Getting an Agent - Caveat Emptor!

To most VO artists, being represented by an agent is a benchmark - a type of status symbol that lends a sense of credibility/ legitimacy to your career. But as a professional, you need to be aware that there are countless people out there that really have no business calling themselves agents and they are more than happy to take your money and run.

The other day, someone on one of the VO forums I subscribe to mentioned that he just signed with an agent.

I was about to congratulate him, when he listed the terms of his contract:
"Annual fee of $179 plus sales tax  
15% commission for Union work, 20% commission for non-union work 
I'm able to cancel the contract within 30 days of written notice  
I'm still able to seek out work on my own that I don't owe them commission for, but not sign with another talent agency while working for them. 
For a period of one year after contract termination, I may not sign with another talent agency. If I do sign with another talent agency, I still owe them their commission on top of the new talent agencies commission for that year period.  
For a period of one year after contract termination, I may not seek or accept employment, directly or indirectly, with any employer I've worked with through this talent agency. If I do sign with an employer such as this, I still owe them their commission on top of the new employer's commission for that year period.

First off, the first rule that anyone looking for an agent should remember:

NEVER pay an agent to find you work.  
Never, never, never, never, never.
Really, not ever!  

An agent is paid in commission. When you book a paying job, the agent takes a percentage of your total earnings in exchange for them finding you the work. In the United States, SAG/AFTRA states that the maximum amount an agent can charge for his fee is 10%. The VO person above is located in Canada and their rules allow 15%.  - so this isn't too crazy, but to take 20% commission ON TOP OF the $180 yearly fee is a bit much.

And by "a bit," I really mean "freaking insane."

Second - I have never heard of an agent demanding an exclusivity contract. I know several voice artists that have multiple agents. Bill Dewees - a top VO artist and a guy I admire greatly has fourteen agents. FOURTEEN!

Third - not allowed to sign with another agency for one year after terminating the contract. WHAT?  If the up-front fee wasn't a big enough red flag, this one is a fireworks show that spells out "SCAM" in the sky.  If I terminate a contract with an agent, then the terms of that contract are null and void. They don't get to hold you financially liable after the contract is terminated. Let's see how well that one holds up in court.

Most new voice artists think that once they get an agent, the rest is smooth sailing. As if an agent is some kind of magical Leprechaun - and once you've finally managed to secure one, they'll give up their pot of gold and you can sit back and watch the dollars fly out of your computer.

Boy, wouldn't it be great if it was that easy?

The reality is that having an agent should be considered one aspect of a carefully mapped out strategy for success. It's part of a marketing plan that should include having a professionally-produced demo FIRST, before you even consider getting an agent. Having an agent is a means to an end; Nothing more.

Whenever there is an industry filled with people pursuing a dream, there will be others doing everything they can to take advantage of that.  It's your responsibility do the research to make sure that you are getting Ari Gold, and not Jack S**t.

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About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com