by Dick Christian
Working with Agents is something all of us do at some stage. Some performers become so busy and so much in demand that they also become Agents. But there are often stories about bad experiences and misconceptions about roles.
Dick Christian is not only a very successful performer with a wide range of shows, he also operates as an Agent. I hope you will read the article very carefully, as he shares some very important secrets and terrific insights. Ideas that could smooth the road for you in years to come.
In Defence of Agents
In Digest #100 someone posted a report of his bad experience with a certain Agency.
As a performer I must admit that, yes, there are unscrupulous agents out there. Like others I’ve had an occasional problem with one or two myself and there are some that I refuse to do business with. At the same time, please be assured that while there are a few bad apples in any barrel, they are not representative of the industry at large. While there are couple of agencies that I won’t do business with, there are many more with whom I have a most cordial working relationship and are happy to work with at any time.
As one who is also an agent, I also feel obliged to speak up on behalf of those of us who are in that business. I think most of us go out of our way to be fair to all concerned, both our clients and the performers we represent. An agent has a dual responsibility. He is responsible to the clients to provide the best possible entertainment at the most reasonable cost. He is also responsible to the performers to get as much work as possible and to get the highest possible compensation. A good agent realizes that he only makes money when the performers he represents make money.
I have worked for a LOT of the agencies in my area, both as a performer and as a subcontractor providing the services of performers in our files to other agencies who did not have those performers available from their own resources.
In working through an agency, the performer needs to keep a couple of things in mind. Not the least of which is that the days of the ten-percenter (unless one is handling a “big name” performer who commands the top fees) are gone forever. The big agencies often charge their clients double the performer’s fee and commissions of 30- 35% are not uncommon. The standard minimum commission these days (typically for AFTRA-SAG licensed agencies) is 15%. In the case of my company, our commissions range from a low of 15% to as much as 1/3 depending on the sale price for the act; e.g., for the low cost – high volume jobs, such as clowns and magicians at kid birthday parties our
commission is typically 1/3 of the cost to the client. For the bigger jobs, e.g., bands at wedding receptions, “name” acts, etc., it is typically in the 15% range and sometimes even lower if it is an important client from whom we hope to get more jobs in the future.
The smart performer will discount his/her normal fee (i.e., what they would charge the client if they booked the job directly) by at least 15-20% when booking through an agent. This allows the agent to offer their services to the client at the same fee the client would pay if they booked the performer directly. That way the agent does not come off to the client as a bad guy.
Although the performer gets less than if they booked the job directly, they avoid all the hassle of dealing with the client, sending the contract, etc., which saves the performer time, money and possible aggravation and takes into account that the agency has certain operating costs and overhead which must be paid out of the commissions it receives. These costs are often far higher than a lot of performers realize. In my own case, my yellow page and other local advertising costs OVER $3,000 A MONTH! (The fact that I live in two state plus DC area where two competing companies each publish several different directories is one of the reasons the cost is so high.) I have to sell a lot of clowns at a lot of birthday parties just to cover my advertising costs. In addition to the ads, I have to pay a telephone bill, my part-time secretary, insurance (not only for me, but to cover all the acts/performers we send out under our name – – at a cost of over $6,000 a year), postage, etc., etc. Even with gross sales of $250,000-300,000 annually (including what I earn from my own shows), if I figured in the time I spend running the business I would probably find that I am making about $0.10 an hour. (No wonder my wife thinks I’m nuts!)
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