What Do Artists Need To Do To Be Represented By A Reputable Agency?

- - Artist Rep

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.

There Are 10 Comments On This Article.

    • @john hildebrand,

      3x damages if you happen to be a photographer? Sounds like a terrible law.

      This probably isn’t the right place to post your anti-photographer initiative. But thanks for the heads up.

  1. Some additional light needs to be shed on some of the topics brought up in this article.

    For one, being published does not in any way indicate that you have a great eye nor does it mean that you have an acute awareness toward trends. For one, not all published work is equal. Getting published in a B-Fashion rag, for example, is not the same thing as getting published in Vogue. While many can get published in the former, the latter is reserved for a very rare few. This needs to be especially emphasized because most artist agencies (especially the top ones) in the world DO NOT treat these tears equally. And one who has a book full of the former may be turned down for one who has just a few stories in the latter.

    This overemphasis on tears (much of them quite worthless) has destroyed this industry. Magazines have utilized this to take advantage of artists. Anybody can get published these days as long as they have a decent grasp of things. It does not mean one has a great eye nor an acute awareness of trends. Has anybody seen what gets published these days?

    Much of the photography published by some of the even more decent magazines are outdated and have very little relevance with what’s really starting to happen.

    And as for trends, that’s the issue, isn’t it? Those who are following trends are not creating anything new but are simply just reacting whereas the ones who do come up with something new, many at first don’t understand and incorrectly label as someone who is out of touch with trends. So it becomes a catch 22 somewhat.

    This is, of course, aimed toward photographers and not make-up artists or stylists. I think the time has come to properly label boundaries and make clear what is useful.

    I have friends in NYC with books full of fairly decent tears and they’re getting rejected by agencies. They have the clients, so it’s not the issue of that. It’s just that someone somewhere has realized that anybody can get these tears and that it’s not all that impossible.

  2. Personally I think it is great to have a rep IF and only if you are SO busy you cannot handle your current clients.
    Or if you are seriously bigtime and are after million $ clients.
    These days clients can find you by google and the days of having to go to a rep to get good talent are over. Sorry just reality.
    Reps are often simply middle-men and middle-men are suffering greatly thanks to google.
    Google is your new rep.

    • @Jason Wallis, Do you really think Ad agency’s and magazines are going to spend their time using google and expecting a photographer to produce and maintain a budget for a commercial shoot?

      Google is a great agent for a wedding photographer but if you want to shoot the next Nike campaign your going to need a rep.

      Reps have built long term relationships with established creatives and are a lot more then just middle-men

  3. Thanks for the insightful points from a rep. who would be invaluable in these times; I’d be jealous if I was a fashion photographer.

  4. I’m not completely sold on the idea of a rep. Everything I’ve read indicates that agents are only interested in taking a portion of an already successful photographer’s pie. Arguing that, they will make them more successful. This logic makes absolutely not sense to me. That’s like hiring a real estate agent to sell your house and them saying we only want to sell your house if YOU already have interested buyers. I know of six very successful photographers who have dropped their reps in the last three years. When I asked them why, they all had basically the same response. I was doing all the work and they were collecting a check, or, they didn’t do anything I couldn’t have done on my own.

    I guess I’m old school in my thinking. When I partner with a rep, I expect my bookings to go up. It’s really that simple. If bookings don’t go up, they aren’t doing their job.

  5. I have no idea of any client willing t pay an agency fee for photographers. This is common amongst modeling, hair and make up agencies however. And my agency as well as every agent I know take 25% from the photographer including house accounts.

  6. Well i have a bad experience with few where they charged 50% of the fees and the client fees is out of consideration. I don’t know much regarding the client side but agencies do give a hard time.