The Role of Agents in the Music Industry

james bond

Agents are one of the most active people in the music industry. They work with practically everyone in the artist’s business team on a regular basis. So what exactly does their role entail? When should an artist hire one? How do they get paid? And what skills do they need? These are all questions that this blog post will answer.

In a sentence, the role of an agent is to represent the artist in the field of live performance. Agents can range from being a part of massive, influential, and multi-industry agencies like CAA, and WME, to working alone in a freelance approach. They are an intermediary between the artist and the promoter, and while they do take into account the needs for both, they really work for the artist first and the promoter second. Agents really do so many different things it can get confusing so my aim is to briefly outline as many as possible just to gain a broad overview.

Contracts

Agents are in charge of putting together contracts, which essentially cover three aspects of the live show. The first is simply a summary of the event; participating acts, location, venue, etc. Secondly it will outline the jobs that both the artist and promoter are expected to complete in order for everything to run smoothly and lastly they will prepare a legally binding document that ensures everybody will do what they are expected to. For this, a lawyer is generally hired to help out.

Tours

The agent will be the person who plans the tours. This includes everything from dates, to timing of the show, and show length. On an international tour the agent is responsible for getting all of the legal travel documents prepared for anyone and everyone in the band, or anyone that needs to travel with the artists. Work visas can be a pain in the ass to get together for some countries and it is one of the most important aspects of an international show. If the artist can’t legally work in that country then the show needs to be cancelled and that would be a damn shame. Another important aspect of international touring that the agent must deal with is the foreign tax policies. 

Miscellaneous Day-to-Day Responsibilities 

The agent must know and understand the artist from genre to personality. It is crucial when it comes to finding the right gigs and other artists for them to tour with or open for etc.

The artist’s personal business manager/accountant will work together with the agent to create pre-show financial projections.

No matter what the agent is doing, he/she is working closely with some member of the artist’s business team. On a daily basis when dealing with a single project an agent can be in contact with a lawyer, a promoter, an artist, a manager, and an accountant. They have incredible experience with all of these people and for this reason an agent is often the go to person to get questions answered about what is going on in terms of the behind the scenes work on a live show.

Choosing an Agent, and When to Look for One 

Emma Banks of Creative Artists Agency says when you’re ready for an agent; they will be looking for you. However for many artists it is a good idea to hire one, once you think you are truly ready to start playing live shows. It’s really as simple as that. In the very early stages the manager might be the one who is finding the gigs but once it becomes too much, an agent should strongly be considered. When it comes to finding the right one the best thing to do is ask around. Talking to other bands that are playing lots of gigs, or getting recommendations online are all ways to find one that is reliable. An artist should look for an agent they can get along with and that they can relate to. Being placed in the right or wrong gig can make or break a band. A good agent has lots of experience and is familiar with several promoters and several venues. Perhaps most importantly the good agent is organized and is able to improvise on the spot and handle situations competently and effectively when they go sour.

How the Agent Gets Paid

Traditionally an agent’s commission is 10% of the gross revenue from the show that they worked on. This number has stuck and is standard but on the extreme ends of things, the payment process can get changed up a little bit. For a fairly new act an agent can bump that number up to 15% or simply charge a flat fee that they deem reasonable. On the opposite end of that scale some of the largest acts whose shows can pull in millions can take as little as 5% and/or create a salary cap for each specific show. For a good agent this is a vital and justifiable investment for any act.

Final Note

While the agent has contact with every person in an artist’s business team his or her contact with the actual artist is fairly limited and is mostly done through the manager. This is a testament to the manager’s relationship with the artist because most of the information the agent will receive about the bands personality will be from the manager. While the agent’s role fundamentally follows all these points, in reality every single project they work on can be a completely new adventure. If you are considering becoming one, you can safely know that you’ll never be bored.

Phillip Richard

Sources:

Music Management Bible by the MMF

All you need to know about the music business chapter 6: by Donald Passman