How to Magically Grow Your Podcast

Erik Tait has found a winning formula for an audience of magicians

The Penguin Magic Podcast, hosted by comedian and magician Erik Tait, might bring to mind descriptions of tricks and discussions of great magic performances. And it is that—but with a little bit of interview savvy and a lot of magic, Tait has created a listening experience about the community that resonates with magicians and magic fans alike.

Tait didn’t just roll out of bed, order a mic from Amazon, and start podcasting. He worked in different sectors of the entertainment industry for several years, finding regional success as a comedian as well as with a live quiz show. It was as a magician, however, that he thrived. 

A big-name guest helped their subscriber base grow, but what kept the audience, Tait thinks, was his interview strategy as the “magician’s magician.” 

After years of doing corporate parties and private events, Tait’s career took off in 2018, when he was named the Gold Cups Close Up Competition Champion  by the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Around the same time, Tait was hired as a magic lecturer for Penguin Magic, one of the biggest magic companies in the country. He also had an appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us.“I had three things sort of hit all at the same time, and that shoved me into the face of the magic community,” he says. 

Thanks to his newfound status in the magic community, the next year Penguin Magic approached Tait again, this time asking him to work full-time as a content producer and director for digital products. Since then, Tait has produced and filmed many of the digital downloads Penguin Magic has released. The podcast itself, however, was all Tait’s idea. 

In a typical week, digital production consists of filming explanations and live performances of different guests’ magic tricks. Since guests were already in and out of the studio, Tait decided to record some interviews.“I sort of got to thinking that while we still had [the weekly guests] here, we could produce other content with them that could drive traffic to the website.” Tait says, calling the podcast idea a ‘no-brainer.’ Without much additional heavy lifting, production for the Penguin Magic Podcast was underway. 

This wasn’t Tait’s first attempt at podcasting. Remember that live quiz show we mentioned?? ? That quiz show was also a podcast. In 2015, Tait started The Quiz Box, where comedians answer outrageous trivia questions to score points. The intent of The Quiz Box was to create a live show that also worked as a podcast and,hile Tait has moved on to different projects, it still thrives as a live show and podcast with Tait’s one-time co-host, comedian Nickey Winkleman, and others.So by the time Penguin Magic approached Tait for a digital production role, he was confident in his ability to produce a quality podcast. He also knew that the instant reach that Penguin Magic could provide would help the new podcast grow quickly. “I’m backed by a company, and that’s a big thing,”  Tait says. “They didn’t hire me to do the podcast, but I [thought] this could be beneficial to us. When we put out a podcast, it sort of instantly got traction.” But despite being company-backed, the Penguin Magic Podcast isn’t just a show about card tricks and magicians.Tait says that the show has evolved into something with journalistic integrity—a platform within the magic community. As a magician and a representative of Penguin Magic, Tait is uniquely positioned to pull this off. 

photo provided by Tait

The first few episodes had about 200 listeners without any company promotion whatsoever. Around episode 11, Tait says, the podcast really started to take off. 

“I featured a guy named Nick Diffatte,” he says. “[Diffatte] was a big get. [He] is a very well-known, very in-demand comedy magician. [We] had known each other for a little bit, so he was pretty open to being on the podcast.” 

A big-name guest helped their subscriber base grow, but what kept the audience, Tait thinks, was his interview strategy as the “magician’s magician.” 

“[The Diffatte episode] is a really good example of what our podcast does differently than other people,” Tait says. He avoided basic interview questions that focused on Diffatte’s career as a magician; instead, they discussed magic-device building and comedy magic, diving deep into questions that only a fellow magician would know to ask. “[Diffatte] has built special magic gimmicks for magicians. I focused the interview on that and comedy magic,” Tait says. “A lot of people knew Nick, but [we] were asking different questions.” 

Tait has also experimented with bringing current events into the conversation for special episodes, and discussing them from a magician’s perspective. For instance, when the coronavirus lockdowns began in March of 2020, Tait interviewed several magicians that had been performing on cruise ships, including one ship that had confirmed cases of coronavirus. During a time when listeners were hungry for coronavirus content, the episode featuring magician Tom Crosby—who tells the story of a cruise ship that was chartered in the Bahamas but couldn’t stay, and eventually had to sail to Cuba to offload—found the perfect overlap between magic and the biggest news story in the world. 

Another episode inspired by current events landed in June of 2020, during the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. Penguin Magic interviewed three magicians,  Rory Rennick, Ran’D Shine, and Paris, about  being Black in the magic business. (Rennick, a magician of color and magic historian is the stand-in host.) The three Black magicians stayed with the show’s theme of observing the world through the lens of magic, with Rennick at one point making a sinister analogy, “To think that the color of one’s skin makes you superior or better than another… That’s masterful, but evil magic. If an evil magician could be personified, it would be the person who espouses the white supremacy ideology. Just like a magician, when one of our methods is widely known,  we have to go to another method … to get through to fool your audience. And that’s what I see happening systemically.” He went on to make the connection to each type of racism from slavery, to segregation, to the war on drugs as the magicians secrets that got revealed. 

“I’m pretty conscious of what’s going on in the world, and make it a point to do special episodes,” Tait says. “[Those] get listened to pretty quick by people.”  Even the advertisements reinforce the show’s credibility within the community. Compared to other podcasters, Tait doesn’t need to worry about who will buy their ad breaks. Since the ads are internally produced, he has the advantage of incorporating them in a way will be relevant to the episode in question. “We’re not saying, ‘buy, buy, buy!’” Tait says. “We’re saying ‘here are the value points [of the product]. And, we’re talking about tricks that [I] use.’” For example, Tait has a “five under five” segment during  which the guest talks about their top five tricks of a particular genre in under five minutes. By making the ads helpful and relevant, listeners don’t skip through or tune out. Like the interviews themselves, they are interesting to the listeners. 

“Every time someone talks about a product, I put a chapter marker in and link to it,” Tait says. By being clear about when they are advertising, the Penguin Magic Podcast has built trust with their listeners. 

The present pandemic has thrown a wrench in Tait’s well-greased formula.  During the coronavirus lockdowns, having guests in a professional studio is difficult, so many interviews have to be conducted over phone calls or Zoom, which diminishes audio quality. 

“I’m constantly trying to make us sound the best,” he says. “The one thing I do know from being a video producer is that you can have low quality images and people will still watch, but if your audio is annoying, people will turn it off.” Because Penguin Magic is currently unable to fly people into a studio during the coronavirus pandemic, finding the right people with the right equipment is one of Tait’s priorities. 

Tait’s attention to his craft and company backing have made the Penguin Magic podcast a success in its niche. That said, he doesn’t see other productions as their competition. Even other magic podcasts that have company backing,are just doing things differently. 

“There’s other podcasts that are more performer-related, or guys talking about what they’re doing in shows, or [going to] conventions,” he says. “I don’t approach the podcast that way. [Different companies] might be competing, but I don’t think we’re competing for listeners.” 

Tait feels fortunate to work for a company that gave him creative direction with the podcast, as opposed to trying to use it as a sales tool alone. Through making the show, it has become clear to him that magicians have a way of talking to each other about their work and the greater community that is unique. He has tapped into the community’s desire to hear about their world from that perspective. 

“It’s about putting out interesting, relevant material,” Tait says. “And I think we do that.” 

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