I performed professionally as a magician starting in my teens and for many years thereafter. I went on to have a non-performing career in mainstream show business, but I eventually decided to return to magic as a career. I really missed performing, and I am absolutely loving what I am doing now. It is really hard work though, and it was hard work when I did it when I was much younger.
To make magic a career you have to love it. A lot. The chances of getting rich from it are slim. It is a lot like acting, where most actors don’t make it, the ones with ongoing careers make an adequate living, and only a small percentage hit the jackpot with a series or movie stardom.
A magic career is not for everyone. If you want to go into magic because you see it as an easy and fun way to make a living, then you are in for a big disappointment. People will reasonably try to talk you out of it. They are probably right. Being a professional magician requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It is a lot more work than having a regular job.
I love performing more than anything, but it is only a small part of the business of magic. There is booking, transportation arrangements, keeping on top of paperwork, developing new routines, learning new moves, repairing, prototyping, dealing with costuming and so much more. You are running a business, and most of the work of running a business is not nearly as much fun as being in front of an audience.
There are a number qualities you need to succeed. Most importantly, you need determination. That comes from wanting a magic career more than anything else. Without that kind of passionate drive, your energy may dissipate. If you want it with all your heart, then you will find enough determination to give it everything you’ve got, even when it’s a tough day.
You also need to be willing to work very hard. Twelve and fourteen hour days are not unusual for anyone running their own business . Because you love what you are doing, and it gives you satisfaction, the hours don’t seem so bad, but you will also need to take care of yourself physically (so add getting enough rest and eating right to that.)
You should also be assertive. If you want something, go after it. If you find you are sometimes shy, work on getting out of your shell. I talk to all sorts of random people all the time. For me, learning to be gregarious and talk to everyone helped me be able to make that tough phone call to someone I’ve never met before, who just may need a magic show.
Which leads me to sales. Anything legitimate you can do in sales as a kid will help you later. When I say legitimate, I mean that there are plenty of people who will take advantage of you when it comes to sales. They may not pay you. They may be selling something shoddy. The could be criminals, even if they are very charming. So, first, before you agree to sell anything may sure you share all of the details with your parent or an adult you trust. I got a lot out of a magazine drive we did through our junior high school. My parents kind of hated it, because they aren’t performers or sales people, but they made sure it was legitimate so I didn’t get myself in trouble and boy, I sold a lot of magazines. (Hitting up my dentist was a stroke of genius, because after all I was a cute kid, his patient and he needed magazines for his waiting room.) Selling Girls Scout Cookies is another opportunity, I’ve seen out there, which seems well supervised and fun.
You also have to believe in yourself. Deep down Inside, no matter what happens, you must know that you will succeed. Only you can do that for yourself. True, there will be times when you get depressed and feel like you are getting nowhere, but you must have a deep faith that you can do it. There will be times when you get criticized, or get a bad review, or have a performance that bombs. Everyone has made mistakes in a show, and you certainly will. Don’t let the embarrassment over that stop you. Faith in yourself is what keeps you going during the hard times. You can’t wait for things to come to you. If you do, you may be waiting forever.
One technique people use to focus their energies is practicing positive affirmations. You can put a note on the mirror to remind you each morning about something you want to focus on. It might be something broad like, “I am talented and smart” or something specific like, “of course I can learn a double-lift.” It sounds silly, but saying what you want each day, out loud, really works.
Now that you know what it takes, what can you expect? Well, if you have ever looked for a regular job, then you know what being unemployed is like. Being a magician is sort of like perpetual unemployment, punctuated by brief periods of paying work. You do work all of the time, either on the act or on getting work, but you only get paid when you actually perform, because that’s when you are delivering the value to your clients. There are people who are fortunate enough to have bookings that last for years, but these are the exceptions, and eventually they too will be out of work. If you want stability and security, performing of any type is not the business to be in. I am reminded of a good friend of mine who is a famous actor. He said, he looks for work every day. He knows he has a good chance of getting a new role when he sees that he is solving someone’s problem. You’ll need to find those opportunities where you help someone look better in front of their friends, have fun, provide entertainment – in short what you are providing is very valuable, but very hard to describe and initially kind of hard to sell.
Please don’t assume you can just get an agent and they will keep you busy. To have an agent even consider you (and most don’t work with magicians), you already have to be a success. There are just no shortcuts.
You typically don’t have a regular and predictable flow of income, so you have to be a very good money manager. Even when you are making a lot of money, there are so many expenses. There is the cost of new equipment, maintenance (yourself and your props), publicity, travel, insurance. It takes a good amount of money just to break even, and you have to learn how to manage your money, instead of spending every nickle you have. Adults call this skill Financial Literacy, and you’ll want to start learning about it now. I did see a book called, “A Smart Girl’s Guide: Money: How to Make It, Save It, and Spend It” which might be a good book for you to check out. Building your skill set in Financial Literacy now will put you leaps and bounds ahead of many magicians as you start your career, so see what you can find out about it. (Hint: Librarians can be a great source for books and programs about this.)
Many magicians have other magic related income streams, in addition to performing. I had an advantage in that I had a partner who was a talented magician, and we booked ourselves as two separate acts rather than a partner act, because that way we got paid twice. We marketed original magic effects. I produced shows with other magicians. We went out and lectured. I published and edited a magic magazine and books.
Sure, you can make a living just doing shows, but there is a limit as to how many shows you can do. The ideal situation is to have a residency, like the terrific Jen Kramer, who appears Wednesday through Saturday at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort. Check out her website at her link (which is excellent) and you’ll see she does many other things as well. She works really hard, and she worked long and hard to get where she is now.
I would not trade my experiences as a professional magician for anything. There is no shame in being a part time pro, as many famous magicians really are. Just keep educating yourself, so you know what you are getting into and have a clear plan of what you want to do. That’s how you get where you want to go.