I've been reflecting lately on the whole purpose of magic on Instagram. Not just for my personal posting purposes, but in general. It's people at home, often in pajamas or gym shorts, sitting in poorly lit rooms showing a trick they spent a whole of 1 hour practicing. The audience? Other magicians. The feedback? Either ridiculously supportive, or ignorantly negative. So, what's the point? Why do we keep putting magic videos up on social media?
To really think about this, I took a trip through my history on Instagram and went back to the beginning.
A long, long time ago, on this very same laptop...
I joined Instagram (@gbabbits) almost 3 years ago*. What was my reason for joining? To get feedback on my progression in the world of magic.
Progression in the world of magic. Yeah, you heard me.
I'd say I picked up a deck of cards and a book or two about a year prior to joining. Off-and-on practice and a few YouTube videos in, I finally decided it was time to show off what I'd been practicing. Except, I had no interest in going out on the streets to perform for strangers. Also, I've worked from home for years (even before Covid) so all of my coworkers are on the other side of a screen. My family can only stand so much, so what's a guy to do?
This is around when Shin Lim was getting pretty famous, and I found out that he had an Instagram account. I had never used the app before this, so I went on the website (yeah, the website and not the app... don't hate =P) and found his account and it was so much fun. I remember clicking a hashtag on one of the posts, I really think it was #cardmagic and holy crap, there were a lot of magicians on Instagram! I think I found it -- the place to share what I've been practicing and to get feedback from the magic community.
My first video was a simple trick. A selected card is placed into the deck, a magical snap of the fingers and whoah -- the whole deck's reversed and the selection is the only face down card in the deck. Neat! And it started getting likes and comments right away! Though, the comments were a little less friendly and far less helpful than I had expected.
"you need more practice"
"even a robot's fingers are less stiff"
Ouch. Thanks, I guess? I did get one helpful one though which was "be aware of the angles when doing a HP. try tilting the deck forward". Ironically, my first thought was "hah, I'm not doing a Half Pass, I totally fooled him!" and then a month or two later I realized that a Half Pass wasn't only done with half of the deck. Not the brightest =P. That video, I remember it taking me close to an hour to film. I really didn't flash at all, but you did see my left hand's fingers move under my right's poor attempt at cover. That's not really a flash in my opinion, it's more telegraphing that a move's being done. Slight difference, albeit still spoils the trick.
I've removed a lot of my original videos since they were all, well, crappy. And the comments on them were all the same. Occasionally, I'd receive actual helpful feedback which made it feel worth it but overall, just a negative vibe from the "community" and it sucked.
And then, I connected with folks. Meaning, I joined groups and started direct messaging people (and some messaged me first too).
It turns out, there are a lot of people just like me on IG who are just trying to have fun and share the magic they're learning, hoping to also get constructive feedback to become better. Do we want to be professional magicians? No, it's a hobby. Sure, there are some who want to, but most of us are just having fun before and after work. We have Discord servers for hanging out too, Ellusionist's is by far the biggest, but I'm in 2 others that are pretty good.
In my 3 years on Instagram, I've watched accounts that have had only 1000 followers (like Harapan Ong, Jeremy Griffith, Jason Ladanye, Ash Marlow, Chris Ramsay, and others), shoot up to 10k, 20k, 50k, and all the way up to almost 500k! I've talked to all of them in DMs, one or two via email, and even jammed with Griffith on Discord. These guys are there because they love magic, and you want to know something fun? They love sharing magic! They're extremely helpful and open, and even honest! Yes, folks like Ladanye charge for lessons now and that's okay. That's his job. And Ramsay's unlikely to hang out with anyone nowadays given how many followers he has, but he's an exception to the community rule. The point is it just takes reaching out to be able to talk to someone.
Putting these "large" accounts aside, I've found that the regular magic community is amazing too. You know, the folks that are posting pics of decks left and right, showing off new sleights they've learned and giving cameo shots to their flannel pajamas -- a lot of them are there for the same reasons and most like to talk! Being able to share trick ideas, hang out and do demos of routines live, and just general magic-chat. It's fun!
Collaborations and Competitions
When the pandemic hit, magic collaborations really sprung up all over. I've been trying to recall collabs before then, but none are coming to mind. I'm sure they happened, but IG has been filled with them for the past 2 years. They're fun to do too if you're able to get into one, it really only takes making a video with another person.
A collaboration, to be clear, is when two or more magicians appear in the same video. Due to the pandemic, we've all been remote so "two magicians in the same video" is "one magician does a routine and passes an object off screen which immediately cuts to the next magician pulling in the same (or similar) object from off screen and does another routine." And they can keep passing to multiple people, etc. etc.
I've been in a few so far and they've been fun. Sometimes it's chaotic trying to organize it between several people and then you realize that there's a 60s max to the video, but overall, just a jolly good time. Why do we do them though? Mostly fun... but also for extra engagement on our accounts. Let's pretend, for example, there are two of us who want to make a collab video. We'll both record our parts and one of us will make the end product and then that person will post it. Before, we'd tag (and @mention) the other person in the video and users that follow me but not the other would now be exposed to the other too and they'd see them perform in a fun collab -- more of a chance to send folks to that other account. Now, Instagram has a neat feature where the video will post to both accounts. It's like they knew collabs were a thing!
And then there are competitions. Tournaments. Magic fight clubs. People making magic videos and other people voting on which is better. Define "better"! you say? Well, "better" is 100% biased towards the person doing the voting. And at least 50% of the votes are from friends who are judging based on if they know you or not so take "better" with a very large grain of salt. But why do I bring these up?
The community building around magic competitions is super strong! On Instagram alone, I've been in 3 and I'm in one right now (I just made it through to round #2 which will be posting quite soon). We all join a chat group behind the scenes and talk about, well, everything. In this event alone, I've met 21 other magicians that I didn't know before it! Would it be cool to win? Yeah probably. Do I care if I win? Nope, not at all. I'm having fun trying to inspire other magicians and am trying to gain inspiration from them as well. I can post videos of doing strike seconds and double lifts any day, but a competition challenges me to make something more. And the fact that I'm doing it with friends takes all the stress away!
So... magic in social media?
My original intent for using Instagram to get feedback on my progress hasn't really paid off in the way I expected it to. Posting videos got me interaction, but not really anything too useful. Instead, I've been using the platform to build actual relationships with others who share a similar interest and not only do they help me out, but I them!
Magic videos provide great entertainment in social media, whether on Instagram, TikTok, Myspace, wherever. While I am at fault for this too, I would love to see most (or all) of them be a little higher quality in terms of lighting and, well, maybe put in an extra hour of practice before filming but hey -- if you're happy with it, that's what it's for right?
There are some negative people out there that make their presence known as best as they can, but I kind of think that that's a good thing. Not because it makes us try harder to please them - nah, screw them - but it lets us know that we can do better because people are watching.
* Speaking of my 3-year account birthday, I've been trying to think of something neat to do for it. I always see folks post a fun "birthday" type of thing, but I've been drawing a blank. The clock's ticking given it's this-coming Saturday but honestly, I've got nothing. It needs to be magical, but also "for me" and not just a promo for a deck of cards or a sleight I've been working on. Hmm...
Oh oh, also, unrelated but related -- I was thinking of doing a "Magical March Madness" event. I ran a month-long event this past September called "Decked Out September" that I provided post prompts for every day of the month. A decent number of folks in the community participated, a few managed to pull it off every single day too. It's a ton of work on my side because every day of the month I end up doing account promotion for dozens of accounts and it ends up taking at least an hour or two a day, every day. It was a lot of fun and I had a lot of requests to bring it back so I think I just might (^_^)