Magicians are like "cover bands"

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Josh Burch, Apr 11, 2012.

  1. I like to look at magic and its similarities to the other arts. One thing that gets me is the idea of a "cover band". These are the bands that play nothing but other peoples material. They don't write any of their stuff they regurgitate what has already been written with very little interpretation. To some the very title "cover band" is an insult of the highest degree.

    How does this parallel magic? Magicians can easily fall into the trap of only "covering" others material. We talk about being unique and adding our own flavor when we perform but how many of us are just cover bands?

    It's interesting to see how many singer song writers there are out there and then to see how little we perform our own stuff.

    I think about Penn and Teller, Dalton Wayne, and Lennart Green. These are the singer song writers in magic, I only wish there were more :)
  2. Some covers "made" particular songs (as in, got them out there).

    Good point though.
  3. And yet everyone performs the same tricks differently. It is an interesting way of looking at it.
  4. #4 Mike.Hankins, Apr 11, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 12, 2012
    Interesting that you brought this up. I was just having this discussion with Mr. Rob Anderson the other night, how being a magician to ME is like being a DJ. Now, for all 6 of my fans, 3 of you may not know that I am also an accomplished DJ. So when I make the comparison, I am basing it off of things I have done as a DJ.

    Let me give you an example: Take some of the biggest names in EDM today...Tiesto, Skrillex, Daft Punk, Avicii, Deadmau5, etc etc. They perform anywhere from 4-7 hour sets. But they are not just playing the music that THEY created. They will play a mix of their own created music as well as classic songs that the crowds already know and love. Sometimes the songs they play are experimental, as they are trying to get a feel for how the audience reacts to a new set. If it is a new track that they created, then maybe they are trying to figure if they need to change out a bassline, or add a drop.

    So let us replace the DJ with the magician, and the formula usually stays the same.

    We as magicians usually perform anywhere from 30min-2 hours worth of magic in our sets. Sometimes we give them the sure-fire effects that we know have been tried and tested, and then usually mix in a new effect or two to gauge the audience's reactions. Sometimes we will experiment with a new effect we are trying to add to our act, to see where it best fits. If they are tricks we have created, we try them out to the audience to see how they react to it, and then go back and tweak anything that may need some TLC.

    So while I do agree that the idea of a "cover band" can be a good analogy, I think it is important to figure out WHY that is. The answer is simple...

    We live in an era where DVDs and instant downloads flood our computers with magical information. We watch other people perform an effect they have created, and then we watch the explanation of said effect. The way they explain the effect ties in to the patter that they have created alongside the sleights they have chosen. So when we are first practicing a newly downloaded effect or effect from a new DVD, we tend to mirror the performer we are watching, because that is the way we saw them do it, and are most familiar with.

    Sticking to a good ole' magic book, we study more of how the sleights are supposed to look, rather than the patter that the magician uses, because we cannot SEE him/her perform the effect. As a result, we have to put our own spin on the effect.

    If there were more book-reading-magicians out there, I think there would be a lot less "cover bands" that you speak of.

    Just my opinion. :)
  5. That is a interesting way to look at it. But how I like to look at it is.. there are a bunch of "cover band" magicians that do the same thing and all seem the same. I find them very hard to watch! They are boring and unoriginal at all.

    But I think the real "creators of magic" are anyone that have original and great performances... let alone of they use the same "tools/sleights" then each other or not doesn't make a difference.
  6. Mike you have a good point. Even the best at the height of their game will throw in a cover. I want to a Lady Antebellum concert and the sang Aerosmith, and I've seen Sugarland sing Michael Jackson. There is great power in performing the familiar. That's why David Copperfield still performs sawing illusions and Penn and Teller perform the cups and balls. There's a lot of good stuff in your post.
  7. People try too hard to be original. It's incredibly difficult to come up with something truly original in any industry, let alone magic. I'm a fan of the old saying, "to be original be yourself".
  8. Excellent point! I think at least 75% of magicians are ''cover bands''. Think about it... people can hire five different magicians and still see the same tricks! People want to copy tricks that work for others, while they should simply perform effects that fit them as a performer. Anybody that has created their own tricks know the presentation flows a lot better when you are being yourself, and you are not copying somebody else's work.
  9. It's funny because at the castle I find the performing magicians like myself tend to like to make the connection between magic and music. For me it is the tour (The week you perform) and then the break and creation time is what is left. Yes there are "cover bands" but we do stand on the shoulders of giants and it is important to learn the past generations if you wish to influence your generation but you're not necessarily a "cover band" if you do have original performances. For example, I don't see Rob Zabrecky as a "cover band" even with his diminishing cards routine because of the way he presents it. So it isn't just the material we are talking about, it's the overall performance.

    Marc-Antoine, if you want to find your style you need to figure out what works for you and probably the first step to that is seeing what magic you like. And other people are probably doing that. For many, I know for me, you need to see what is working for others and then find what works for you BEFORE you try to turn it over and make it your own. It's the process of it all.

    So while the analogy of "cover bands" might be appropriate we shouldn't be too critical and though we can use the forum to apply these things to ourselves and our performances we should not stomp down everyone else saying they are the lowest because they just copy. Like Mike said, that's what you do to get a feel. Read his post again. It's a great example.

    In the end I agree with William on his 2nd point. It doesn't matter the method and many times the spectator doesn't know the method. They know the overall performance and how it felt for them. It's really the feeling you give and anyone can give a feeling of uniqueness to an ace assembly or a coin matrix just as someone can give it a "cover band" feeling.

    Interesting Thread.
  10. I would argue to create a new effect or presentation is very similar to writing a song. Yes there are differences but I believe that there are many similarities. I think it is interesting that a budding guitarist can be writing their own song yet there are those who almost look down on a budding magician creating their own trick.

    Also as pertaining to the method I believe that it absolutely matters. When someone first begins learning the piano there are those who flock right towards the "Mozart made Easy" or "Simplified Elton John". The tune is basically the same but the technique, nuance and the technique that it takes to play the masterpieces is so much greater in the originals. It still sounds like Elton John so why change it for a more difficult or technical version?

    A budding guitarist could play nothing but power cords and be liked by the masses. Just because he can, does that make it right? We can get away with a gimmicked presentation of "Triumph" and make it look almost identical to Vernon's. Does that mean we should. I feel like we cheapen the art when we think like that. Just because our work will not be apreciated by all, doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it.
  11. This looks fun.

    There is a fairly famous YouTube video entitled Pachelbel Rant -- and by this, I mean over ten million views at this time. It's really worth watching and is a very entertaining look at the foundations of music. It may be a touch vulgar, so I will neglect to link directly to it.

    To show my own age: a dirty lie of a rumor started that Green Day's When I Come Around arose from them trying to play Sweet Home Alabama. A very popular track in my youth called Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand by the Primitive Radio Gods sounded really unique in the 1990s, except that you could play Wild Side by Lou Reed over it and they matched nearly beat for beat. There was even some modern discussion over how much Lady Gaga's Born this Way sounded like Madonna's Express Yourself.

    Were they cover songs or did time lay down a foundation for these artists to express themselves with?

    Rock and Roll itself has roots in blues -- many of the pioneers were playing blues music on louder equipment. The Ramones imagined themselves playing early Beatles style music at twice the speed. Rock and Roll itself is built almost entirely on a single scale and the same three positions in that scale.

    A songwriter has foundations to learn, no differently than a magician. The foundations have been laid down. The roots exist. The licks have been recorded, exploited and capitalized long ago. The trick, now, is what the performer brings to it.

    This is what I find to be the case in nearly any actual study of magic. In deciding how I want to perform something, there is no shortage of techniques, with no shortage of different combinations those techniques can be applied in. I have seen more gatherings of card workers than I can count where someone shows his stuff and three other guys suggest different ways to reach the same goal.

    Are you a cover artist when you hit the point where you know how a technique works best for you, and begin arranging techniques to create a personal performance?

    It's fair to say "cover artist" about someone who rarely deviates from the script. I'm not so sure it's fair to say as much about someone who has studied his scales, foundations, licks, sneaky moves, possibly helpful tools

    I don't see it as being much different than a songwriter learning the scales and foundations. Someone else probably picked up a guitar and recorded nearly the same lick in the same key. In 2012, "someone else" is probably hundreds of songwriters. They didn't put the new songwriter's heart and soul into it.

    Goatears: Eddie Van Halen used a guitar that, for all purposes, could change its tuning up or down by three notes instantaneously. This is how he was able to switch keys almost impossibly while playing Summer Nights in live performances. Was that a cheat from a no talent hack or the clever use of a gimmick?
  12. I think its unfair to judge an artist, especially a performer, by how much of what they perform is their original creation.

    The idea of a cover band is only artistically second rate when you think in terms of rock and roll, hip hop or other pop music. What about classical musicians? You can achieve a high level of artistry as a violinist or cellist, and do not need to be a composer. There is no shame or lack of prestige to perform Bach as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

    And take Actors for example. Most actors of high acclaim are not playwrights or screen writers. Plenty of notable ones are, but its not a high percentage compared to the number of excellent actors that move and touch people emotionally by acting in plays or films written by other people. The real artistry for the actor lies in bringing the words of another person to life. I think the same thing applies to magicians.

    Whether you are performing magic that you created, presentationally or in terms of method, or whether you perform classics, the true measure of a magician (in my personal opinion) lies in how much he can amaze, astonish, and emotionally affect his audience to fill them with wonder, shock, dread, or whatever emotion he aims for.

    Now, whether the classics/the material of others suit a magician and the audience well enough to accomplish that is a question we all have to consider. If not, creation is a necessity.

    But I believe we should be most concerned with how well a magician accomplishes that goal and leave him to choose the means by which he does it.
  13. He also would play multiple solos in studio for a single song, and mix and match parts of them to form one that he really liked.
  14. I didn't mean to lump all magicians under one umbrella. The title of the thread might be a bit misleading in that regard.
  15. I think this is a very interesting way of looking at it...
    Thanks for sharing :)
  16. I also don't mean to be negative. I just think that it is interesting to notice the similarities and differences between the arts.
  17. Goatears: I actually thought your first post had a good question:
    I actually think it's a fun exercise because, for all useful purposes, I may very well fall on the opposite extreme of your argument. I want what I perform to be an extension of me at all costs, and am thus strangling myself with my own frail ego.

    I have also played drums for about 26 years and picked up some other instruments along the way. In this time, I have known "guitar gods" who could perform magnificent feats of mastery in every regard except coming up with an original piece of music. "Annnnddd oooooooooo.... I loooove youuuuuu," was a common warbling from their home studios. But, they read in a book somewhere that they had to do covers to get noticed by record companies. For real. All of them apparently read this same garbage. Those record companies apparently trawl through bowling alleys in the backwoods of Michigan for balding middle-aged talent to hire or something.

    Anyway. I'm completely with you in regards to the cover band versus unique flavor. I just wanted to add that even people who pride themselves on creating original music will end up re-writing Pachelbel's Canon or Sweet Home Alabama. The Van Halen bit had more to do with showing that a talented person can depend on non-standard gear and fingers alike.
  18. Magic tricks are a lot more like skateboarding tricks than songs. In skateboarding everyone does the same tricks pretty much, what makes them different are the different styles. So when you talk about skateboarders doing tricks you talk about their style. Same with magicians. Magicians use the same tricks, but their style is different. The spectator doesn't know the details of the tricks and can't pick who does what trick the best. They can only pick the style of the performer. Do I like style A or style B?
    With songs you have different styles and voices, but there is always "the original song" to compare everything with. And it's not band A vs band B vs band C. But band A's version of the song vs etc.
    The song is in focus, while with magicians the magician is in focus.
  19. That's an interesting point, and I can see its validity. The struggle I have with it is that I'm of the mindset that magic is strictly an art, so it's difficult for me to relate it to a sport like skateboarding. I would argue that cardistry and skateboarding have more parallels. I see both more as sports, that's not to say that they never fall into the category of art which they certainly can.
  20. The thing with art is that if a dirty pot and some wooden signs slapped together can be called art, then anything can be called art.
    Some things are beautiful to many and some things are beautiful only to those who are "in on it". So skateboarding is beautiful only to skateboarders, while for anyone outside of skateboarding it's just flippety flop amazing stunts on a wooden plank.
    Cardistry is indeed much the same. An outsider is just seeing flippety flopping a deck of cards and while it's impressive the whole thing just disappears in a mess of flips and flops because they don't understand it.
    You have to be in on the technicalities to appreciate it more than just "amazing stunts"

    Magic tricks has indeed more in common with a song that way. Because the technicalities in a magic trick are hidden to produce this amazing illusion. Songs are the same. When you listen to a song you don't care about all the technicalities, just the end result and how beautiful it sounds to you. For both if you are into the technicalities it becomes even more beautiful.

    But still even if a magician only does other people's tricks it's not even close to be like a cover band because when you go do magic. You don't go "Now I'm gonna do this trick created by this man in the year so and so". You take the trick and talk like yourself and act completely different than anyone else.
    That's why I compared it to skateboarding as it's the same. A pro skater does tricks everyone does, but you want to see him do the tricks and not just tricks.
    Now of course if you completely copy paste someone's act and patter then you become more like a cover band.
    Just doing no original tricks does not make you close to a cover band.

    Yeah ok I know what you're thinking. The difference between original song and a covered song is the style, pace, voice etc. All the things the same with magicians and magic tricks!
    With songs the audience knows it's a cover(unless ignorant). In magic the audience doesn't know who, where, what, whatever. They come to see you and the tricks are just there to make you more awesome. They can't say "Oh I prefer goatears version of this trick" because they don't know about any other versions. You are always in focus and never the magic trick. With songs the artist has to share space with the original song itself.

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