If You Build It, They May Come
By Max Davidson - Tuesday, April 18, 2023
My name is Max Davidson—I’m a magician who, in January, took the leap and moved from Colorado to New York City to grow my magic career. I had some friends in New York but, for all intents and purposes, this was essentially like starting over. It has not been an easy transition as I've needed to simultaneously navigate the difficulties of a career in magic while also facing the cold reality of adult life that was thrust upon me after graduating from George Washington University last May.
Overcoming Rejection is a special three-part series offering a real-time, honest perspective on “making it” in show business. A chance to examine the way each struggle has taught me to grow. It's an exclusive opportunity to join me as I learn firsthand how Frank Sinatra really was right—if you can make it here, you can truly make it anywhere.
We start with a look at the mental approach you need to avoid getting caught in a negative loop when you don't experience success immediately.
What happens when your work doesn’t pan out? When a booker says no? When a spectator doesn’t want to see magic? The hope is that if you’re like me—someone who has performed magic for a long time and is now trying to deal with the business side of show business—that this series will help.
It is vital, when we struggle, to know that we are not alone. And, today, we start with the harsh reality check I had when first moving to New York City.
Since moving to New York, I’ve worked harder than ever to book shows. I’ve cold called dozens of party planners. Sent hundreds of emails. Gone on countless “get to know you” coffee meetings. It’s a grind, filled with a lot of rejection, and sometimes, no response at all.
And yet, I don't say this to complain. Because, to me, this is exactly how it should go.
What job isn’t hard? What job doesn’t require struggle and sacrifice? Is there one successful person who has never been rejected?
There are none.
If you’re an aspiring magician, someone who wants to get shows but is struggling to gain traction, I hope these insights will help remind you to just keep swimming.
Here are five things I’ve learned (and am still learning), after a season in the Big Apple.
1. You didn’t know they existed
It’s crazy how quickly I get caught up about a lead once I hear about it. I follow up quickly, I pay attention to what the client needs…in short, I try to book the gig. On one hand, that’s what makes a magician a good businessperson.
Following up and being attentive to the client is essential. But it’s also important to not be attached to the gig. After all, you likely didn’t know that show even existed before they submitted it to your website.
So why are you getting caught up about it? You were perfectly content ten minutes ago when you were oblivious to this opportunity. Be aware of that.
2. Groundwork takes time
A lot of what will benefit you in the long term doesn’t feel like work, but is equally as important as cold outreach, emails, and rehearsal. Those activities include seeing other magic shows (or shows in general), asking for advice from more experienced magicians, and swiping up on someone’s Instagram story to tell them you like what they’re working on. More specifically, find things you have in common with magicians or performers and capitalize on them. I went on a run with a magician who, like me, is a runner. Share a meal with someone who has a similar taste in food. See a movie with a comedian. Go beyond magic into the realm of other common interests.
All these intangible, relationship-building activities put you on other people’s radar. The more consistently you put yourself around other magicians, and do so while being kind, considerate, and asking people about themselves, the more you will reap the rewards down the line.
And this strategy works. I’ve been referred for shows by multiple magicians who I got lunch with just once. What matters is patience–being willing to wait six months or even a year for that gig to come up. And yes, it sucks to wait that long. It’s legitimately scary. So the key here is twofold: First, focus on what you can control, which is working hard and being kind. And second, reset your expectations to see success not as a now thing, but as a later thing that is ultimately a byproduct of the hard work you put in every day.
The only expectation you should have is that when your alarm goes off tomorrow, you’ll put in the work. That’s it.
3. You can’t fit into someone else’s lane? Create your own
Sure, it would have been great to arrive in immediately be added to the roster of the best magic shows in New York City. But you know what? Those shows were doing great before I got here, and they’ll continue to do so whether I’m on the show or not.
So, my friend David and I decided to produce our own show (An Evening of Magic). With a little persistence, we’ve now generated a waiting list of magicians who want to perform on that show—which has also started to regularly sell out. We have control and autonomy because instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold, we made our own, with a lot of exciting projects down the line.
Additionally, we aren’t a famous show, and that’s actually a good thing. It means we have less scrutiny, more control, and a ton of fun.
If you're in New York, we'd love to have you at a show. Grab tickets to Evening of Magic NYC here.
4. Love this
It is not always glitz and glamor. I can remember a particularly hard week recently where I wasn’t getting the traction I wanted. But as Friday rolled around, I thought “why am I not loving this?”
Sure, I might have had a slow week, but I get to work on magic tricks all day. What a gift. My literal job is to sit in my apartment, dream up ideas, run them by my friends, and put them on stage. I cannot think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And, when the shows do come in higher volume (and they will, because I work every day for it), I’ll be prepared, because I’ve spent my free time practicing.
The success, in whatever form that takes, will come, but I’d be naive not to remember that I’m successful right now. I have autonomy. I have shows lined up. I have relationships I’m building. I have a lot of irons in the fire. If I don’t love that, I’m making a huge mistake.
5. Celebrate the wins
We’ve all heard this before, yet it didn’t really hit me how true it was until recently.
When you have a task in front of you as large as “making it in the arts,” it’s pretty easy to become demoralized. One gig is nothing compared to the amount you’ll need to make a living–which is literally thousands of shows over a lifetime. Still, a career is built show by show, client by client. If you don’t learn to celebrate the small wins, you won’t know how to celebrate the big wins.
It’s tough, because if you’re trying to make a living, you have to be focused on the next gig. How will the people who see me in the theater know to book me for their company? How will the client who booked me for their Zoom happy hour recommend me to their sister’s startup? And there are strategies for this, like casually mentioning a Zoom show in a live show, or vice versa. But if you’re only focused on the future, you’ll never be focused on the show you’re doing now–which is the only way you’ll get that repeat business in the first place. It is precisely that present-ness that will land you other shows.
So, you need to celebrate every win you get, and enjoy those shows independent of what may happen afterward. Every relationship you build, every show you land, is worth being happy about. No, each one doesn’t necessitate a party. But you can think: “I did that. That’s a step forward, and I’m proud.”
Life is far too short to be mean to yourself. Yes, it’s important to ruthlessly self-examine your actions, but not at the expense of your own happiness and self-esteem. Celebrate the wins, radiate joy, and move forward.
Speaking of moving forward, make sure to come back next week when I talk about how to keep pressing on even when someone tries to tell you “no”. If you've enjoyed what you've read so far, this article is actually part of a larger series available on my own blog called Everything I Don't Know that catalogs my transition from college into the turbulent world of professional magic. I post new articles weekly for you to check out.
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