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Finding an Agent for Live Performance work

Assistant General Secretary Phil Kear on the benefits and pitfalls of finding an agent for your live work.

Last updated: 30 July 2021

Despite how distant getting back out there and performing live in front of an audience may seem, it will happen. At the time of writing, the government has committed to a review of social distancing in November and this could see a resurgence of live events. When this happens, it’s worth considering what benefits enlisting the services of an agent might bring and, as important, the pitfalls to look out for when signing with one.

Bands will usually start out booking their own gigs, liaising with venues and clients directly. While this ensures 100% of the earnings go back to the band members, as the number of bookings increase the administration work can begin to take over in place of writing and rehearsing and all the other things that you got into music to do in the first place! This is the right time to start looking for an agent.

Choosy wisely

Anyone can set themselves up as an agent, but they are subject to regulation under the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.

Agents vary in size and structure, from international giants like ITB, boasting a roster including Biffy Clyro, Aerosmith, Paul Simon and Pearl Jam, to local agencies representing function bands for weddings and parties. When assessing which agent to approach it’s useful to review their current roster and make a judgement on whether you would be a good fit. If the agent you’ve found only represent classical musicians, it’s unlikely they’ll take you on if you’re a thrash metal band!

There is also a judgement to be made on the relative size of the acts on the agent’s current roster. As an upcoming band, if you were lucky enough to attract the interest of ITB, you could find that their extensive roster of household names meant they had little time left to work with you. So, seek out an agent with a roster of acts at a similar stage of development to you.

What to pay

How much should you be looking to pay for the services of an agent? Usual rates are in the 10-15% range. I certainly wouldn’t advise agreeing to any higher than 15% without first consulting the MU. While most agents are legitimate and can greatly assist in your development, as with any business there are always some less scrupulous individuals out there to beware of.

In recent times we’ve received a few complaints about agents that have gone out of business owing significant sums to musicians and other parties, only to resurrect themselves under a slightly different business name and then repeat the same practice.

Another trick is to take advantage of the fact there are three parties involved in any agency agreement (act, hirer and agent) to issue a few convoluted contracts containing contradictory responsibilities, so that when, inevitably, a gig is cancelled or an act doesn’t receive the payment they are due, no one is entirely sure who to pursue for settlement.

Ask the Musicians’ Union first

So, if you are thinking of engaging an agent – and I can’t emphasise this enough – before signing on the dotted line please check our Ask Us First list to see if the agent in question is someone you might want to think twice about signing with, and forward any contract you are offered to your MU Regional Office requesting our free Contract Advisory Service. Our lawyers will review them and let you know whether it’s safe to sign or not.