REALLY Breaking the Magician's Code

A common exchange at one of my gigs:

“Wow, how did you do that?”
“He’s not going to tell you, that would be breaking the magician’s code.”
Me: Enigmatic smile as I leave, often tripping over and destroying all illusion that I have any mystery about me.

It’s true though, a magician never reveals their secrets. It’s the cardinal rule. There are a few notable exceptions, the Masked Magician and people desperate for views on YouTube, but in general it’s a truism. A magician will not tell you how their act is done. I’d like to add to that a second rule: A magician will not tell you how much their act costs. Why is that? Simply put there are a number of factors that you’ll never find a price list on a magician’s website. We have to allow for travel expenses and time, the month, day, and even the time will matter, how long before the gig is happening, what kind of a gig it is, and lots of other things need to be calculated before we can give you a quote.

Again, as with revealing secrets, this rule is broad but not all encompassing. I have one friend who charges £1,000 a gig, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you are booking them for the whole day, or half an hour, they will quote you £1,000. But this kind of hard and fast billing is very much the exception rather than the rule. So, having said all that, can I give you any tips on keeping the price low?

Yes, of course I can, but before I do let me just make something clear, and in doing so break that second cardinal rule of magic. My base price is £400 for two hours. That is about average for a professional magician and is calculated before factoring in distance, time, day, or anything else. But come on, £400 for two hours work!? That’s crazy! Absolutely. And if I were working 9 to 5 five days a week it would be a disgraceful amount. But I’m not. Almost none of us are. Four to six gigs a month would be considered good going by most professional magicians. That’s £1,600 to £2,400 a month, or £19,200 to £28,800 a year. And my experience is with magicians in and around London. The AVERAGE salary in the south east is around £31,000. Plus we’re self-employed, so there’s no employer contribution pensions involved in what we do. Then there is that travel time and cost I was talking about. We have to buy equipment, tricks, and refills and so on. I'm not sugesting that these issues are unique to magicians, but it is why quality professionals in every walk of life expect to be paid for their work.

But we’re definitely prepared to be flexible. So here’s what you have to do:

Weekday Work

Oh my goodness. I cannot stress this one enough. Gigs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the Holy Grail! As a very talented and expensive magician said to me once “I’d rather be working than not working, so if I can get a gig on a Tuesday, even if it’s for hardly anything, I might well take it.”

Top Tip: If you own a restaurant, club, or pub and are looking at getting a resident magician in, think weekday! Not only will they almost certainly be prepared to work for a bit less, but also you’re more likely to be able to attract in more customers when you’re quiet, rather than entertain ones you are already getting.

Last MinutE Booking

This one is a gamble: wait until less than a week before you need a magician you’ll probably get a cheaper rate. However, don’t be surprised if you’re disappointed or have to settle for someone you’ve never heard of.

Top Tip: If the magician you try to book is busy, ask them if they can recommend or even get someone else for you. Gig sharing is fairly common amongst magicians. If I ever pass on work I am always sure to use someone I personally know and have seen perform or who is recommended to me by another performer I trust. This isn’t the case with all magicians but – bluntly - they are still probably going to have a better idea at who is good than you.

Be Flexible on Time

One of the things that kills magicians is travel time. We’ve all had to turn down gigs not because we’re working, but because we are traveling to work. Usually, if travel time is what’s causing an issue with a booking, the magician will suggest an alternative time, usually either side of an hour of what you will have suggested.

Top Tip: This one is simple, if your time is negotiable, their fee might be too.

Could you ignore all this advice and still get a magician for £300? £200? Yes, of course you could. There are definitely magicians who will do a two hour gig for as little as £150. To be honest, the chances are they’ll be fine. You’ll have a good time with them at your event. But the issue is that it’s exceptionally doubtful the person you’re hiring is doing anything exceptional or original. There are plenty of effects anyone can buy and perform, but these people are just doing tricks, they aren’t magicians. They aren’t innovators or great performers. These are broad strokes I’m painting with. High cost doesn’t necessarily mean good quality. But even if the magician you’re looking at hiring is offering you a low price simply because they just need the work, why would you want to take advantage of that? When I worked street magic almost every performer would say “Two or three pound, the price of a cup of coffee, that’s all I ask for a 25 minute show.” Yet so often people felt that the show they believed was worth their time, that they had stood in the freezing cold to watch, wasn’t worth the price of a coffee.

And so I’ll finish this blog entry by quoting what I would say at the end of one of my street shows: 

You’ve got a choice right now, you can go home and say ‘I saw live magic today’ or you can go home and say ‘I made sure live magic is going to continue tomorrow.’
Paul ReganComment