Updated: May 13, 2022
If you are in the entertainment business, you have probably come across various talent representatives, particularly agents and managers. While many view agents and managers as the same, there are several important distinctions between the two roles.
Agents represent talent in seeking and securing employment. They also help their clients get paid and assist their clients in making connections.
Managers focus on shaping and maintaining an artist’s career. They also help market talent and provide advice on how to appeal to consumers and other consumers of talent. They do this by assisting the artist in selecting projects and works that will further the artist’s image and reputation. Managers’ services typically include managing day-to-day business activities; assisting with marketing, social media and promotional materials; referring artists to agents, business managers and publicists; and aiding in talent development (finding classes, coaches, etc.).
Licensing and Regulation
The conduct of agents is governed by state law and regulations. With large entertainment markets, New York and California require anyone who solicits and arranges employment for an artist to be licensed. Artists can check the New York and California databases to confirm that an agent is registered. Conversely, registration is not required for talent managers in most states.
While the roles of agent and manager are distinct, there is potential for overlap because a manager’s role in developing an artist’s career may involve reaching out to industry contacts and discussing new opportunities or deal terms. Accordingly, New York has an exception to its licensing rules allowing managers to procure work for their clients if it is incidental to their principal role as the artist’s manager. This can include the manager making introduction to individuals in the client’s industry that could progress their career, or other circumstances in which the distinction between “agent” and manager” becomes blurred. California does not have such an exception unless it involves the procurement of recording contracts. This can also include negotiating and exploring terms in prospective contracts with the intention, as is the case in New York law, to advance their client’s career.
A talent agent is also often subject to the codes of conduct of guilds and unions. Unions may dictate fees, require form contracts to be used and insist that the agent obtain a franchise license. Without the franchise license, a talent agent cannot procure employment for any members of the union. Managers are not regulated by guilds, but they do still have a fiduciary duty to their clients.
Each state treats commissions in different ways, but generally, an agent’s commission is set at 10%. Note that an agent may only receive a commission when and if the artist receives compensation and agents may not charge up-front fees. Certain other amounts paid to the artist typically are not included in the commission calculation, such as travel and meal allowances, living expenses and other payments.
As with agents, managers are typically paid for their services on a commission basis. However, there are no legal, union or franchise restrictions imposed upon a manager’s commission structure. A manager can charge anywhere between 10% and 30% of the artist’s gross receipts as commission. Commissions generally vary based on the industry as well as the status of the artist and the reputation and experience of the manager. For example, most actors’ managers charge between 10 % and 15%, while a music group or model manager’s commission might go as high as 20% to 25%.
Note that both agent contracts and manager contracts should stipulate the commission payable, what work it applies to and all relevant terms of payment, including any rights to continue to collect commissions after the term of the agreement has ended.
Legal and Contractual Duties
Both agents and managers have certain obligations and limitations in acting on behalf of an artist. Some of these are at law, but others should be addressed in an agreement.
Agents owe certain duties to act honestly and in the best interests of their clients. As a result, the agent is required to keep the client fully informed and to diligently review potential employment opportunities on behalf of clients. For instance, New York requires agents to investigate potential employers to determine whether they have a history of overdue or missed payments to previous employees before securing work for a client with that employer. For this reason, agents are also prohibited from producing programs where there could be a potential conflict of interest with their clients. Additionally, agents cannot attempt to limit any of their fiduciary duty to their clients in a contract.
Managers typically have a smaller number of clients than agents. This is because they provide a broad array of services, requiring more time with each client to ensure they work together in shaping the client’s reputation.
In comparison, agents may have hundreds of clients because they are only concerned with booking jobs for their clients. An agent most likely will not be able to devote the same amount of time to each client but will often work collaboratively with their clients’ other representatives.
Before you decide whether you need an agent, manager, or both, think about your goals in the industry and how the right person might be able to help you meet them.
An experienced entertainment lawyer can be a strong advocate in contract discussions to help get the best terms for an artist.
This Blog is made available by Romano Law PLLC for general informational and educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this Blog you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and Romano Law PLLC or any individual contributor. You should consult a licensed professional attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.