos are everything at the moment, and platforms are pushing them out like crazy - so it's a good way of building a following. 

Just look at the subscriber conversion in the graphics above (bearing in mind the short-form video has basically half the views of the long-form). So, for the next month or so, I've decided my strategy needs to include releasing a short form video every couple of days.

Hopefully, this will put my channel back on the map fairly quickly.

August 12th


Did you hear that sound?

That's the sound of $4000 leaving my bank account.

I've just signed up for an online YouTube course led by one of the world’s top YouTube consultants. When I pitched the career break to my wife, this was not how I thought it would start. That's a lie, actually; she pitched the whole idea of a career break to me, and without her, none of this would be possible. 

But still, that money I saved to make this whole thing financially viable has taken a hit, and I may have to adapt my lifestyle for the coming weeks to make sure I’m spending less money. Call it a calculated risk. Essentially the 8-week course is aimed at levelling up people's skills to accelerate their channel. Over 1000 people applied, and only 50 got picked. I happen to be one of them. 

Over the next eight weeks, I'm going to be diving deep into real geeky YouTube topics like click-through rate, retention, understanding audience, hooks, packaging, sponsors, and algorithm (the list goes on).

I feel like I’m trying to justify the investment as I write this, but in all honesty, it just feels… right. If I can put everything into practice that I learn in this course, then I'm giving myself the best footing to make this work. I just need to get my arse into gear and actually release some videos.

August 24th

Alright, we're on a bit of a roll.

Two new long-form magic videos are now live on YouTube:

Two thumbnails for recent YouTube videos

Let's talk about magic on video for a moment. 

I'm a big believer in making content that isn’t just "Here's a trick, isn’t that nice". For me, there has to be another angle, something that elevates the video above your standard performance. Sometimes, that can mean framing the performance in a challenge (like the slow motion video above); sometimes, it’s part of a larger joke (think of the parodies), or sometimes, it's tying a few routines together (like the ‘10 Best' video above).

As much as I may paint the picture of being a content creator, I'm' a magician first. I practise a lot and consider myself to be pretty skilful when it comes to learning sleight of hand and constructing routines - an aspect that is often overlooked in the world of magicians on video. I think an audience can usually tell when a trick takes skill to pull off (particularly over video), and if you can convey skill - whether it be flourishes, moves or patter - you’re more likely to engage the audience to watch. I will quite often practise certain routines and moves that look good on video, knowing full well I probably won't do them in the real world. 

Trick selection then becomes quite important and has to serve the idea of the video. You can't just shoehorn an effect in because you like it; it has to fit naturally with whatever it is you’re making. If the idea is based around card cheats, then I may do a gambling trick. If the idea is based on money, then I may do a coin trick. If the idea is to see if misdirection can work over the format of video, I'm not then going to perform the magic square. The tricks have to fit the video.

I’d like to say that the performance of a video directly correlates with the effort that went into making it, but frustratingly, that's not the case. In reality, it all comes down to the idea - and in YouTube’s case, it all comes down to how well that idea is packaged. The hard truth: it's all about the thumbnail and title.

You could have the best magic video in the world, but if nobody clicks on it, it's not getting watched. The fact that the success of your content relies on how well you package it is a hard pill to swallow. Suddenly, being a content creator means also being a marketer.

As well as a writer, director, editor, cameraman, actor, soundman, lighting technician… and that's without even looking at the magic side of things.

Just to reiterate the importance of packaging here, I am now trying to create three concept thumbnails per video (a tip I learned from this course).

Sometimes, it helps to draw these options out roughly.

Two digital sketches of thumbnails with cameras poiting towards card tricks

Sometimes, it even helps to edit these options roughly.

Two roughly edited versions of the sketches but with real photos

You can see the difference reframing the thumbnail can make. Remember, success on YouTube is almost more about the packaging than it is the video itself.

I also like to review different titles next to the different thumbnails; this really helps me identify the best combination. You can use a free online tool to generate what your draft thumbnail and title would look like on YouTube when recommended to viewers: Thumbs Up – Standard

You can also preview this based on whether the viewer is using dark mode or light mode on their device. According to studies, more than 80% of people use their phones in dark mode

With this in mind, we creators need to make sure we’re designing thumbnails that are bright and will stand out against a dark background. Alongside the two videos above, I've also released ten short-form videos. Nothing is doing anything amazing views-wise; in the first day or so, my long-form videos are getting under 500 views.

YouTube stats for videos -- click-through rate: 8.2%. Average view duration 5:11

The low views are no surprise, though.

I've just come back from a 5-month break with no videos, and, as much as YouTube likes to claim that taking a break from consistent content output doesn’t hurt your channel, there's definitely something to be said for having a consistent audience that expects a consistent output. 

The stats look good, though. The whole aim of YouTube as a creator is to make videos that keep people on the platform. That means making videos that people want to click on and that also hold their attention for as long as possible. Even looking at the stats above, you can see the average view duration and click-through rate (percentage of people who clicked on the video after it was recommended to them) are in the green - meaning it's a solid video.

It just needs the algorithm to find the right audience.

September 1st

Guys, something crazy is happening.

My Instagram is blowing up.

I’d not really been checking it that much, but in the last week, I've gone from 2,000 followers to 30,000 followers!

Jack's instagram with 30.3k followers

Yep, you read that right.

Every time I refresh, I've got 100 new followers. For the first time, I can’t keep up with all the comments and notifications, so for my own sanity, I've had to mute Instagram. But why is this happening? 

Well, it’s basically all because of 1 reel (Instagram's version of short-form videos).

It’s an 80-second ace assembly titled 'Sleight of Hand level 100’ where I'm doing all sorts of crazy sleight of hand and shuffles to find the four aces before revealing the deck is still in new deck order. I’m also doing a comedy monologue related to the routine at the same time.

Oh, and I'm also blindfolded.

It’s a monster of a routine that took me a good few days to practise. There are lots of cardistry moves, false shuffles and different marketed effects combined into one quick routine (Revolution by Greg Wilson, Drop by Thomas Badar and Ishkabibble Sandwich by Eric Jones).

I knew the video was good, but I didn't think the video would do well. Primarily because it's really long - usually, viral reels are in the 50 - 60-second mark, not the 80-second mark! What it has got going for it, though, is a strong hook and immediate payoff. As soon as this video pops up into your feed, you’re seeing a blindfolded bloke spin a deck of cards on his fingers whilst telling jokes - and it only escalates from there.

I was also a bit cheeky, I had a Rubik's cube in a jar in the background that I edited to make it look like it solved itself over the course of the video. I did this mainly as a little easter egg and thought it could be quite fun in the comments section if anybody spotted it. Boy, did that work…

The other factor to consider is that when this video got me to 10k followers, I decided to pay for Meta verified (read: pretentious blue tick). I did this on the back of advice from a fellow creator that having the blue tick leads to a better follower conversion, and man, were they right! People are watching the video, liking, commenting and then going, "Oh, it’s actually him; this isn't a repost from another account, go on, then I’ll follow him". 

For about 15 quid a month, I've probably doubled the conversion rate of people who see my videos and want to follow me.

Having said all this, as exciting as it is, I’m a big believer in not paying too much attention to these numbers. It might help with conversion and landing TV gigs, but it's definitely a vanity metric. If you get attached to the numbers when they’re good, then you'll get attached to the numbers when they’re bad. Don't get attached to the numbers, and your mental health will thank you for it.

September 17th

Okay, so I'm getting attached to the numbers. 

Jack's Instagram account with 100k followers

In the space of less than a month, I’ve gone from 2000 followers to 100,000 followers. I've never seen growth like this. That first reel is now at about 5 million views, but it’s not just this one doing well anymore; all of the reels I've posted since are now hitting the algorithm. Particularly the ‘short clips' I cut from my ‘Magician Vs Slow-Mo Camera' long-form YouTube video. The correlation between frequency of uploads and follower growth is hard to ignore:

Chart shows Jack Rhodes total media increasing at a higher rate
Chart shows followers increasing at a higher rate starting the same time Jack posted more frequently

But I'm a big believer in quality over quantity. The reel that triggered this was one I really went to town on. I made sure the first frame was clear (you only have a split second to hook the viewer before they swipe away), I made sure the script was engaging, and I made sure there was a payoff at the end.

I try to do this with all my videos, but sometimes… it just hits. 

Had I overlooked these things in the name of trying quantity over quality, I don’t believe we'd be seeing this sort of growth. Quality is more important than quantity… but without quantity, there’s no consistent audience.

It's a hard balance I'll need to figure out in these eight months.

September 20th

With the amount of comments flooding my Instagram inbox at the moment, I'm trying not to look at them too much, but one particular comment caught my eye. This is on one of the short clips of my ‘magician vs slow-mo camera'' video: 

Jeff McBride comments: I know that you don't really care because all the comments just create controversy and get you more attention but the fact that you're revealing magic is first off terrible second, you're promoting gimmicks over sleight-of-hand... Your video and everything I've seen from you just makes me sad... you were everything that's wrong in the art of magic.

Yes, that's Jeff McBride. And yes, he went in hard. 

I don’t want to dive into this too deeply, but this is the first time I've really had any negative blowback from the magician community. Especially from such a big name. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course. What gets me, though, is the fact I thought I struck the right balance. 

The premise of the video is ‘The hand may be quicker than the eye, but is the hand quicker than the unblinking lens of the camera capturing slow motion footage at 360 frames per second?'. 

I made sure that any tricks where the method could be seen due to the slow-mo footage were tricks in the public domain. I also made sure to address the issue of exposure online. On top of this, the overwhelming response to the video was, ‘Wow, this makes me appreciate sleight of hand even more'.

I strongly believe the video is a net positive and makes magic look more impressive. The video McBride commented on was of a playing card snap-change.

Anyway, I put a nicely worded reply back to him explaining my stance and how I was a big fan of his, and we can continue the conversation privately if he thinks this is an issue. I didn't hear anything back.

I'm not raising this to try and drum up a conversation on who’s right and who's wrong but more to the fact that I’m starting to learn that, no matter what you put online, there will always be people who don't agree with what you’re doing. It was a weird feeling seeing this comment from one of my magic heroes pop up; suddenly, all the positive feelings of social media go away, and you're left feeling like the wind has been taken out of your sails.

September 24th

Traction on Instagram has started to slow down (man, this is a roller coaster), and the stark realisation that I'm not earning any money on Instagram has put my attention back to YouTube. Let me just check my ad revenue. Oh dear.

Last week, I earned £15.00 ($18). 

I've just gained 100,000 followers on Instagram, and now I’m buying a £3 meal deal for lunch, thinking, "That's two days of work."… I got distracted, didn't I? 

I thought it would be in my best interest to ride the Instagram wave and focus time on that rather than keeping up a consistent upload schedule on YouTube. 

Silly billy. 

Fear not, though; in the background, I've been working on an experimental video for YouTube. It’s a gamble, but it could do well.

It's also sponsored by One Ahead – happy days!

The reason it's a gamble is because of the amount of time it took to make; just look at the editing timeline:

Busy timeline packed with clips and videos in the edit

92 archive clips. 115 photos. 104 different audio files. That’s a full month's work all for one 14-minute YouTube video. 

Time will tell if it was worth the investment.

September 25th

Guys, forget Instagram followers.

Something even crazier has just happened.

David Blaine Facetimed me. 

He saw the video, got in touch through a mutual friend and wanted to say how much he loved it. What is happening?!

If you’d have told me as a kid that one day, I'd be sitting in my garage Facetiming the David Blaine, I'd have told you to sod off.

I was a cheeky kid, to be fair, but still… this is unreal!

The past couple of months have been super crazy. Money-wise, I’m nowhere near any sort of wage, but it's early days yet (I have until March 2024, remember), and everything is going in the right direction. Even if this whole thing doesn’t work out, the fact that Blaine got in touch because of a video I made is enough to justify the career break, isn't it? Right? Right...

First 2 Months Summary

Money Earned:

YouTube: £195, Instagram: £0, TikTok: £24

Followers Gained:

YouTube: 12.4k before, 15k now. Instagram: 2k before, 107k now, TikTok: 24k before, 32k now.

Percentage of Monthly Target Income: 13.7%

We have more work to do.

I left my job and only have 8 months to make it as a YouTube magician (Part 2)
Jack Rhodes on how much money he makes.