Talent Agency and Artist Management Contracts
Finding success as an artist or entertainer can be challenging, which is why most performers rely on talent agents and managers for guidance. These professionals help secure employment, make connections and manage the careers and images of their clients. While it is exciting to find a good agent or manager, it is essential to negotiate beneficial terms in an agency or management contract. Our attorneys advise creatives on how to get fair terms and protect their rights.
What Is the Difference Between a Talent Agent and Artist Manager?
Agents and managers serve different but complementary roles. Artists should understand the differences, so they hire the right person for their needs.
Role in Artists’ Careers
Talent agents focus on helping an artist find work. They seek out employment opportunities, represent the artist in contract negotiations and ensure the artist is paid.
Talent managers have a more varied role. Typically, they help shape and develop their clients’ careers. They provide services, such as managing their clients’ daily business and financial activities; assisting with marketing; referring artists to agents, business managers and publicists; and aiding in talent development.
Note that the manager’s role in developing the artist’s career may overlap with the agent’s job securing employment. Both may reach out to industry contacts to discuss potential opportunities or deal terms. However, seeking employment should be incidental to the manager’s job; otherwise the manager may be subject to laws governing agents.
Licensing and Regulation
States usually regulate agents more extensively than managers. For example, New York and California state laws require anyone who solicits and arranges employment for others to be licensed and registered by the state. An agent’s compensation is also restricted. These rules do not apply to managers. However, both agents and managers do owe fiduciary duties to act honestly and in the best interests of their clients.
In addition, agents may be subject to guild and union rules, which may establish fees, provide form contracts and require a franchise license. Managers are not regulated by guilds or unions.
Both agents and managers are paid on a commission basis. However, agent commissions are typically subject to legal, union or franchise rules, while a manager’s commission is not. Often, a 10% commission applies to agents, but this is not universal. How commissions are paid may also be regulated for agents. Furthermore, most states prohibit agents from charging an advance fee.
What Are the Key Provisions of a Talent Agency or Artist Management Contract?
Once an artist finds an agent and/or manager, the artist is typically asked to sign a contract. Good legal representation is important because artists usually have less experience and leverage in negotiating and may find it difficult to judge whether an agreement is fair.
As noted previously, an agent’s compensation is often regulated by state law or other industry rules. An experienced attorney can assess whether the agreement complies with these restrictions. In addition, a lawyer can negotiate how the commission is calculated. For instance, it may be a percentage of all gross income, or a percentage of income from only the jobs procured by the agent. No commission should be paid on travel, per diems, expenses and similar perks.
Manager commissions generally vary based on the industry as well as the status of the artist and the reputation and experience of the manager. They typically range between 10-20%.
Both agency and management contracts should clearly set forth when and how commissions are payable.
Many agreements are written to give the agent or manager broad authority to represent the artist. However, an overly broad scope means the artist may not be able to seek other representatives to handle various types of work or services. For instance, an artist who is talented in multiple arenas (for example, modeling and theatre) may want separate agents focused on each area or may want to carve out certain types of employment or projects that the artist or another contact can handle.
The length of the contract is important because the artist is locked in for that period, barring grounds for termination. Management agreements usually have a term between one and five years. The agreement can also provide for automatic renewals or extensions of the initial term. With agency contracts, the duration of most initial agreements is between one and three years. However, specific guilds, such as those representing directors and writers, put the initial term at a maximum of two years. Generally, renewal periods will be a maximum of three years.
The agreement should clearly outline the services to be provided by the agent or manager. Furthermore, as noted previously, agents and managers have a duty to act honestly and in the best interests of their clients. Legal counsel can help ensure that in detailing the services provided to the artist, that the agent or manager has not improperly eliminated or limited their duties to the artist.
Generally, both parties prefer to have an exclusive relationship in a management agreement. This way, the manager is primarily responsible for the artist’s business and the artist need only pay one party for management services. However, a non-exclusive contract may be beneficial between an agent and an artist, to enable the artist to seek employment on their own.
Agreements can last several years, which is a long time to be locked into a relationship that is not beneficial. However, there are circumstances that may allow termination before the agreement expires. For instance, termination may be permitted if the agent does not achieve a specified number of bookings or amount of earnings. It is important for an attorney to negotiate these terms to give the artist the right to find a new representative.
The termination clause may also include a “sunset clause,” allowing a manager or agent to continue to collect commissions after the term of the agreement has ended. However, this usually only applies to projects that were secured during the term of the agreement, for a set period of time or as long as such projects are generating revenue.
An artist may want separate agents in different geographic areas because an agent may be well-connected in one region but not others. This must be negotiated as agents will want to have broad representation rights.
Building a career is an exciting endeavor and agents and managers are invaluable in helping performers achieve their goals. However, artists are often at a disadvantage in negotiating contracts. An experienced entertainment lawyer can be a strong advocate in contract discussions to help get the best terms for an artist.
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