Become a Better Magician
Join 15,000+ readers and get our weekly magic newsletter.
Magic is always one step ahead. Before there were touch screen TV’s, magicians were prodding their televisions with carefully timed clips to create an illusion of the future. And so on…
But when it comes to internet virality, magic is often one step behind.
Don’t get me wrong; magic is a very close step behind; it’s there soon after and well before anyone else. Julius Dein is currently the most-watched anything on Facebook. Everyday people have started using the term “TikTok Magician,” in an unironic way. Magicians need to pay attention to this.
Magic has a remarkable ability to adapt. As an industry, we are surviving the pandemic more so than most other forms of live entertainment. While huge west end theatres struggle to sell tickets to their zoom performances, Willman’s selling 800-seat Zoom shows six times a week. Magicians we’ve never heard about are raking in cash with corporate zoom shows five times in one day.
Magic is well suited to viral video content for several genetic reasons. It’s visual. It appears as low-effort to the viewer (high budget/effort videos don’t tend to find success online). It almost always includes shock and surprise and brilliant reactions.
Magic has all the ingredients to go viral. You just need to find and ride the algorithms.
But Magicians are also incredibly clever—smart enough to catch on to the ever-changing algorithms before anyone else. Julius Dein and Rick Lax will always reap digital rewards and magician’s criticism.
I’m going to quickly add here that I do not believe every magician needs to try to go viral. There’s a wonderful life to be had without being a meme.
Most magicians do not like social media because the internet does not care if your magic is good.
Magic goes viral because it ticks enough boxes on that specific day and it’s riding an algorithm. I can assure you that successful online magicians spend 5% of their time on the trick and 95% of their time algorithm hacking. The internet will never reward you for performing an original magic trick, with perfect sleight-of-hand.
Algorithms are constantly changing, and intentionally so. It’s not in the social platforms best interests to repeatedly send the same content viral. So don’t go trying to copy a social media magicians successful format. By the time you start, there will be a new algorithm in play, and the successful magician will already be riding a new wave. Oh, and they’ll know about that new wave before you do because they have such a huge following to playtest content with.
While you’re busy making your next content decision on which video got five or six more interactions. Rick Lax and Julius Dein can see their three recent videos over three minutes, with no language, and shot outside got 1.6 million more views than their other vids. Time to make more three minute long videos set outside with no language.
Hit The Goddam Like Button
Once upon a time, no one knew about the algorithms. They were a myth, a fairytale. That was until one man one day stumbled upon them, and that one man was one Rick Lax…
Rick Lax changed magic, and the internet itself, forever.
People don’t realise that this guy had a prolific and knock-on effect that’s genuinely changed the way we interact and view content forever. Rick was one of the first guys to hack an algorithm. He is an incredibly, incredibly smart human being.
At a time when your Facebook populated the newsfeed with videos friends liked and commented upon, Rick tried to exploit that. He had to figure out how to get people to like and comment on his videos…
Option one was to make genuinely brilliant content people will have no choice but to like. Option two was to ask them politely to comment and like his content. Option three was to trick them into commenting and liking his videos by proving how smart they are to their friends and “locking in their answer.”
He chose option three because he’s a psychotic genius no one gives enough credit to. And thus the world was changed forever. I wish I were exaggerating.
Platforms were forced to start changing their algorithms routinely to avoid people purposely hacking and riding them. As I write this, likes on Instagram do not mean as much as saves. Facebook even tracks and pushes you down when you ask for likes and comments in your post's caption. What follows is an addictive hunt for the next viral wave.
Pranks, for some reason, became the big wave of viral trends. For a period of time, platforms like YouTube stopped favouring pranks in their algorithms; sexism, racism, homophobia and child abuse. Pranks took a turn for the worse, and several scandals came out of pranksters going to the extreme for views.
Did all the social platforms start to push down pranks in their algorithms because they care about providing lovely content for their users? Nope, they pushed it down because advertisers got upset their ads were showing on prank videos containing an entire range of illegal nonsense.
This, of course, wasn’t until after Calen Morelli posted a video of him making weed vanish to prank a cop. Three brilliant ingredients for a viral video at that time; magic, weed and pranking cops. It went wildly viral. The millions and millions of views eventually led to Calen deleting his entire channel.
Life Hacks & Fake Science
I can honestly tell you that I can totally understand why most magicians who care about their artform hate the fake science trend of magic videos.
It’s basic, effortless, easy and a total shortcut. It doesn't take much skill at all to pick out the cheapest magic prop from your drawer and pretend it’s real science.
Fake science and life hack videos were my first introduction to just how much else is going on in these videos. The first time I started to appreciate this is a new art form or skill, or whatever you want to try to call it. Most people who watch these videos know they’re fake. What’s happening? Why do I get the same sensation watching these videos as I do with those weird soap cutting videos? I want to look away, but I can’t, and I’m angry, and I want to comment, and I can’t believe people believe this crap, and I’m watching it, I’m watching it.
People are learning how to hack our attention. This is no longer about tricking us into commenting by “locking in our answer” to riddles. My brain is actually being pulled around. There’s a genuine science happening here, and it’s making people watch, comment and share without realising they’re acting exactly how the maker wants them to.
While politicians have important discussions about how social media platforms allow and enable conspiracy theories to spread and go viral, magicians in magic clubs have similar, less important, conversations about viral magic videos.
A post shared by Julius Dein (@juliusdein)
Facebook introduced a new way of inserting dynamic ads within video content. Overnight, the game changed. Now, it is all about retention. Retention, retention, retention. How do you get people to watch a four-minute-long video without looking away? I guess you could risk making great content, or you could start to hack the viewer’s brains.
Viral magic content has become strip teases. Julius makes us wait four long minutes to finally see him throw a knife at a model in the screengrab above. In another video, we’re forced to wait four minutes to finally see a jet ski pull someone’s beach towel away.
Magic has become secondary to the algorithms, and instead of hacking the algorithms, we’re hacking our viewers. Forcing them to be unable to click away, unable to stop watching. There is undoubtedly an incredible amount of skill involved in what these internet magicians do. It’s a shame most magicians care too much about magic to see it that way.
Harry Houdini knew how to get into the news. Magicians a hundred years ago would play cheap tricks that magicians hated. They’d pay ambulances to park outside their theatres to make their illusions seem more real. They’d pull cheap stunts and party tricks to make the headlines. Can you imagine a world in which magicians in 100 years look back at how Julius Dein became the most-watched thing on FaceBook while magicians were looking the other way?
What’s Next? Conspiracies—they seem to be hard to kill.
Maybe someone will use a money printer to make a conspiracy symbol appear on a dollar bill…
Who knows what’s next, but I can tell you I adore my conversations with Tom Elderfield. He’s currently riding algorithms down in Mexico and living the strangest of lives. I can tell you that as I speak to him, I feel myself being pulled into the treasure-hunting-like thrill and allure of algorithm chasing, hacking, and riding.