8 years ago I took a job with Ellusionist and I've seen the very best of the industry - and the very worst.
In my early 20s I participated in online magic drama and publicly came to the defense of those who found themselves in it — all in the vain pursuit of truth and justice.
But in recent years I've been a ghost. Hiding away from the never-ending whirlwind that surrounds magic.
Why did I stay quiet? Because in a war of two sides, there has to be a winner... and a loser.
But the winner isn't always the morally right one, it's just the one with the most resources and firepower — and the truth is very rarely your most powerful weapon.
However, silence assumes guilt. Those who don't fight back are seen to be weak, or seen to be guilty in the court of public opinion.
It's time I address some misconceptions...
Misconception #1. Back to BlackPhoto by Fabian Kozdon on Unsplash
In 2020, Ellusionist went back to black.
It was supposed to be a campaign that started as something fun, but was hijacked by a server outage.
Brad's cryptic email was supposed to be followed by a timer clock on the site. But the clock never came.
The technical issues of transferring 20 years of customer data, coupled with our inability to get an SSL certificate from our host company, meant the website was down for 48 hours.
At the time, the team (we all voted) made the decision to not email our list until our website was working. Those extra hours were punishing. We had death threats and were accused of 'stealing' downloads by customers unable to access them.
Speculation began that we'd gone out of business and taken customer downloads with us. Those were malicious rumours.
A clearly fake Twitter account was also created in my name, with me apparently posting about how fun it was to steal from customers. I thought people would clearly understand that wasn't me. But some took it seriously.
In today's day and age, people believe the headline, no matter the story's source.
We did the math as a team, and had 2 options:
- Come out and ruin our new website launch by saying it was broken and look like morons.
- Stay quiet, let people speculate and look like morons.
It was a lose/lose.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. So the silence seemed right before the storm, but it was clear afterwards what we should have done. It was a mistake to wait.
In the 2 years since, Ellusionist put its head down to work — and has delivered hit after hit. Optix, Flite, Peeksmith 3, How to Control Minds and so on. We've focussed on quality.
But some have been unwilling to let this 'back to black' faux pas die.
Remember, when you swing as much as us, sometimes you'll miss.
Nobody lost their downloads. Ellusionist is still here and the rumours of 'intentional maleficence' in something as unserious as a website not working for 48 hours, was simply not true.
It was a mistake to not go live and inform people our website was dead with an SSL issue. For that, I can apologise.
No business wants to annoy its customer base, but emailing a 200,000-person email list to inform 500 annoyed people on the Magic Café seemed, at the time, to be counter-intuitive.
It was a mistake that some people are still kicking us/me for, over 2 years later.
Misconception #2. A famous magician called "insert name" doesn't like you
There are 2 misconceptions at play here.
- That everyone has to like you, or you must be a terrible person.
- That someone's fame or achievements makes them infallible and righteous. It doesn’t.
It's a fact of life that some people, no matter who you are, even if you're the nicest person ever... Just won't like you.
It's also a fact that some people may not like you, because you caught them stealing, fired them, exposed their lies or challenged their version of events, publicly.
Pick a fight with enough snakes and you're guaranteed to get bit.
You may not want to hear this, but some (not all) of the most talented, well-respected magicians aren't great people.
They're great magicians. Great creators. But they may not be upstanding, honest citizens.
There is good and evil in all of us. Including me, including you.
So in an industry of professional liars, why are so many of these great magicians allowed to write the narrative? Why is their word taken as gospel?
Craig Petty and Rick Lax both exposed the 'magic mafia' recently - a group of 'elite' magicians who can build people up and secretly tear them down with anonymous accounts.
This is 100% true.
I've been a victim of this in the past also, as Craig mentioned in one of his videos.
SIDENOTE: I had someone prominent liken me to a pig, accuse me of theft and tell their audience that I was living a “disposable” life — over a magic trick.
When I tried to defend myself and shame this magician’s abhorent behaviour, I was told that ‘man’ in question had done more for magic than I ever would. His behaviour was excused by his reputation.
Back to my point…
Often, people fall out over jobs or money — and when you're in charge of giving it or taking it away, you'll inevitably end up on a lot of people's sh*t lists.
Then, because it's a small industry some of those people go off to work with competitors or release tricks with them, spreading rumours.
Ironically, some come back to us to tell us all the things they hate about those other companies too — and how those other companies "screwed them over".
I take it all with a pinch of salt — and so should you.
The magic industry is full of so many talented artists, but for some of these magicians, their entire identity is their business, their way of making a living.
They absolutely need to be the hero of their own story. Even if it's not always true.
I get that. That's why I don't air the dirty laundry online, of those big names that have stolen, spread rumours or tried to extort companies.
I can understand their intentions. Even if I can’t morally agree with it.
They need to neutralise the threat. So if they've done something wrong, it's better to get their side of the story out first and whip up as much support as they can.
It's the David & Goliath technique, which I've written about before, here.
They need to protect their reputation because that's their livelihood - and in a battle between me and them, they choose themselves. Which is not only understandable, it’s human.
Just be careful about judging people you don't know, on subjects that are usually more complicated than you'd think — and especially don't create idols from mere mortals.
Misconception #3. "You lied about quitting Ellusionist"Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Given what I've already explained, I like to keep myself to myself. Mostly because people I don't know or have never met, will spout horrible things about me on the internet.
It's better for my mental health to avoid all of these interactions.
But the truth is, hurt people, hurt people. Nobody who’s secure in themselves and happy with their life will leave hateful comments online. That’s something you can only learn as you age.
"Don’t worry if someone does not like you. Most people are struggling to like themselves." - Unknown.
However petty this point may be, it's worth addressing this concern that I've read online. Some people thought I quit, but now I'm CEO, so that must mean I'm a liar?
Here's the truth...
I never said I left E publicly, people just assumed I did when I stopped posting online. I actually said I was leaving the online magic community and haven't attended a convention or published a trick since.
In mid-2020, I dropped back to a freelancer with E (just 2 days per week) and then, later on, ended up taking a job with a crypto company until I was offered CEO in November 2021, when Brad stepped down.
I've not hidden this fact. I've had it on public display on my LinkedIn since then.
I just don't really use Facebook or Instagram anymore — and didn't want to publicly pat myself on the back by telling the world I got a job. It seemed too self-congratulatory. Especially in a climate where many jobs were being lost.
Misconception #4. "Ellusionist is going out of business."
In a post-pandemic period of stagflation (reduced supply and increased demand), there were some challenges for everyone.
I don’t care what anyone tells you, no magic company is having its “best year ever”. Because magic is a luxury niche and during a cost of living crisis, luxury markets dip.
We all faced supply chain delays, meaning it's harder and takes longer to get stuff made. For example, my car has been in the garage for 5 months, waiting for a single part to arrive, before they can fix it. The world just isn’t as efficient as it once was.
Businesses are all faced with rising costs too, meaning fewer profits, or fewer sales if they hike the price up.
It doesn’t mean everyone is going out of business, it just means certain strategies or company structures need to change when faced with these macroeconomic factors.
For example, the Ellusionist social media has not been as engaging lately, we can agree with that. We hired 4 people in that role in the past 2 years, to manage socials, work on our YouTube channel or make content. None of which were able to create a return on their salary.
These are all great, talented people — and there’s no bad blood from our side, but as a business, if it doesn’t create a return, then it’s a loss.
It’s also true that the algorithm rewards quantity, not quality — and we don’t want to say something just for the sake of it. If you hear from us, it’s because we have something worth saying.
We’ll keep trying to fill that role with someone who can engage our customers, that’s our job, but the lack of engagement isn’t evidence of anything more serious.
Ellusionist has been around for over 22 years - and we intend to stick around.
So why did I write ‘Misconceptions’?
I have a love/hate relationship with magic. It’s the biggest source of joy in my life, but also the biggest source of pain.
Magic is the reason I’ve made so many friends — and the reason I’ve lost some.
I write this post, not to ‘elevate’ myself or sound defensive, but to let go of the emotional baggage given to me by past negative experiences. To set the record straight on a few things.
In my absence, rumours were allowed to fill the void my presence did not.
It’s only when I read Rick Lax’s comment on the Café about his experiences within the industry that I realised my character wasn’t the only one being assaulted.
It seems like it happens to us all — and there’s comfort in that. Not just for me, but in case it ever happens to you too.
Should you want anything else answered, or a peek behind another curtain, leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe I'll answer more misconceptions in future. No holds barred.
Ask me anything.