Friday, December 10, 2010

Project 365 Smorgasbord (343-345)

.:343/365: On Overexposure:.

Ever felt that there’s more magic all around us than ever? What used to be a rare, at best occasional treat, has become so commonplace that, well, the magic is gone. The video above features an excellent bit of magic, but because the Coin Bite has been so used on so many shows so many times already, even a stellar performance from Cyril Takayama can’t overshadow the routine’s overexposure.

How many TV shows have featured magicians at some point? In local TV alone, you could see a ton of magicians on their talent shows, a few more in their noontime shows, and even a bunch of them in their daily talk shows. News programs have some magicians involved, TV 5 in particular has shows that either feature magicians or expose magic, and it’s hard to think of a single wee of TV programming without any magicians showing up at some point.

It would’ve been nice if all this exposure results in a deeper appreciation for magic as an art form, yet one casual look at the results would prove to be very disheartening. The more overexposed magic has become, the cheaper the perception of it has been. This falls in line with how people assume that magic is for free not only because they see it all the time on TV, but they see a bunch of magicians out there in the street, giving them free shows left and right.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, inasmuch as it’s nice to have street magic really come into its own, the sheer number of people doing it has certainly made it impossible for the industry to command a certain kind of premium for performances. This is a byproduct of amateurism: the industry finds itself in a quandary because everything that makes it more recognizable and even desirable is also precisely what makes it less financially rewarding.

Surely, there has to be a balance here, and it starts with keeping things classy. The less palatable magic is on television, the more it contributes to disrepute than it does to elevating perception and the art form itself, then the less we should be showing that off. What I think has happened is that we have gotten enough mainstream recognition for us to begin caring what quality of exposure magic is getting now, as opposed to maybe a decade and a half ago, where any exposure at all was good exposure.

Magic is overexposed, guys. It’s time to start picking our spots well for our own good.

.:344/365: On Undercutting The Industry:.

A side effect of all the overexposure besetting magic today is that the perception that magic is cheap. It’s unbelievable how people think that they can pay you 5,000 bucks (About $120 or so.) to make an airplane disappear, or the fact that most bookers generally back away from any performer who charges more than 3,000.

Given my old-school sensibilities, I tend to want to be protective of my rates, not only for my own sake (That’s a given.), but also for the sake of my contemporaries, who would be hard-pressed to send their rates crashing down the minute I adopt that kind of mentality and encourage others to do so. In reality, though, you really get what you paid for, so don’t blame anyone but yourself if the two-bit magician you hired results in disaster.

Undercutting the industry doesn’t really help it at all. While there are reasonable rates, and even reasonable concessions, going well below those levels hurts both the perception (Here we go: a vicious cycle!) of the industry, and the marketability of the industry as a whole. As a rule of thumb, you have to realize: if someone got you for $20 before, why would they ever want to get you for $500?

If you think you could just steadily increase your rate as you get more shows, it doesn’t really work that way. The main reason guys like Erik Mana and Jeff Tam could charge an arm and a leg for their shows is they had great TV exposure, and in Erik’s case, a very aggressive manager who knows the value of his talent. Not everyone performing has a manager, let alone great TV exposure. A one-of guesting isn’t going to get you anywhere, because it took me about five or so guestings and a host of celebrity bookings for my name to even be remotely memorable to the mainstream. I had to also go to the anime convention circles no matter the disconnect, if only to get my name and reputation out there. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, contrary to how my tales about my first booking being for Richard Merck’s daughter may have made you feel.

If you want to make a career out of being a performer, there are two things you need to understand: first, you have to be worth paying for. Second, the pay has to be worth it. If it’s neither, then you should really rethink being a performer, whether it be magic, singing, dancing, or just to get it out there, boxing. In the case of magic, especially, where people’s prices fluctuate based on some other guy’s rate, you owe it to yourself to keep the market feasible by having the appropriate quality and value when you put yourself out on the market.

And this goes double for people who ridiculously overprice themselves, only to have people tell me that they can’t believe this tv-comedian-turned-talentless-hack has the temerity to call himself a magician and charge people a starting call center employee’s annual salary for it. You’re undercutting the industry by making everyone feel that no magician is ever worth what they’re paying you.

.:345/365: On Talent Shows:.

Speaking of talent shows, I would be the last person to discourage contemporaries from trying their luck out and spreading their wings to really showcase just how great magic can be, especially here in the Philippines. So long as you’re a highlight and not a lowlight of the show, I can’t say I disagree with joining any of the talent shows out there at present.

Despite that, if there’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone who would join, it would be this: manage your expectations.

You see, there is a minor conspiracy against magicians in these talent shows, simply because unlike singers and dancers, magicians are not nearly as marketable as the former two are. This is why while magicians like Alakim can make it pretty far into the competition, their odds of actually winning the big dance were pretty slim, as opposed to Jovit Baldovino, despite his obvious weaknesses. And it’s not just the judges or the management who would be working against you: stemming from the perception of magic in general, people aren’t very inclined to vote for a magician because the mentality that we are all “cheating” to achieve our effects is a strike against the kind of obvious “skill” a good singer or dancer demonstrates.

And it’s a crying shame, really, but such is the reality of our situation. The magic industry is a niche, whereas singers and dancers actively fill a larger market, and have far more mass appeal. It doesn’t make sense for a network to put all of its marketing force behind a niche as opposed to going all-out for one that has more general pull.

And even after everything has been said and done and you did happen to win, this is no guarantee that you’re set for the rest of your life. It will still take tons of effort from you, because magic has the unfair burden of having to come up with new things all the time, whereas a singer can get by with an album’s worth of songs for at least a year before the pressure to come up with new material arrives. With magicians, it’s not unusual to see magicians being pressured for new material two shows in.

If you could manage your expectations and know that not only is a grand finals victory difficult but success afterwards isn’t guaranteed without a lot of hard work, then by all means, reach for the brass ring. Otherwise, you really shouldn’t set yourself up for disappointment.

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