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Robin Lang's "Get Off the Sidelines and Hire a Magic Coach" Podcast Interview

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by Christian Painter and Roland Sarlot

Robin Lang

What We'll Explore

Robin shares the benefits of hiring a coach, the process of assessing your level, asking the right questions, the default backwards business model, what are the three shows you must have, how to find a coach, and what you are missing.

Who is Robin Lang?

As an entertainer, business consultant, and coach, Robin Lang has had an entertainment agency in Las Vegas for forty years. He's booked entertainers such as Jeff Foxworthy, Adam West, and Kreskin and has a unique perspective on entertainers and magicians and has coached over 500 magicians. Presently, he's also producing a nationally touring show.

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.

Robin Lang: When they first come to me they just want to improve their performance and bookings. Then they start seeing that this is a business and that this can be scalable and this can turn into multiple sources of income, and this is an entity that when they retire they can hand down to their kids, they can sell. It's an entertainment business that's got value. Some people retire on it. So there's a lot more to it than meets the eye.

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.

Robin Lang is based out of Las Vegas. He produces a nationally touring show and is working on a residency show in Branson. He has had an entertainment agency for the last forty years, and he has booked entertainers such as Jeff Foxworthy, Adam West, and Kreskin. He is an entertainer, business consultant, and coach. Robin has a unique perspective on entertainers and magicians. I am going to be really intrigued to hear his thoughts on coaching, as he has coached over 500 magicians.

Welcome to the show Robin.

Robin Lang: Hey Christian, it is great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Christian Painter: This is really going to be interesting, and I really thought about these questions. And I'm going hit you. I hate to I tell you Robin that you are going to get no breaks here. I'm going to hit you with hard questions.

Robin Lang: Bring them on.

Christian Painter: My first question is why do people even need a coach or consultant.

Robin Lang: Well there is a variety of reasons, but I think the main thing is, to learn more about the entertainment business itself, and also it kind of depends on where they are at in their own performing journey. Some people hire me as a beginner to kind of shorten the learning curve, and to focus on what is most important, or would be most beneficial to them. Other people may have been going along their way and kind of hit a roadblock, where they can't get past a certain level. Or they seem to have plateaued. And then I get other people that have been doing it for years and years and years and they've heard me or they've come across my information and feel that there is more. I always say you don't know how much you don't know, and a lot of people want to know what is it they don't know that could be helping me. So it all depends where they are at in their journey. But usually, it is to gain industry, entertainment industry information, understand the difference between entertainment business and conventional business, and how they can apply it directly to their business in their market at their point in their career. And they share their goals with me so that we can try to attain their goals.

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Christian Painter: OK, so already I'm hearing from you it doesn't sound like this is a one size fits all.

Robin Lang: No.

Christian Painter: No, OK so if I come to you, what are you going to do with me.

Robin Lang: Well, the first thing we do is we do a current analysis of where you are at. Your level of experience. One of the things I talk about immediately are two things. Number one is from this point on we are dealing in complete honesty. And I know that sounds so basic, but we're dealing with entertainers here, performers who are always trying to hype themselves and promote themselves and see themselves maybe a little differently than they truly are. So we kind of bring that back to ground zero, and we deal in complete honesty. And then the second thing we do is we talk about what level are you currently at? What level of performer are you at? All magicians are not equal. We've got different levels. The amateur, beginner, newbie or hobbyist, the part-time worker that is working for pay, the part-time worker that wants to go and become a full-time performer, the local full-time performer, local or regional. Then you get into people that want to become a national performer, maybe tour or do residency shows. And then of course the celebrity performers. So we use complete honesty to first decide where they truly are, and then of course they can identify where they would like to get to, but that is how we start everything.

Christian Painter: Wow! Now do you sometimes run into problems with people who have problems with honesty?

Robin Lang: All the time, and for some reason, and when I say it, it sounds like I'm dissing magicians, but I see this with magicians almost more, if not completely more than every other type of entertainer. I work with a lot of magicians, but I work with all kinds of entertainers: DJs, game-shows, hypnotists, variety performers, bands, you name it, I've worked with all kinds#...comedians. But magic is kind of unique in the sense that there is no gatekeeper. There is no way to break into it. It usually starts with somebody getting a magic set for their 5th, 6th, or 7th birthday and just go to any–the majority of most–entertainers websites and that is the first thing you read. I started my interest in magic when I was seven years old, and I've not stopped since then. So in their mind, if they are thirty years old, they have been doing magic twenty-three years, and that is the kind of honesty I'm talking about. I remember, for my 4th birthday, I got a Roy Rogers cowboy set, but there's not for a minute that I was in my 20s or 30s that I believed I was a cowboy. I used to ride the horses outside of the K-Mart for a quarter, but I never once thought I was a master jockey. It's just so ridiculous. So it is those kind of things, that we kind of get back to the true basics, and the foundational level starts to develop from there.

Christian Painter: Now since we are talking about the magicians anyway, is there a re-occurring problem that you see magicians have? Or is it just different for everybody?

Robin Lang: Both. It is different for everybody, and they think it is unique to them, but in reality, it is very common with most people. And that is, magicians, are kind of a tight community where they tend to follow and listen to YouTube videos, and forums, and books, and courses, and DVDs. They tend to follow other magicians. So, they will only always know only as much as those that... From what they've picked up along the way. And they all operate from a me-perspective and what they think, what they feel, what they believe, what they like, and in reality that's not the best way to start a business. Of course by all means you want to cater to your interests, but you also want to understand the industry, the business itself, and the marketplace. And then bring you into that. And I think that is a problem a lot of them have. If they are new, they don't know where to begin and their heads is spinning. If they've been doing it a while they think they've been doing OK. And there is one exercise I have in our coaching where I say, "Now just imagine for a minute. Just seriously imagine for a minute, complete honestly, if everything you think you know is completely wrong." And I'm not saying it is. But just imagine for a minute, if you are doing something that you think is right and it's wrong and this is the reason why, and it is a great exercise for clarity in understanding operating from the industry perspective rather than just a me-perspective.

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Christian Painter: And what do they come back with when you tell them that? What is the thing that they come back with?

Robin Lang: That there can be a different way than the way everybody is doing it. Or, they may come back with a lot of questions like, "Why is it different? Why is this wrong? How would doing it differently change things?"

Christian Painter: Gotcha.

Robin Lang: And the problem is a lot people come to me and think they've got everything pretty much down except there's one thing that's messing them up, and they are coming to get that one thing fixed. That one piece of advice that they don't that.... That one trinket of information, that everybody else knows that they don't. And usually what they find out is it's much more than one thing. Success isn't based on one breakthrough. It's many different things. But they usually realize, and this is the first eye-opener breakthrough, that they are asking the wrong questions. For example, I will get somebody that will come to me and say, "I've been doing this for 15 years. I average about 60 to 70 bookings a year and this is really good, however, things have gone up, and I've got kids getting ready to go to high-school and college, and I need to make more money, so if I could just get more bookings." And they think that's the one thing that's their problem. And when we really look at this in its purest sense, completely honesty from the ground up, they realize it is not that. There are several other things that they can attribute to this of which getting bookings is maybe part of it, but that is not their real problem.

So I think that is one of the surprises, is what they think is their problem coming into it, they quickly realize that is not your problem. That is not your question. That is not your interest. And let's put all this together and create the right approach. The other thing they miss out on is learning in the proper sequential order. Most of us start with a default business mentality of "Hey, I'm doing this for a hobby. Hey, I'd like to start making some money with this. Oh, I've got an offer to do a paid booking. Oh my gosh, was that fantastic. I gotta do that some more." Then they start trying to get more bookings, and that's what I call the default business model. They are always on this hamster wheel of chasing after the next booking. And I've done this example with a couple of my students, where I say, "I can come to your town. I can get you twelve bookings, and you'll do those twelve bookings and you know what, you will be right back where you were before, needing more bookings." So its a great example of, at some point, you've got to look beyond that default business model that kind of got you going, to something that can help take you to the next level.

Christian Painter: I'm intrigued when you said, kind of "they don't know what they don't know yet." And in that, I'm going to ask you to talk about something we talked about just before the show. Where you are talking about performers having ... They need to have three different types of shows. Can you tell the listeners about that?

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Robin Lang: Well first off, let's start out with magicians, specifically there are magicians, there are performers, and then there are entertainers. And those are three different things. A magician executes magic tricks. A performer creates a performance comprised of magic tricks, that is designed to be a performance. In other words, it's a journey, it's something that engages the audience and takes them on this mystical journey and culminates with this. And then there is the entertainer that is a personality, entertains with magic, but magic is not the prime thing. When we start out it's always about the magic tricks. As an entertainer its not. It's about personality, its about connection, and so on and so forth, using magic as your discipline. So, I think one of the things we work on is getting people to look beyond just magician to more of a performer or an entertainer. And as you're creating your entertainment business, I quickly stress, and most everybody finds this to be true, that success is made in the business behind our performance. Yes, you have to have a great performance, a market ready professional performance, but the success of that performance is created behind the scenes. And there is a lot of things that are part of that behind the scenes. I wrote a book called Press and Media For Entertainers a few years back, and it was talking about how I feel every entertainer–I don't care if you are the local magician, kids party magician, I don't care if you are touring the college circuit, I don't care what you do –every magician should have press and media in their business! It's a chance for you to get tens of thousands of dollars of free promotion and advertising and marketing. And I think that is one of the things I talk about, so with that in mind, the three types of performances that I think everybody should have in their business, is their stage performance, their show, their magic show...

Christian Painter: The actual show we do on stage?

Robin Lang: The actual show we do on stage. Right. That is what we are paid for. That is what the people see us as, but also, we should have our press and media performance, which is what we do when we get a TV spot or a radio segment or something like that. How to best utilize that to result in whatever our desired goal is. Bookings, traffic, attendance, ticket sales, whatever the case may be.

Christian Painter: And to be clear. This media show is not necessarily just a piece of our show that we take on TV.

Robin Lang: No, that is one of the things that I talk about in the book. The biggest mistake I see magicians do is to perform magic on a TV segment. If somebody comes to you and they say "We've got a five-minute segment," and the host comes on and says, "It's great to have you here. You are appearing at Riverfest this weekend. Why don't you show us some magic?" That's the exact wrong way to approach a media piece. Because once you get into the magic, everything else is tuned out. Everything else is a quick plug. "OK, he'll be at the magic Riverfest stage this weekend. Stop by and see him." I approach media just like a performance market. You know performance markets are like, you can be a kids entertainer, you can do schools, you can do colleges, you can do cruise ships, you can do trade shows. Those are all performance markets. And I believe press and media should be approached as a performance market. Most magicians performing in the media look like a dear in headlights. Yes, they're familiar with the tricks that they are doing, or the effects, but they are not a media performer. And that really kind of sinks them. So we teach you how to utilize those performances. How to become a media performer, and get the most out of those.

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So the first one was the performance you do on stage, the second one was the performance you do in the media, and the third one is really one of the most important. They are all equally important, but this is the one that I think a lot of people overlook, is the performance you do on the phone. You know, when you present and sell your business. One of the biggest misnomers that I see with those that I consult or coach, and this is part of that default mentality again, is "Hey, I've got to get this show performance-ready. OK, I've got my show performance-ready, now it's time to market and start getting some bookings." And I just about want to scream every time I hear that because that couldn't be further from the truth. There is a piece, and I'm talking a huge piece, in between the show and the time we start booking, and that is creating the aspects of your business. How to present yourself, the marketing materials you have, understanding your market, doing research and due diligence, and you know, just so many things. When the phone rings, what good is it to do all of that, to get your show ready, and to start marketing, if the phone rings you can't close but three to five percent of your inquiries. That's terrible. All your work in marketing went for nothing. The idea is to market when you are ready to market, and you are not ready to market until the other pieces are in place, so when that phone rings or you get an online inquiry, you know exactly how to tackle it, how to present it. And when you are talking to people on the phone, it should be like a performance. There should be an opening, there should be introducing yourself, thanking them for calling, setting it up, gathering information from them, and peaking out with your big close at the end, which is asking for the booking and really getting them pumped up to have you, so I approach selling or presenting yourselves, just like a performance. Beginning, middle, and end.

Christian Painter: Wow, OK that–I think for anyone listening–should be pure gold right there. The idea of the three performances, which I think is absolutely lost on most of us. We just don't think in that way. But it is absolutely true right?

Robin Lang: It is, and you now it is funny because we have this up and down roller coaster in our head and, "Oh, I did this marketing and I hope we get some hits on it, whether it is emails or postcards, or an ad in a paper or whatever, newspaper. And then when the phone rings and someone says, "Yes I'm calling about your services," then you get all excited like "All right!" And then they blow it. You got to know... That is where you got to kick into that performance that you know just as well as your onstage performance. And oh my gosh, if done right, you should be their only choice. You should be the preferred choice, and if they decide to be one of these people that says, "Well thank you so much, you've been more than helpful, but I do want to contact a couple of others to just get some other ideas, and talk to a couple of others." At least now you have set the bar at a level that these other people have to be compared to. And that's all part of the process. Entertainment business is many different facets, and it's a process and it differs from traditional business.

Christian Painter: OK, so let's say after listening to this podcast, you have some people going, "Maybe I should get a coach, or maybe I should look at that." How do people... How do you even find a coach?

Robin Lang: Well, that's kind of a tricky thing. There's not a lot of us out there. The ones that are out there... Here's the difference from myself and a lot of others, is a lot of others teach from their own experience. In other words, they teach what they did to get where they are. I am a magician and I toured for a cruise lines, and this is how I did it. Or I'm whatever. They tell their story based on their own experience, and while that is good, and there are things that you can take from there, the reality is you are learning something that happened for them, in their market at their age, with their resources, in their situation, following their path. Most people are not the same. And I get this all the time. One of the questions I get is "Yeah, I get $350 a show, and then I hear these guys talking about they get $5,000 or $6,000 a show. I got to think they are just full of crap. Is that true? That can't be can it?" And the idea is they are comparing kumquats to watermelons. You might be working the blue and gold circuit of cub scouts, where the maximum you can get $350 for that market is pretty good. But if they are making $5,000 a booking, it's probably in a different market. You are working a consumer market, they may be working a professional...

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There's so many things, and this is what magicians love to do, is to compare themselves to others. And one of the first things I do is try to take them away from that and say let's create what you want to be, the way you want to be. So as far as finding them, most people look on forums or magic clubs or things like that. Others... One of the problems I have is a lot of people I work with don't want to talk about it. Maybe they think it is a sign of weakness that I've hired a coach or a consultant, or I don't want somebody to know that I'm getting help. Or, I'm about to break into the trade show industry and I don't want the other guys in my market to know anything about it. So it's kind of, there's a confidentiality to it, it's not that they are embarrassed, they don't want to share much. Sometimes they'll talk to other people that they've heard have had a coach and ask for a referral or recommendation. But I think if you are looking for it, you'll find it eventually.

Christian Painter: Yeah, and it is kind of funny you said that earlier that they are afraid to say they are looking for a coach, when any of the magicians who are on television have a host of magicians that work for them behind the scenes helping them with whatever. Made to look better and whatever, exactly.

Robin Lang: Sure, nobody does this themselves. And if you try to do it yourselves, A) it is probably going to be incomplete and B) it is probably going to take an incredible amount of time. So one of the things coaching does is zero it in on your specific needs and interests. But it also shortens that learning curve. Man, you are working every day towards your goal in your markets and everything else. And it is as it applies directly to you. And most of them, their head is spinning with how much they don't know. I always say, "You don't know how much you don't know." The follow-up to that is, "You also don't know how much you don't know." Or how much you know incorrectly. And once we get into it, boy that is one of the first breakthroughs they see is like, "Wow! This is much more!" A lot of guys–this is the footnote to all of this too Christian–is a lot of people will say I got into magic because of the art. I absolutely fear, dread, hate the business side of things. I would rather hire somebody to do it for me. A lot of guys that are married tend to dump it off on their wife. I'll be the talent, and you be the business. They'll go to great lengths to avoid this. And what I find out what is most rewarding to me, is once they get into a coaching or consulting program, when they come to me and say, "Oh my gosh, this is actually fun. This is so cool, doubling my price, tripling this, beating last years number, going into a new market. I tried school market before and I couldn't break the $450 price point. And you're showing me how to get $1,500, $2,000, $3,000 dollars per school assembly, per school booking." And that is the other thing. Most people only look at things on a surface level. We tend to go much deeper. That is a big breakthrough, when they say, "Hey, this is actually fun."

Christian Painter: Right, so now we are getting to that part of the show where I put you under some more pressure, but somehow I don't think it is going to be pressure for you. I think you've already heard all these tough questions, but when you get these students and you start working with them in the first beginning, what's a question they never ask you but they should be asking you.

Robin Lang: What would you do differently, or what am I doing wrong, or what don't I know? What am I missing? What can you teach me that I don't have here? It's usually more of an observation thing. Them telling me their goals and where they are at, and then me filling in the bridge or the gap between the two. Then they take that and they process that for a week, because most of my students and clients, we meet weekly. We talk weekly. And then they come back with a second set of questions. But the biggest thing that I would say about anything anybody discusses, is ask how and why and what the benefits are. How does that change things? People just hear something and they accept it at face value. Or worse yet they take it out context and apply it to themselves, how they think it applies to them, rather than how it was intended. So I think that how, and why, and what are the differences and the benefits and the results of this, really is eye-opening to a lot of people.

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Christian Painter: Well, and especially as you said in the beginning, you mentioned that people come to you thinking all I need from Robin is the silver bullet. Just give me that one thing and I'm ready to move on, and it is seldom one silver bullet.

Robin Lang: It seldom is. I think that is one of the breakthroughs in the ah-ha moment they have is when they realize, "Oh this is missing, this is being done incorrectly. The reason this needs to happen here is because of this and this and this, and this over here then changes," and then they see how it all fits together. I talk about a business operational system, is that component missing between the show and marketing. And nobody understands what that is, and I understand that. That's what we get into in the program. And once they understand all of these moving parts... Its like you don't just sit down and start to create a one-sheet or a video. No, you create it with something purposeful in mind, a specific goal, a specific intent, a specific vision, serving a specific purpose. And once they see it all come together, that's the beauty of it. It's like, "Oh my gosh, this is so exciting, I can't wait to..." And because we do things in a sequential order, they are ready to jump on it tomorrow and get it out there, and its like, "No! Now that that's ready we got to go on to this, and then we got to go on to this, and is your promo congruent with your website?" And when all of these things are ready, do you understand the importance of building a list, prospecting, lead generating? All of these things that have to be in place for the system to work right. When it does work right, it is a beautifully fine oiled machine that will serve them long, for many years. And that is the other thing. When they first come to me they just want to improve their performance and bookings. Then they start seeing that this is a business and that this can be scalable, and this can turn into multiple sources of income, and this is an entity when they retire they can hand down to their kids, they can sell. It's an entertainment business that's got value. Some people retire on it, so there's a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Christian Painter: Robin we've come to the end of the show, but I want to thank you so much for coming on. What great information you've shared with everyone. Thanks a lot.

Robin Lang: Thank you so much for having me on, and any time you want to talk more entertainment business, I'm available.

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. I'd like to leave you with this quote from Timothy Gallwey. "Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It's helping them to learn rather than just teaching them." As always we at the Magic Oracle wish you continued success on your path in the magical arts.

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