Become a Better Magician
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For the first time in over a decade, Netflix isn’t doing so well. The platform has more subscribers than any other streaming service and had expected to gain 2.5 million in the first quarter of 2022—they missed this figure by 2.7 million; Netflix lost 200,000 paying subscribers.
It’s the first time they haven’t grown their total subscriber base, and they’re now estimating they’ll lose 2 million subscribers by the end of June. ‘Co-CEO Reed Hastings said he would consider introducing a lower-priced, ad-supported tier in the near future.’
Besides the world’s overwhelming desire for more Magic For Humans (a show I wrote on and would also very much like to be renewed), how exactly does this Netflix news impact the magic industry? Well, it doesn’t. Not really. But It’s confirmed an idea I’ve had for a long time about this weird world of magic we find ourselves in.
There’s too much magic.
I founded One Ahead on the simple belief that “you do not need more tricks”. I want this to be your weekly magic fix, connecting you with some of the best minds in magic. You can understand the cute no more tricks tagline in two parts. The first is that there’s too much magic, and the second is that you don’t need more tricks anyway.
There was once a time (in my lifetime, if you can believe it) when it was nearly impossible to learn magic secrets without knowing a magician. When I was a kid, I asked a magician I met how I could learn magic; they recommended I take the bus to my local library and ask if they happened to have a book about magic tricks.
Nowadays, if a kid asked me where to learn magic, I’d recommend they Google it. They’d discover a whole host of free video tutorials on YouTube upon doing so. They would never ask me where to learn magic, though. The algorithms will have already pointed them in the direction of TikToks and Instagram reels, teaching (sometimes exposing) basic sleights.
— Perhaps the most significant benefit of Blaine’s new magic course is that he’s recalibrating how newbies discover and learn magic. He’s setting a standard and ensuring people have an accessible way to understand and appreciate great magic. I had planned to write about Blaine’s magic course this week, but then I saw many emotional reactions (like those of Michael Weber, who loved Twitter until Elon bought it), and I decided not to wade in.
There’s no way of knowing if he’s referring to David Blaine or a local magician selling magic sets after their show. Weber’s tweeted many more times than those showcased above and five more times since saying goodbye. Anyways, back to it. As I now go on to describe the actual magic industry, you might figure out my opinion on Blaine’s new magic course.—
I’m twenty-seven, and it’s wild how much things have changed in my lifetime.
There’s been this rapid race to move magic online in the past ten years. Yes, the internet has been around longer than this, but the ability to stream HD video has not. What started as brands uploading great magic became flimsy magic licenced from magicians too young to realise they’ve become the scapegoat for unoriginal work.
Even I avoid recommending magic shops to new magicians. Gone are the days when you would visit and magic shop, and they’d only stock the best magic tricks available. I remember going to websites, and it was like a little playlist of the strongest magic tricks ever created, curated by the store owner.
Now, enforced by Murphy’s (the magic industries wholesaler), magic shops must stock every product ever created. Imagine being new to magic now. Is it any wonder people are learning magic from YouTube rather than visiting all these overwhelming magic shops?
Most magicians will agree that 90% of the magic on the market is a disappointing purchase, and I can’t help but think Murphy’s decision to stock and often fund these products leads to dissapointment in the industry and then more magic exposure and piracy.
Teaching magic is not a perfect business. Selling secrets never will be a great financial model. Dan & Dave pivoted from magic tutorials to puzzles, theory11 has perhaps pivoted to playing cards and many magic creators like Chris Ramsay and Pete McKinnon have moved onto far greater things than selling tricks.
It’s tough to sell magic tricks:
- New magicians can buy the same five great tricks they always buy.
- Professional magicians rarely buy magic tricks because they’re smart enough to stick to what works.
- A handful of magicians become hobbyists and spend a hundred dollars on new magic tricks each year.
I’m not knocking the hobbyist magicians. Magic is a lovely hobby, and learning a few tricks each year is great fun. These hobbyist magicians keep the magic industry alive—just. But what can the magic brands sell to these magicians? It’s a tricky one. The only option is to continue to release new magic tricks and convince hobbyists that they need the latest thing.
Magic brands have enormous difficulties producing and stocking quantity levels without focusing on new releases. Beyond the ten popular tricks, it’s a nightmare stocking a magic shop with the thousands of little random magic tricks. The safest way forward is to push marketing around specific new tricks and products and stock accordingly.
Releasing new magic was relatively easy to do ten years ago when magic was still moving online. It was exciting to see a new magic product with very few tricks available online. Nowadays, not so much.
The two biggest product releases of this year are both versions of tricks published over fifty years ago. When you read about them online in forums and Facebook groups, people are endlessly comparing them to other magic tricks available on the market.
This Netflix story reminds me of the magic industry. The big boom as it moved online, and now the overwhelming choice—not only in content but also in providers.
In streaming, the same content continues to reliably outperform, like Friends and Star Wars (both have since left Netflix), while Netflix tries its best to convince us to stay for their latest trick. There’s not enough time to watch all of the murder docs on Netflix or binge all their reality shows. Much like how there’s not enough time to watch every coin magic tutorial or learn thousands of card tricks.
The new magic products feel less and less exciting in a world with more and more magic products. It’s not sustainable. The hobbyists who keep the industry alive are starting to realise…
You don’t need more magic.
Shhhh, I’m going to let you in on a secret—something few magic brands who claim to make you a better magician will tell you. You don’t need more magic. You don’t. There are tried and tested magic tricks with decades of goodwill that you likely already own and perform.
If you want to be a great magician, you do not need more magic.
The magic shops won’t tell you this, for obvious reasons, but neither will the successful magicians. Look closely, and see successful magicians performing old, tried and tested principles. They’re not wasting time buying new magic releases. They’re investing value into the magic that comes with decades of playtesting.
I’ve spent the last ten years working as a professional magic consultant and writer for television shows around the globe. A question most magicians ask me is how I create new magic. The answer is simple and disastrously disappointing for these magicians—I don’t. I cannot name a single time in my magic career that I have invented something new.
There are a couple of occasions when we’ve come up with a new method for an old trick, but most of the time, I’m gift wrapping existing tricks with exciting new presentations. The decision to do so gets led by money; you risk far less of it by relying on reliable tricks and methods. And sure, by the time we finish, the original trick or method is barely recognisable—but I’m trying to say that the work starts by asking what’s the magic we love and not what’s the latest trick.
OK, so you’re a hobbyist, and you want to buy magic tricks every few months to satisfy your addiction (it’s cheaper than cocaine unless you’re buying from ProMystic). This habit is perfectly OK and encouraged. My advice is to shift your mentality from purchasing the latest tricks to buying the best magic.
If you asked me or some of the best magic consultants to pull together a playlist of the best tricks ever released, most of them would be old. The majority of them will be workable today, and you will not have heard about many of the tricks. The other day, I wondered why Zapped (a brilliant and reliable trick) hadn't been done to death on TikTok yet. Then I realised it’s because it was released pre-TikTok.
I was at The Magic Apple once when a TikTok magician entered the magic store. He had five million followers on TikTok and shared magic tricks most days for his fans. He was blown away by a floating match stick trick and had never seen flash paper.
I could write about how we’ve entered this phase where the internet rewards authentic documentation of people learning new skills rather than rewarding refined talent. I believe the exposure problem is much more of an algorithmic issue than a moral one. Instead, I’m just going to take a moment to encourage you to seek out rare, incredible, unknown magic tricks from books, eBay and the depths of the magic shop archives.
If you’re serious about your magic, take some acting classes and improv classes. Watch a masterclass on business, presenting and staging. Meet people outside of magic who can help you with your art. The truth is that if you’re serious about your magic, you likely already know all this.
Maybe that’s what this article is—a call for hobbyists to become collectors and seekers of great magic and a call for magic brands to do the same.