If you are working in the entertainment industry, whether as an actor, musician or another kind of talent, it is likely that you have come across both talent agents and managers. The responsibilities of agents and managers may sometimes overlap, but it is important, especially for talent, to understand what each can offer and how they’re regulated by certain laws.
Agents primarily focus on representing talent in seeking and securing employment. They help their clients get paid and assist them in making connections. On the other hand, managers focus on shaping and maintaining the overall image and progression of an artist’s career. They help market talent and provide advice on how to appeal to consumers and other consumers of talent. Managers often manage day-to-day business activities, assist with marketing, social media and promotional materials, and make referrals to agents, business managers and publicists. They also aid in talent development, which includes finding classes, coaches and other resources to help their clients improve.
One key difference between managers and agents is that the employment conduct of agents is strictly regulated by state law and regulations. In New York and California where there are large entertainment markets, anyone who solicits and arranges employment for an artist must be licensed to do so. Artists can check registration databases for New York and California to confirm that an agent is registered. Managers, on the other hand, are not subject to these restrictions in most states. This often results in overlap between the roles of agent and manager, as a manager’s role in developing an artist’s career may involve reaching out to industry contacts and discussing new opportunities or deal terms.
In New York, there is an exception to the licensing rules that allows managers to procure work for their clients if it is incidental to their principal role as the artist’s manager. This includes making introductions to individuals in the client’s industry that could advance 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.
A talent agent is also often subject to the codes of conduct of guilds and unions. Unions may dictate fees, require the use of form contracts and insist that the agent obtain a franchise license. For example, an agent who works with actors would need to obtain a SAG-AFTRA 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.
Both agents and managers are typically paid a commission based on what their client earns. An agent’s commission is usually set at 10%, received when the artist is actually compensated. Agents may not charge up-front fees, and certain other amounts paid to the artist (meals, travel, living expenses) are typically not included in the commission calculation. A manager can charge anywhere between 10% and 30% of the artist’s gross receipts as commission, and commissions generally vary based on the industry as well as the status of the artist and the reputation and experience of the manager.
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.
Both agents and managers have certain obligations and limitations to adhere to when acting on behalf of an artist. Agents have duties to act honestly and in the best interests of their 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. Agents are also prohibited from procuring employment that could result in a potential conflict of interest with their clients and from attempting to limit any of their fiduciary duty to their clients in a contract.
Managers typically have a smaller number of clients than agents 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. As a result, they may not be able to devote the same amount of time to each individual client. However, agents typically work collaboratively with their clients’ other representatives, including managers, publicists and attorneys, to help their clients achieve their goals and advance their careers.
Ultimately, whether an artist needs an agent, a manager or both will depend on their individual needs and goals. It’s important for artists to carefully consider their options and do their research before selecting representation. An experienced entertainment lawyer can be a valuable asset in contract negotiations and ensuring that an artist’s interests are protected.