Here is an excerpt from “How to Be an Illusionist: A Fundamental Guide to Performing a Modern Illusion Show” that discusses the market & business opportunities for magicians in 2017.
While it was written with the illusionist in mind, this article will apply to any performing magical performer or even variety artists such as jugglers, ventriloquists, acrobats and circus performers.
Performing magic & illusions is different today from just ten or even five years ago. Market conditions and entertainment trends are more volatile in the last decade as compared to before the turn of the millennium.
New technologies also greatly influence the direction of media, pop culture and entertainment. Thus, the proliferation of technology year over year directly impacts how entertainment content is created and consumed.
The current situation is not necessarily bad or good but it is different from before. What is important is to understand, accept and react to the current market conditions. Not being aware or ignoring the current situation may make you obsolete or irrelevant to today’s audience and show bookers.
While it may be easier to get yourself noticed as an entertainer in today’s market, it is even easier to fall “out of fashion” and be forgotten after your 15 minutes of fame.
Here are four interconnected ways that affect the way you should think about performing, producing and marketing an illusion show in today’s market:
- The Internet, Technology and the Consumption of Entertainment
- Mainstream Exposure & the Perception of Magic
- Economic Market Conditions & Opportunities for Magicians
- Competition & Global Connectivity
The Internet, Technology and the Consumption of Entertainment
The Internet and technology have completely changed how audiences consume live and video entertainment.
The terrestrial television market has been steadily shrinking over the last 15 years. Even cable television is feeling the competition of online and on-demand content. Network and cable TV viewership have dropped considerably in many developed markets as consumers have moved to on-demand services such as Netflix and Hulu.
Live performances such as music concerts and comedy specials are not confined to the TV medium but are sometimes exclusively streamed online.
A significant percentage of content is also consumed on mobile platforms and the percentage is projected to grow steadily in the years to come. While short video content is most popular on mobile platforms, viewers are getting more comfortable watching full episodes of television shows and movies on their smart phones or tablets.
With the Internet, there has also been a shift to user-generated content. This refers to content put out by independent creators, whether amateurs, semi-professionals or professionals.
Content is no longer only created by professional production houses for television networks, media companies or movie studios. The most popular YouTubers regularly have a higher viewership than even the highest-rated network television shows, even if their production standards may be much lower.
Artists such as musicians, comedians, singers, animators, visual artists and magicians can grow their own audience if they can connect with an audience and build a following through social media. The Internet offers multiple platforms for exposure and self-promotion that was not available before.
Inexpensive online tools and software also allow content creators and artists to create and produce professional-level content that was not possible before without a huge monetary investment.
The Internet has made today’s audience’s attention spans shorter and their appetite for entertainment even bigger since they can now access worldwide content at a click of a mouse or tap of a mobile device. However, the abundance in choice also makes consumers more picky and critical of quality entertainment that appeals to them.
The shift in consumer behaviour due to the Internet and technology has changed the way content creators and media companies produce their entertainment. Likewise, as part of the entertainment landscape and a magic performer, you must be aware of how rapidly technology in entertainment and media is moving and how you can take advantage of it to build your personal brand.
The opening statement made in the “Editor’s Letter” of the PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2016 –2020 sums up this necessity succinctly:
“If you’re a senior executive in the entertainment and media industry, you are probably engaged in rearguard actions against your own past assumptions.
Every sector has been struck by major technological change during the past decade – newspapers and publishing by the move to digital, video and audio by streaming, advertising by data analytics, marketing by new media opportunities, interactive games by, well, other interactive games, and everything by the smartphone and the ever-more-global Internet.
But only now are these immense changes coalescing enough for us to make sense of them. The challenge is not simply to react to disruption and change, but to choose a path that allows you to look ahead with confidence.”
Mainstream Exposure & the Perception of Magic
In the overall entertainment industry, magicians are not seen as top-tier mainstream entertainers as compared to A-list Hollywood actors or international music artists. This, of course, has not stopped you from pursuing magic at a high level because you love the art.
In order for your magic to be perceived at a higher level by the mainstream media and public, you need to ensure that your magic is current, relevant and mirrors mainstream pop culture entertainment.
In previous decades, mainstream audiences were mostly exposed to magic through live shows they watched or the occasional television shows or specials by Blackstone, Doug Henning, Paul Daniels, David Copperfield or appearances by magicians featured on variety or talk shows. Different countries may have their own prominent local magicians with television shows or programs.
Except for hardcore enthusiasts, the general mainstream audience’s perception of magic is primarily shaped by what they watched on television as well as live shows (which may be good or bad). Essentially, their exposure to good magic was limited.
However, today, perhaps more than any time in the history of magic, audiences are exposed to magic across multiple platforms; from live shows to television (network and cable) to the Internet.
First, there are more performing magicians in the world than any time in history. The television magicians of the 70s, 80s and 90s have inspired the current crop of performing magicians to entertain audiences all over the world, whether it is close up magic (street magic) or stage illusions. The general increase in affluence in the world has also allowed more people to pursue magic as a career, part-time or full-time. As a result, there is a higher chance of someone, especially from a developed country, to have watched magic live.
But most people (if not the majority), would watch magic through a video medium. In the past decade alone, there have been a number of magicians who have had regular television specials or series such as David Blaine, Criss Angel, Dynamo, Derren Brown and Lu Chen in China. Currently, Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” is on television and CW’s “Masters of Illusion” has been running for a number of seasons.
Mainstream audiences are also being exposed to variety acts (magicians and illusionists included) through various countries’ “Got Talent” television shows. The production quality for the shows are very high; not just in terms of the technical filming but also the way the talents are presented. The talents are introduced with highly produced video packages and if the acts are good, favourable reactions of the hosts, judges and live audience are shown. The shows are also now more focused on showing really solid talent instead of just embarrassing bad acts as was the direction in the earlier seasons of such shows.
A lot of performances are extracted from these television shows, uploaded into the Internet and shared on social media. Magicians and illusionists all over the world also regularly upload videos of their live performances. There are also many magicians who create magic videos specifically for the Internet and social media platforms. Rick Lax is at the forefront in creating such videos and has developed a brilliant unique style and delivery for Facebook that gets millions of views.
The result of this combination of magic on multiple platforms is that compared to 20 years ago, mainstream audiences are now exposed to a lot of good (admittedly some bad) magic of different genres and from countries all over world.
The perception of today’s magic is now shaped by all the magic that the mainstream audience is exposed to and this perception is also the standard that they will judge your magic by.
So, the modern illusionist is not judged by just local competition but by literally the best acts in the world. This puts significant pressure on the modern illusionist to match up to the current perception and stand out against this steep competition.
Economic Market Conditions & Opportunities for Magicians
The global financial crisis in 2008/ 2009 had a major impact on most of the world, especially North America, Europe and South East Asia. Its effects are still being felt and while there has been progress, recovery has been slow and the markets are still volatile but have picked up in 2015/ 2016.
With the world being more economically interconnected and countries being more interdependent on each other for trade and borrowing, global economic, political, health, environmental or social forces taking place anywhere in the world can affect most markets across the globe.
This means the world is more uncertain which results in businesses worldwide being more fiscally prudent. The lead time given for projects, especially of an entertainment nature (unless it is specifically an entertainment or media business) is also generally shorter than before.
During bad markets, naturally, all businesses are affected. And when it comes to luxury items like live entertainment, it is common for show bookings to decrease or for budgets to be reduced.
However, historically, even in bad markets, there are still certain industries, sectors and business that thrive. The key is to find out how to discover and take advantage of these opportunities.
Here is a brief overview of markets and opportunities available for the modern illusionist:
Hotels, Resorts, Attractions & Showrooms
Hotels, resorts, attractions & showrooms have all been long-standing venues to feature illusionists. For decades, these venues have been a steady source of work for illusionists worldwide; from small-town fairs, to large-scale theme parks to world-class casino resorts.
While there are still opportunities for illusionists to headline in venues, there are fewer venues to work with and the business arrangements have changed.
The combination of the economic climate and changes in audience’s attitude and preferences in entertainment has resulted in a change for venues that feature illusion shows or non-celebrity name acts.
There are less showrooms or entertainment venues that will feature illusion shows at their own expense. Las Vegas which was once a Mecca for magic in the 1990s took a bad hit during the global financial crisis in 2008. Although in the last two years, while still a tough venture, there are a number of magic & illusion shows playing in different properties on and off the Strip. However, it by no means a secure gig with guaranteed returns.
The reason is simple; people are gambling less in Vegas. Consider this, the two then-new casinos in Singapore made more than all the casinos in the entire Vegas Strip in 2012. Macau, the new gambling capital of the world, made at least five times more than the two casinos in Singapore. That is why Franz Harary secured a deal to build his “House of Magic” in Macau and is the main magic attraction in the city.
Kyle Knight & Mistie performing in Franz Harary’s “House of Magic”
One major reason for this is China’s booming economy that has been growing at an astronomical rate in the last fifteen years, although it has slowed down in the last two years. The opening up of its economy has caused a shift in the world’s economic super power. The Chinese high-rollers no longer fly across the world to gamble in Vegas as they can get the same action and hospitality in Macau or Singapore.
China’s new dominance has changed the geo-political landscape of the world. The new-found affluence of the Chinese can be seen in the large increase in Chinese tourism, immigration and businesses present in just about every country in the world. The impact of the Chinese will be felt in all aspects of business and life, including live entertainment.
While some venues (mainly attractions) will book and pay for an act to perform. Many venues are looking to work with acts on a “four-wall” or “two-wall” arrangement.
Four-walling (or four wall distribution) is a term originally used in the film industry where a studio or distributor rents movie theaters for a period of time and receives all of the box office revenue.
The term has also been used to describe a business model for live entertainment shows in venues. In this case, the performer (or performer’s production company or in partnership with a production company), rents a venue and assumes all production, marketing and ticket sales costs & efforts. The venue simply provides the space although they might also offer a basic billboard, box office services & ushers.
In a two-wall arrangement, there is a partnership or collaboration with the venue to assume part of the costs and risks of the show. Gross ticket sales are then divided in an agreed revenue-sharing arrangement.
There is no fixed arrangement or guidelines to how a two-wall deal must follow as it is up to both parties to negotiate. The ideal is for there to be a win-win situation where both parties contribute their strengths to a project that will succeed and make money.
Touring shows are a tough business. Lower purchasing power of consumers and rising costs make long tours challenging. Select highly targeted markets/ cities are necessary to make a touring show profitable. But, it also means there is intense completion in these high value markets and you will have to compete with all kinds of top touring shows from concerts to musicals to special events.
A number of individual illusionists have found a viable business model with a touring show within their country or geographical region. But, bear in mind, running a touring show is its own unique business enterprise.
One show that has done very well internationally is “The Illusionists” that features a rotating cast of magicians and illusionists. The success of the first installment of the show led to the creation of “Illusionists 2.0” and “Illusionists 1903”, all which provide more opportunity to different magicians & illusionists.
Sam Powers as featured in “The Illusionists 2.0”
Other touring shows like “Masters of Illusion” (based off the TV show), “Impossible Live” and “Got Talent” live shows are also avenues working magicians can explore. As with most concept shows, the demand for these type of shows will peak and run in cycles.
Corporate & Special Events
Corporate entertainment and marketing spending has been reduced significantly since the early 2000s (largely due to the dot com and tele-communication bust in late 90s as well as 9/11) and the global financial crisis in 2008/ 2009 only made things worse.
There are two broad categories for corporate events. One is marketing events that include trade shows, conferences, launches, sales meetings and customer hospitality events. The other category of corporate events is social events such as internal dinners, parties, festive gathering, family days and incentive outings or trips.
The distinction is important as the budgets from each category of corporate event come from different departments. For marketing events, the budget will come from the marketing department while the human resource (HR) department generally funds social events.
Naturally, the budgets for marketing events are higher as the activities are revenue generating in nature. Businesses invest money in such events with the expectation of getting returns in the future, whether tangible or intangible. However, budgets for experiential marketing (live events) have also been split with online and new media marketing efforts.
The budget for social events largely depends on how well the business performed in the past work year or on the financial outlook for the upcoming year. During weaker markets, entertainment is usually one of the first expense items to be reduced from corporate organizations. Even if a particular company is doing well but the economic climate is depressed, to avoid bad appearances, the company may still cut their lavish and extra-curricular expenses to be sensitive to the industry.
Having said the above, the corporate & special events market can still be lucrative although there may be less opportunities. Established corporate entertainers with a good track record and who have the ability to customize their shows in innovative and entertaining ways will be in demand. Top corporate entertainers performing customized magic & illusions can still command very high fees in industries that are during well.
Event organizers in general are constantly looking for new innovative venues to hold their events. These are typically non-traditional performance venues that are very challenging for a magic or illusion show.
The modern illusionist has to be able to adapt and take their show out of a traditional event setting like a hotel ballroom, convention hall or theatre. Being able to performing an illusion show in these non-traditional venues ensures you remain a relevant entertainment choice for entertainment buyers and event organizers.
Kids & Family Shows
Kids & family shows are probably the most stable of all markets. New audiences are born every year and generally regardless of the ups and downs of the economic market (unless a depression), there will always be kids shows available for magicians & illusionists. One reason is that kids & family shows cover a wide variety of different events and venues.
A magician could perform a kids & family show for birthday parties, corporate family events, attractions, shopping malls, social clubs, schools, carnivals, festivals, hotels, bar mitzvah parties, libraries and any kids or family oriented events.
If a kids & family magician has a quality show at a competitive price and good marketing, he can be confident of being solidly-booked throughout the year for different sub-markets within the kids & family show market.
Of course, the flip side is that competition can be very stiff for this market as barriers of entries are lower and a significant percentage of the market may be budget-conscious, making it necessary to be very competitive in show fees.
One market for illusionists that is doing reasonable well currently is the luxury cruise industry. This industry has grown steadily in the last 15 years and is currently experiencing a boom. More and bigger ships are built each year; all that require entertainment shows.
The Economist.com highlighted this in an article published on 20 Dec 2016, “rising middle-class incomes in America and Europe have fueled solid growth in the firm’s traditional markets. Smarter marketing and ticket-pricing have helped boost margins. And steaming into new cruise-holiday markets such as China, where passenger numbers are rising at a rate of 80% a year, now looks astute… the global order-book for new cruise ships is at an all-time high.”
David & Abi Haines, headline cruise ship entertainers
Illusion shows are a favourite as headline entertainment for cruise ships due to the wide appeal of magic and the large-scale of an illusion show that can fill the theatre in a luxury cruise liner.
If you have at least one solid 45-minute show and another 20-minute show of completely different material, you can connect with a cruise entertainment agent and work on ships as a guest entertainer.
Competition & Global Connectivity
The Internet has made the world more connected. While it is easier for you, the illusionist, to learn new illusion techniques and buy magic & illusion equipment from all over the world, it is also much easier for clients and show bookers to find acts from almost any country.
This means your illusion show is no longer competing just with other illusionists in your city but with illusionists worldwide and any other form of entertainment worldwide: including cute videos of cats.
Even if you perform in a market that only books local or regional acts, clients will often use a video clip they saw online as a reference for something they may want you to perform. Often these acts might be proprietary to that particular performer or it is a “street TV magic” effect that cannot be replicated in real life.
The reality is: The world is more connected and global forces affect all markets, industries and sectors. Business and entertainment trends move in cycles and geographical regions.
There are lucrative markets and shows available but they are different from before. The modern illusionist has to be able to identify business opportunities and offer a high quality differentiated product that is tailored for these markets in order to make money.
Through the Internet and advancements in technology, consumers and mainstream audiences in general are more educated and aware of the current trends in magic. Clients & show bookers also have access to a larger pool of talent thus making the opportunities for illusionists more competitive.
If you are looking to build and produce a modern illusion show for today’s market, check out the new “How to Be an Illusionist”.
The reference guide consists of 10 modules of information that is worth thousands of dollars’ to the performing illusionist and has taken years of experience to learn and develop.
It features over 80 full-colour photographs of over a dozen international illusionists in performance including David DaVinci (USA), J C Sum (Singapore), David & Abi Haines (USA), Kyle Knight & Mistie (USA), Miguel Gavilán (Spain), Hector Ruiz (Spain), Rémy Savary (France), Adeline Ng (Singapore), Daniel Ka (Spain), Sam Powers (Australia), Jason Bishop (USA), Jay Mattioli (USA) and Sean Alexander (U.K.).
This new expanded & updated 2nd Edition is also available separately as a printed book and instant download.
If you are keen to build a live entertainment career to create a money-generating brand, make a consistent 6-figure income and set up for retirement, “The Showbiz Master Plan” book is filled with incredible stories, practical advice, time-tested tips and market-proven action-steps on how to build a successful career as a performing artist and live entertainer.
The book is also available separately as a printed book and instant download.
Subscribe to this website and get a 20% discount off these books.
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[…] noted in my article Four Ways Performing Magic & Illusions is Different in 2017, various factors make it challenging for magicians to book more shows. At times, especially in more […]