The problems of performing magic on Zoom and how to fix them

Like WhatsApp is the go-to instant messaging app for consumers, Zoom has become a default for online video meetings. These things tend to change fast, but for the time being, it seems Zoom is the most popular platform for multi-participant video-chats. So if you want to be accessible to most of our clients, that with what we need to work. Unfortunately, Zoom is not tailor-made for performances and can sometimes harm them.


Some of these problems cannot be fixed and must be kept in mind when choosing material. For example, you cannot control on what device your audience watches you. People can be in bed with their smartphones or tablets on a vertical or horizontal view, up close on their computer or laptop, even far away on a sofa watching on a TV screen. So many variables to consider can mean details in your effects may be lost on their way towards your audience. Essential information on video may be cropped out frame by the size and orientation of the window on-screen on the participant’s side. The size of the screen may make small details and text un-noticeable or unreadable. You also have no control if the participant views the conversation in speaker mode or gallery mode.


On the left: Speaker view. On the right: Gallery view.

The main issue we need to work around is Zooms Speaker Mode that automatically cuts the camera to whoever is speaking. This feature is fantastic for most non-magicians because it makes conversations clearer. But it is terrible for the magic because you cannot control the attention of the audience. The camera can cut right when you are about to reveal an effect or the reaction of a participant.


Here are a few ways you can control this:


1) Mute everyone but yourself. In zoom as a host, you can mute all and choose that participants cannot unmute themselves. This means you need to unmute them manually during the show. This is effective for performers who only occasionally relay the audience’s reactions or answers for effects like prediction and revelations. This is my least favorite option.

2) Webinar mode. In this mode, there are no participants. There are attendees, which by default, cannot use their microphone or camera. The only people who can open their cameras and microphones are the panelists: a group that the host selects in advance to upgrade from attendees. A lot of people like this because there is not much to deal with during the show. I do not prefer this because it discluded most of your audience. Part of the fun of watching a live show is knowing there might be a chance you will be chosen to participate. This option is not included in the basic pro version of zoom, and you need to pay extra to add it. It can be convenient for the solo performer who does not have a technical director to take charge of the stream.


3) Meeting mode and spotlighting. In meeting mode, every participant has the option of taking part. The host can use the spotlight function to isolate the camera on the speaker he wants, be it himself or a participant. This is great because you can control what everyone sees at all times. The only thing you cannot change is if the participants speaker of the gallery view, but most people use speaker mode by default. Again, this takes time to operate during the performance and is best to be done by an assistant who understands magic and your show correctly, so he won’t let the audience miss a moment.


4) Third-party studio software. Use an app or program to manipulate your camera stream in zoom and augment it by adding windows with speakers, participants, and even the gallery view. A lot of Mac users have Ecamm; I use OBS on windows and preset scenes with a participant, two participants, a media source like a video, or a browser window. To focus the viewer, I only need to spotlight myself, and through using multiple monitors, I can capture my zoom windows and the participants I want and insert them directly into my stream. When I wnt everyone to see themselves, I just capture my view and stream it through my camera stream, and then everyone sees the same thing at all times – what I want. Each scene is preset, especially to the effects I know I want to perform to make them clear as possible. Presetting OBS and operating it midstream Is highly technical. I have gotten used to it, and I perform sitting down by the computer and manage to do this seamlessly during the show. If you prefer standing up and far from the computer, you might want to consider using a technical assistant. What you read is a very brief explanation of what you can do with OBS, there are many tutorials on youtube about how to operate it, and you will need extra plugins to make it work for zoom, but the nice thing is it is a completely free program. If there is a demand, I was thinking of shooting a video about how I use OBS to make magic stronger and clearer. If this is something you would like to see, please comment so I will know.


An example of focusing on the participant using picture in picture on OBS

Bottom line if you can use these workarounds yourself – that’s amazing and do it. I Personally enjoy operating the technical side during the performance, and I find the process of learning fun. But if you like focusing on the magic finding a professional assistant that understands the platform you use and your needs as a magician. A lot of companies that will hire you have an IT person they offer to help you, the offer is kind, but he doesn’t know much about magic and might miss important moments. You can ask a magician friend to help you, and return the favor when he has a show, or hire someone like myself to assist you. What I do is capture your stream with OBS, or take remote control of your computer depending on your needs, direct the camera, and manage participants from my studio in Israel. If you do not wish to use me, that is fine, and if you have any technical or magical questions, I am always happy to answer and make new friends.


P.S.

A lot of readers have pointed out my spelling and grammar mistakes. English is not my first language, so I am very aware of this and make an effort to minimize errors. I am currently in the process of rewriting my Ebook for this reason. If you find something that needs fixing, please let me know in private, and I will fix it.

I hope you enjoyed reading and would love to hear your comments.

Gideon.

Gideon Livnah, 2018, -Israel