Perhaps one of the most highly contested issues regarding working as a full-time musician, or more importantly transitioning into full-time work as a musician, is whether or not you should use the services of an agency.
1. Reputation. If you are a relative newcomer on the pro music scene or you are trying to make inroads you will need to have some type of reputation as a performer. Being on the books of a highly-respected agency can give you some much needed credibility that you would otherwise have some degree of difficulty developing on your own.
If you are trying to move into uncharted territory and you have no contacts, you will probably need the services of an agency that has market share in that geographical location. Here’s Why: Because unless you are already super famous or you have friends in the area that can vouch for your prowess to prospective clients, you will lack credibility and reputation. Therefore, you need to borrow someone’s…namely, an agency’s, reputation.
2. Exposure. A good agency will often have a long list of clients with whom they are in constant contact. This is good for you as it means there is a higher probability that clients will see your promotional material.
If you are the greatest cowbell player on Mars and no one hears or views your Kung Fu Panda ‘awesomeness’ you will retain your title of “The Greatest and Most Jobless Cowbell player on Mars” for a long, long time. An agency can expose you to many clients in a short time. Not all clients will be interested in your services for various reasons, but rest assured, if your promotional material is up to par, and your agent has guided you in how and what to present in your press kit, you should be counting the $$ soon enough.
3. Legal protection. Agencies can be an important source of assistance and they can act as mediators should something unforeseen happen during the course of your contract.
4. Support. An agency has a vested interest in supporting you. Agencies are often capable of exerting a considerable amount of influence on difficult-to-deal-with musicians or clients should any issues arise.
Everyone needs support. It is always nice to have a big gun that you can pull out in times of need. When you are in the GM’s office trying to explain why the revenue in the club has taken a beating since your band arrived you will want to know that someone can share and bear a bit of the brunt and seek for the right advices. An agent can be your ‘go to guy’ in any situation.
“ It is an increase in revenue that will engender the warmest of handshakes, congratulatory slaps on the back, and free rounds of drinks for the band if you’re lucky. However, should those revenues drop the blame will probably be put on the band too. It’s just the way it is. Learn to take the good with the bad. “
5. Paperwork. Agencies are often well-versed in contracts, organizing international visas, and a multitude of other important jobs that are necessary to gaining employment. Tackling all of this can be a Herculean task even if you have done it many times. A good agency can lift a large portion of this particular work from your shoulders.
Work like this always involves a paper trail. For those of you that don’t know, a huge amount of work is involved in drawing up documentation, faxing, scanning, photocopying, messaging, calling to complete a contract. A good agent will do most of this and allow you to focus on what you do best.
“LET’S BE HONEST… “
On a more serious note, musicians’ number one complaint about agents is the agent’s fee or commission.
Wherever you travel in the musical solar system you will hear the screams and lamentations of musicians who believe with more conviction than Medieval peasants believed in the ‘Flat Mars theory’ that their agent is earning more than they are or ripping them off, and yet I (the musician) am the one pounding the beat every night.
Here is a solar sisterly advice:
“If you don’t like what they are charging don’t work with them”.
It’s pretty simple, really. As long as they are upfront about their commission and don’t change it through the course of the contract and honor their contractual obligations all should be good right?
This is what usually happens during the course of your relationship with your agent;
– The agent gets you a contract. You agree to it and sign, so does the agency and the client.
– You start to work
– A bit later you start to resent your agent because you never see or hear from them anymore
– You forget that most of their work has been done
– You forget that if it wasn’t for them you may well be earning ZERO Martian $
– You forget that it was you that agreed to all the terms (otherwise you wouldn’t be there unless you were alien abductees right?)
It is true that agents take a commission. If you don’t like the deal, negotiate a better deal or move on’. No one is holding a gun to your head.
Most of us want to earn a little more and an agent is no different. If you agree to the terms of a contract don’t run home and cry to your mom if you don’t like it. Try to be sensible and mature about it. Wait until the contract finishes and then renegotiate the terms. If you are a good musician an agent will want to keep you on their books and you may be able to get a better deal. Better still is the scenario where an agent can charge a higher price to the clients without adjusting their commission. In that way you and your agent will be better off and if you are that good, the client will reap the reward of having paid a bit more to secure your services.
If you team up with an excellent agency the relationship can be a symbiotic one. A long-term business relationship can be nurtured with the vision that you and your agency want the best for each other and for the client.
“A contract is just a piece of paper. It can be a powerful document if used correctly and perhaps more importantly- if it can be enforced. “
Most musicians do not have degrees or knowledge in International Contract law and even if they did it would be a nightmare to have to take any matter to court due to the nature of working as an international musician. Often you will move to several different countries in a year. To be well-versed in the laws and languages of so many countries is not impossible but it does lie in the realms of ‘probably impossible’.
The advice is to try to do your research about an agency. Become your own ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Investigate, ask other musicians that have worked for them, discuss the contract in detail. Negotiate. Be patient.
Freelancing is possible but not necessarily more cost-effective for you. Freelancing can give you a great feeling of accomplishment and liberty. However, most musicians will find the feeling from winning a contract is the same whether it is freelancing or through an agency.
Some people will tell you that you don’t need an agent and they would be right. What they often forget to tell you though is that although you can remove the agent from the equation you cannot remove the function that they perform. So if you decide to freelance, you or someone will have to do all the work that the agency usually does. That is worth remembering. Assess and recognize your abilities and know your limits. If you think that you can do all that an agency can do then freelance and may the force be with you.
Licensed and edited by BlastProductions Limited