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Marc DeSouza's "How to Get Booked at a Magic Convention" Podcast Interview

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by Christian Painter and Roland Sarlot

Marc DeSouza

What We'll Explore

Marc shares his decades of experience hiring performers at magic conventions including understanding if the performer fits the convention, the best way to get hired, range of pay, practical considerations, and how to guarantee you'll never get hired again.

Who is Marc Desouza?

Marc DeSouza was chairman of the ethics committee for the S.A.M, territorial vice-president of the I.B.M., has booked the talent for the M.A.E.S. convention for the last thirty years, and assists booking talent for many other conventions. He has released a four DVD set on magic, published his book Desouza'a Deceptions, has won the S.A.M. and the I.B.M. close-up magic awards, and is a two-time stage magic award-winner at the S.A.M.

Running Time:
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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The Interview

Christian Painter: On this episode of the Magic Business Podcast...

Marc DeSouza I really don't care if it is not all completely original stuff. I'd like to see what you do for real people, and how you are getting booked to do your shows. And so that thirty-minute, or forty-minute spot is really ideal to show off what a performer can really do, and it helps justify the fee. I don't have to book so many acts. I can give more money to somebody, to one performer, than I have to give to three performers to fill that same amount of time.

Christian Painter: Welcome to the Magic Business Podcast, where we share insightful and delightful inner secrets about the business of magic. This is where magic professionals present their real-life experiences and some of their most guarded secrets to help further your career in the magical arts. I'm your host, Christian Painter, in partnership with the MagicOracle.Club, where you can hear all of our Magic Business podcasts.

Marc DeSouza has spent most of his life in the magic community. Marc was chairman of the ethics committee for the S.A.M. He was a territorial vice-president of the I.B.M. He has booked the talent for the M.A.E.S. convention for the last thirty years. He booked the talent for the East Coast Magic Spectacular until its demise. He has also assisted in booking the talent for many other conventions. He, in the past, has released a fantastic four DVD set on magic. He has a published book, Desouza'a Deceptions. He has won the S.A.M. and the I.B.M. close-up magic awards, and he is a two-time stage magic award-winner at the S.A.M. If you've ever wanted to work a magic convention, or just want to know how it works, you better pay attention to this podcast. Welcome to the show Marc.

Marc DeSouza Thank you very much Christian. It's great to be here.

Christian Painter: I'm excited to have you because one of the questions we get a lot is a question about working magic conventions, and what goes on. Some people are just curious how you go about putting it together, and some people are actually like, "Well how do we get into that? How do we do it?" So my first question to you will be, what do you look for when you are booking the talent for a magic convention?

Marc DeSouza I'm a little different than many other producers, in that the convention that I primarily produce nowadays is the Magician's Alliance of Eastern States, or M.A.E.S., and my goal with that has been a number of things. Number one, we do want to have some magicians booked that are known entities that people will consistently want to see, but I always want to make sure that I get new talent in, that the general magic populous really isn't familiar with. I always like to give guys their first or second break in working a magic convention, so I'm always on the lookout for fresh faces as we say. I also look to book a variety of different kinds of magicians at the convention. I want to have something for everyone. I want magicians who appeal to the stand-up performers and to the close-up performers, kids performers, and mentalists.

The only thing we don't book a lot of is illusionists because we are working with a fairly small stage in a hotel, so we don't have the wing space required, or the stage requirements that an illusionist would normally have. I try to book people who are double or triple threat, meaning a stage guy that also does close-up and maybe a lecture, or a stage guy that does a lecture, or a close-up guy that does a lecture, because it is generally a small convention. We generally attract 125 to 150 people. We don't have a huge budget, so the budget constraints are one of the main issues in booking any talent.

Christian Painter: And I want to make sure that the listeners know that you are talking about the M.A.E.S. in particular in this moment, but you've booked, or assisted in booking, the very large conventions with a bigger budget as well.

Marc DeSouza Yeah, I helped out when they did the S.A.M.'s big hundredth convention in New York City. I was responsible for booking the close-up performers and some of the lectures. Even with those bigger budgets, they still are very concerned with the costs involved. You know it's not just the booking of the performers, not just the performer's fee, but it's also the transportation and the housing of those people. Hotel rooms, especially in New York City, is a big, big concern. Even when you are talking national conventions they are working with pretty tight budgets, particularly nowadays with attendance falling off. Now it's more typical that even at national conventions like I.B.M. or S.A.M., they are dealing with 400 or maybe 500 registrants, and that really does affect the budgetary considerations for booking talent.

Christian Painter: OK, so let's start with close-up guys for a moment. Now, if you are looking for a close-up guy, what are you hoping that he will bring to the table?

Marc DeSouza Well, if we are talking strictly close-up, or close-up and a lecture, most of the talent I'm bringing in is east coast talent because of the cost of the transportation. At this point, I don't have problems getting lecturers. Everybody wants to lecture because they see that it's an opportunity to make money by selling lecture notes or props, and so I'm strictly limited as to how many lectures I can have during a convention. I have to be very careful as to who I use the lecture spots for to get the talent in. A lot of times I'll book close-up guys that are out of maybe Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, DC, Maryland, Delaware. It's just not economically feasible to bring in a west coast guy who is just doing close-up, because just the transportation alone is going to be over $500 bucks. And then of course housing them–and our close-up spots are about 10-minutes–so to bring in an act that just does a 10-minute close-up spot, boy that's difficult to justify that cost.

Christian Painter: Understood, and what I'm getting from you right now is we are not going to be making Tesla money at working conventions.

Marc DeSouza My mentor Lee Gray used to say to me, "These are the gigs you have to save up for."

Christian Painter: Gotcha.

Marc DeSouza Yeah, nobody gets rich doing conventions. You've got to work to do it. For a lot of these guys, and myself included, I do it to give back to the magic community. Magic has been very, very good to me for so many years that I feel I want to be able to give back to those people. Generally, when I work a convention, I'm pretty much doing it for cost. I think a lot of the talent we book... And we are bringing in people who are just top-flight pros from all over the country primarily, but now and then, we bring in a European performer who is in the country already for something else, or has a different reason for wanting to be here. This past year we actually had Boris Wild booked.

Christian Painter: Let's go to the next level which is more the stand-up performers. We'll say the ones just before we hit the illusionists, but the stand-up performers, are they going to get paid more?

Marc DeSouza Well, normally a stand-up performer is also doing a lecture for me, so that helps to offset their costs a little bit, because they know they are going to be making sales. I would say yes, by and large, the stand-up performers are getting more money, because number one they are doing longer spots, and number two, their costs of bringing in equipment and shipping and transportation... I've brought in Kyle and Mistie Knight. I've brought in Jonathan and LeeAnne Neal Brown, or Jonathan Neal as he's called now. These are people... I mean Jonathan Neal, that was somebody I was gunning for for years. I wanted Jonathan so bad because he is probably my favorite stand-up magician working today. It took years to be able to work it out to get him here. Not that he didn't want to do it, but he was so busy with his “normal work”. We had to be able to find a hole in his schedule and we were able to do it, and obviously the crowd loved him, but I was able to pay him a good fee because he did 45-minutes on the show. I had him do an entire half the show a show, but that's not something everybody can do, so for me to bring in that 10-minute contest act from Florida, or California, or here or there, that becomes a kind of a financial strain. That person has to really want to be there to work the convention. They've got to work with me on the dollars concerned with getting them there, and quite frankly a lot of the times they will say, "You know what? I'd really like to work the convention. I hear it's a blast. The people are great. The crowds are terrific. Give me my transportation costs, and a couple hundred bucks and I'm there." Well, that's still stretching it for us, but depending on who...

Christian Painter: But that happens even at the larger conventions, correct?

Marc DeSouza Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. To get these guys in, you are not just talking their fee. It is transportation and the hotels.

Christian Painter: So, you made an interesting comment, and that was the competition kind of acts. Would it be smart if I wanted to work conventions to do some competitions?

Marc DeSouza That's the best way to get booked. Absolutely. Unless you are a full-time pro who is high profile, then you are going to get noticed and somebody is going to reach out to you, but I have booked more acts because I saw them at a convention, in a competition, than any other way. I think, particularly for the stage acts, that's really my primary way of finding out about these people.

Christian Painter: And I want to mention that they don't always have to win. It just has to be a good act.

Marc DeSouza Oh, absolutely. I have booked a lot of people who've never won a convention, competition. I just saw them there and was so impressed by that act, I wanted to have them at our convention.

Christian Painter: Awesome, so what are some of the things that you'll see that make you say, "Now hire that guy"?

Marc DeSouza Well, to me there are three ways that a performer gets noticed and makes people want to book them. Number one, high originality. The act is so original, so different, so completely fresh, so totally new–that's a great reason to book somebody. Second reason is if they do classic or standard magic, but do it so perfectly, that is another reason to book somebody. Number three, if they are so entertaining for whatever reason–it's usually a comedy act–but they are so entertaining, so unique in their performance style, that's another great reason to book. I'll tell you there was a contest winner that I saw and I booked his act. And he was great. He was just absolutely great. Again, this is somebody that wanted to work with us–wanted to work the convention. He was a pleasure to work with and just was great. Then I found out he had a second act he was working on and was going to compete with it, and somebody sent me a video of that act, and I called him and said, "I've never done this. I want you back and I want you to do the other act. Before you do it in competition anywhere, I want you to do that act for us." It was such a unique act, and its presentation was so wonderful, that I wanted this guy. I'm not telling you his name because I still want him, and I don't want everybody booking him out from under me.

Christian Painter: I understand. Now you answered one side of that question, which is what are you looking for, and you got very specific which is great, but I want to reverse that question and ask, what are the things that are going to make you not want to book someone?

Marc DeSouza Oh, I don't want to book Madonnas. Word gets around real fast in the magic community. It's a small community, and the guys that produce conventions, we get to talking whenever we get online or whenever. We find out pretty quick who the jerks are. I've had people say to me, "Great act, but I'll never work with them again. He was such a problem case. Everything was a problem. Tech took hours and he wasn't really willing to bend." It's just, "You do it my way or I'm out the door." And we're like, "Hey, we don't need this, and we have our own issues in producing these conventions." We don't want people who are going to be difficult to work with. That's the primary reason not to work with somebody, Now in my case, I have another criteria. I want people who my convention attendees are going to be able to access, and who are going to want to be around. Our convention is like that family-friendly kind of thing where magicians come every year regardless of who is booked, because it's a family reunion. It's kind of like Abbotts. It's the east coast Abbotts. Although we have a hotel and people don't have to stay in people's houses.

Christian Painter: Gotcha.

Marc DeSouza There are performers I book who come back year after year just to hang out because they have such a good time. I want performers who want the hang time, and who are not going to sequester themselves in their rooms and only come to the events that they are booked for. To me that's a big thing, and you get to know that about people. You hear it. You talk to people about it.

Christian Painter: I don't think people realize how fast reputations will spread. Thus far the interesting things I am hearing are one, don't think you are going to get rich performing at magic conventions and two, be original, be fun, be available for a magic convention. And if you can have multiple... Like you said, to be able to do close-up, stand-up, and a lecture, and the big one I'm hearing from you, don't be a prima donna.

Marc DeSouza Don't be a jerk. Yeah.

Christian Painter: OK, so now that I've got that, you've definitely focused on what I need to do, so if for instance I would like to work a convention, and it doesn't have to be yours but any convention, what should I do? Should I send them videos? What should I do?

Marc DeSouza Before you even send the video, I would reach out to the convention organizer, or if you know who the person is who books the talent, reach out to them by email and say, "Here's who I am. Here's what I've done. I'd really like to work your convention. Can I send you a video, so you can see if I'm right for your convention?"

Christian Painter: So create a relationship.

Marc DeSouza Well you have to create a relationship in some way. I would say probably 40 to 50 percent of the talent I book are people that reached out to me rather than me reaching out to them. Now I might have known about them already, and when they contacted me I went, "Love to have you. Tell me what you need. Let's talk about it." We go from there, but I have had a number of people who have said to me, "I'd like to work your convention. I hear it is a great convention. Can I send you some material?" More often than not I've booked these people. There's been times when I haven't because the act just wasn't right for us, or the cost of bringing them in was just not in balance with what we were able to use them for. It was tough to justify that cost of bringing them in, but we are all over the board with who we bring in and for what reasons.

I've brought people and "holy cow", people said, "Who is this guy? Who is this person?" And they get blown away. They are like, "I cannot believe we didn't know about this person! That was just the best." Now the other thing I do by the way... We are kind of unique in that we have a night before show/lecture that we do. This is something we started a bunch of years ago, but it dropped off because of various cost factors and things, but we've brought it back, as much as a cost factor it was, because it was beneficial for us to get the hotel rooms that we needed to meet our nut for the hotel, so we didn't get charged more for the facilities. To bring somebody in to get more hotel rooms, what we established was a one-man show/lecture. I try to bring in somebody who will do an entire show and then a lecture afterward. Sometimes I just get the entire show and have somebody else do the lecture afterward, because that's one more lecture spot I can give somebody to make it more financially feasible for them to come in and do the convention. Sometimes it is just a lecture or a workshop that will get people in, like the year I had Bob Fitch come in, and I had him come in for one reason–to do a workshop. He did nearly a four-hour workshop where we had people who submitted videos and he did a critique of their acts, and showed how he goes through the whole process. And boy, that one event alone was worth the cost of registration to everybody that was there.

Christian Painter: I would have liked to have seen that myself. Now, again you mentioned something interesting which I've seen more and more of recently, which is it looks like I'm seeing more people wanting that half-hour to forty-five minute, as you said, one-man show.

Marc DeSouza Yup, yup. For me, I want to see what a performer really can do. There are very, very, very few people, magicians in this world, who work with a 10-minute act. Where are you going to do that 10-minute act? Certainly in this country, no one is going to book a 10-minute act, or very, very few. There's not a lot of review shows out there. Even in Vegas, that is almost non-existent these days, so I want a performer to show us what they really do in front of a real audience. I really don't care if it is not all completely original stuff. I'd like to see what you do for real people, and how you are getting booked to do your shows. And so that thirty-minute, or forty-minute spot is really ideal to show off what a performer can really do, and it helps justify the fee. I don't have to book so many acts. I can give more money to somebody, to one performer, than I have to give to three performers to fill that same amount of time.

Christian Painter: Here's the question I ask everybody. Get ready Marc, and that is I'm sure you've had lots of people come up and ask you lots of questions about being booked at a convention, correct?

Marc DeSouza Correct.

Christian Painter: What's the one question that they never ask, but you are thinking this is the question they should be asking me instead.

Marc DeSouza Ah hah, that is an interesting question. I could joke and say, "How much are you going to pay me to book you?" I think the approach has to be, "I'd like to work at conventions. I know you produce conventions. What do I need to do? What do I need to have to be able to work a convention?" I think that simple question, "What do I need to have to be able to work a convention, not necessarily yours, but a convention?"

Christian Painter: So instead of looking at it from, "I just want to get in there," they need to flip that around and go, "What do you need from me?"

Marc DeSouza Yeah. Yeah. I'll tell you, I've had more than one instance where somebody has come to me at a convention.... People that I probably knew already and seen maybe in competition, and said, "What do I need to be able to work a convention?" I said, "Are you asking me to work my convention?" They say, "No, I just want to know what I need to be prepared for this." And I said, "So why aren't you asking me to work my convention? Aren't I good enough for you?" I say that jokingly, but I do get that question from a few performers who are kind of more astute.

Christian Painter: Good.

Marc DeSouza It's almost the same advice I give to people who are contemplating competition. I say, "Don't compete because you want to win." That's not the best reason to compete. The best reason is to get seen. Have people see you and what you do, and to get feedback. You are going to get that when you work a convention too, but to get in that door they have to see you first.

Christian Painter: After you have been doing this for decades, what have you learned?

Marc DeSouza I've learned personally that magicians come in all flavors and sizes. I've learned that there are magicians out there who are working pros, who are the most giving genuine people you would ever want to meet. I've also learned that there are pros out there who can be real jerks. And you never know. You've got to trust your instincts when you meet someone face-to-face, and have a conversation with them, that's going to give you the best shot at knowing if they are right for your image. And if they are going to be right for you, just to be friends with, or to have some sort of relationship with. I've developed great relationships with performers I met at conventions and then booked. Once I've booked them, you learn more about them, and you develop a deeper relationship with them. There are some people that have proved to be wonderful friends socially as well as in magic, and wonderful teachers for me. When I have a question, or if I've got something I'm working on, there are two or three people that I will call on and say, "Hey, this seems similar to something you might have worked on before," and then we have a conversation. I will tell you, when I talked about notable jerks... Am I allowed to use a word that's a little bit PG?

Christian Painter: Go ahead. We'll bleep it out if it is too bad.

Marc DeSouza OK, I was friends with the late Bob Elliott for many years, and I don't know if you knew Bob, but Bob was a mover and shaker in the New York magic community. Bob and I met because I took the Harry Lorayne memory course when I was sixteen years old, and Bob was my teacher. Bob and I became friends after that, and Bob was just a hell of a wonderful guy. You talk to anybody who went to Tannen's Magic Camp back in the day, and they will extol the virtues of Bob Elliott. The kindest most giving guy you ever met. When I started booking lecturers on the east coast, and I never did that as a job, guys would call me and say, "Hey I want to come in and do some lectures, can you help me out?" I'd make a few phone calls. I had my cadre of four or five people that I'd speak to and say, "Hey such and such is coming in. Do you want to book them?" I would call Bob Elliott and Bob Elliott would have one question. He would say, "Is he an asshole?" And I'd say, "No." And he'd say, "OK, I'll book him. OK, I'm going to take you at your word." So, I don't want to deal with assholes. And in all these years that I've been booking lectures and conventions, you can count them on less than one hand, how many assholes I've had to work with.

Christian Painter: Well Marc, this has been fantastic. I think if anyone has ever wondered about that market, you have definitely given them a nice base coat so they can understand how to get into it, what's expected, what your level should be. I think that's... Thank you so much for that.

Marc DeSouza Thank you. Thank you.

Christian Painter: Thank you for listening to our "Magic Business Podcast". Please visit the MagicOracle.Club where you can hear all of our Magic Business podcasts and enjoy a vast array of additional magical knowledge. We'd like to leave you with this quote from Amit Kalantri. "Those who failed in the art of magic thought they lacked good props. What they really lacked was good practice." As always, we at the Magic Oracle wish you continued success on your path in the magical arts.

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