The agent has a responsibility not only to you, but to the party hiring you. He has to be confident that you will fulfill that party’s needs and that the party will also live up to their responsibilities. For all intents and purposes, then, the agent has both the employee (the act) and the employer (the hiring party) as clients, for ultimately his agenda is to make sure that both parties are satisfied. This dual responsibility is directly reflected in how money flows between the parties.
This is great for you if you’re an artist, because it means that the agent relieves you of a lot of the business grunt work and uncertainty that is involved in gigging. And, because he works on a commission basis, he has a built-in incentive to work toward a successful outcome, not only in terms of the match between performer and venue, but in terms of the size of financial reward you receive. This means it is incumbent upon the agent to see to it that you get what you are supposed to in terms of amenities, equipment, sound check, money, and so on. The flip side of this, of course, is that before he will take you on board, you have to prove you can and will deliver when called upon.
How much do agent’s take from your earnings? A typical agent cut is 10% or slightly higher, but in some scenarios like special one-off gigs involving a high-calibre event or where there are substantially more expenses involved for the agent they might demand as much as 20%.
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the agent who books you into a gig to make sure you get paid. In reality, though, situations can occur in which the performing act is asked to collect the fee from the hiring party and reconcile later with the agent. But what if the agent tells you to collect the money at the gig and the hiring party short-changes you or even refuses to pay? To protect yourself, your contract with the agency should require that they compensate you fully if you deliver and the hiring party doesn’t come through with the money. After all, you placed your trust in the agent and fulfilled your end of the bargain. In this regard, it is always a good idea at the end of every gig to get some form of written verification from the hiring party of any amount paid and that your services were satisfactory.
Your contract with the agent should also call for you to be compensated to some degree, if not in full, if you commit to a gig and it is cancelled within a certain number of days prior to the scheduled date. The rationale here is that you’ve given up other potential opportunities to perform that day by making that commitment.
Note that, if you have an arrangement with an agent that provides them exclusive rights relating to certain types of gigs, when an opportunity for such work comes your way through no effort of theirs you will be required to refer the interested party to the agent. Without such arrangement the agent is excluded from receiving commissions on work you get yourself, or through other sources, that lies outside their mandate.
Be aware, too, that if the artist has a personal manager, the manager will do most of the dealing with the agent. That’s the way it should be. So, if you have a manager, let him earn his cut and leave things up to him/her except in extenuating circumstances. It is unprofessional for an artist to make a habit of circumventing the agent-manager line of communication and can create unnecessary complications.
No agent I’ve ever met will actually guarantee you work. They might lead you to believe they will be able to get it, but they won’t put that into the contract. You don’t want to be stuck with a non-producing agent in an exclusive arrangement, so how do you protect yourself from that happening? Build a performance clause into any exclusive agent arrangement for which the term is longer than, say, a year. This lets you opt out of the contract if the agent doesn’t perform to a minimum standard. On the other hand, while it is true that the artist (or their personal manager) must approve all gigs, you can’t expect an agent to want to continue a relationship with you if you unduly limit your availability for work. So, expect to see something in the contract to the effect that the agent can exit the relationship should you develop a pattern of unreasonably or frequently refusing to accept engagements.
This is my third blog on the subject of booking agents. To read the earlier ones, click on the “Live Music and Performance” category.