Agents, it’s fair to say, don’t exactly have the most angelic reputation in the music business. Promoters have long complained of their profit-slicing proficiency, and musicians’ tales of their underhand ways are something of an industry cliché. But the continued strength of the live economy means that, as a role, theirs is as important as ever – and at some stage in your career you’re going to have to deal with one.
Agents exist, essentially, to secure live work for you, acting as the intermediary between you and the promoter. Of course, at the grassroots level much of their work can be done simply by you as the artist or your management. But at some unspecified point in a musician’s career that workload of securing and organising live work will become too much. It is usually around this time, when the number of gigs increases and your profile rises, that agents usually start taking an interest in your act. Agents want an act that has shows under its belt, a recording done, a strong social presence and demonstrable buzz. In other words, something the agent can sell.
From a musician’s point of view, choosing an agent shouldn’t always be about going for what – on the surface at least – appears to be the most lucrative deal. “It should be a person who ‘gets’ your music,” suggests Alex Mann, MU Acting Live Performance Official.
“It’s worth getting to know who is on the agency’s roster, where they are putting on artists for live shows, and if they have a particular niche or specialism. If it’s an agency that handles contemporary classical music and you’re a grime artist, then it’s probably not going to be a good fit.”
Bigger doesn’t always mean better either. Larger agencies may have more artists or higher profile artists taking up most of their time. You need someone who is committed to the work you do too.
There is no requirement for agents to be licensed – anyone can set themselves up as one – but they are subject to regulation. “We’d advise any contract that you sign with an agent should include the terms required by the 2003 Conduct Regulations,” says Alex Mann, “and we strongly advise members to use the MU Contract Advisory Service whenever they are made an offer.” MU members can send the Union the contract, a specialist solicitor takes a look at it to make sure the terms of the deal offered are fair, and then we can advise you on how to negotiate a better deal.
Read the small print
It’s worth looking into the finer details before you commit to an agreement. “It’s important to know whether the contract is between you and the agent, or directly with the venues, as it makes a big difference to who’s responsible for paying you,” says Alex.
If your agreement is directly with the agent, they are acting as an employment business. This means they’ll buy your services, and sell them to the venue or promoter under a separate contract for a higher price, which is where their profit is made. Your contract has to contain an undertaking from the agent to pay you, regardless of whether the hirer pays them.
You also want to make sure a sneaky clause you hadn’t noticed doesn’t mess things up for you in the future - making the MU’s Contract Advisory Service all the more important.
We've got your back
The agent-artist relationship is one of the most important you will have, so it’s worth getting right from the start.
For advice on anything mentioned here, the MU’s Contract Advisory Service, or joining your Union, contact us via .