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A Magic Side Business: How to Make Money as a Magician
Do you like to perform in front of people? Can you watch videos? Are you willing to practice to get things right? Then you have what you need to make money as a part-time magician.
Depending on what kind of magic you choose as your specialty, you could start this side business with very little money. A routine based on a deck of cards or common objects means you’ll only spend a few dollars. If you’ve got a little more cash to spare, consider buying magic tricks to get a faster start, since many packaged illusions require less practice than other forms of magic.
Let's look at three low-cost ways to start out as a magician.
It can be tough to perform in front of strangers without any idea if they'll like your show and throw a few bills in your hat. But a street performer doesn't need much to start, and you don't have to be David Blaine to keep people entertained. For example, you could amaze them with simple trick using just a pen and a coin. Learn a dozen more tricks like that one, and you’ve built a solid routine.
You might try standing in one spot and doing your magic tricks continually to attract an audience, but street magician Ace Starry recommends having a routine with a beginning and end, preferably about 10 to 15 minutes long. The end is the cue for audience members to throw some money in your hat or guitar case or whatever you use for collecting your pay. A bit of humor can help bring in the cash. Starry suggests explaining to the crowd that people often ask why you perform, and then answering, “I'm doing it for a worthy cause… cause if I'm not worthy, I won't eat.”
Several courts have ruled that many laws restricting street performances are unconstitutional, but performing for tips is often regulated. Some towns charge fees or require licenses, and others limit where you can perform. Online resources like The Busking Project can help you protect your rights and determine where to best perform.
How much can you make? Buskers (street performers who work for tips) don't talk much about what they take in. Obviously it depends on the quality of your routine, your ability to connect and motivate the audience, and the locations you choose. In Boulder, Colorado, I've seen street performers regularly make $40 or so in tips for short routines. If you do a few $40 “hats” in a day, you might have a nice chunk of cash when you're done. For advice on where the best tippers are located, visit an online forum dedicated to street magic.
While it can be harder to get started doing parties, once you're established they often provide a more consistent income. CostHelper.com says party magicians typically make $175 to $350 for a show lasting 30 to 45 minutes, if they charge by the show. Some have an hourly rate instead, and that can be as high as $150 to $500 per hour depending on your skills and fame. It's common to charge a fee (perhaps $25) if it's necessary to travel out of town to a gig.
As a party magician you'll work children's birthday parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, conventions and other events. These shows can include card tricks and other close-up magic, as well as some stage illusions (cutting people in half and such). You'll want to avoid the latter if you are starting out on a tight budget. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
You should have business cards and a website with a memorable name so customers can find you. You could also consider relatively inexpensive services like Gig Masters that help you get clients. Being a member of an organization like The International Brotherhood of Magicians can boost your credibility and help you market yourself.
Some restaurant magicians say they regularly make $100 to $150 for a couple of hours going table to table, with roughly half coming from the restaurant owner and half from customer tips. It's a specialty worth considering, especially if you want to perform only on weekends. Even if you don't make much on a given evening, restaurant work allows you to hand out business cards when people ask how they can hire you for a party.
Being a YouTube magician is a relatively new way to get paid for your magic, and many of the videos you see online are from performers who still do shows in person. But some have made their marks in magic entirely online. Richard Wiseman, for example, a psychology professor famous for his work on the psychology of luck, also happens to create videos involving magic tricks, and he monetizes them on YouTube.
YouTube viewers want videos that demonstrate amazing tricks, but also ones that also show how the tricks are done. That's why Wolfgang Riebe's “Easy Magic Tricks for Everyone” has over 1,115,000 views. Based on the average YouTube revenue per thousand views for 2013, that one video might have already made over $8,400. Oh, and he has 250 more videos on just one of his YouTube channels.
This is something you can do in your own garage or basement studio. With enough magic shows garnering enough views, your YouTube video empire might provide a nice side income or even enough to let you stay home and do your magic full-time.
Your Turn: Would you consider being a street magician or doing magic at parties or on video?