This post comes from Betsy Schrader and Rick Rabuck of Current Studio a new artists agency in LA and Paris. Always good to hear another perspective on this topic, because it’s still a question I get once a week.
I receive a lot of emails asking me what aspiring wardrobe stylists and hair and make up artists need to do to be represented by a reputable agency. I’ll start off by saying that there are a lot of misconceptions about what ‘rep’ agencies do and don’t do and why they will sign one artist over another. First and foremost agencies look for artists that have developed portfolios, with published work, that demonstrate that you have a great eye (talent) and an acute awareness of what is going on in the industry in terms of trends and styles. I cannot over emphasize how important this is when you approach an agency.
At our agency, we also look for people that are doing new things – stylists that can make what appears to be a beautiful gown out of a bolt of fabric and some clips, make up and hair artists that have the ability to transform a face or turn hair into a sculpture. In short, we look for new ideas – it’s not enough to simply be able to pull the right clothes, or proficiently apply make up.
Second, agencies look for artists that have an existing client base. And this is one of the big misconceptions about rep agencies. That you’ll sign with an agency and immediately start getting booked. It takes a lot of time and effort on both the agencies and the artist’s part to make the bookings come in. So I’m sure you asking, “If I have a good client base – why do I need an agency”
Here are just a few of the reasons.
Good agencies spend a lot of money promoting their artists, much more than an individual could ever do on their own. This economy of scale is one of the reasons why most established artists have agencies. The collective roster and marketing efforts of an agency provide the individual artist with tools and resources their individual practice could never afford or manage on their own.
Guilt by association. If the roster is top notch, you are perceived as being top notch as well and you’ll be able to get higher rates because of this association.
Good agencies understand brand. Both the agencies brand and the artist’s brand. It’s paramount to both yours and the agencies success – a good agency will help you make decisions that reinforce and build your brand for the long term.
Good agencies are families. The artists work with one another. Clients request a make up artist and the agency ends up booking the make up artist, the hair stylist and the wardrobe stylist as well. This happens 7 out of 10 times. And it’s a win-win for everyone on the roster. A strong roster benefits everyone on the roster (that’s another reason why agencies are reluctant to sign emerging talent).
Good agencies look for more than just a great book. They look at personality, would I enjoy working with this person on set. Are they professional, and well spoken? Do they dress and act the part? Do they understand photography and light? Needless to say if you are a wardrobe stylist and show up to an agency in sweats (unless they are pretty special sweats) you are probably not going to get signed. No matter how good your book and client list are.
Good agencies are the bad guys. So you don’t have to be. They say no to clients sometimes. They argue for higher rates and better terms, they watch the money and make sure you get paid. And they pay their talent as soon as they get paid (which also makes them the good guys).
Another big misconception is how agencies are paid. A lot of artists believe the agency simply takes a 20% fee out of the artist’s fee and that’s it. But no agency, or any viable business of the size that most agencies are, can survive on just a 20% commission. Agencies need to earn at least 33% of fees in order to keep the lights on, maintain the website(s), pay the reps, rent and the multitude of expenses that all businesses face.
So most (not all) agencies have developed systems to increase this margin, in ways without the artist really understanding what the agency is actually being paid.
The most common is by charging a 20% fee to the client on top of the 20 % commission the agency takes out of the artist’s fee. For example if your fee is $ 1000, the agency charges the client $ 1200. You receive $ 800 (66%) and the agency receives $ 400 (33%). There are variations to this, from one agency to the next – some agencies charge for promotion, website updates, email blasts, printing, etc. But all are earning at least 33% or they wont be in business for long. In short it’s important for you the artist to understand what these fees are before you sign with an agency, so you are not surprised later.
So how do you get a reputable agency to sign you? I can’t speak for our competitors in the regard, but I can say we rarely sign emerging talent based on a phone call or email. Almost all of our talent came by way of referral – usually from a photographer, or someone on the roster. Or we found them.
But it’s not really a catch 22.
If you are serious about building a career in this business (and finding a rep) reach out to other stylists, make up artists, photographers and even agencies and offer your services as an assistant, even on an unpaid basis, this usually leads to paid assignments, helps to build your network of contacts and decision makers and you’ll get tear sheets for your book. And then you can go to an agency. Or perhaps they will even come to you.
Also, people are generally much more responsive if you are offering them something than asking for something. Especially reps, because they know that the answer is probably going to be no. And no one likes to say no.