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arthur stead

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Songland is a TV show which gives undiscovered songwriters a chance to create a hit.  Contestants are selected to work with producers and a well-known recording artist to release a song.  In the process, viewers get a look at the creative process in action.   I watched the first two seasons and, as a songwriter myself, found the collaborative creative process fascinating.  

The reason I’m posting this here is because of a discussion between one of the judgess and a young songwriting contestant in one of the episodes.  I think their comments apply equally well to aspiring magicians (and even professional ones, for that matter).

In the show, the songwriter had just pitched her song to the three judges (who are all successful music producers) and a famous recording artist.  She was listening to their feedback, and got real emotional by their positive comments.  This is what she said:

“You guys have no idea how special this is.  It makes me want to cry because … I want it so bad … I don’t have a Plan B.”

At this point one of the judges jumped in, and what he said is what I believe applies to all of us; whether we are musicians or magicians:

“Wow, that’s the magic quote right there … `I don’t have a Plan B’.  This is such a crazy career path, if you have a plan B, your Plan A will not work.  Because the second it gets too hard, you will run for that Plan B.”

Would be interested in what thoughts TMF Members have about this …



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TheAmazingStanley

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Reply with quote  #2 
Another musical analogy, I read an interview with a famous drummer, it might have been Steve Smith from Journey, and he said, regarding whether to pursue a career in the music industry, if there is anything else you could possibly imagine yourself being even remotely happy doing, do that instead. Music is my real passion and talent (although by big black hollow body Gretsch has had some serious case time as I become ever more obsessed with cards). So I considered turning it into money, but I have never heard one single person say one single good thing about the music industry. So I play for fun. Now I see people like Harry L and Pop H and I think that would be great to make a living like that. Would it? I’ve been wondering what day to day life is like for people who put bread on the table with magic. Is the magic industry as slimy, corrupt, drug soaked, and cynical as the music industry? Is the only way to tolerate it to throw out the safety net and force yourself to make it work because there’s no Plan B?

Having said that, I know that some very famous professional musicians could have done other things. Jimmy Page has said it was a tough decision to chose between music and biology as a career. Gene Simmons would have made a fortune selling anything; it just happens to be music. So maybe you can have a Plan B. But this is a great issue to raise and I hope some full time pros give us a picture of that it’s like.

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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #3 
Great topic Arthur! And some interesting additions from Stanley.

I think there' a lot of truth in what was said. I went to college then immediately married. Ultimately it was my choice to not pursue magic as a career, but I've lamented that fact ever since. In the end I just didn't "go for it".

Stanley's question about the slimy side of music and whether it exists in magic is a good one. I would say yes, it does, but to a much lesser extent. Any time people are involved you wind up with "people problems" such as envy, greed, lust, thievery, etc. Those characteristics don't pick and choose, they're present in all walks of life.

I shied away from most everything associated with magic for a spell. I would pick up a deck of cards or some coins from time-to-time, but I lost contact with magicians.

One day I ventured into a magic shop far away from home. I believe it was somewhere in Texas. I was looking at books and saw Chris Kenner's 'Totally Out Of Control'.
My eyes lit up. Some of you know Chris and I are of the same age and were both born in St. Louis. We belonged to IBM Ring One and frequently performed on the same programs. Anyway, when I saw the book I was so happy for him. I owned two of his other published works, but this book, or books actually, were the real deal, hardcover, great illustrations, etc.

I learned that Chris had left town and found a job performing regularly in a magic-themed restaurant. It was there that he met David Copperfield, who later hired Chris to be his Executive Producer. That's literally hitting the lottery. He now resides in Vegas in a huge mansion and is one of the founders of Theory11.

I'm honest enough to admit to a bit of jealousy and that feeling has made me regret not pursuing a career in magic myself. But once I got tied down to a "normal" day job, the die was cast. We all make choices and live with them.

There is and always has been jealousy in magic. Fights over provenance of tricks or sleights, sometimes quite spirited. Outright theft and disregard for others and their creations. Prepaid subscriptions to publications that weren't honored, book deals that fell through, and slugs of unpublished material appearing without consent or credit.

So yes, there is a slimy side to magic. But not moreso than most other enterprises and I would argue, probably less than many others.

We need to fight to keep it that way and the best way is to remind aspiring magicians about their responsibilities. That's why the internet is both a Godsend and a curse. Many who participate either don't understand their responsibilities or do and simply don't care. They'll be onto the next big thing while their damage lingers.

So read missives such as Harapan Ong's recent one on the importance of proper crediting, don't support illegitimate vendors selling 'The Books Of Wonder' download for $1.99 and maybe take the time to comment on a youtube video asking why the poster explained a trick they had no rights to. Do it with gentleness and respect, explaining why it is wrong, how they are hurting someone that chose to pursue their own "plan A" and is providing for themselves and possibly a family through their creativity.

Support those that made the tough choice or had no plan B.
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Magic Harry

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Reply with quote  #4 
I suppose my comment is in keeping with this theme. I'll never forget an exchange between 2 characters in an old movie, though I forget the movie or the actors. Paraphrasing it went something like, she "Do you think I should give up everything  to pursue a career in theater?" His answer, "If you need to ask, then the answer is no."
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TheAmazingStanley

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Reply with quote  #5 
Great story, Ray. You chose plan B and have regrets, although I get the sense you have mostly come to terms with them. But that just makes me wonder, what would your life be like today had you followed the path you really wanted to? Chris’ story says a lot, because what if Copperfield hadn’t been on that restaurant that day that time? What if Chris hadn’t found that big break? How long would he have been happy hopping tables doing tricks for semi interested audiences who were there not for him but for the food? He’s obviously ambitious and resourceful if he founded a company, but things just by luck could have gone in another direction.

So yeah, if you had gone for it, you might today be producing shows for world famous illusionists, or you might be scraping by on weddings and birthday parties. This is another question that fascinates me, does the cream always rise to the top? How many artists in any pursuit are “good enough” but never got that lucky break? Neal Peart talked about this. He went to England and thought if he was good enough fame and fourtune would automatically follow. He came back to Canada disillusioned, but then he heard these two guys in Toronto were looking for a drummer. So how much of his success was luck? There were probably a million little points where a different decision or luck would have changed everything. What if he broke down on the way to that audition? What if he met someone in London and fell in love and got married and stayed there? What if he never heard about that band who just parted ways with their drummer? What if Geddy and Alex were in a different mood and didn’t like him?

There are just so many different ways your life can go, so many branches on an infinite tree of decisions or fortune every day, that you can’t begin to speculate what your life would be like had you consciously chosen another path. But I know how you feel, I really do.

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Buffalo McKinley

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Reply with quote  #6 

“Wow, that’s the magic quote right there … `I don’t have a Plan B’.  This is such a crazy career path, if you have a plan B, your Plan A will not work.  Because the second it gets too hard, you will run for that Plan B.”

Would be interested in what thoughts TMF Members have about this …



Forgive my bluntness, but the whole "I'm not going to have a plan B and give everything to my art" is one of the STUPIDEST philosophies ever.

It sounds cool, but it compounds the risk on an already risky path.

I spent years in NYC as an actor and comedian and I'm doing my plan B now, so you can say that had I not had a plan B I would have made it.  (I'm still going for my dreams, though.)

I sacrificed a LOT for acting and comedy, but any art requires a LOT of luck to make a decent and CONSISTENT living for years.  There are just too many talented people competing for too few jobs.

I had a few years where I did very well.  If not for my plan B job, I'm not sure what I would have done during the lean years.  I would have been desperately trying to survive.  How do you focus on your art when every day is a struggle to keep a roof over your head and food in the fridge?

There's a documentary on professional magicians out there and all of them look like they are struggling to make ends meet.

I remember years ago working with an AWESOME comedian a few times.  This guy could make a room full of people laugh for an hour and half, and he was in his 50s struggling from month to month.

I know so many actors and comedians who didn't have a plan B and are still struggling, living day to day, struggling for many years scratching out a living.

If they're happy, I have nothing more to say, but more likely they are stuck in a difficult and depressing existence, because they never had a plan B, so in your 40s and 50s and beyond, how do you then begin to invest the years to learn a skill that will provide for you and your family?

It can be done, but it's very tough.

So, I think those people who say something ignorant like, "If you have a plan B you'll fall back on it", haven't considered all those people who didn't have a plan B and are trying to make ends meet in their old age waiting on tables at a diner.

And even if you have some success, there's no guarantee it will last.

My buddy dated a woman who was an actress on a very successful television show years ago.  She worked for three years and hasn't had anywhere near that success since the show ended, and I believe she is having financial issues.

That said, I still believe you should go for it and bust your ass for your art.  We're here to follow our dreams, but use your head in case things don't work out.

You hear the successful people on late night shows say if they had a plan B they would have fallen back on it, but the majority of equally talented (and many more talented) people who didn't have a plan B and didn't have the good fortune to make it, they don't get any publicity.

If you don't have a plan B and are successful and make it, you're a genius.

However, if you don't have a plan B and don't make it, what are you then?  What are your options as old age is closing in and life gets increasingly difficult?

Good luck and never give up!

-Buffalo

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Mind Phantom

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Reply with quote  #7 
I was in my 20's when I was doing shows, this was before the internet. I did everything birthday parties, kid shows, weddings,banquets everything except trade shows. 

When I turned 30 I got into real estate I was working 60 hrs a week and quit working for the local talent agent. I should have kept my connections in the magic biz but I didn't. 

Now I am 55 and I wan't to do trade shows & civic groups and the senior centers with my Crooked Gambling Show and my Mental Act ( I know your not supposed to mix the two, but I do anyways ). I feel like I am starting all over again.

Do I have a plan B?

Not really. I am just getting into practicing again and posting here. It's hard to say what would happen if I did have a plan B, depends on how much money I would be making in my regular job & the lifestyle I want to live.

I need to think long & hard about this question.

Great topic!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Intensely Magic

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Reply with quote  #8 
When I was a young man, some old goat, about the age I am now, said "son, you will go through life on plan B". Unfortunately, he was right.
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Paco Nagata

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Reply with quote  #9 
Great topic, as well as a nice way to know better each other with your interesting and inspiring stories.

When I meet for the first time the art of card magic by the TV (being 7 years old) , I had got my plan A: to be a card magician. At that time I had not plan B.
However, as I was noticing that my family members and friends couldn't consider me a (true) magician no matter how good my card tricks were, since they always assumed that I did some tick (but not magic), I had to think about a plan B.
The plan A may have been to become a professional, what is to say, to enter the wonderful world of the real magicians.
But, as I grew up I understood that it wasn't going to be possible; I never got any serious support about it. In my very big familly (lots of uncles, aunts, cousins, three siblins, friends), nobody was or had been a professional magician. So, I had not any magic tradition in my family. My father never took me seriously about my card magic tricks. He was a good father, but not a good "dream supporter."
In addition I lived in a village where there weren't any magic shop. That was good for my creativity but not for my dream.
So, my plan B was to be happy with being an amateur magician (an emulator magician). If I hadn't had such a plan B I would have been less happy than I am now; I would have feel always that I lack something in my life.
When I moved to the big capital of Madrid, it was too late. I had got a good job in the tourism industry and had other plans. So I decided to keep my "magic world" as an "amateur world."

I think that there's always a "plan B" that comes by itself according to the circunstances of life.

If you don't need to think about a plan B, don't do it, since the plan B will think about you if it needs you!


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TheAmazingStanley

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Reply with quote  #10 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paco Nagata
Great topic, as well as a nice way to know better each other with your interesting and inspiring stories.

When I meet for the first time the art of card magic by the TV (being 7 years old) , I had got my plan A: to be a card magician. At that time I had not plan B.
However, as I was noticing that my family members and friends couldn't consider me a (true) magician no matter how good my card tricks were, since they always assumed that I did some tick (but not magic), I had to think about a plan B.
The plan A may have been to become a professional, what is to say, to enter the wonderful world of the real magicians.
But, as I grew up I understood that it wasn't going to be possible; I never got any serious support about it. In my very big familly (lots of uncles, aunts, cousins, three siblins, friends), nobody was or had been a professional magician. So, I had not any magic tradition in my family. My father never took me seriously about my card magic tricks. He was a good father, but not a good "dream supporter."
In addition I lived in a village where there weren't any magic shop. That was good for my creativity but not for my dream.
So, my plan B was to be happy with being an amateur magician (an emulator magician). If I hadn't had such a plan B I would have been less happy than I am now; I would have feel always that I lack something in my life.
When I moved to the big capital of Madrid, it was too late. I had got a good job in the tourism industry and had other plans. So I decided to keep my "magic world" as an "amateur world."

I think that there's always a "plan B" that comes by itself according to the circunstances of life.

If you don't need to think about a plan B, don't do it, since the plan B will think about you if it needs you!



Thanks for the inspiring story Paco. You didn’t have the support and you took Plan B but you never gave up your passion for magic. I think it’s untrue that an amateur is not a real magician. Some very famous magicians are amateurs (which I define as putting food on the table some other way). But I share your feelings of not being a “real” magician. For now it’s because I haven’t been at it long, but I suspect this feeling will persist even as I advance. My insecurity is that maybe I am “that guy who does card tricks,” when what I aspire to is to practice an art form.

I usually pick up a few Standards or Bees when I do my shopping at Publix. Once the cashier asked if I was a magician. I said sort of. I can’t as yet bring myself to just flat out say, “I am a magician.”

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EVILDAN

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Reply with quote  #11 
I've heard from a handful of people that the fastest way to becoming a pro is to quit your day job - essentially abandoning any Plan B. 
Now you have to find ways to make Plan A work. 
Meaning, you now have to think of ways to get work with your Plan A. 
And there are some creative ways to go about this - although Covid-19 squashed a lot of the methods that these people have used. 
But, I suppose there are other ways. 
Become a YouTube sensation. I still don't understand how some of these people are making their money. 

I'm guessing if you don't have to commit any time to Plan B, then you can devote all your time to Plan A.
And, if you like to eat, and keep a roof over your head, you'll find a way to make it work, because you have all day, every day to work on it. 

On the other hand, people have advised me that if you love performing magic, have a regular job and do magic on the side, because then you're doing magic because you love doing it. 
Too often people start hating magic when they go full time because it turns from a "love" into a job. 

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John Cowne

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Reply with quote  #12 
My thought is that if your Plan A is really worth it, then plan B’s can become steps in your Plan A, no matter how long it takes. It may not look exactly like what you thought it would be, but you keep hammering If you have a big enough plan. It’s the difference between someone saying they always wanted to be an astronaut but never took science as a subject - it’s the difference between a daydream and a life vision worthy of its name. I find a certain courage in Tolkien’s Hobbit, when the character Thorin Oakenshield says, “From my grandfather to my father, this has come to me. They dreamt of the day when the Dwarves of Erebor would reclaim their homeland. There is no choice, Balin. Not for me.” I do love magic, but for me it’s not my Plan A. It’s not that important. My Plan A is where I invest most of my time and energy.
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Buffalo McKinley

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Reply with quote  #13 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVILDAN

Too often people start hating magic when they go full time because it turns from a "love" into a job. 




Great point.

I didn't think to mention this consideration in my earlier post in this thread, but this is something that can happen with struggling performers.

Once again, I can only speak to my experience as an actor and comedian, but when you're desperately struggling to eat and pay rent every month, it can damage the enjoyment of your art, and subsequently your art itself.

Over years, i started enjoying stand-up less and less as I was constantly figuring out how to make ends meet, and it started affecting my performances.

I couldn't believe all the crap I had to go through just to get a few minutes of stage time to make people laugh.  It wears you down.

Does this happen with magicians?

Last night I was watching Aaron Sorkin commenting on how you really need to keep your head in a good place, by any means possible, to write well.  The same is likely true of the pursuit of any art.

The best advice I can offer is not whether or not you should have a Plan B, but you really need to love your art independent of making a living.  If you love magic only if you can make a decent living at it, how will your magic be impacted if you are unable to pay the bills with your amazing tricks?

My acting jumped to another level once I stopped caring about landing the audition (in other words, pleasing the casting director) and started caring about pleasing myself.

SPOILER ALERT FOR THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: This approach reminds me of when Morgan Freeman's character stops trying to say the words that will get him paroled and finally starts speaking from the heart.

Actually Aaron Sorkin also talks about this with writing.  You can't write well trying to make others happy.  His advice is you just have to write something that makes you happy and cross your fingers that others will like it, too.

Hope something I wrote helps you.

Good luck!

-Buffalo
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Socrates

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Reply with quote  #14 
Showbusiness is a fickle one. A plan can be helpful, a vision is much needed and tenacity is a must. At one time my whole income came via a deck of cards. It took a lot of time hustling to secure gigs. I worked on the little and often theory and was rewarded handsomely. Eventually I decided to diversify as I wanted to redefine what magic meant to me.

There are many people who have succeeded, and many more that have fallen by the wayside. Burning your bridges and focusing on your passions can be perfect for those with a do or die mentality. We love magic but it's a tough gig to sell, not everyone can see the appeal of hiring a magician, and as you know a lot of folk associate magicians with kids parties.

Michael Caine, in a recent book of his, spoke about the importance of your tribe. Who you surround yourself with is of the utmost importance to your success. We live in a world of naysayers, so we need to be able to combat those folk and their negative attitudes - "No man is an island" as John Donne once said.

Times are tough right now. The current pandemic has messed with the system we live in. Things are not as stable as we've been led to believe. In a recent lecture John Carey mentioned how some professional magicians he knows have had to take on menial jobs to survive. Magic is a tough gig, as is anything in the entertainment industry.
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Paco Nagata

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Reply with quote  #15 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheAmazingStanley


Thanks for the inspiring story Paco. You didn’t have the support and you took Plan B but you never gave up your passion for magic. I think it’s untrue that an amateur is not a real magician. Some very famous magicians are amateurs (which I define as putting food on the table some other way). But I share your feelings of not being a “real” magician. For now it’s because I haven’t been at it long, but I suspect this feeling will persist even as I advance. My insecurity is that maybe I am “that guy who does card tricks,” when what I aspire to is to practice an art form.

I usually pick up a few Standards or Bees when I do my shopping at Publix. Once the cashier asked if I was a magician. I said sort of. I can’t as yet bring myself to just flat out say, “I am a magician.”

Stanley, thanks a lot for your empathy and encouragement, not only for me, but for any amateur magician that has similar feelings.
I agree about that a GOOD amateur magician can be a "real" magician as he or she takes it seriously and feel he/herself like so.
The problem could be when our spectators sometimes don't take us very seriously up to the point of making us doubt ourself about it.
Anyway it depends on ourselves.
If you feel yourself a "real" magician doing good magic, your people, sooner or later, will finish accepting you like so, as happened to me.

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Latest erratum corrections and improvements update, 16/06/2020
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TheAmazingStanley

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Reply with quote  #16 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EVILDAN
Too often people start hating magic when they go full time because it turns from a "love" into a job.


Bringing money into something fundamentally changes your relationship with it.

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